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Thursday 16 December 2004

Oyster sucks part II [Lurks]

You may recall that back in blog 786 I expressed my dissatisfaction with the technological marvel of London transport known as the Oyster card. To cut a long story short, my card just mysteriously stopped working and getting it replaced was a saga of considerable inconvienience, dogged by confused London Underground staff all the way.
Eventually I got that resolved. My card expired and then my week in South Africa happened, I got back and needed to whack on another three months travel for the princely sum of £272.40. What happens is you nominate a station, the next day, which will update your Oyster card with this new season ticket. It happens automagically as you use the card at a barrier. I had to use Paddington because my local Finsbury Park station doesn't have ticket barriers.
On the day of the ticket updating, yesterday, I came through from Finsbury park (since they don't check tickets there) and was met with the dreaded 'Seek Assistance' message, irritating beep and the slam into my back as the gates refuse the open and the chain of commuters come to a sudden stop and huff and puff at me, assuming in some way that this massive inconvienence to their zombie-comute is my fault.
I tried to explain it to the ticket barrier LU assistant guy. He isn't interested, it's an Oyster, clearly it's magic so he just waves me through. Day goes by. I return home in the evening, quite late as there was a work bash, and again the barrier wont let me in.
I explain this to the current surly LU assistant who does a great line in condescending speech, it's my fault. Clearly the ticket has no credit. It does, I say, I paid two hundred and eighty pounds and got the email in the morning saying it was ready. This guy was deeply unpleasant, as indeed most LU staff are in my experience - proof that his £30,000 a year sallery indicates money does not indeed buy happiness.
I go to the ticket selling window, there's no one there but yelling EXCUSE ME for a couple of minutes results in someone appearing and pointing aggravatedly to the OTHER window which I'm clearly an idiot for not understand that this is the one she is manning. There's no money on my ticket. She tries, in fairness, to call the Oyster card hotline to query this only they're closed, she says with a resigned huff. Closed. But um, London transport is 24 hours.
She says try it on the gate guys 'swipey thing'. I communicate to this guy, who has decided to take a serious dislike to me for interrupting him from reading his newspaper in the deserted station. He says it wont work, call the hotline. I say it's closed. He says it's not. He gives me the number, I dial it on my mobile. It's closed. He doesn't care one jot, of course. Suggests I buy a single.
So... had I not had any cash on me, despite the fact I've paid a huge wodge of cash and been confirmed my card is updated, I'd find that I have no right of travel on London transport and absolutely no way of resolving it. Obviously Oyster is, on the basis of this experience, quite rubbish. I indicate this to this LU staff and he has the cheek to tell me that thousands get by with it fine, once again intimating that this is somehow my fault. To be frank, the red mist of rage descended upon me but now older and wiser, I managed to walk away without incident, buy a single and get my arse home.
Next morning I log onto the Oyster web and find out that despite issuing me a new card, they haven't updated it here. I've bought a ticket, by the looks of it, for my old card which they took off me. Obviously this is a defficiency with them, not I. I register my new card on the system, never told by anyone that I would need to do this and if it's not obvious to me, well... I can only imagine how Doris the Chav is going to deal with it.
I call them up to explain this. I get on the phone, similar to the last exchange I had with Oyster customer service, the most bored and condescending woman I can ever recall conversing with. She's slow, stupid, she doesn't get the whole thing and as it slowly becomes clear over the course of 30 minutes of sorting this out - and all they did was refund my ticket and force me to buy another - there's never an apology, never an indication that this is their system having failed me, always the ever-present insinuation that this is my fault. She raises her tone and gets snotty with me. She tells me to do things like 'disassociate the old card' which clearly has nothing to do with the web site because there's no such feature.
So who's going to give me back my two pounds that was on the old card which mysteriously stopped working and they took it off me. What about refunding my two-days travel expenses when the card stopped working? What is the possible justification in having the telephone helplines close at 6pm? What about refunding yesterday's travel expenses and today's travel card too? She 'doesn't know about that' and then hangs up on me.
I was absolutely flabberghasted. I've complained bitterly about the state of the British customer service industry before but never has it been rammed home with quite the nuclear force of this escapade.
Incensed, enraged, disgusted. I'm now writing an official complaint letter which I expect I shall escalate to the regulator and as this correspondence unfolds, I will send it on to the Lord Mayor's office as well. This shall not stand. I'm sure this is ultimately futile but by God, I cannot sit back and take this sort of treatment.


