More on Oyster (cards that is)

Now that I’ve ordered my Oystercard I’ve been wondering about why it is the way it is. After all, here is a whizzy bit of technology that lets you flip out your wallet and touch it on the yellow pad, opening the gates and letting you go through. No more bits of cardboard that get all twisted and unreadable. But what the card is, is a ticket. Nothing more, nothing less. Why would you design something new to replace the old thing and not make any real changes?

The card is tied to me, as a person. It knows who I am, where I live (after all, I ordered it online and it will be delivered to my home) and it knows my credit card (because I charged it up online). Yet there’s still a requirement to carry a photocard. Why would I need one of those – surely I just need any piece of ID identifying me as me. A driving licence for instance? Oh wait, that’s not ID. Except it is really, and it’s as good as a photocard and one less thing to carry.

Second, why oh why have we stuck to the “pay £16.50 and get a week’s travel in zone 1” business model. Now that tfl know who I am and where I live and my credit card number, surely they could treat the oyster more as a sort of nectar card or airmiles card. The more I travel the less I pay, or maybe I get free tickets. And let it be a stored value card if I need it to be so.And, if I ever stray out of the usual zones of travel, just debit my account for a bit more money – and sum all the debits to be weekly or monthly and take them out just once. That way, you don’t need to employ all those people in the “excess fares” windows or the people who check to see if you’ve strayed out of your zone. With stored value, I’d almost never have to queue up again or use a machine if I wanted to go to a new station – perhaps for the odd trip to Heathrow, say. It could just take the money. Think of the manpower reductions. Give every tourist arriving at Heathrow an empty Oyster and tell them to charge it up at the station before they get on the train. No more “1 day travel cards” at the booths.

Next up for tfl I’m sure is ad hoc gates at interchanges to catch people who cross zone 1 on their way between two zone 2 stations or similar. That would be an obvious thing for an oyster card to stop … but if they stick with the oyster=ticket rather than passport to travel idea, then nothing will have advanced.

It would be like us putting a form online that was structured just the same way as the paper one and putting “turn to page 2” at the bottom of the first page. It would be online, but it wouldn’t have advanced anything for the customer.

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