Monday, October 15, 2007


Following Instructions

I spend far too much time on trains. But I need to get this off my chest. Sorry.

In order to faciliatate "Revenue Protection" aka, the 'no free rides on our railways' policy, busy stations have automated ticket barriers. Their operation is simple, one might even go so far as to use the term 'idiot-proof', if you were particularly naïve. [Experience tells us that nothing is idiot proof] An experienced half-asleep traveller such as myself can accomplish the whole process in a shade under two seconds.
The procedure is as follows
  1. Ticket goes in slot
  2. Machine reads ticket
  3. Ticket comes out of slot, and machine displays the phrase
    Take ticket
  4. Passenger removes ticket, and the gates open.
Simple? I like to think so. So simple that thousands, nay millions of commuters manage it several times every day.
Now occasionally the ticket's torn, damaged, the wrong way round, no longer valid or not valid for that station. At stage three therefore the machine instead tells people to
Take ticket and seek assistance
The passenger is supposed to take their ticket, and , get this, go and talk to one of the people positioned anywhere between two and twenty metres away from them. Still with me? Good, because for some people, this is quite a big mental leap.
Apparently "Take ticket and seek assistance" could mean several things, none of which involve seeking assistance. It could mean:
After any of the above steps, or if you're in a hurry, as your first option, you may wish to try another barrier. Though it worked fine for the ten people in front of you, it might be a glitch just for you, just with that barrier. Feel free to try every damn barrier available, why the hell not? There's a dozen to choose from! And you can employ all the techniques that didn't work before on your first choice of gate on all the other identical gates which will proceed to exhibit identical responses and issue the same advice - "seek assistance"

I cannot understand why people do this every bloody morning. It slows down not only everyone behind them, but Mr or Miss non-valid-ticket too. They get more and more frustrated and annoyed, and we, everyone behind them, has to put up with them blocking one gate after another.

If English isn't your first language, if you are a tourist, if you don't often travel by train, or are just of below average intelligence, you are excused. You really do not know any better. That's fine. You've been confused by a very impersonal automatic piece of machinery, which is a quite normal reaction. Allow me to smile gently at you and indicate the railway staff to you.

But during rush hour, there are very few tourists on the train. And the people who spend the most time barging into closed gates dress in a manner which suggest full-time employment requiring great brain power and daily commuting by train. They also swear at the machines and express their dissatisfaction with the pleasant station staff in a manner that indicates they are in fact native English speakers, and have probably been this annoying and oblivious to the world beyond the end of their nose for a great deal of their lives.

I have lost count of the number of times I have seen this happen. The holder of the duff ticket and everybody in the vicinity gets thoroughly annoyed, and then proceeds to their workplace in a foul mood. The first ten minutes of these peoples' days are completely unproductive, and this is repeated in offices cross London and up and down the country. It must be costing the economy millions each year.

Rant over.

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