  1. I think its fair to say that we're not unhappy with the technology per se as its clearly a fairly robust system used by hundreds of thousands of travellers every day. The true problem with Oyster is the people who are responsible for administering it and of course offering support to those who find themselves in a technically rooted problem.
    Call centres are of course one of man's more successful attempts to recreate hell on earth. Usually manned by wage slaves (and we're not talking high wages either) who couldn't give a shit whether your oyster card worked or not, they represent precisely what's wrong with customer service in this country.
    Having spent quite a lot of time talking about the logistics of call centres with a major charity, IBM and Orange (the purpose of which remains hellishly secret) I can happily reveal that a top notch call centre operator, with full product/service knowledge and who is, importantly, able to think for themselves, is paid on average £15,000 per annum.
    At the same time, call centre staff are offered bonuses and awards which if won can add a not insubstantial percentage to their monthly takehome pay. These awards are based on the amount of calls handled (usually) so you see, call centre staff not only don't give a shit about you, or your problem, they don't give a shit about anything that takes longer than a minute to address. You are fucking up their chances of getting an extra few quid at the end of the month see?
    Of course, dialling any support number these days usually enters you into a call centre lottery, the result of which will be some mindless twat on an industrial estate near Fife, or a subtle international divert to someone called Rajeesh in Bangalore who for US$1.80 a day will happily tell you in his best Staffordshire accent that he can't help you.

  2. I know that for pre-pay you need to make sure you touch in and out, otherwise you'll get overcharged. But does anyone know if the same thing applies for season tickets? If you only registered one part of the journey, would it matter?

  3. As far as I know you have to touch in and out with all tickets types.

  4. You don't need to touch in/out with a season ticket no. It's just a case of they let you in/out and that's it. Prepay, the exit gate is trying to work out what to charge you which is why it's so important.
    Incidentally, I had my second Oyster card go bad recently. LU staff were actually fairly helpful and this time filled out the entire form for me and issued me a replacement on the splot. The bloke reckons it's because I keep it in my back pocket all day so it gets flexed a lot. That's something they seem to have left off the brochure...

  5. The Oyster system is such a well designed piece of software / hardware that the incompetence of the people actually administering it infuriates me all the more. For the first year or so of its operation they required you to have a photocard if you wished to charge a season ticket to it. There was no reason for this at all, nobody would ever look at it, the thing's read by a bloody machine.
    On the plus side the staff at LU seem to be finally starting to get their heads round it. Seems to me that when you got your first card replaced the idiots didn't know how to replace it so they just sold you a new one, which is why it didn't get properly updated on the web site.

  6. I'm now on my second Oyster card, since the first one went completely doo-lally on me a month or so back. The transfer process was fairly painless, yet took way longer than it had any right too. As a zone 1/2 season ticket owner (annual, £800+) I was being asked all sorts of questions about it's start date, id number, and so on that I had no idea how to establish. Fortunately, being me, I bellowed down the phone at someone and they duly came forward with the information.
    Flexing the card does duff it up rather regularly, as does keeping it inside a wallet with more than 10p change anywhere near it. I discovered much to my chagrin that this Seriously Fucks Up the Oyster.
    Still, given the state of the rest of the moron-infested soul-fuck that is the London Underground, I'm rather pleased that someone somewhere has been clued up enough to start ditching those paper tickets.
    Now I want them to ban tourists, and those bloody stupid wheely-bag things, during rush hour.

  7. I think tourists are sadly a necessary evil however we should pay off-duty rugby players to charge up and down the left side of the escalator, barging through the tourists and firmly shoving them onto the right hand side while yelling loudly "CAN YOU NOT READ ENGLISH, STAND ON THE RIGHT JOHNNY FOREIGNER!"

