Railway Minister Piyush Goyal’s announcement last week that the public transporter was reviewing the scheme of flexi fares introduced in September last year reflects the paradox of a surge in railway revenue even as premium trains run with vacant seats.
While Railway revenues have surged by ₹500 crore in the one year since the flexi fare scheme was introduced on premium and express trains, the number of passengers has dropped significantly.
The scheme has resulted in premium trains such as the Mumbai-Delhi Rajdhani Express running with vacant seats. While earlier, bookings had to be done months in advance to ensure a confirmed ticket, following the introduction of the system, up to 30% of seats remain unoccupied on any given day, according to data from the Western Railway. Interestingly on most days, flight tickets are cheaper than the Rajdhani fares.
The flexi fare scheme came into effect on September 9, 2016 wherein only the first 10% of the seats are booked at the regular fare. Thereafter, the fare increases by 10% with every 10% of the seats booked. The flexi fare scheme is, however, not applicable for first class AC and executive class.
The scheme is applicable to all premium trains including Rajdhani, Shatabdi and Duronto Express. As many as 42 Rajdhani, 46 Shatabdi and 54 Duronto trains are currently in operation.
While passengers have raised concerns over the surge in fares, data suggest that passengers have chosen to fly instead of taking trains.
Data for the Mumbai-Delhi Rajdhani Express show that while 8,256 passengers travelled in the 2AC coaches between July 1, 2016 and July 31, 2016, the number fell to 7,124 for the corresponding period in 2017. Similarly for the same period, on the August Kranti Express, the numbers dropped from 8,228 passengers in 2016 to 5,849 in 2017 for the 2AC coaches.
Rajiv Singhal, member of the Divisional Railway User’s Consultative Committee, said, “It is high time the Railways thought they are a profit-making organisation rather than a service-oriented [one]. Many passengers have shifted to flights due to the dynamic fares.”