Over dinner with my parents, I was having a conversation about various possibilities of building intelligent information services tailored to the needs of railway passengers in India; especially since they have long suffered from lack of efficient information about services. My father nostalgically remarked about his days years back when hours were spent on the railway platform without any clue about when the train was going to arrive, yet no one seemed to complain about sufferings. However, my point to him was – “this is the difference between your time and the time in which your children/grandchildren are living.” This generation of Railway travelers are receiving more information about their favorite movie star’s party than the delayed train while they are sitting at the platform. This is how their expectation about information is getting set.
With an estimated 2 crore travelers per day across 5000-odd stations, Indian Railways runs one of the most complex operations around the world today. Apart from the sheer scale, the operational complexity is further compounded due to shared infrastructure between passenger and freight, burgeoning traffic, and the need to achieve a socio-economic balance in terms of the services provided. Almost all of the tickets seem to be booked in the first 2 days of the 2 month ticketing period. At any moment more than 40% trains are operating behind their schedule plans.
To give credit where it is due, Railways has made notable achievements in several areas, including e-ticketing, passenger facilities, quality of coaches, safety, etc. Railway statistics have recorded a continuous improvement in safety statistics year-on-year. Similarly the growth of e-ticketing has been a text book case study and has greatly improved direct ticket access to public at large. When CRIS (IT Division of Indian Railways) and RailYatri.in (which I am a part of) had jointly launched RailRadar – Indian Railways became one of the first few in the world to provide visualization of their running trains based on their last reported location.
That the public perception of Railways continues to be mixed – despite improvements – is largely due to the rapidly evolving expectations of an average Railway consumer. The e-ticketing service is a classic case study of how a much celebrated initiative can quickly become a source of widespread public criticism, due to the system’s inability to scale with the steep growth of users on its system. Widespread access to mobile phones and rapid growth of data services has increased consumer awareness and exposure like never before. Consumers today not only expect tickets to be available online, they also have expectations around the site’s performance, features and even user experience facilitating complex decision making. And as experience and exposure increases, so will the expectation.
This blog at RailYatri.in will continue to talk more about such experiences, exposures and expectations from a Rail Yatri’s point of view.
Image source: The Hindu