If there was ever a time to ensure cashless train travel, it is now. But commuters will now find that along with their old Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes, even their smart card is virtually pointless, thanks to a mass breakdown of the automated ticket vending machines (ATVMs) across the suburban railway network.

Queues at ticket counters are only getting longer because of the breakdown of ATVMs. Pic/Nimesh Dave
Queues at ticket counters are only getting longer because of the breakdown of ATVMs. Pic/Nimesh Dave

Out of a total of 1,081 ATVMs across the Central and Western Railways, just over a third are out of order, leaving commuters no option but to queue up at ticket counters. This has only added to the never-ending queues of citizens who have been swarming at stations in the hope of exchanging their old currency for new. While commuters are facing great inconvenience, railway officials too are under great pressure.

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Under pressure
“With change in short supply, many are trying to pay for Rs 10 tickets with the banned Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes. People have been coming with the banned notes and are buying yearly and half-yearly passes. Even those who want to buy first-class tickets are giving us these notes,” said Vanita Kotian, head booking clerk at Borivli station.

Each station has been getting Rs 4-5 lakh per day in Rs 100 notes to tackle the situation, but this amount is soon exhausted.

“We need to remain calm while handing commuters. All they are interested in is to get rid of their old notes, but we don’t have sufficient change for everyone,” added Kotian.

Printer problem
The ATVM fail has only made things worse, and commuters across Western and Central Railways have been unable to use their smart cards. A Central Railway official said the malfunction was due to a printer problem. “The ink fades and rubs off, and even the paper is not compatible with the printer. This is causing trouble during maintenance of the ATVMs,” said the official.

Swamped with cash
Even after the ATMs and banks began to disburse the new Rs 2,000 note, people had no idea where to get change for it. Many are now using these notes to buy long-distance tickets. “Over the last few days, many have come with bundles of notes to book tickets. The cash handling has jumped substantially,” said Uma Jadhav, another ticket booking clerk.

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However, many are also spending in excess of Rs 40,000 in order to get rid of their old notes, hoping to get new currency by cancelling the tickets and asking for a refund. But the Railways nipped it in the bud by declaring that any refund in excess of Rs 10,000 will directly be credited to the customer’s bank account.

1 Lakh
Average number of customers buying long-distance tickets daily