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5 December 2007

How smart is the smart card

Last month, I paid Rs. 100 and purchased a railway "smart card" the new substitute to the coupon booklet/standing in queue to purchase a local suburban rail ticket in Mumbai.

Rs. 50 is the refundable deposit while the rest can be topped up like a mobile phone card. This is how it works- you place it on a reader at a small kiosk like an ATM. It has a touch screen from where you select your destination and punch in yes- to print ticket if you are satisfied all is ok.

The touch screen offers directions in three languages- English, Hindi and Marathi. After the final "Yes" is selected, you wait till the machine spits out your ticket which you collect. So far so good. A group of helpful three people were sitting next to the queue to assist first timers. And one of them was pocketing every hundred rupee note with alacrity. Born and brought up in this city and even then, sometimes the Mumbai way of doing things never ceases to make my jaw drop. Like treating wads of cash so casually. Anyway, moving on,

-Do all suburban stations have readers?
-Is there a big queue at each?
-How easy is it to top up?
-Can one buy a monthly/quarterly pass too etc etc
-Can one use it on central and western lines

These are things I am not yet sure or have ascertained. On the day I did it, it was a very inexpensive alternate to taking a cab when I was truly running very very late- so pleased as punch at my quick thinking to take a train, I walked off or rather rode off- the clakety clack of the train soothing my frayed nerves and reaching my destination in a mere fraction of the time it would have taken me by road. I sat peacefully and finished some work too, even as the lady opposite finished writing out a bunch of cheques and another took a peaceful nap. The vendors vended and the girls giggled and commuters moved, shoved and in typical Mumbai fashion to each his own we all reached our stations.

Later in the evening as I was updating my elderly relative on the adventures of the day and flashing the plastic piece at her, she queried- Oh, is this all done by Laloo Prasad Yadav? I smiled and replied, It is the bureaucrats who run the country, not the politicians, but maybe yes. I'm not sure. And we had a hearty laugh.

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