Technology For Society

Focus on technology trends that create an impact on larger part of Society.

Will booking train tickets through SMS help?

Passengers at a Train Station:
Credit:Honzasoukup via Wikimedia Commons
Recently it was reported  that Indian Railways have started train ticket booking using  SMS. I first heard of that initiative from a Railway official when I attended a seminar on e-commerce organised by ASSOCHAM in 2012.  I was skeptical about it, based on the experience I had with booking train tickets online and through mobile apps and also understanding of the mobile usage in rural areas.

SMS services are great as a way of  communication.  Whenever you transact electronically using credit or debit card, an update from the card company about the transaction helps increase customer Trust. They have been extended for money transfers    and payment for goods/services in South Africa.Telecom players have started offering mobile wallet services in India and mobile banking initiatives were also launched. If we look at all these initiatives, one common thing that we find is that these are not time sensitive. Train ticket booking is highly time sensitive as the supply of seats is limited and the demand generally exceeds the supply.  Even while using website to book tickets, I have experienced that even if the seat is available at the time of availability query, the status may change to  wait list  when the payment is made and the ticket is issued.  SMS is store and forward service with no guarantee of delivery and also the time taken  for each SMS has more  variation. Though the use of m-wallet service with Railways may simplify the payment  step, the service itself may not be attractive as booking a ticket  will involve multiple SMSes for querying the information to finalise the journey options.

Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) based communication generally used for Mobile phone recharge and other services could be more effective, as it atleast maintains the connection till the transaction is completed. Indian railways is using USSD for  general queries already with few telecom operators. If Railways were to use the same for train ticket booking, the service could be more effective.  However a note of caution is appropriate. Without capacity increases on train services as well as the IT infrastructure, these services may only tend to increase the demand which will lead to further customer  dissatisfaction.

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Technology For Society- Blog by Arjuna Rao Chavala is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.