Tap in and tap out: yes please

It’s one of the great successes of Transport for London. Yes – you heard right – TfL and the word ‘success’ in the same breath. I’m talking Oyster!

Now we tap in and tap out without a second thought. We nimbly flit from tube to bus – tap in / tap out. And then we try and nimbly flit from tube to bus to train – and oh dear – we can’t!

To us public transport users in London it seems as plain as the nose on our faces that Oyster should be extended to our local overground rail (and everywhere actually) – so we can go boldly and easily wherever we choose!

But no – we still have to put up with a two-tier ticket system if we want to use our local overground stations like Alexandra Palace and Haringey. We are stalled because First Capital Connect are holding back from extending Oyster north of Finsbury Park station.

Having to get separate tickets to travel in the same city is akin to Soviet-style bureaucracy – not what you expect in a world-class city like London. These days we’re no long train travellers but customers – but whatever then happened to putting the customer first? This sort of bureaucratic small mindedness does rather make a mockery of their slogan, “Your Journey, Your Choice, Your Railway” – but not “Your Convenience” or “Your choice of ticketing” it would seem.

Other train operators like First Great Western and South West Trains have already committed to making their passengers happy and will install the Oyster pay-as-you-go system in the next year – and they are putting First Capital Connect to shame.

Recently I met with the Oyster specialists Cubic – who delivered Oyster for our tubes and buses – at Alexandra Palace overground station and they are keen as mustard to get on with it.

So I’ve written to First Capital Connect calling on them to get on with it – and you can too at Freepost RRBR-REEJ-KTKY, First Capital Connect, Customer Relations Department, PO Box 443, Plymouth, PL4 6WP.

Now, don’t get me started on that Freepost address with the twelve-letter string we all are meant to write out – that’s the sign of another service, the Royal Mail, which also seems to have forgotten what serving its customers really mean. They’ve got the address, they’ve got the postcode – but on top of that they expect people to remember and repeat such an unintelligible set of a dozen letters each time you want to use the address. Customer friendly – not!

But back to the topic at hand – not only are First Capital Connect dragging their feet, but they seem keener to install Oyster at the stations south of Finsbury Park with higher passenger numbers than our smaller but vital stops north of that interchange. Wonder why that is?

In fact – we should have smart ticketing connecting all our transport modes nationwide – but the Train Operating Companies are also feet dragging as they don’t want to incur the maintenance costs – even though when he was Mayor of London Ken Livingstone said he would pay for the installation of the readers. And the Government – well they don’t see it as a priority and seem happy for it to take decades – only making changes when the rail franchises are up.

Personally, I think they should make the Train Operating Companies install the smart ticketing, insist it is compatible with Oyster etc and do it now – though with added safeguards to protect the data about individuals that ends up in the Oyster system.

Anyway first things first – local nagging is required to make sure that First Capital Connect don’t skip out our local overground stations and that they get a shifty on!

Tap, tap, tap…

(c) Lynne Featherstone, 2008