New Delhi: In a setback to start-ups that are mining and profiting from Indian Railways data, the state-owned transporter plans to bar access to third parties and charge them royalty for using the information.
In the last one year, around a dozen start-ups with their own mobile applications have emerged, providing passengers information such as PNR status, live running train status, seat availability, wait-list ticket confirmation chances, train time-tables and platform locators.
“...now we plan to classify all this information so that no third user can access it," a senior railway ministry official said on condition of anonymity. “Besides, plans are also being finalized on charging royalties from these start-ups/mobile apps in case they want to run their applications by accessing our data."
The newly formed Non-Fare Revenue Directorate of Indian Railways will work on a plan to monetize railways data and implement it this fiscal year.
“The broad framework is already prepared and it would be soon put before the Railway Board and then for consent from railway minister Suresh Prabhu," the railway ministry official said.
Indian Railways at present books around 1.3 million tickets online a day and has increased its capability to 15,000 tickets a minute with a handling capacity of 300,000 concurrent users through its website IRCTC.
Start-ups mining railway data have received investments, albeit modest, from India as well as overseas.
In April, Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilekani invested an undisclosed amount in train travel app RailYatri.in. The company has also raised funds from several other investors like Helion Venture Partners, Omidyar Network, Blume Ventures, Ujama and till date has raised around $3 million, as per a company statement. Bengaluru-based ConfirmTkt.com founded in 2014 also received funding worth $250,000 this year.
“The start-ups are surely going to face the heat and how bad it would be will depend on what kind of revenue model the Indian Railways develops and adopts for accessing this data," a person in the industry said on condition of anonymity. “In fact, many start-ups had discussions with Indian Railways, but they (Railways) are hesitant to partner with younger companies and prefer their own model of revenue rather than partnerships."
He added: “With the infusion of capital for these start-ups, royalties would not be a problem and maybe this is realized by the railways in taking this decision. All these years Indian Railways didn’t see any potential and suddenly they wake up from deep slumber. The move may hurt business, especially the profit levels, but how much can be disclosed only once railways is out with a blueprint on royalties."