  8. Since I'm too lazy to come up with a new blog, I thought I'd resurrect this one. So, bought an Oyster online on Monday, start date today (Thursday). Arrived by recorded delivery on Wednesday, all good. Pitch up today, ready to use it for the first time at a mainline railway station in zone 6... 'Seek assistance'. Bah. Get waved through by the monkeys, and when I get to Waterloo, things work fine and dandy. On the way back, however, at Blackfriars, 'Seek assistance'. Bah. Go to ticket window, LU peon (observe the upgrade from monkey) determines that I'm coming up with an error because I have a negative pre-pay balance from this morning.
    Me: Errr, it's a travelcard, there shouldn't be a balance.
    Him: Yes, but it's set to start tomorrow. Refunded it and reissued it, with it starting today. Shouldn't have a problem from now on.
    Sorted! Has to be said, was a lot better than I was expecting, having been prepared by the horror stories on here.

  9. I love digging up old blogs me.
    I was in Hong Kong recently, I guess they were the contact payment card pioneers, they call it Octopus. Now, I'm sure they fuck up the same way over there but I imagine you'd get to sleep with the chairman of MTR's daughter if it did.
    Anyhoo, the Octupus card rocked cos you could use it on rickety wooden trams, ferries, modern, clean tube trains (including the Mickey Mouse one), Disneyland itself, and best of all... in 7-Eleven shops - to buy beer.... mmmmm.
    To me this is the everyday micro-payment solution that Visa Cash never was. Visa Cash was trialed in a few parts of the country, Leeds included, and a few cities worldwide about 5 years ago, and you had slip the cards into Chip & Pin readers and arse about pressing green buttons to accept. Fine in a supermarket, but not when you are buying a pastie at Greggs. Octopus/Oyster is perfect for this. Bring on the cashless society!

  10. anyone had any problems getting a refund on an oyster season ticket?

  11. I got rumbled with a £20 Penalty today at london bridge by the twit guards at London Bridge station.
    Not because I had no ticket. But because even though I had renued my Oyster online it wasnt activated by the readers at London bridge.
    My oyster was going to run out on the 5th novemeber so like a good commuter i topped up my card on the 3rd Nov to start today on the 6Th.
    So i get up this morning go to catch the bus to the station and i am rejected.
    Manage to get a lift to Bexleyheath station .
    Again the ticket isnt valid. So i am worried that even tho i have a receipr maybe my funds failed on my debit card.
    So anyway i am let though without any question at my local station and wonder if i have to activate it at London bridge.
    Get to london bridge and it fails again.. Now i am very cross and upset that again the system in the country has let me down.
    The guard at london bridge talks to me like im some sort of criminal this makes me lose my rag and call him an arshole besause he jumps to conclusions.
    I show my damn receipt to him and he says he cant to nothing about it and that i will have to be issued with a 26 day penalty as i cannot afford to pay the travel i also get tuts and stupid a-hole looks because i have been let down by my Bank in them issuing me a new chip n pin number (thats a whole other story.
    After i am let through with a penalty i call TFLs abbysmal customer "support" and tell them my problem.
    The first dopey cust support lady puts me on hold to go and check, 15 mins later still the on hold music is playing. So i put the phone down and call again and speak to some other twit who informs me that my oyster WAS sucsessfully added with another months and i need to activate it at london bridge.
    So i say i did try it and it didnt work so she comes back after asking someone and says it has to be a damn LU barrier to activate it.
    What i ask is the point of that, this defeats the whole point of oyster and makes it a nightmare. I dont use the tube i use the bus and overground but i cannot have the bus and overground without the tube.
    So why would i have to use the underground barrier to activate when i cannot get there in the first place.
    she says sorry i cannot help you this is the way it is and i will have to get the ticket from a local newsagents if i want it valid to use on the local station.
    so system is badly thought out as others have said and now i have a penalty for a journey i already paid for but was impossible to activate untill i got to a LU station.
    I think the carboard tickets are better even though the machines stop reading those too after many uses of taking out of wallet and into machine etc etc they get crumples and worn.
    ALL the staff too that work for LU and SE are extreemely rude to us customers who pay their bloody wages.
    rant over

  12. I've just deleted two comments cross posted on both Oyster sucks blogs. Enough is enough, I'm sick of random people posting Oyster rants and whinging about LU on our web site. It was funny for a bit but now it's just getting old so I'm locking this to public comments.