Indian Railways recovers ONLY 57% of the cost of travel!

Last week, when my wife went to the railway station to drop someone, she got a platform ticket. I noticed the platform ticket while at home almost casually. It was a standard platform ticket, but when I turned it around, there were 3 specific sentences in the back!

The second sentence immediately caught my eye and made me immensely curious. But, I didn’t have time to think about it and forgot about it.

Then, last week, when I had to book train tickets for an upcoming trip, I looked at the electronic ticket and found the same sentence again, used right in the middle of the ticket!

That sentence: “IR recovers only 57% of the cost of travel on an average”.

If you look at the back of the platform ticket, points 1 and 3 are clear, in terms of what they want you to do/think about: that Indian Railways cares for you. It is giving you helpful information to act upon need.

What does a statement like, “IR recovers only 57% of the cost of travel on an average” mean to users? What is it intended to signify in our minds? Are we supposed to think of something specifically about Indian Railways? Something we should read more on and then think of something?

I have no clue.

I asked this question on Twitter and a majority of responses felt that this is about not making use of concessions (like senior citizens’ concession).

As someone who can take no kind of concession (owing to any of the concession category not applicable to me), the presence of that statement did not naturally direct me to that (or any) conclusion. I’m reasonably sure the no-concession-possible category would be the largest in India, in terms of users of Indian Railways.

But, if the intent was to request people to not opt for concessions, there is a precedent for that communication that has supposedly worked well, at least from a visibility perspective (since the Govt. has spent a LOT of money in ensuring that it is visible): giving up subsidy on cooking gas. The communication most famous for this is the billboard featuring a happy-looking woman that has a statement that she’s happy because she got cooking gas YOU gave up your cooking gas subsidy (with the Prime Minister offering a knowing smile in the back of the billboard, of course).

In that case, there was a specific call-to-action from you, the end-user – do not opt for subsidy, because then X can happen.

In the case of Indian Railways’ statement, I’m not sure if most people would understand that as the natural ask because it is both cryptic and inconclusive.

From a pure communications point of view, I’m utterly baffled by the presence of the line. Someone did the data crunching and arrived at the % figure. And decided to make it known to every user of Indian Railways? For what purpose?

The London Tuberail had done a similar exercise a few years ago.

Their statement, made prominent through online websites and offline billboards said, “TfL doesn’t make a profit because we reinvest all our income to run and improve your services”.

Now, even this statement seems open-ended and doesn’t guide you towards thinking or doing something specific. And it has also generated a lot of heated debate online.

And strong counterpoints like this: Lies, damn lies and TfL’s finances.

But, it at least had a footer: “To find out how the money is spent visit website URL“. That web page doesn’t exist anymore, but there is a video from that period that explains the details:

The details work as a corporate communication exercise, intended to make users and people appreciate the effort that has gone into the system. And, as a result, perhaps treat the system better (and not abuse it)? And take pride in it? Possibly.

I presume Indian Railways meant something similar too, but in the absence of anything specific or even a page where I can read more, a single data point seems cryptic and mysteriously open-ended. The word ‘only’ in the statement perhaps points to some desperation from Indian Railways’ side, but if they wanted to transfer that desperation to the readers, what exactly do they want us to feel or do? That clarity would have been very useful, for this communications exercise.

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