A superb reminder why Mobile is still in it’s infancy



I snapped the above photo on Friday evening as I strode through Waterloo. It’s an absolute shocker of a photo. There are six ticket machines shown, each with a queue of at least 6 people waiting behind someone struggling away pressing buttons to buy a piece of paper.

There’s another bank of machines on the other side, each with another 6-7 people queuing.

It’s absolutely ridiculous.

We’re past the half-way point in 2013 and this is still a primary problem.

The ticket machine purchase process doesn’t help. It’s incredibly difficult to make a purchase within 30 seconds, particularly given the inordinate amount of time the credit card processing element takes. Even if you know the machine off by heart (and many clearly do), if you’re stuck at position #4 in the queue, you’re going to be delayed by at least (90 seconds x 4 people = 360 seconds) 6 minutes. Charitably. A lot of people in the queue waiting haven’t chosen their precise ticket. A lot of them don’t have their wallet out — and will wait until they see the price displayed on screen before fumbling for the credit card. Or worse, sticking in money.

Sometimes actually paying with cash can be quicker — but you run the random risk of the machine taking your £10 note, holding it for a second (tricking you into a degree of relief) before spitting it back out and refusing to accept it.

Each of these people has a top of the range smart phone.

They just do, right?

Look at them. I don’t see anyone in that queue likely to bring out an old tattered Nokia 1000 series device.

The majority will be on iPhones — 4, 4S and 5. There might be a Samsung or an HTC in amongst them.

I’d go so far as to estimate that of the people in the front queue there, all of them regularly buy online. Are all of them Amazon customers? Probably. If you can afford to buy a peak time rail ticket (in London) you’ve probably got an Amazon account. How many of them have actually bought something via their mobile phone? I’d estimate 80% have done so and 40% do so on a weekly basis.

Perhaps that’s the issue holding back Southwest Trains, the rail company that serves Waterloo. Maybe they’re concerned that folk just don’t get mobile yet. Perhaps their policy is to wait until mobile is well and truly proven…

It seems we’ll be waiting a long time at Waterloo.

So if anyone tells you what an amazing mobile world we’re living in, nod away, by all means — buying a flight on your phone rocks. Buying boring stuff like soap or plastic storage boxes via Amazon Mobile whilst you’re in the middle of doing something else rocks. Mobile is brilliant. But the basics just aren’t here yet.

Folk are still having to queue to pay for bits of paper as permission to travel. No different than 200 years ago.


Annnnnd relax.

By Ewan

Ewan is Founder and Editor of Mobile Industry Review. He writes about a wide variety of industry issues and is usually active on Twitter most days. You can read more about him or reach him with these details.

15 replies on “A superb reminder why Mobile is still in it’s infancy”

It’s such a shame that the railways haven’t embraced mobile technology. I could be traveling between here to Exeter twice a week for 12 weeks from next month. And know I’m gonna have to faff about with ticket and ques. Someone needs to get things moving

Worse than this is that even when you plan ahead and buy tickets online or on your phone through something like the Trainline, you STILL have to queue up to get them from the machine, put the card you bought them with, type in a collection reference and pick up the print outs….WHY?!!? This is almost more hassle than buying them there and then at the machine – i still need to put my damn card in! Ewan, i feel your pain. The sooner something like Masabi is the standard, the better.

Well, the question to ask here may still be – is it the lack of possibilities or is it just another old-fashioned customer manner. With austrian (state-owned) railways you can buy your ticket via web (and print it out), via SMS or even via a Smartphone App. And yet, despite all the possibilities and a very high internet and smartphone penetration over here, most people still prefer to line up in front of the ticket machines or the ticket counters. Anyway, without trying it out, Southwest may never find out …

And don’t forget about the booking fee they charge you on top of all the hassle you just mentioned above 🙂 The other bad thing about the so called ‘e-tickets’ that most companies require you to print them. Why? Exactly…

A counterpoint: I just got back from a trip to the U.S. with my family, and for the first time I was able to use mobile boarding passes (via Apple’s Passbook) for all four of us on our flights on United. The experience was totally seamless – including checking in and paying United’s (exorbitant) luggage fees, including at the security checkpoint – and meant we didn’t have to stand around in a queue for a kiosk. I was frankly amazed it worked so well. So we’re getting there, at least in some quarters.

The problem is not at all the lack of application of mobile technology than the absolute refusal of the transport companies to get with the plan. They, not the punter, are wedded to that magnetic-striped piece of cardboard. If you’re lucky you may get away with using one of *their* plastic NFC cards, but woe betide you if you attempt to use it for a journey not covered by that particular regime’s infrastructure. It is the transport companies that want to be able to examine your ticket and punch holes in it, or scan it with their own toy NFC device. The day of The Fat Controller persist into this time in human history, long past it’s sell by date.

It is a bloody shambles. But it is also very unlikely to change any time soon. Can’t stop, must go use my mobile for some tweets and a bit of Facebooking while I stand in this queue.

Over here, we travel with e-tickets on planes, trains & busses… everything is definitly not perfect yet, but I haven’t queued for a paper ticket in ages. (Stockholm, Sweden, and I travel a lot within the country and also to other parts of Scandinavia).

Totally correct. I say the same thing every time I go to the laundromat and have to use coins. Not that there shouldn’t be these advances either, but if mobile really was were many of us have postured that it is, then it would have moved the pace of the policies and behaviors that keep lines like these happening.

Friction is what you have photographed Ewan. There are industries who are afraid of removing that friction because it will expose the holes that fund pockets, not enable progress.

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