The curious case of e-ticketing
The queue at Bangladesh National Museum was a little unusual this Friday. Things were getting a bit chaotic too. The issue laid with some who were being refused to enter. Waiting at the back of the line for a long time, they couldn't believe they were being turned back.
Some of them had families with them, even little children. The children, especially, added to the negative mood, as they were awfully disappointed by this denial.
The visitors' fault? They didn't buy or book e-tickets from the museum's website.
Following initial fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, The national museum, situated in the capital's Shahbagh, started the website in November last year. But rather than gracefully transitioning from a physical ticketing system to the e-ticket service, the authorities simply replaced one with the other outright.
This new shift has not become known information yet. For those who come to visit the museum for the first time -- after hearing of it from others -- or are visiting it after many years, it's natural not to know of the new ticketing process.
But museum security is strict, and after a few futile attempts, the visitors inevitably have to withdraw.
Entrepreneur Sayedul Islam (45), came to visit with his wife and their two daughters, all the way from Jurain. The last time they visited was two years back, and none of this "hassle", as they put it, existed back then.
"I'm not well versed in dealing with online service. There's no one at the gate who could walk us through the process. I came here to pass some quality times with my family, but it's turning out to be the opposite," his voice soured.
It had been around half an hour that he'd been trying out a way to get in by the time of this conversation.
Md Dipu (40) was facing similar issues to get tickets for his family of four. When this correspondent approached him, he was trying to open an account on the museum's website to buy the tickets, which he's finding difficult to do due to the suddenness of the situation.
"I might be able to book the tickets on my smartphone eventually, but there are those who don't use a smartphone or have internet access all the time, how will they be able to enter the museum?" he said, reiterating the lack of guidance at the gate.
"I didn't know how to open an account on the museum's website and book tickets. I found a recharge agent to do it for me. He charged me Tk 60 for two tickets," said Samia Akhter (35) from Rampura.
"The museum authority should have arranged for physical tickets along with e-tickets. Otherwise people like us will have to bear the brunt," she said, while her little daughter kept tugging on her.
This correspondent found their claims substantiated. There were indeed no guides or sign-aids at the gate, with only two banners stating the online address of the museum and a little bit about e-ticketing -- not enough to guide everyone through the process.
There's also the problem of online payment. Around the entrance area, mobile banking and recharge agents were seen making a few quick bucks from the incongruity of the situation.
Though the regular price of tickets are Tk 20 for adults, Tk 10 for children, Tk 300 for those from Saarc countries, and Tk 500 for other foreign nationals, for each ticket purchased with their help, the agents charged an extra Tk 10.
People still flocked to them, as long as it gets them to enter the museum.
Near the entrance, there's a spot to keep visitors' luggage or bags. But due to a duty scheduling issue, no proper checking was taking place at the time. This correspondent saw only one man named Dulal hectically dealing with the bags and providing tokens to the visitors in exchange.
He said there's three other members in his team, but he's having to work alone as they have gone off to take a break.
According to other staffers of the museum, this has been going on since November last year, ever since e-ticketing started. Usually, 500 to 800 people are allowed to visit on a regular day and another 1,000 to 1,200 on weekends, which means workload is higher on weekends.
Contacted, museum Director General Khondoker Mostafizur Rahman said, "We made e-tickets the sole mode of entrance amid the pandemic with an intention to limit the number of visitors."
Asked about the visitors' complaints, he said, "It was a decision of the museum's trustee board and parliamentary standing committee on cultural affairs. We've put up banners with the website's address around the premises. Anyone can go to the website and check out relevant information."
Pressed on the issue, all the DG had to say was, "I am sorry this is the way things have to be for now. The orders have been given from the high-ups, and there's little I can do about it."
He said, "Once the pandemic is over, we will think of releasing physical tickets again."
On Saturday, ICT state minister Zunaid Ahmed Palak said at least 90 percent of government services will be digitised by the end of 2021. Such statements may sound hopeful, but if stories of mismanagement like that of the national museum persists, then these numbers will not mean much to the citizens who queue up to receive the services.