Three digital payment companies, Itz Cash Card, Suvidhaa and OSS Retails (Done Card) have issued a joint statement expressing concern over the new Indian Railways policy from IRCTC, barring them from booking online tickets from 8 am to 9 am. The company’s representatives are planning to meet IRCTC to ask them to reconsider their decision. It’s a polite reaction from them so far (so far), obviously not wanting to bite the hand that feeds them.

The IRCTC had recently proposed that web service agents would not be allowed to book tatkal tickets from 8 am to 9 am, as well as any ticket for the first one hour when the advance 90 day reservation of any train opens up. According to this report in the Financial Express, the IRCTC did this because consumers would complain about the IRCTC website crashing as soon as booking began in the morning, and the “tatkal” quota would get exhausted within minutes. Tatkal tickets are reserved for passengers who need to travel urgently, and are up for purchase two days before the journey. Typically, tickets on the Indian Railways are sold off/booked rather quickly, and trains are often overbooked. The web allows these tickets to be booked with a little more convenience.

Our take: It’s a “throwing out the baby with the bathwater” solution to the problem: the larger issue is that there aren’t sufficient trains/seats on specific routes, and the IRCTC website is not built to handle the scramble for these tickets. This only means that people would have to go and book these tickets in person, offline, or the way it usually happens, get an agent to buy it for them. While one might think that it isn’t a big deal, given that they’ll get access only an hour late, but remember that these companies use technology to allow citizens to book tickets through their own franchise network, and tickets for some key trains are likely to be sold out within It a few hours. They service 5000 towns, and in many places railways computerized Passenger reservation system does not exist, and people would have to travel large distances to book tickets. This puts Rail Travel Service Agents, often middlemen, back in the game.

According to the Itz Cash, Suvidhaa and Done Card, around 100,000 web service agents have been impacted by this move. ITZ Cash Card accounted for 894,980 transactions on IRCTC in June 2010, while Done Card accounted for 164,176 and I Cash Card accounted for 243,874. In total, they accounted for 1,303,030 transactions, around 14.68% of the total IRCTC transactions in June. These companies have franchise networks, and rail ticketing accounts for a substantial proportion of their business. By way of a compromise, they have suggested that a certain quote be reserved for online ticketing initially.