How not to manage crowds

Railways' ban on platform tickets between 1-4 p.m. shows us how exactly under-skilled it is in crowd management

shivani

Shivani Chaturvedi | June 4, 2010


The crowd at the platform ticket counter at New Delhi railway station
The crowd at the platform ticket counter at New Delhi railway station

Not much seems to have changed at the New Delhi railway station in the aftermath of the recent stampede. In fact, weakly strategised crowd management efforts threaten to boomerang, promising accidents of a greater scale.

The Railways had earlier decided to suspend platform ticket sales in the afternoon hours - from one to four - to avoid unnecessary crowding of the platforms by non-passengers. But this has only made matters with quite a crowd collecting at the ticket counters with no inkling of the ticket-sales embargo.

With the platform-ticket counters on both the ground and the first floor of the Ajmeri Gate side of the station left unattended, a queue inevitably builds up at the nearest counter. The queue gradually swells to a crowd as seeing-off/reception teams try to coax tickets, or at the very least, some information out of the railway personnel present.

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Ratan Kumar, who has come to receive his nephew, has been standing here for over an hour. "I tried getting the ticket at the ground-floor counter. When I didn't manage to I came up here for a ticket. But then they asked me to go downstairs and check. But now I'm here again, still waiting for a platform ticket."

Such requests as Kumar's meet their immediate end in a curt,"You will not get platforms now," from irate railway personnel. They point at a notice stuck on the window of the counter. It just starkly reads (in Hindi) 'Platform ticket sales have been suspended from 1600 hrs to 1300 hrs to avoid crowding."

The later half of the notice announces both - the concessions that Railways is wiling to make for putting you through the missed seeing-offs and receptions and its lack of foresight in making these concessions. The notice reads, "Only those accomapnying elderly, physically challenged, children or women passengers may buy tickets during these hours."

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But would not a simple task like getting a platform ticket get unnecessarily complicated if one had to prove that he/she has come to see-off or receive an elderly/physically challenged or any other passengers on the exempted list? And would it possible to always check this before giving the platform ticket?

With many climbing on to the counter-slabs, persistent in their efforts to get the tickets, a accident seems to be just lurking somewhere in the corner of that hall housing the counters.

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Security personnel were missing from the scene till almost 1.30 p.m., the day I was there. Only when I started clicking pictures of the crowd did railway protection force personnel appear and tried organising the crowd even as a few railway personnel decided to overlook the directives and started selling platform tickets.

Divisional railway manager, New Delhi, Ashwini Lohani says that ticket sales were suspended for a few days after the stampede that killed two at New Delhi station.The new directives about the counters remaining closed from between 1 pm and 4 pm came later.

On being informed about the chaos that comes with the ban, Lohani assures us that the matter would be looked into.

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