The Null Device

Jeffed for $83.30

Yesterday, I bought a monthly Met ticket (as I usually do every month). Today, when the old one had run out, I boarded a tram and validated it. All very well, except for one minor detail: the validator machine was out of ink, and thus didn't print the date on the ticket. This has two implications:
  1. There is no way to tell that the ticket is validated without putting it into a machine; which means that if I'm on a train with it and the Ticket Nazis show up, I get an on-the-spot fine for fare evasion, and
  2. If the magnetic strip is corrupted (as happens from time to time, due to malfunctioning validators), the ticket is irrecoverably worthless.

I spoke to the tram driver about this, and it turns out that the drivers have no authority to certify tickets as validated or do anything about it. She gave me the phone number of the Yarra Trams customer feedback line. I called them, and they directed me to a number at the ticketing company, which is only staffed during the week.

I am not impressed with the efficiency of Jeff Kennett's automated ticketing system.

There are 20 comments on "Jeffed for $83.30":

Posted by: Missjenjen Sun Aug 25 23:44:42 2002

This has actually happened to me before. I understand and appreciate your frustration.

Bring back the connies, I say!

Posted by: GJW Sun Aug 25 23:50:04 2002

With Metrotickets here in Adelaide, the ticket inspectors have little machines used to check the magnetic strip on the ticket. It doesn't matter if the machine is out of ink or not, because the inspector can still scan it and check what time it was validated.

Posted by: richard http:// Sun Aug 25 23:55:49 2002

Oddly enough, the actual system was implemented by the bureaucracy and private sector, not Jeff. Every time I hear this line about connies, I sigh. Have you noticed how even the Labor government couldn't bring them back? There's a thing called reality, people, and you're soaking in it. Most of the problems in the current ticketing system have nothing to do with Jeff, and a lot to do with the ordinary, everyday politics of government working with private sector and people (yes, just everyday regular schmos) who do the minimum amount of work possible.

Good on you for ringing up and complaining though, 'cos at least they know there's a problem and can attempt to fix it.

There's a trial tram out there somewhere running with a daily ticket button too... finally :)

Posted by: richard http:// Sun Aug 25 23:56:31 2002

Oh yeah, don't inspectors on trains have similar little machines?

Posted by: Michael S. Mon Aug 26 01:35:10 2002

What cities still have conductors on their trams? I've travelled a bit and I can't recall any that still do. Though not many cities have trams. Prague does.

I buy weeklies, because: (1) if the mag strip screws up I'm only stuck with it for a week; and (2) so that if I get an ugly-ass ticket (e.g. World Masters Games--that ticket is filth!) I'm only stuck with it for a week. There's like a 5% difference in price?

On the other hand, I generally don't validate my weeklies. "Uh, you see inspector, the magnetic strip doesn't work any more."

Posted by: acb Mon Aug 26 02:09:40 2002

Richard: the arguments I have seen suggest that (a) having conductors on trams would not cost more than the combined cost of roving ticket inspectors, fare evasion (it's still rampant) and operating/maintaining the machines, and (b) ticket inspectors were abolished not so much for economic reasons but to punish the transport union for the strike of 1990.

Posted by: acb Mon Aug 26 02:19:11 2002

As for ticket inspectors having machines, I don't believe they do. I've never seen them carrying or using such machines.

If I was of an unethical bent (and had too much time on my hands) I could probably inscribe the ticket with a bogus timestamp, perhaps even one in the distant future, and get away with it.

(Which brings me to a font idea: a version of FakeReceipt based on the Metcard print. Either as a suggested tool (not to be used) for fare evasion, or the typographical equivalent of punk tram conductor uniforms.)

Posted by: richard http:// Mon Aug 26 02:55:19 2002

I'll let you argue the economics of it all with someone who knows the numbers (and I can - I know one of the aforementioned Bureaucrats personally, and the savings were both real and necessary).

I think it's also unfair to say that it had anything to do with a single strike - particular when the whole concept of automating ticketing is (a) recognised world-wide as a reasonable way to reduce cost and (b) bipartisan.

It's just a pity that several organisations fucked up their respective responsibilities in the implementation.

