On January 13, 2021, without prior announcement, the Nigeria Railways Corporation (NRC) stopped the manual sales of train tickets and introduced electronic ticketing.
The decision caused huge confusion because intending passengers were unaware of the new procedure.
Few passengers were able to buy the tickets online and majority missed their trains because of the confusion that trailed the online ticketing commencement.
Our correspond reports that the NRC, two months ago, commenced the e-ticketing test-run.
During the test-run, the NRC would release at least ten tickets online and request a few commuters to buy.
The trial went for at least two months before the rollout on January 13.
But the passengers’ experiences, which characterized the rollout, didn’t show that enough due diligence was done during the trial process.
Passengers also wondered why the e-ticketing policy was hastily introduced and the old arrangement jettisoned without adequate publicity.
What should have been a pleasurable experience like the airport situation, particularly where passengers have been calling for e-ticketing to end ticket racketeering and reduce the stress of queuing at the train stations to buy tickets, turned a nightmare for commuters.
A lot of the passengers took to social media to vent their frustration.
A passenger, Mohammed Shehu, sent his reservations to Daily Trust.
He wrote: “Complete confusion and frustration has been created by NRC management in the name of implementation of online payment.
“It is unheard of that the management decided to start online payment today (Wednesday) and completely stopped cash payment.”
NRC eventually resumed to accept cash payment after a lot of passengers had missed their train.
Some of the concerns he raised included: Not many people have smart phone and internet to access NRC website so they were unable to purchase tickets online.
He also observed that the NRC has no way of verifying payment through a terminal as those who paid and their telephone went off couldn’t be verified hence couldn’t travel.
He also observed that NRC staff had to physically collect everybody’s telephone to validate their tickets thus compromising the social distance promoted by the same government.
Mr. Shehu also complained about the time lag to validate a ticket thus making the process cumbersome and time consuming.
He also noted that the NRC is charging about five percent more because of online payment, a claim, Mr. Victor Adamu, the NRC Operations Manager Abuja-Kaduna Train Service, neither confirmed nor refuted.
He only said at the counter, the ticket is same price but he can’t confirm for online.
Also, on the first day of the rollout, some seats were sold to two different people, a situation that caused friction among passengers.
Some passengers had to abandon the train and travelled to Kaduna by road.
The NRC Managing Director, Mr. Fidet Okhiria, told our correspondent on the phone that the directive to commence the online ticketing was at the instance of the Minister of Transportation, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi.
He also indicated that the e-ticketing for now is applicable to just Abuja-Kaduna train service.
He explained that ticket purchases at the train station is subject to availability.
“If you come to the station, if there are still free tickets, you can still purchase.
“But we encourage intending travellers to buy tickets online with their phones or computers.
“You can also get your e-ticket on the NRC e-ticketing app on play store.
“You can also buy on www.nrc.tps.ng” he explained.
“You can also pick a seat of your choice online. Once the seat is picked, it will no longer be available,” he indicated.
Our correspondent also gathered that the minister will officially commission the online ticket platform on Wednesday, January 20, 2020, which leaves people wondering why the e-ticketing platform commenced ahead of the commissioning and without adequate publicity and due diligence; a question no NRC staff wants to speak on.
But after the first day of the online ticketing regime, our correspondent visited the Idu Train Station on Thursday morning to see how things fared.
It was gathered that majority of the teething problems still characterized the online ticketing regime.
Daily Trust observed that the validation period still takes long and fewer passengers are able to buy the tickets online.
Some NRC staff, who spoke under condition of anonymity, said the trains were departing half empty because of the difficulty passengers experience in getting tickets online and validating tickets at the station.
Some passengers also complained of some people buying multiple tickets, perhaps with the intention of reselling them during rush periods at exorbitant rates.
Our correspondent sought the clarifications of some of the issues with Mr. Victor Adamu, the NRC Operations Manager.
“We started with people having problems downloading the app on their phones so they couldn’t do their registration.
“That still persisted this morning (the second day), but there is a way out because if you can’t buy your ticket from your phone, you can also come to the ticketing area at the station to buy because there is a system at the ticketing hall to attend to walk-in buyers.
“But you must come with a means of identification. You can pay cash or through ATM,” he explained.
He said those who are able to buy their tickets online only need to validate it at the station.
He said the validator at the station reads the QR Code and matches the ticket details with your means of identification before allowing you to board.
“We have been validating tickets since we commenced operations,” he indicated adding that “everybody must have a means of identification to be on the train.”
On why trains have been departing with less capacity he said: “Like I said, the process of validation takes time.
“Attending to one person, sometimes takes between three to five minutes and we have less than one hour to validate hundreds of people to board the train. So definitely, it will take time.
“Also, for a train that departs by 7am, we start selling ticket by 6am. But if more people buy online, the number of people coming to buy tickets at the train station will reduce,” he noted.
Adamu said for now, you can’t buy tickets days ahead of the journey as tickets are only available 24 hours ahead.
“For now, it is limited to 24 hours. You can buy online today for a tomorrow’s trip.
“But you can’t buy for a next tomorrow’s trip,” he said.
On issue of allocating same ticket seats, he said the problem has been sorted out, noting that the challenge was only noticed on the first day of operations.
As the challenges continue to plague the online ticketing policy, commuters pray the NRC resolves the issues with dispatch so they could have a better experience going forward.