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Curbing Ticketless Travel to Bring Profits to Public Transport
Traffic police help guide the flow of road traffic. Now if we could just solve overcrowding on trains... Photo by calamur.

Traffic police help guide the flow of road traffic in Mumbai. Now if we could just solve overcrowding and ticketless travel on trains... Photo by calamur.

Across the world, countries are grappling with the similar predicament of making public transport “cool” across economic segments and dissuading the use of private vehicles. The welcoming nature of government authorities with respect to advertising in and around public transport (like the Los Angeles Metro, which redesigned its brand to lure more passengers) is  also connected to this idea. The mantra is simple: Better monetary inflow means improved services, which in turn translates to a rise in usage.

However, a closer observation brings out one startling difference between developed and developing countries. For developing countries, sadly, the battle doesn’t end at merely shaping popular opinion. There’s another major problem staring transit users in the face, and unless it is dealt with, public transport will never realize its true potential. The problem? Ticketless traveling!

In Mumbai, for instance, almost 6.9 million passengers ride the Suburban Railway system every day, making it one of the most densely used urban railway systems in the world.  No doubt, that’s a significant number. More than 4,700 passengers are packed into a train which has a rated capacity of 1,700, creating a situation known as “super dense crush load” (watch some videos of the packed conditions here.) In spite of such tremendous usage, Mumbai local trains don’t get paid their dues because a large number of commuters travel without a proper ticket. They take advantage of the overcrowding and often escape the authorities, in this case, a team of Ticket Checkers.

Massive overcrowding means the ticket checkers can’t conduct their job inside the train (during peak travel hours), which means most of their search is conducted on platforms, where again, the miscreants take advantage of the crowd and get away.

Here’s an example, as reported in the Mumbai Mirror:

Mohammed Zahid Qureshi, a Ticket Checker broke all records of booking ticketless travelers last October during Diwali, a popular Hindu festival where people travel extensively with their families to visit relatives and friends. In just four days, Qureshi booked 1,475 travelers and generated a fine of Rs 5.47 lakhs, all by himself! Add that along with fine generated by other Ticket Checkers and you have a mind-boggling figure.

Despite Qureshi’s achievements, one cannot help but imagine how many people must be traveling minus a proper ticket in Mumbai every single day. And no, the fares aren’t unaffordable either. If each traveler ensures to buy a valid ticket, the profits made by public transport authorities, not just in Mumbai or India, but rather in developing countries across the world, will sky-rocket. India may be a developing country, but small rightful monetary contributions by everyone who uses public transport is key to the country’s economic turnaround.

This brings us to the question of how. Adopting Metro rail technology can be a good idea wherein the person cannot enter or exit the premises without a valid token. However, until a technology upgrade takes place, one has to rely on individuals like Qureshi.

Before we find out alternate ways of public transport, let’s try and utilise the existing ones to their fullest capacity.

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  • Manish

    i read, what you guys have written. Well all that involves huge cost and a long time for bringing it into practice as proper infrastructure would be required. The cost indirectly will be paid by us only. Simple solution – Increase the no. of ticket checkers and increase the penalty which needs to be given if someone is caught traveling without a valid ticket, say around Rs-5000 or if the person is unable to pay that amount then 5/6 days in jail. Well you might say “wow man way to harsh” or still people will travel ticket less, well there might be some people who may risk this, but the harsher punishment would definitely make people think many times before undertaking a ticket less journey, well you might increase penalty to Rs 10000 if you want, you know you may travel 100 times w/o ticket, but if even once you are caught, you would be paying a stinger…

    Also bringing up a huge infrastructural change and the extension of walls, actually would be really expensive and hey man, not against it, but ultimately some way or the other we would be paying for it and I don`t travel ticket less so paying for something to prevent them from doing something wrong would pinch me a little as the tax system in India is already bad for honest tax payers and common citizens like you and me..

    share a thought abt it…n comment if you want..

  • Well said Karthik. I agree cordoning off the railway stations can be a task. However, simple steps such as increasing the height of the boundary wall (that is used most often to jump in and out) can solve the problem albeit only to an extent. What do you think?

    With regards to pedestrians wanting to crossover, I see that problem being minimized soon with the increasing number of footover bridges and subways (and thankfully most of them connect the east to the west without having to cross the platform). The fact that people still continue to take the station’s bridges (because the legal one is a little out of the way) shall continue to remain a problem, and perhaps the authorities’ biggest challenge.

  • There are two practical problems with using Metro rail technology for the Mumbai suburban railway system.

    1) This technology requires the stations to be “closed” areas, with a fixed number of entry points which can be equipped with tecket checking machines. With the exception of some stations in Navi Mumbai, I don’t think any of the stations elsewhere in the city are capable of limiting access to the stations with any degree of success.

    2) The station is often used by pedestrians wishing to go from the east side of the railway line to the west (illegally, of course). If the station is being closed off for such use, this should ideally be accompanied with (better) pedestrian crossings over the railway line.

    It is important to note that redesigning the stations to improve revenue generation cannot be looked at separately from the issue of pedestrian access to the station, the viability of the market area that typically surrounds the station and the redevelopment of slums that tend to be located along the railway lines. This requires concerted action by several organizations, including the railways, MMRDA, MHADA and the BMC (which, unfortunately, has very little power).

    karthik