Every time S. Inbarasan, a resident of Pattabiram, had to book a train ticket to his hometown Madurai, he used to go to a nearby internet centre. Inbarasan does not have a smart phone. But now, thanks to a recent initiative by the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC), he can book a ticket merely by sending an SMS on his regular mobile phone.

Many city residents have begun using this facility — launched in June — and say it is very convenient. Across the country, around 200 people use it every day, railway officials said.

“Over 2 lakh people book tickets online daily through the IRCTC website. But people find SMS booking convenient, as they can do it from their homes. The problems are that the software will accept entries only in English, and you cannot book tickets between 8 a.m. and noon. However, tickets can also be cancelled with this facility,” said a railway official.

For those with the Airtel network, booking a ticket by SMS is made simpler because they can pay through Airtel money. Airtel users can dial *400# and they will be directed to a series of dialling options based on a menu. “We wanted everybody to be able to book tickets from any place at any time without facing any trouble,” said Murali Kittu, chief operating officer, Bharati Airtel, Tamil Nadu.

People using other mobile networks have to send an SMS to 139. “The SMS should contain details including the station names, travel date, class, name of the passenger, his/her age and gender and their bank’s name: BOOK 22105 KYN PUNE 3008 2S Rakesh 55 M ICICI.

The user will receive a transaction id, ticket amount, IRCTC service charge, total amount and seat availability. “After this, the user has to send the transaction ID and the last six digits of her bank account number. She will then receive a booking confirmation through SMS,” said the official.

To avail of the facility, residents first have to register their mobile number with IRCTC as well as their bank. The bank provides a Mobile Money Identifier (MMID) and a One-Time Password (OTP) to authorise the payment.

Basher, a student from Chennai who uses Airtel money, said that he used to book tickets online earlier. “But SMS ticketing is much more convenient as I do not need to be connected to the internet,” he said.

A senior BSNL official said they were also working on applications for users to book tickets on their mobile phones.

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