It is 5 p.m. Rush-hour traffic has started to flow through the Chennai Fort Railway Station. As the queue in front of the ticket counter piles up, the Automated Ticket Vending Machines (ATVMs) remain completely ignored.
It has been two years since ATVMs were introduced and close to 40 are in operation in various stations in the Madras zone.
But the tickets sold through them account for less than three per cent of the number of passengers every day, according to statistics from the Southern Railway.
In stations such as Chintadripet, Chepauk, which are part of the MRTS network, and in Meenambakkam, less than 10 tickets are bought a day through the automated machines. The average daily traffic through the city's rail network (including MRTS and sub-urban sections) is about 10 lakh.
T. Ravikumar, president, Train and Bus Passengers Welfare Association, says “Most people do not know why these machines are kept. They think it is just a weight checking machine. A person is sometimes available during rush hour to help people. But some kind of guidance or information system must be available through the day for enough people to use them.”
Regular commuters such as Vipul Kumar say that an information manual stuck on to the machine explaining how to use the smart cards will be of great help. The cards, which can be recharged with amounts that are multiples of Rs.50, also offer a five per cent premium. That is, if one recharges for Rs.100, tickets can be bought for Rs.105.
R. Sivanandan, professor, Transportation Engineering Division, IIT-Madras, says that since large transit volumes are an everyday reality in India, greater push towards automation has to be made. “All counters must eventually be replaced with enquiry-and-help desks. Once features such as common ticketing set in, data have to be embedded into a smart ticket. Instead of buying a ticket, one can buy a certain number of kilometres and travel across multiple modes.” Pointing out that though the concept of rush-hour counters exists, it is not feasible for the existing counter system to handle fluxes in traffic volume, a senior Southern Railway official said “We would like to see at least 15 to 20 per cent of the traffic to go through the smart card route. Commuters will soon be able to buy season tickets through the ATVMs. The modalities are being worked out.”