2 out of 3 local train commuters peeved with long ticket queues

Mumbai:  Over half of Mumbai’s suburban railway network users are unhappy with facilities that should have made their journeys more pleasant, a Railway Survey has found.

The biggest grouse is the time taken to buy a ticket, with two out of three commuters complaining about it, followed by cleanliness – both on the rakes and in the stations – and toilets.

The fewest complaints – in a relief to the railway authorities – came about punctuality, frequency of service and space for passengers on the rakes, reflecting the operational strengths of Mumbai’s suburban network.

The clearest message was the need to improve passenger amenities like dispensing of tickets and cleanliness immediately. A survey of 25,000 commuters by the Mumbai Rail Vikas Corporation (MRVC) showed that as many as 66% respondents across WR, CR and Harbour lines were unhappy with the time taken to buy a ticket. It was found that it took at least 10-30 minutes to buy tickets across 37 stations. The worst were Dadar and Bhayander (both WR), where it took half an hour. It was about 20 minutes across scores of stations in all three corridors (see box).

Over the years, the railways have introduced coupon validating machines, smart-card operated Automatic Ticket Vending Machines and appointed agents to sell suburban tickets. These do not seem to have made much of an impact on the ground and at least 50% commuters were unhappy with the number of working ticket counters, ATVMs and CVMs.

Importantly, the survey noted that of the 222 booking windows on WR’s 13 stations, 17 were closed. On CR’s main line too, nearly 37% of the total 187 booking counters were closed. “It clearly indicates that the queues could have moved faster if all the booking windows remained operational,” said MRVC’s managing director Rakesh Saksena.

“At many stations, coupon and automatic ticket vending machines do not work thanks to tampering and lack of maintenance. Moreover, the interface of ATVM is not user-friendly, especially for those who are not well-versed with computers,” said Shailesh Goyal, former member the National Rail Users Consultative Committee.

Cleanliness was the top peeve for nearly 63% commuters. A break-up along the three lines showed CR commuters – both main line and Harbour – cribbing the most. “WR rakes are clean as it has a sizeable number of white-collared commuters compared to CR and Harbour. Nevertheless, we have now outsourced cleaning of rakes to a reputed firm and the results have been positive,” said a CR official.

Third on the discontentment list is inadequate toilet facilities. “The number of toilets blocks has not increased despite passenger growth. Stations like Elphinstone Road, Parel and Currey Road now witness more footfalls because of conversion of mill land into corporate offices,” said RTI activist Chetan Kothari.

Reacting to the fewest complaints about punctuality, frequency as well as capacity of the rakes, an MRVC official said: “This is because of the implementation of Mumbai Urban Transport Project (MUTP) I during whom 1,048 nine-car services were augmented to 12 cars, thus increasing the carrying capacity by 33% per service. There are now no 9-car rakes on WR and Car’s main line.”

Harbour line, which has received a step-motherly treatment on new rakes, will see all 12-car trains after two years.

More ticket counters needed

The findings of the survey should act as a wake-up call for the railways. Badly-maintained stations, serpentine queues for tickets and dirty toilets are common at most stations. The coupon and automatic ticket vending machines often do not work, causing great inconvenience to commuters. More ticket counters should be set up based on commuter flow. The railways must make use of new technologies like mobile ticketing system or handheld ticket dispensing machines to reduce queues. A commuter grievance redressal system is required to ensure accountability.