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Token torment brings back paper tickets

Slow-mo metro: Queues for tokens spill out of Dum Dum and (right) Tollygunge Metro stations on Panchami afternoon. Pictures by Sushovan Sircar

Long queues at Metro Railway counters kept commuters waiting for as long as 40 minutes for a token on Wednesday.

Manik Biswas, 51, missed five trains as token management took on a new meaning at the busier Metro stations like Dum Dum, Shyambazar, Kavi Subhash, Tollygunge and Kalighat.

“As soon as I reached a counter at Tollygunge, I was told that I would have to wait till a new lot of tokens arrived. I missed five trains,” said Biswas, headed for Sovabazar from Tollygunge.

The Metro authorities failed to find a way to feed tokens back into the system faster despite knowing that the passenger load would increase on Panchami. The shortage worsened towards afternoon as shoppers and pandal-hoppers filed into Metro stations.

From Thursday, it will be back to paper tickets for the duration of Durga Puja.

Frequent announcements over the public address system asking personnel manning the entry and exit gates to replenish tokens at the counters made little difference in the absence of a proper strategy.

Metro staff were spotted collecting used tokens at the exit gates and carrying those in plastic bins and buckets to the ticket counters. By the time a bucketful of tokens would be poured into a dispensing machine, another one would go empty.

As supply of tokens dried up, Metro officials were forced to shut down several counters at each station. “It was done to keep the supply chain of tokens going. At Dum Dum station, the number was reduced from four to two between 3.30 and 4.30pm to ensure that the tokens at each counter lasted longer,” an official said.

The upshot was that the queues at each open counter at Dum Dum, always a busy station, reached the road outside the building. Despite complaints and some commotion, only two ticket counters remained operational.

“I needed to reach Jatin Das Park by this time and here I am, stuck in the token queue for nearly 40 minutes already. It is ridiculous that on such a busy day for the Metro, they have only two counters open,” said Soumik Basu, 22, who was to meet his friends and go pandal-hopping in south Calcutta.

Soumik missed six trains from Dum Dum.

At Tollygunge station, only three ticket counters were open from 2.30 t0 3.30pm. The queues during that period reached the footpath.

About eight lakh commuters availed themselves of Metro services on Panchami, almost double the 4.5 lakh tokens in use. Around four lakh smart cards are also part of the ticketing system.

“There are enough tokens in the system. The problem lies in the recycling process,” a senior official of Metro Railway said.

Recycling based on incoming and outgoing volumes holds the key to managing the supply chain.

“Tokens deposited by passengers at the exit gates should be taken back to the counters as quickly as possible. If a buffer is created, those tokens should be transferred to a station where there is a shortage. The manpower assigned to this task is inadequate, especially for a busy day,” the official said.

On Wednesday, tokens accumulated at some stations while others faced a shortage.

Sources said 25 lakh paper tickets had been printed to replace tokens during the Puja days.