Posted by: acb Mon Aug 26 03:09:24 2002

Cost savings are one thing; reduced utility is another. Public transport has to compete against the private automobile, and it is losing. It would make ecological and long-term economical sense to improve the system to encourage more people to use it. And having roving staff acting in a purely punitive capacity isn't going to look good against the private car.

(And how much of these savings remain after all the cock-ups have taken their toll?)

Posted by: richard http:// Mon Aug 26 03:36:00 2002

There's a much more fundamental problem with public transport: frequency. We're about to get a whole buncha shiny new trains in the system. You know what they're going to do with the old Hitachis? If you guessed "keep them in service to increase train frequency", you guessed wrong. That is the reason why people use their cars. People who commute will buy tickets - they disembark at stations that have ticket inspectors at the gates. Roving inspectors aren't going to change that. Giving them a seat and not packing them like sardines will make them change their mind though.

It's just a pity that nobody lobbied to keep the Hitachis around. I didn't realise that they were going away until last weekend. Too late now.

You do remember that we had ticket inspectors even back in the old days of the "connies", don't you? Lots of them too...

Posted by: acb Mon Aug 26 04:09:04 2002

It's a vicious cycle. Public transport is losing money and patronage, so costs are cut and services get cut back, planned upgrades scrapped, &c. Meanwhile, hundreds of millions are earmarked for freeways. At this rate, Melbourne will be the Los Angeles of the southern hemisphere within a few decades, and going outside one's house without a car will be like going out naked.

Posted by: richard http:// Mon Aug 26 04:12:09 2002

Yeah, it's not in a good state, is it :(

Posted by: acb Mon Aug 26 04:28:23 2002

See also my more recent blog entry about Public Transport First.

Posted by: cos Mon Aug 26 05:54:33 2002

actually, there *is* a font based on the MetCard print. I found it via a link on typographica the other week, I think it's from some New Zealander type.

Posted by: cos Mon Aug 26 06:04:09 2002

'ere you go. warning, it's Flash-based like most type designer's sites seem to be, these days :

Posted by: acb Mon Aug 26 06:44:15 2002

Urk. Flash.

If/when I do some more fonts (I haven't had the time/inspiration to, and Fontographer not working with OSX doesn't help), I'll probably use SVG for previews. Because SVG can be authored with non-proprietary tools.

(So can Flash, but it's about as fun as hand-coding assembly language. And I did enough of that in the 6502 days.)

Posted by: Alex Tue Aug 27 05:08:18 2002

The tickets are printed by a thermal process. Leave a handful of dead tickets on top of your monitor (if you've still got a CRT) and watch what happens. If you want to make life difficult for the Gumbies (an old graf term that referred to the green uniforms that melbourne rail security wore) then cook all your (still valid) tickets and tell 'em you left them in your back pocket or something. Exposure to the magnetic interference generated by mobile phones may also help.

Posted by: Alex Tue Aug 27 05:14:13 2002

At highschool some of the other kids (not me! honest) used to give the system a run for its money 'hacking' the old paper weeklies and monthlies. it took a gentle touch with the pen eraser and a steady hand with a biro to change a '23' to a '28' and so on. I wonder if it's possible to 'record' the information in the new magnetic strips and then duplicate it, either with a tape deck or an old reel-to-reel ... all this plus the font == phu|\| :)

Posted by: acb Tue Aug 27 06:27:14 2002

With careful use of a needle and a fine black pen, "MAR" can become "MAY" very easily. Not that I'd advocate that.

As for magnetic strip hacking, I was once thinking of using spent Metcards for audio; using an old reel-to-reel tape recorder (or parts of a cassette deck) to record sounds on them, and then "scratching" them past the heads to play the sounds back.

Posted by: sam Tue Aug 27 13:52:26 2002

I think every man and his dog interested in audio has considered that (I know I and a couple of friends have, at least :)).

As for the super-gumbies - I've seen them carrying around portable ticket-checking machines. And they're usually not as Nazi-like as you make out; many a time by the end of the month my monthly has worn away, or it's been bent out of shape in my pocket or something, and they've always been very good about it. They actually do realise that there are issues with the system that have yet to be resolved. Once they even wrote me a replacement ticket (some special little slip of paper that they have for that express purpose).

A friend's mum's yearly ticket (expensive!!!!) somehow became faulty. She filled out a form and sent it in with her ticket, and they sent her a bunch of various tickets to make up the rest of the year.

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