Railway Employees cause smart card to crash

The smart cards launched by the Central Railway to make travel by train easier-the pre-paid cards are designed to help passengers to avoid hassles of queuing up every time he or she travels-has failed to take off in Pune. The failure is attributed to several reasons ranging from lack of awareness among the travellers about the smart card, to the reluctance of railway staff to sell the pre-paid cards, or both.

There are four Automated Ticket Vending Machines (ETVMs) at Pune Railway Station but there is hardly any sale of smart cards. The smart card scheme, however, has helped several retired railway staffers to gain employment as “facilitators”. The “facilitators” use their own smart cards to help passengers— they pay the usual fare—get the ticket from the ATVM in lieu of the 5 per cent of the fare saved for using the ATVMs.

The Smart Card service, started by the Central Railway in 2014, is modelled on a similar pre-paid card used by the Delhi Metro which is quite popular among Metro commuters. Similar cards are popular with Mumbai commuters, too, especially those using the suburban train service.

The Express found that poor awareness and non-cooperative attitude of some of the railway staffers together had crashed the smart card idea in Pune.

The railway staff who are given the charge of informing travellers about, and selling smart cards are often found discouraging customers from buying the pre-paid cards or refusing the passenger outright to sell smart cards. To check things out, this reporter approached Window No. 5 of the current booking counter, designated for “selling and re-charging” pre-paid cards, and asked for a Rs 100 smart card. The staffer on duty refused to issue one.

“We don’t’ have any such card,” said the staffer. The reason for the refusal, says groups that bat for rights and safety of passengers, is to help their retired colleagues to benefit from the 5 per cent they make for each ticket they buy for passengers.

The higher ups seemed unaware of all this. When approached for a comment, booking superintendent B K Pande said, “We have display boards at several spots to tell people about the smart cards but somehow people here are not willing to buy the cards. We hardly sell one or two cards a week. There’s no question of refusing to sell a card to any customer.”

Harsha Shah of Railway Pravasi Group said smart cards can be effective in reducing queues before the ticketing windows if more passengers start using ticket vending machines bypassing the “facilitators.”

“These ATVMs act as an alternate ticket vending window. They take similar time – even longer – and customer don’t even get 5 per cent benefit on the fare. The railway officials are unwilling to popularise smart cards as it will stop the income of their retired colleagues,” said Shah.

Coming, 44 new ATVMs

As per officials, the division will install 44 automatic ticket vending machines (ATVM) at various railway stations.

There are 60 stations under Pune division and 22 of the busiest will get ATVMs. Pune and Shivajinagar stations that already have ATVMs will get seven and three more ATVMs respectively. Smallers stations like Khadki, Dapodi, Pimpri, Chinchwad, Akurdi, Dehu Road, Talegaon, Miraj, Satara, Karhad, Baramati, Uruli, Loni, Sangli and Kolhapur will also get ATVMs. Gaurav Jha, Divisional Commercial Manager (DCM) said, “It’s true that 95 per cent of the ticket sale through ATVMs takes place through facilitators. Once the new ATVMs are installed, we will undertake a promotion drive so that commuters know about the advantages of using ATVMs,” said Jha.