It is not entirely true that online booking benefits the tech savvy/elite. Before the advent of the online booking one has to go to the railway station (as they were the only places where you can reserve a ticket) stand in a long queue and make reservation. With online booking now there are many authorized railway travel agents at many parts of the city to whom one can go (if one is not tech "savvy") and they will do the booking charging a small fee.
1. Private Universities: No. But there are tons of private institutes under universities.
2. Public Transport: Trains no. Buses - in most parts of the country (eg. Madhya Pradesh)
3. Power: Tata Power, Reliance etc. Coal mining is the part that has not been privatized, AFAIR.
4. Aeronautics: No, but airtravel yes. Secondly, the aeronautics industry and research in India is still at a very nascent stage - so I am not sure if it really hurts the economy/society.
Years ago when I was one of the few people among friends and family that had good internet and a credit card, I used to book a lot of tickets for others. Out of frustration, I wrote a simple python script that automated the process of booking tickets at 8 in the morning.
It would log you in, fill in the passenger details, payment mode etc.. and boot you into a browser for the final bank transaction screen. It was fast because it wouldn't actually wait to download the html screens before submitting the data. It would scrape the main page's date and sync itself with it to submit the booking exactly at 8am. I was able to finish a booking in less than 30sec.
After spending a few days prodding their system to make this hack work, I learned just what a mess their backend was.
They have a form variable called 'clickCount' which they increment and pass around on every page. This is how they 'detect' that you clicked a link twice and helpfully log you out.
Their validation and actual processing of passenger genders is case-insensitive - they accept either 'M' or 'm'. However the final ticket printout you get will show all passengers as female unless the gender you sent in was in upper case (curiously though the actual official print out pasted on the train when travelling contains correct genders - I have no idea why).
I presume many people had similar scripts to what I had and so eventually in an attempt to circumvent it, they introduced captchas. Turns out the captchas didn't actually work.
I know this because my script continued to work for a long time and only a few months after they introduced captchas (when I visited the website the normal way to make a booking) did I even know they introduced it. I can only presume that if you didn't actually submit the 'captcha' form variable then they didn't bother to validate it. So the irony was that the people booking tickets the normal way suffered while the rest of us working around the system were rewarded.
Finally they realized this at some point and threw in the towel and just banned quick booking altogether from 8-9 because they couldn't figure out any other way to actually solve this problem. So yeah, I'm probably part of the reason that happened (though by no means the only one who did this type of hackery,I'm sure).
For the life of me I don't get why IRCTC doesn't use some good load balancing and improve performance of their mainframe.
javax.servlet.jsp.JspException: No bean found for attribute key historyDetails and rest of the stack trace.
From stacktrace, they are using struts and broadvision's some customized servlet container, most likely tomcat.
TCS is not at all related to IRCTC online ticketing operations.
Whoa, the huge amount of misinformation in this item's comments is staggering.
A mainframe that does batch processing at night.
Cleartrip on the other hand is a shining example of stuff done right. It's one of the friendliest websites I have ever used. Don't have an account? No problem. You can still go ahead and book a ticket, Cleartrip will drop a gentle reminder to set your password to create an account, after you have booked your ticket.
Forgot your password? Again, no problem. Cleartrip will allow you to go ahead with the booking, and send the link to reset your password to your email.
I'm not sure how effective such an approach would be considering it's much harder to get Indian organizations (especially a Government one, oh boy) to respond to feedback of the people, but it's definitely worth a try.
As some of us know, Anna Hazare and his stellar campaign against corrupt politicians in India is an inspiration to get Governments to act.
Without addressing the Indian trains issue at all, there's a common mistake designers make that particularly annoys me - which is that "clean looking" is often conflated with "usable". As much as we hate to accept it, there is a lot of data out there that indicate many extremely busy looking, messy looking websites out there work very, very well.
The Indian rail and ticketing systems are chaos personified. As a traveller post-India, I love the adventure of just trying to buy a ticket from a station. (Quick tip: stand wide, shoulders broad, with ticket form in hand blocking access to the hole in the ticketing window so others can't push through.) But, thinking back as an Indian-rail newbie, my goodness!
As an entrepreneur on a trip like this (full of industry experts), I couldn't help but see business opportunities. When I say experts, I mean guys that can recite the Indian rail timetable (approx. the size of the Yellow Pages) without missing a beat. They're also the guys that dominate the popular India rail forum called IndiaMike.com. The depth of their knowledge was staggering. When someone like me meets people like them, we can't help but plot and conspire.
