Tickets on the Indian Railways' premium trains were much higher as compared to airfares, says a Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report, tabled in parliament on Friday.
Coming down heavily on the flexi-fare scheme of the Indian Railways, the CAG report said: "For the 120 advance reservation period (ARP) of 120 days, travel by air was found to be cheapest mode in 17 directions of travel.
"In the remaining nine directions though, the air fare was higher and the difference in fare was only up to Rs 600," it pointed out.
The government auditor also said that for 90 days ARP, travel was found to be cheapest mode in the 18 directions of travel.
The report also highlighted that for the 60 days ARP, travel by air was found to be cheapest mode in 19 directions for travel and for 30 days ARP, travel by air was cheapest mode in 17 directions.
It also said that in Hyderabad-New Delhi, New Delhi-Hyderabad, Bengaluru-New Delhi, New Delhi-Bengaluru, Bhubaneshwar-New Delhi, New Delhi-Bhubaneshwar, New Delhi-Chennai and Bengaluru-Kolkata sectors, the air fare was cheaper when the tickets were booked 30 days to 120 days in advance.
The report highlighted that the airlines reported growth in number of passengers in 26 directions whereas occupancy in Rajdhani or Duranto Express trains increased only in four directions.
"When compared to the cost and time taken for travel by AC2 and AC3 tier, air travel by economy class worked out to be cheaper and preferable mode of travel. This is corroborated by decreasing trend of occupancy in premier trains post flexi fare scheme, while the number of the passenger carried out by airlines increased during the same period of post-flexi as compared to pre-flexi," it said.
The CAG also pointed out that the flexi fare scheme has led to decrease in ticket sales in all classes except sleeper class of Duronto trains.
"Even in AC 3 class, which was one of the most profitable classes, the occupancy dropped significantly after the introduction of flexi fare and the vacant berths increased from 0.66 per cent in pre-flexi period to 4.46 per cent in post-flexi period. In terms of absolute numbers, the Premier trains carried 2,40,79,899 passengers during post flexi period as compared to 2,47,36,469 passengers during pre-flexi period," said the CAG in its report.
However, the CAG said that through the flexi fare scheme, Indian Railways has earned Rs 552 crore.
"Railway earned Rs 552 crore from passenger earnings from the Premier trains post flexi fare system during September 9, 2016 to July 31, 2017, and there was de-growth of 2.65 percent in number of passengers despite the availability of berths or seats," the CAG said.
The CAG also advised the national transporter to fine tune the flexi fare scheme so that not only revenue but also the number of passengers increase.
"After the introduction of the flexi fare system, passengers preferred to travel by mail or express trains over the Rajdhani or Duranto or Shatabdi Express trains despite a higher travel time for mail or express trains."
It also said that the introduction of flexi fare in AC3 tier class which was already a profit making class was not fair.
On September 9, 2016, Railways introduced flexi-fare for premier trains - Rajdhani, Duronto and Shatabdi.
Under this, the base fare increases by 10 percent with every 10 percent of berths sold, subject to a prescribed limit. There was no change in the existing fare for first AC and EC class of travel.
But on December 19, Railways started to provide 10 percent rebate on any seat left vacant after the preparation of the chart.