Four decades after the first Rajdhani Express made food a compulsory facility of premium train travel in India, passengers are finally going to get the choice to not eat railway food — and not pay for it either — served on such trains.
June 15 onwards, Railways will start the much-awaited trial in which passengers can opt out of meals while booking tickets of Rajdhanis and Shatabdis.
If the passenger chooses not to eat, he/she will not have to pay either. This means paying around Rs 300 less — the catering charges levied by Railways for serving food. For trains running longer distances, catering charges are higher. The rates are different for different classes as well.
To begin with, the 45-day trial will be carried out on the Patna Rajdhani, the Delhi-Mumbai August Kranti Rajdhani, the Pune-Secunderabad Shatabdi and the Howrah-Puri Shatabdi. But officials are certain that the trial is a mere formality. The element of “freedom”, they said, will be received positively by passengers.
Complaints over food constitute majority of the negative feedback from Railway passengers. Earlier, food served on Rajdhani used to be its USP. But over the years, there has been a rise in customer complaints over quality and quantity.
The Railway Ministry has issued the policy directive and the software enabling this choice into the ticketing system has also been tested.
This is how it works: while booking tickets on the IRCTC portal, the website shows a popup that asks whether the passenger would like to opt out of the meals. Selecting ‘yes’ means the payable ticket price gets reduced after the catering charges are excluded.
For tickets issued at counters, the onus lies on booking officials and other staff to tell people that such an option is now available. “We will have to keep telling people till it becomes common knowledge,” said a senior official.
Officials estimate that once passengers opt out of meals, they would use the huge number of e-catering options available on the website or on designated phone numbers. Third party vendors — several well-known brands have already signed up — will deliver food in the compartments.
Once a passenger chooses to opt out, she cannot change the decision during the journey. This is because based on the choices, the caterer will load the required amount of food in the train.
It was also proposed that if a passenger changes her mind during the journey, she could be charged around 20 per cent over and above the catering charges for availing the facility. But in the final directive, that provision has not been included.