Saturday, April 22, 2006

Public Transportation in London: rip-off and let-down?

I have never been so furious. After a long week working, I was finally hoping to relax on a Friday evening and slow down a bit. Instead, it goes another furious incident.

I bought a ticket for £7.50 for a one day Travel Card between Zone 2 – 6. I used it for one trip during the peak hour for traveling to work within only Zone 2. After work, I went to Liverpool Street station hoping to catch the train to the airport. When I came out of the gate with all my luggage, the gate assistant (or was she really assisting?) did not let go because I did not have the right ticket. Then I realized that the train station is actually in Zone 1, meaning I have to pay another £3. For a total journey time of around 50 minutes for the two short rides on the day, I had to pay £10.50. It is a lot of money to pay for. It seems so easy to rip off some easy money from consumers by designing a poor and un-user friendly transport system.

Naturally you may ask a question: is there a system where people can use stored value cards to pay for only the trips that they have traveled? As a matter of fact, there is such a system in London. It is called Oyster card. But it is not as simple. It only works on some operations but not the others. It works OK on tube and bus, but not work on other train operation, such as SouthWest train, one of the largest train operators in the franchise network. The company serves hundreds of thousands of people (I don’t have the exact figure but it is likely to be many more) everyday in South East London and England. Their trains go as far as to Southampton and Bournemouth.

In the past, consumers could buy a travel card unlimited trips between zones. Instead of a very straight forward as in the past, the Oyster card has added the unnecessary complexity to the system. So instead of buying the right ticket by knowing where to go during the day, someone has to know in advance whether or not EVERY operators providing the transport means are accepting the Oyster card or not. Only then a sensible decision can be made.

Who is going to benefit from this? It is NOT you and me, or Joe Bloke the consumer. The biggest beneficiary is of course the train operators, and subsequently to the London Transport authority as well. I was not happy so I asked one of the train operators when they will join the Oyster card system. The answer was that it would not be sooner than 2009 when they re-negotiate the franchise contract with the London Transport Authority. It means that consumers have to suffer for another 4 years on top of all the confusions they have already had for the past 12 months. After the Congestion Zone surcharge, this is yet another example of poor planning by the authority. Consumers are being let down again. I left wondering when they can get things right in the first time.

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