I needed to book some train tickets today, so I optimistically hopped over to the IRCTC website to use their online booking facility. The user interface was horribly designed, but as long as I could figure out how things functioned, I didn’t care. I chose my train, filled in my details, made my credit card payment. But after I clicked the last confirmation button that I had to, the screen just went blank.
I thought maybe my tickets had been booked, and clicked on ‘booked tickets’. No luck. So I called their customer service people. The first time I got through, the woman at the other end heard what my problem was, went mmm, hmmm, and hung up. I tried again. This time, I warned the lady who picked up not to hang up on me. Then I gave her my user id so she could access my account details. Then this conversation happened:
IRCTC lady: So what is problem?
Me: The problem is that after I made my credit card payment, the screen just went blank.
IRCTC lady: Just a minute. (Pause.) Sir, was your ticket worth Rs 365?
IRCTC lady: Don’t worry, sir, the money has been deducted.
Me: Ah. Yes, well, but my ticket history is not showing that I’ve booked any ticket.
IRCTC lady: Yes sir. That is because the ticket has not been booked.
Me: What? The money has been deducted from my account but the ticket hasn’t been booked?
IRCTC lady: Yes sir. That happens. It is an online site, no?
I was too flabbergasted by this to even lose my temper. She eventually said that I would get a refund, but no doubt that’ll involve bureaucracy and online forms that go blank and so on, and I’ve mentally said goodbye to these 365 bucks.
If the government simply outsourced its ticketing to competing private vendors, I suspect I wouldn’t have this problem. Where there is an unthreatened monopoly, what else can one expect?
Update (8.48 pm): More than 40 readers have written in since I made this post, vouching for the efficient service of IRCTC, and assuring me that I’ll get my refund easily. Given the number of people vouching for the website, I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt for now. What’s more, I will head over there and try to book a ticket again. Let’s see how it goes now.