This from my “There Must Be an Easier Way” collection.

We’re all being encouraged to use public transport. So, buying a train ticket should be a simple task.

I recently set off to take a short journey by train, but on arriving at the unstaffed station I was confronted by a ticket vending machine the size of a Volkswagen Camper Van.

It had to be that size to display the four plaques bolted to the front. These signs are covered in text instructions, bullet points, email addresses, postal addresses and telephone numbers.

Well, I had no wish to contact the train company. I only wanted a simple return ticket.

And that’s when it became just a tad confusing.

Mind you, the text does suggest that if you have difficulty operating the machine, you should ask a member of staff. Well, who would have thought of THAT clever ploy?

Unfortunately, this was an unmanned station – but there was a station Help Point.

But, hey, I’m a reasonably intelligent bloke. I could work this out… and then I started reading. And what I read was enough to send anybody into a slumber so deep they might never come out of it again.

There was information about TOD – that’s Ticket on Departure, it seems. There was everything you would need to know about pre-paid internet and telesales tickets. Remember, you’re going to need your unique booking reference and your credit cards.

Then comes the instructions for buying a ticket from the machine: a 6-step process. It involves calculating your destination and other routes, then using the keyboard. Once you’ve got that, there’s ticket type, such as off-peak, anytime – and that gets a whole lot more complex if you’re buying a weekly season ticket. For a start, you’re going to need pohoto ID.

Think you’re finished? No. You still have to work out the complexities if you have a child travelling, if you’re using a railcard, “other ticket”, or there are more passengers in your group.

When you get through all that, you are invited to use your credit card to pay. That’s right, shove your precious credit card into the tin machine and hope it works, AND you get your card back.

But you’re still not finished. You need to read the helpful information, such as the type of tickets available, and the type that are not. Wade through everything from Off-Peak Anytime to advanced date tickets, and from Multi-modal fares to Zonecards and day-tripper tickets.

I hope you’re following all this!

Hang on, there’s more. Yes, more “helpful information” such as refund application procedures, age restrictions for child fares, tickets not being transferable, and “unless indicated otherwise… as some tickets are not valid… additional payment… blah de blah de blah de blah.”

And then, when you’ve waded through all that, you spot a little plastic plate further down. It tells you the machine doesn’t accept cash (ScotRail apologise for that inconvenience.) And one little line: “Cash payments can be made on-train”.

What? After all that, I can just pay the conductor on the train?

Guess what I did.

Yes, there’s got to be an easier way… It’s just a shame that they don’t tell you the easier way right at the beginning.

Drew McAdam


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