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If I can fly paperless to Barcelona, why can’t I go paperless to Waterloo on the train?

[ Insert moan here. ]

At the moment I’m buying tickets on a daily basis because of how and when I’m traveling into London, so my commute is exceptionally frustrating. It’s a first world problem, yes, but I remain continually pissed off that I have to keep on dicking about with its of paper to enable me to travel.

If I buy a weekly, monthly or annual ticket, I am obligated to mess about with a stupid photo card and paper ticket.

I had to check myself today as I fumbled for my ticket, checking to make sure it says “RTN” on it rather than “OUT”. Almost exactly the same pissing technology we’ve been using since someone thought of putting a steam engine on rails.

Don’t get me started on queuing for the fracking ticket vending machines. At peak times in Waterloo the queues are often 6 or 8 people deep. You regularly miss the train you could have caught because you didn’t have the right piece of paper at the right time. Or, more accurately, because the rail company couldn’t take the money off you fast enough. Here’s the photographic proof.

In case you live in Wales, or deepest darkest Sussex a la Rafe Blandford and don’t ever have to deal with queues of folk, here’s what the ticket machine mess looks like at rush hour:

Screenshot 2014-03-03 20.22.16

Every single one of those people has a smartphone, a data plan, and probably either an iTunes account with a credit card, an Amazon account, a Tesco Online account, you know, everything that normobs (“normal mobile users”) tend to have nowadays.

Walking through Waterloo last week I was prompted to examine just how stupid things have got with South West Trains when I saw this gloriously horrific bunch of toss of an advert:

south west trains

That’s right. They’re advertising the fact that you can buy your ticket online and… here’s the science bit… print it out at the station only TWO hours later. Amazing! Technology! Online! Internet things!

Who authorised that statement to be stuck into a promotional campaign, eh? I can only imagine the various committees and compliance folks involved in that decision. Clearly, nobody was embarrassed enough to recognise that this statement is the complete opposite of what we all expect. Indeed it shows just how rubbish the whole system must be if this is the best that can be done.

If you actually have to qualify that ‘online’ means ‘a minimum of two hours’ — and you have to do that in the flipping advertisement’s call to action, oh dear. Oh dear, dear me.

I am significantly disappointed that South West Trains are still obviously gazing starry-eyed at this new thing called ‘online’ when the rest of the planet has gone mobile.

Let’s get past the ‘two hour’ thing and get to the reality of mobile. I got on a plane last week to Barcelona for Mobile World Congress and didn’t use a piece of paper once. [Set aside the passport thing]. The legendary British Airways app did all the work for me. It was seamless and a pleasure to use.

Wouldn’t it be nice to do this with the morning and evening commute?

Probably by 2020.

No doubt there is a strategy paper somewhere at South West Trains entitled something like “Project New World” which includes a bullet point near the top of a list that reads, “mobile ticketing”.

It’s not as though this stuff is unproven. Or complicated.

Masabi, one of the leaders in the field of mobile ticketing, managed to deploy mobile ticketing for MTS in San Diego in two weeks. Two weeks, dear reader. From contract signing to live. TWO weeks. TWO FLIPPING WEEKS. That appears to be how long it takes for someone in South West Trains to finish decorating the bullet points on version 28 of their Project New World strategy paper.

As I write this post, a polite chap from South West Trains walked through the carriage and asked to see my … paper ticket.

I duly showed him.

Why am I even having to do this?

It does my brain in, it really does.

I could live with it years ago when Masabi were showing off this sort of thing on Nokia handsets that, for the period, were amongst the very best devices you could possibly buy. Back when even being able to install an application on to your Nokia phone was a significant, significant experience that only the serious geeks could achieve. Mobile train ticketing obviously wasn’t consumer-ready when the average person was fretting about the cost of sending hundreds of texts a month and when data plans were a glint in the milkman’s eye. But now? You only have to look at the legions of folk getting on any British Airways flight [other airlines are available]. On some flights I’ve been on, paper is in the absolute minority.

You know I’d settle for an Oyster-style service that enabled me to dispense with paper tickets.

I won’t hold my breath though.

Give it 6 years and, you know, by iPhone v12, maybe it’ll be a reality.

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.

11 replies on “If I can fly paperless to Barcelona, why can’t I go paperless to Waterloo on the train?”

Hahaha! In Cardiff Central the ques can be just as bad!
I don’t understand how the Train companies have done nothing about this. With this Collect Two Hours later thing, you’ll probably still have to stand in a long que anyway. So not much difference there.

The gov, bless ’em, are looking to bring on ITSO type tickets, but only enforce uptake when a franchise is rengotiated. And the financial models for ITSO are not yet sorted, so, yes, don’t hold your breath.

Ahhh that’s another problem! Good point! I think they do have ‘collect only’ ticket machines at Waterloo though — so that might not be too much of an arse. But if your station only has the normal machines, yeah, you’ll need to wait in a queue to retrieve your tickets!

Ahhh that’s another problem! Good point! I think they do have ‘collect only’ ticket machines at Waterloo though — so that might not be too much of an arse. But if your station only has the normal machines, yeah, you’ll need to wait in a queue to retrieve your tickets!

I’m currently on a train from Edinburgh back to London. A couple from Japan has got on the train with a copy of the receipt they received for purchasing the tickets in advance. Even though this is clear evidence they’ve already paid, the ticket inspector has told them this isn’t valid for travel. The couple are being very polite (far more than I would be in this situation) and have suggested they get off at the next station to pick up their tickets. They’ve been told this isn’t possible as they would then miss this train and this is the only one they’re allowed on. The same is true if they took their other suggested route of paying to go back to Edinburgh and attempt to pick up the tickets. The guard has therefore convinced them that their only option is to buy two more tickets at full fair (over £150 each) and then attempt to claim a refund – you can already guess how far that will get them. I think this is disgusting service, deliberately penalising customers and making them pay twice for something that was an honest and easy mistake. This could easily be resolved with mobile ticketing. East Coast trains you should hang your head in shame.

Greater Anglia has it’s toe in the water on this – on some advance tickets for some routes you can either print your ticket at home or go paperless and use their mobile app.

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