The Assam Rail Passengers’ Association (ARPA) has criticised the Railway ministry and the Indian Railways over the decision to experiment with surge pricing for passengers on its premium Rajdhani, Duronto and Shatabdi trains and said that the flexi-fare move will hurt commuters of remote regions like the Northeast.
Dipankar Sharma, secretary of ARPA, said that the new move will hurt the common man. “It is part of the government’s ongoing attempt to bring market forces in the functioning of a public utility like the Indian Railways. For common people, especially those from remote and far-flung locations like Assam, trains like the Rajdhani Express are a very reasonable means of transportation when visiting New Delhi for educational, healthcare or other emergencies. By introducing surge pricing, the government will deprive many needy persons from poor economic backgrounds,” he said.
Sharma added that it is not possible for everybody to contemplate making a journey three or four months in advance and in cases of emergencies people need a fast mode of transport at short notice at a reasonable price.
“Why have First Class and Executive Class passengers been spared? It is nothing but a ploy to earn money at the expense of poor people,” Sharma alleged.
Sharma called upon the Sarbananda Sonowal-led state government to take up the issue with the Railway ministry to ensure that trains to and from Assam are kept out of the new scheme.
Opposition parties in the state, including the Assam Pradesh Congress Committee (APCC) and the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), have also opposed the surge pricing initiative.
However, the Indian Railways maintained that, “It is not surge pricing. The scheme is to introduce flexi fare. The proposed scheme is predictable and transparent and the fares remain the same throughout the year irrespective of the fluctuations in the demand side. The purpose of the scheme is to recover partial cost of operations and reduce the element of subsidy from those who have the ability to pay.”
They said that unlike the taxi aggregators who indulge in surge pricing, this scheme “is transparent and predictable” with the defined ceiling of 1.4 or 1.5 times with a defined algorithm.
Railway sources discounted fears that the scheme will take away rail passengers to other modes of transport.
“Travelling by rail has many advantages and Indian Railways is confident that its customers would continue to patronise rail transport. The Suvidha trains which are already running on dynamic pricing have been a success on many of the existing routes,” source said.
With regard to apprehensions that the scheme is likely to affect the common man, sources said that it has been introduced only on Rajdhani, Shatabdi and Duronto trains which constitute only about one per cent of the total trains and 4.4 per cent of the total Mail/Express trains.
“The proposed scheme would only impact 0.65 per cent of the total passengers. At least 99 per cent of the trains which carry 99.35 per cent of our passengers are not impacted by this scheme,” sources said, adding that the policy would also be regularly reviewed.
They said that Indian Railways is a commercial organisation which is always willing to fulfill its social obligations.
“The purpose of the scheme is to reduce the subsidy component and 99 per cent of the trains are not impacted by the proposed policy,” said railway sources.