Why do bus conductors punch holes in bus tickets? What does it mean?

Few days ago I had same curiosity to know why bus conductor makes holes on ticket and that too on specific number. Now a days, most of the bust conductor has electronic ticket machine but you can get old paper tickets by chance.

After looking at ticket closely I could understand that this is related with stops of journey but to know more in detail I googled it. I found an interesting answer which will give all the details of tickets punching.

The system of tickets varies greatly between corporations. Any ticket would basically have the following information:

1. The denomination (in case of ‘paper’ tickets) or the total fare (in case of tickets issued through ETMs). 2. A Series number – each series would have upto 999999 tickets. 3. A Serial Number. (In case of an ETM issued ticket, the series number might get replaced by the serial number of the ETM) 4. Some kind of an indication to indicate the validity of the ticket. 5. In addition, ETM tickets would have details of the bus service (as in schedule number), the conductor, crew, date and time of issue and so on.

Coming to “validity”: Manual tickets usually rely on “Stage numbers”. Passengers are charged according to the number of stages traveled by passengers, and not the actual distance traveled. The operating company (or the local authority) would decide fare stages (the distance between each stage would vary depending on the route or type of service). These stages are numbered – the number remains the same irrespective of the direction of travel i.e., say a bus running between Bangalore and Chennai – Bangalore might always remain Stage #1, and say, Chennai might be Stage #5. (Just an example).

The conductor is required to “close” a stage after the last stop in every stage. Take the following route for example: Say there is a section with 10 stops, A through J. Say, A is stage one, D is stage two, G is stage three and J is stage four. So, the conductor would have to close the stage after stop “C”. For closing the stage, the conductor just enters the serial numbers of the tickets sold till then in his way bill. This system is used to keep a pattern of ticket sales. BEST and other Municipal transport undertakings in Maharashtra have a system of not closing stages – the conductor makes an entry of all tickets sold only at the end of the trip.

Some corporation always indicate the “From” stage and the “To” Stage, while others might only indicate the “from” stage. Some other corporations (like BMTC) have a very unique system of not indicating the stage number at all! (I’ll explain this in detail). ETM tickets would have the name of the “from” and “to” stages.

The structure of a manual ticket: The structure varies between corporations. Like I said earlier, some corporation always indicate “from” and “to” stages – for such corporations there would provisions for both. See the following examples: The first ticket is of KaSRTC, while the second is of MSRTC. Both corporations have a very similar layout.

The numbers represent stage numbers. They can punch in upto stage number 199. (They use the “1” on the top left as the third digit). They’d punch in the exact stage numbers on both sides. For example: A passenger traveling from Stage 103 to Stage 75 might get a ticket like this: The conductor would punch “1” (immediately next to the “from” label), “0” and “3” in the colums below. Below the “To” label, he’d punch “7” and “5”. (The x in the image below represents punch marks).

Some corporations mark only the “from” stage (a majority of corporations follow this system). Now, there are some variations in this as well. Some corporations have different places to mark “Up” and “Down” journeys – like the ticket below. This ticket is from BEST (Mumbai) – most Municipal Transport Undertakings in Maharashtra follow the same system. The stage number is punched depending on the direction of travel.

For every fare denominations, you can travel only a fixed number of stages. So, if there is a ticket check, they’d verify the number you have traveled based on the “from” stage marking.

The BMTC System: This system is very unique: They do not indicate the actual stage number. Instead, they just make a tear somewhere on the ticket to indicate that the ticket is “sold”. The checker finds out which stage you purchased the ticket from by looking at the waybill. Using the earlier example (of 10 stops A through J).

When the conductor starts, the first ticket in the Rs. 4 stub is 1001. When closing before Stage “D” it read 1051, it was 1067 before “G” and 1104 before “J”. Say the Rs. 4 ticket is valid only for two stages. Your ticket number reads 1044 – so by looking at the way bill, the checker finds that you boarded at Stage 1 (any stop – A, B or C). So your ticket is valid to travel until Stage 3 (until Stop “G” – i.e., stops E, F and G). If you are checked at Stop “H” – then you are ticket less!

This is a complicated system – but the checkers do it as their daily profession.

Information on this story has been sourced from this Quora thread.


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