KARACHI: Karim Yaqoob became slightly worried when his mother asked him to book train tickets for his family.
He had vivid memories of an indifferent reservation clerk at the Rawalpindi railway station two years ago, whose attention he drew through extensive efforts by raising his voice and making hand gestures only to receive a rude reply.
The clerk asked Yaqoob why he was not checking the information board, but it lacked the needed information.
Yaqoob, however, was at ease when his friend informed him about the e-ticketing solution developed by the Pakistan Railways which books tickets online without much hassle and also provides all the required information. Yaqoob and his friends are not the only ones who use this app, in fact, every fifth railway passenger is using the app for booking the journey.
Pakistan Railways, which has the honour of laying the first railway track in India during British colonial rule when it started laying the railway track from Karachi, has been in deep financial trouble for the past many years due to neglect and mismanagement.
In January 2013, the National Assembly was informed that the debt of Pakistan Railways had surged to Rs58.6 billion. At that time, Haji Ghulam Ahmad Bilour of the Awami National Party was the railway minister.
Next minister Khawaja Saad Rafique of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) took charge in mid-2013 and brought improvement in the railway department with some innovation and renovation. He succeeded in slowing down the pace of debt increase. Today, the debt level stands at about Rs60 billion.
Rafique also succeeded in raising the revenue of Pakistan Railways from Rs18 billion in 2012-13 to Rs40 billion in 2016-17, an increase of 123%.
E-ticketing, including a mobile app and reservation through the railway’s website, was one of the steps he took for boosting the organisation’s performance. E-ticketing now comprises 18% of total ticket bookings of 11.5 million, which means almost every fifth passenger is using the online platform.
This trend is gaining pace with increasing public awareness. People booked 274,136 tickets in 2016-17 and the number grew 7.5 times next year to 2.08 million, according to data of the Pakistan Railways’ IT department.
“We saw the total number of bookings increase after introducing e-ticketing solutions,” said Pakistan Railways’ IT Director Fahad Rehman.
Total railway tickets rose 16% from 9.96 million in fiscal year 2016-17 to 11.54 million in the fiscal year that ended on June 2018.
Of the total e-ticketing, 46% was the share of mobile app named Pakistan Railways Official which had over 100,000 downloads on the Google app store.
The app recorded phenomenal growth in its early years. In fiscal year 2016-17, 24,089 tickets were booked through the app. The number increased 51 times in the next fiscal year to 1.2 million bookings.
Pakistan Railways’ website also recorded an increase of 3.3 times in bookings, from 250,047 tickets in fiscal year 2016-17 to 846,412 tickets next year.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 22nd, 2018.