Monday, 3 January 2022

Tickets Please!

I had to go to West Kirby yesterday.  It was a Sunday, and who even knows what the timetables are these days with Covid, so I went to the journey planner on the Merseyrail app to find out when the trains were.  It came up with the times, and also the fares for the journey:


For some reason, it is 25p cheaper for me to get a Wirral-only Day Saver ticket - which allows me as many journeys over Merseyrail on the peninsula as I want - than to get a simple Birkenhead Park-West Kirby return.  This is obviously illogical and is probably down to some nefarious corporate shenanigans I am not privy to.  All I know is, as a customer, I could save myself an entire quarter of a pound by getting a Day Saver.  So I decided to do that.

I also remembered seeing Merseyrail's Twitter feed, and its website, and how it said you could buy the Day Saver online.  Handy!

You can't buy a Day Saver from within the app.  That would seem like the logical place to buy it - I was sat there with my phone in my hand, Apple Pay at the ready.  But no.  Instead I had to open the Merseyrail website on my phone and go to Buy Tickets Online there.


I went onto the page and there was another problem.  The only Day Saver on offer was one for the whole of the network - £5.50.  Which, if you've been paying attention, is more than the £4.35 return to West Kirby, and more than the £4.10 Day Saver I'd been promised by the app.


By this time I was getting a little disgruntled.  The logical thing to do would be to stop, go to the station and buy the cheap Day Saver in person.  I did not do this.  I'd put time into this purchase, dammit, and besides, I thought this might be some prime CONTENT for the blog.  Look, I'm not going out on the trains, I've got to put something up here to justify that Ko-Fi money (by the way, thank you to the anonymous person who is paying £3 a month, even when there's no posts at all; you're a treasure and a king/queen).  I therefore decided to use that Ko-Fi cash to buy the more expensive ticket, just because I'd not done it before, and I was curious.  I ticked the boxes to say I wanted an adult ticket for today.


This took me to another page where I had to fill in my e-mail address... and my name... and my phone number.  It seemed like a lot - isn't my e-mail address enough? - but I did it anyway.


Finally, proceed to payment.  Once again, I was going to have to type.  I had a device in my hand where a tap of my fingerprint (yes, I'm on an iPhone 8, I'm old-skool) could authorise a payment from my account.  This option was not available.  Instead I had to find my wallet and type in all my card details.


After a couple of redirects, and a wait that started to prickle at my anxieties, success!  I had purchased a Day Saver and now I could access the PDF with my ticket on it.  Yes, you read that right; I was e-mailed a PDF so I could print it out if I wanted.


This is, let's be honest, nonsense.  In 2022 there is no need for any of this.  I have various apps for various different train companies; I've been buying e-tickets for years.  Most of the time it goes something like this:
  • Pick a journey
  • Pick a ticket
  • Press my finger to the Home button to pay
  • Put it in my iPhone Wallet, or in the train company app, and activate it on the day
There's a QR code that I can use if I'm stopped by a ticket inspector, or on ticket gates.  It sits in my phone and is easily accessible and simple to use.  Why are Merseyrail persisting with this system?

As with everything else to do with ticketing on Merseyside, it's archaic and over-complicated.  The ability to pick up pre-booked tickets at stations was only added late last year, even though, as a network with 100% fully staffed ticket offices, this should have been a service for years.  The MetroCard continues to struggle to exist, much as its predecessor the Walrus did, with weird quirks for no reason (why can't I order a card online?  Why do I have to go to a PayPoint store?).  It's 2022; I have a device in my hand that has more processing power than every NASA computer that sent men to the moon.  I should be able to simply buy a ticket online.  Leaving everything else aside, the easier it is to buy a ticket, the more likely people are to do it.  

I'm sure there are plans to improve all this; I'm sure there is one very overworked young programmer sweating over his PC trying to wrangle the future.  As a customer, however, it all feels a bit last century.

(Obviously, after all this wrangling, my ticket wasn't checked once, so I could've quite easily not bothered and saved myself the money).

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