10 December 2015

The Key to Inconvenience - Revisited

After a month of using GTR’s ‘The Key’ I thought I would update on my experience of using it:

  • The problem with the ticket gates and the direction they are set (and the need to touch-in and out) did not change.
  • Even when the ticket was approaching expiry there is no warning message on the ticket gate display as there is with TfL’s Oyster card. However, touching the card on one of the elusive dual-purpose validators does show the expiry date.
  • Almost unbelievably, the ticket office at St Neots station does not have any way of reading the cards so cannot advise on a ticket’s expiry date. Presumably this means cards and card-based tickets cannot be issued there either, and as a ticket office is the obvious place to buy a ticket I cannot begin to imagine the rationale for not providing ticket offices with the necessary equipment.
  • Not all of GTR’s revenue protection staff have readers for the cards: on two occasions the ticket inspector has looked at the card, shrugged and said he did not have a card reader with him.
  • There is a link in the ‘My Account’ section of the GTR web site for you to view your journey history, but on checking it now my ticket has expired no information is visible.
  • The Key does not work the ticket gates when travelling between KGX and Moorgate via London Underground: paper tickets do, and it is a valid route.
  • GTR's web site appears to have corrupted some of the data in 'My Account', but there's no edit function for me to correct it.

How could the system be improved?

The most obvious improvement would be to remove the obligation to touch-in and out and bring the smart card in line with the paper tickets, or install touch-in and out validators in more convenient locations on the natural route a passenger takes through the station e.g. at the end of the platforms at KGX or the top the stairs at St Neots so passengers don’t need to make detours to find a suitably arranged gate.

Also, as the expiry date is not printed on the card, having a warning displayed on the ticket gate when the ticket is nearing expiry would be useful and prevent the awkwardness of trying to get through the gate with an expired ticket – something the ticket gate does display, but by then it is a bit late.

The impression I get is that the system has been brought in without being properly thought through. It seems that corners have been cut, and what could be a great system for customers is a messy compromise that expects customers to change their habits for the convenience of the company, whilst claiming it is the other way around.

For now I am going to stick with ye olde paper tickets. Sorry.

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