From a business perspective, the problem with building an Indian Rail startup was getting access to the rail information. We had grand plans and certainly the expertise, but then came the stories of bureaucracy. Forget publicly accessible APIs, the IRCTC would apparently only give access through bribes. A couple of people I spoke with talked of requests for US$40k. (Dinner and expensive champagne is one thing, but $40k is on another planet.)
So why compete with Cleartrip, et al? Well, they're just not intuitive or efficient. They're actually a pain in the ass. We envisaged something like Hipmunk for Indian train travel. But rather than being satisfied with just better design, we saw an opportunity to bring Indian rail travel to the average foreign traveller. Of course, the last thing the Indian rail system needs is more passengers, but it felt such a shame that most people would never experience India the way we did.
In the end there were just too many hurdles. For starters, you can't book foreign tourist allocated seats over the internet (despite bribes and access to APIs). You can't even book them at most stations. Then there are issues with IndRail passes and availability. You can book tickets 90 days out, but the volume of ticket sales in India is mind-blowing. If someone wants to travel cross-country next month, sometimes they'll buy 5 different days and just cancel the 4 extra as they get closer to the day. The cancellation fee is so low that it makes sense. So in a country with 1.1 billion people, imagine people booking multiple tickets to provide flexibility. This is why there's such an insane last minute frenzy.
I still think there's an opportunity here, but the data needs to be made accessible. In my opinion, this kind of openness requires structural and cultural change in government. I hate to say it, but don't hold your breath.
All of that said, I highly recommend travel by Indian rail to anyone. We were a mixed group of Brits, Americans, Canadians, Australians, etc and were treated more warmly than anywhere on the planet. Of course there were a couple of "incidents" (e.g. breast groping), but hanging out the door a speeding Indian locomotive in the middle of nowhere is something everyone should experience.
If you're a foreigner wanting to book Indian train tickets with minimum fuss, I've written a detailed guide here: http://globetrooper.com/notes/plan-book-train-trip-india/
IMO, IRCTC UI with its "just-ok"user experience, has almost all the options readily available. Whereas, Cleartrip does not. Cleartrip tries to keep things simple here, but I guess it does not work good for certain areas like Cancelling the ticket, or filing for TDR etc. Often it takes extra clicks to refine my train searches.
I think as a HN reader you should also think in those line and give ur 2 cents by improving the system.
http://www.cleartrip.com/trains, http://www.makemytrip.com/railways, http://www.yatra.com/trains.html
Solve a problem like the Indian Government (IRCTC is a government undertaking) like this and you'll have lots of takers for 10-20 rupees. They offer a better user interface, saved payment details, a consolidated place for air & rail bookings and better customer support.
*Cleartrip is funded by Kleiner Perkins, Ram Sriram, and Concur. MakeMyTrip by several top asian funds, and Yatra by Norwest Venture Partners and Intel Capital
It isn't that "companies have come in and done something about this"; it was IRCTC who first published an API that enabled these companies to book tickets. Without the API, Cleartrip and others wouldn't have been able to book tickets.
The other point about a better user interface, well they just don't have a better UI. At least Cleartrip requires more info in the first step than IRCTC. The PNR status functionality in Cleartrip doesn't work most of the time. Filing TDR (a claim for refund) for tickets booked is much more complex in Cleartrip than in IRCTC.
The only problem with IRCTC right now is that it can't cope with the rush at 8 am tatkal and opening day bookings.
The funny thing is that another booking site was made (by the in-house CRIS) and that didn't work for more than a month.
And why exactly is it relavant that he is a college student?
I have no idea why you consider the Indian internet rail booking system a subject above criticism, it just seems bizarre.
Best service certainly comes at a greater cost(yes, monetarily) which the govt is in no luxury to afford and IMHO, they certainly are trying to put out the best they can. (Just look at the figures the internet majors spend on scaling up and you'd understand.)
Convenience charges : You sir have to realize that because of IRCTC you need not waste fuel, stand in huge queues etc. and thus you have to appreciate that part and pay up the nominal amount. I think they should charge the convenience charges at least for the next few years, may be because the employees still have to be paid and can not be asked to quit their jobs even if you do not go to the reservation counter.
I do accept that Indian Railways being a govt. organization as expected is corrupt and is not efficient etc, but well its not all that bad.