CHENNAI: The withdrawal of concession in railway ticket fares has made elderly people cut down on travel ever since it was implemented. A section of regular train commuters said they have had to cut down on the number of trips to bring down travel expenses.
According to an RTI reply from the Southern Railway, about 10% of train travellers (1.04 crore) out of 9.64 crore railway commuters between April 2019 and March 2020 had availed concession under the senior citizen quota, before the concession was withdrawn. Men aged 60 years and above were eligible for 40% concession while women aged more than 58 years were eligible for 50% concession.
The concession was given in all express and premier trains, but was withdrawn on Covid special trains in 2020 and 2021 and later removed from all trains. K Jayaraman (65), a retired professional from Kumbakonam, said he does not frequently travel to Chennai to meet his family members unlike earlier.
“I used to travel four times a month between Kumbakonam and Chennai, but after the withdrawal of the concession I reduced it to two trips. I prefer travelling in 3AC or 2AC. For four trips (two onward and return journeys each) I now spend Rs 2,000 a month additionally.
Now my interaction with family over phone has increased in the last two years,” said Jayaraman, adding that he no longer gets a guaranteed lower berth either. Echoing a similar experience, Srinivasan Mariappan (69) from Kovilpatti, a rail enthusiast and a retired State government employee, said he often visits Chennai, Bengaluru and Pune to meet his daughter and other relatives.
“For the past two years, I visit Chennai once in three months. I have not opted for any other mode of transport such as bus or private vehicles since railway was the only convenient and cheap mode of transport for the elderly.” Official data on reservations shows increase in bookings in Southern Railway for 2021-22 with 10.8 crore bookings against 9.64 crore in 2019-20.
Sources attributed it to the railway’s decision to convert passenger trains and few MEMU locals into reserved express specials in 2021- 22. Besides, unreserved coaches in regular trains also were operated as reserved. According to the 2011 census, elderly people account for 10.4 % of the State’s population.
Naina Masilamani, a retired bank employee in Arakkonam, said that except for pensioners, elderly people are dependent on their children and family members. “With only limited source of income, travel concession is essential for senior citizens.” A railway official said, “Concession is a policy matter of the railway board and the Ministry. So far, no decision is has been taken on this.”