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Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Idle Time at Camberley Station

The first anniversary of my blog has come and gone, unnoticed by everyone probably, certainly by me. I am inspired to break my two month postings drought by my experiences at Camberley station last week.

Two adults and a child need to buy day tickets to London, returning at any time. There are three humans selling tickets to a slowly moving queue of travellers, and six automated ticket machines. Some of the machines will even accept cash. The machines are largely unused, so I try one of them out.

Picking the destination is very easy, but then I get stuck. How to select for more than one person? Did I miss that step already (given that I'm only on step 2)? And how to tell the vending machine that we don't want to have to worry about off peak restrictions?

At this point a station employee comes up to help. Rather than staffing one of the several empty ticket counters, her job is to loiter around the machines, helping the confused. When I tell her our needs, she advises us to get our tickets from one of her human colleagues instead as our best option is a group ticket.

I know absolutely nothing about the story of those ticket machines and the engineers who developed them, but I can guess at it. The conflicting requirements, an ever changing list of pricing options, group discounts, London Underground inclusive deals, finally leading to a system that baffles first time and occasional users, becomes more out of date with every marketing initiative, and (cruel irony) needs a human attendant to help customers make sense of it.