The users of Chennai’s creaky suburban railway system must queue up at a pigeon-hole cubicle for a ticket at most stations, as the Automated Ticket Vending Machines fail to attract patronage. Why is ticketing such a difficult issue for the Southern Railway?

Though it has been over a year since Southern Railway introduced Automated Ticket Vending Machines (ATVMs) across 40 suburban railway stations in the city, passenger patronage for these has not picked up as expected.

“We continue to receive complaints about long queues in ticket counters at railway stations, but this cannot be resolved without passengers making use of the alternatives provided,” Divisional Railway Manager S.K. Kulshrestha said.

According to statistics available with the Railways, till July this year an average of 3.73 lakh daily passengers used the suburban trains without a season ticket. And only 18,000 daily passengers used the ATVM for buying tickets. This shows that a large section of passengers using the suburban trains still prefer buying a ticket at the counter, than go to the ATVM.

In stations such as Guindy, Mambalam, Pallavaram, Tambaram and Ambattur long queues can be seen outside the counters every day, while the ATVMs remain unutilised.

However, in terminals such as Egmore railway station and central station, the ATVMs enjoy a steady patronage which also helps to keep the queue in control. “It is also easy on us as it reduces our work load,” said a booking clerk at the central station.

However, sometimes malfunctioning ATVMs add to passenger woes.

“When there are power failures, the ATVMs do not work,” a source in the Southern Railway said. When this happens, even passengers who have smart cards are forced to stand in the queue to buy a ticket.

Keith Ghosh, a regular commuter at the Egmore railway station, said that during the weekend, only one booking clerk was seen at the station during the day and the queues often spilled onto the main road.

“It is sad to see people, especially elderly citizens, being forced to stand in the queue to buy a ticket,” he said.

However, the only answer the Railways have for such people is “Go, use the ATVM.”

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