How railways plan to curb ticketless travellers
With 9 million ticketless travellers caught till January this fiscal, railways is trying a two-pronged strategy.
But these days, the 22-year-old from Kozhikode, Kerala, is playing the role of a forward player at Churchgate railway station in Mumbai. As a ticket examiner, her job is to spot passengers travelling without tickets and impose penalties on the spot.
“We have stepped up checking. During my four-hour duty here, I detect three to four ticketless passengers everyday. They usually pay up the fine of Rs 250 along with the ticket amount. But there are instances of escape. However, we don’t have the manpower to chase such passengers,” Ashwani, sporting the ticket examiner’s uniform — a white and grey salwar suit — tells ET Magazine. With the railways clamping down on defaulters, the pressure on ticket examiners like Ashwani has only increased.
The statistics of people travelling without tickets are astounding, given the size of India’s railway network. As many as 8.9 million passengers, more than the population of Israel, were caught without tickets in the first 10 month of the current financial year, with the railways recovering Rs 435 crore in ticket prices and penalties. The actual number of ticketless passengers will be much higher.
In February, Western Railways, which runs the Mumbai suburban service, released a video to warn against ticketless travel. Tweaking some lines from a popular rap song from the Hindi film, Gully Boy, the video titled ‘Tera Time Aayega (Your Time will Come)’ -- warns people against ticketless journeys. “Bina ticket ayaa hai tu, pakda zaroor jayega (if you travel without a ticket, you will end up being caught)”, the video goes on to say.
Mumbai suburban railways that carried 1.3 billion people in 2017-18, is considered one of the bad patches where the menace of travelling without tickets is noticed oftener than other sectors.
Prashant Pisharody, in-charge of ticket examiners at Churchgate station, says: “As ticketless travel is more rampant in Mumbai railways, our best examiners are deployed here”.
Across India, 8.2 billion passengers (based on the number of tickets sold) travelled on trains in the last financial year. For the record, Indian Railways has 18,082 trains and 7,077 stations for which it deploys 30,535 ticket examiners.
Prashant Pisharody, in-charge of ticket examiners, Churchgate
Western Railways spokesperson Ravindra Bhaskar says they have increased ‘fortress checking’, a procedure where railways deploys senior officials to check ticketless passengers after closing down entry and exit points of a particular station.
The other types of checks include ‘magistrate checks’, where the trial is done on the spot, ‘ambush checks’ to stop misuse of alarm-pulling and ‘surprise checks by road’, where examiners board trains in-between stations.
Once caught, a ticketless passenger is asked to pay a minimum fine of Rs 250 along with the cost of the ticket. In case the person does not have the money or refuses to pay up, he or she is handed over to the Railway Protection Force (RPF) and booked under Section 137 of Railways Act. The RPF then presents the person in front of a magistrate, who is authorised to slap a fine of up to Rs 1,000. In case the person still does not want to pay the fine, he or she may end up in jail for six months. The data of the number of imprisonments due to ticketless travel was available.
On how to curb the menace, ET Magazine spoke to two senior railway officials — one in Delhi and one in Mumbai. They say increasing the frequency of checks alone won’t solve the problem. The railways has to increase the number of ways one can buy a train ticket, particularly digitally, they say, not wanting to be named.
According to their experience, ticketless passengers will continue to manipulate the system by using the same old methods — hiding in toilets to boarding a train with a platform ticket and overshooting a journey. In railways’ parlance, they are referred to as ‘irregular’ passengers.
According to Railway Board data, the number of such irregular passengers detected in the first 10 month of the current financial year was 14 million. Also, Rs 672 crore was recovered as ticket charges and penalties from such passengers during the period.
“So, we have been urging passengers to buy tickets and travel with self-esteem,” says one of the railway officials.
But the biggest factor contributing to ticketless travel is the lack of access control in stations, they say. Stations are often used as a public place where anyone can walk in. Can there be a ticketless passenger in Delhi Metro? No, they say. The reason is access control with separate departure and arrival areas. Hence the best solution, they say, lies in modernising all 7,077 railway stations - a seemingly impossible task given railways operating ratio is in the red (more expenditure versus earnings), which begs the question: Kya namunkin mumkin hoga (Can impossible be made possible)?