Sunday, August 24, 2008

Ticketing - Fail

Here in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, our public transport system is far from perfect. The trains and buses that I catch to work each day are slow and unreasonably crowded. All I can really say in their favor is that they are only rarely delayed by more than 10 minutes, and only rarely are they cancelled. However, more than once, I have missed a train because I simply couldn't get through the doors due to over-crowding.

Public transport here is also expensive. As a result, our trains and stations are policed by small tribes of trench-coat-clad transit police who will gladly dispense large fines to those who are not in possession of a ticket. They are also notorious for being heavy-handed. I don't blame the individual transit police themselves; they're clearly under-staffed and over-worked. I hope readers can see that I'm describing a larger problem here.

The tickets themselves work by a process known as "validation". You insert the ticket into a machine, and the machine prints the date and time of the next expiry of the ticket. This information is also encoded in a magnetic strip that runs down the side of the ticket. Simple right? What could possibly go wrong?

A couple of weeks ago, this validation process failed me. I inserted my ticket into a machine, only to receive it back without a printed date stamp! I was fully aware that if I were to be stopped by one of the transit police, they would only see me as being in possession of a ticket that had not been validated. I would have no proof that I had actually validated the ticket and the machine had failed. Knowing this, I decided to buy a new ticket, and pay for my journey twice, rather than risking a large fine or a discussion with an unreasonable, dim-witted individual.

However, the proof of the machine failure is clearly evident in the picture of the ticket. Where the second trip (and second expiry date of the ticket) should appear, I have a blank line. I assure you that, even though I am entirely capable of it, there is no photographic trickery at work here. The machine simply failed me. Clearly, the magnetic strip encoding did not fail, and kept a record of my validation. Unfortunately, however, the transit police have no way to inspect the magnetic strip, so that would have been useless to me.

In the past, I've heard people claim that they tried to validate a ticket and it didn't work. The transit police still fined them. Now I wonder: were some of them actually telling the truth? I pay some $2500 to ride the trains each year. For that kind of money, I should have enough room at least to stand on a train when a seat is not available; I should have courteous, reasonable transit police; and I should have a ticket machine that works. So, of those three, let's see what I do have: Fail, Fail, and... oh yes, Fail.

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