I’m not having a great week with my local operator National Express West Midlands.
First the belly-aching over the 4pm Twitter feed finish (see previous blog Driven to Drink?), now more tech nightmares in this modern age of bus travel.
Forget that NXWM’s free WiFi and my phone don’t get on (although I think it’s my piece of kit that is the culprit here) – now we have the arrival of “m-ticketing”. With more woe.
M-ticketing is the future, they tell us. I’ve never been over-keen, to be honest. What happens when your phone battery dies? (I work with a colleague who spends half his waking hours plugging in his phone charger) “Not our problem” says bus operator. Fair enough – the propensity for fraud must be very high amongst the n’aer-do-wells. But it’s more potential hassle for bus drivers, who face a bewildering amount of ticketing options to contend with, from a general public, who are either bewildered themselves, want to play the system, or who think they understand it and don’t. Not to mention everything that can go wrong with mobile apps. Sorry, tech wizz-kids, they do. Oyster is surely one of the most simple, effective and unarguable systems. You have a card with credit, it bleeps when it works, there’s no ambiguity (although I’m sure Londoners will tell me otherwise).
So to M-ticketing. National Express West Midlands has been unusually shy about shouting about this. It’s crept out only because I spotted it off the back of something else, and the fact that my bus-driving pal Mark Fitchew told me it was here.
So I found the app in the app store and downloaded it. Seems like other ticketing apps I have for First and Arriva. Register it (although that procedure didn’t work – click on the email, “this link has expired, click for another email with a link on it to click” – that email never arrived), select what ticket you want (day, week, etc), pop your card details in and Bob’s your Uncle.
But Bob’s nephew isn’t happy.
On my First and Arriva apps, I have “ticket wallet”. Buy your mobile tickets in advance and store them here, activating them when you want to use them. Arriva recently had a “half-price sale” on day tickets, so I bought a couple, meaning that I have 2 cheaply-bought tickets ready to use whenever I want to use Arriva buses locally. First’s is exactly the same. I have one ready to use on my app whenever a ride around Worcester and The Malverns takes my fancy. No messing around with change, no trying to find a signal, then tapping in card details – go straight to the app, activate the ticket, show the driver, and make sure my phone battery is topped up.
So, out of curiosity, I buy a National Express West Midlands Daysaver. And, actually, it’s the most expensive option (£4.40 – a cheaper £3.80 version is available after 0930 Mon-Fri & all day at weekends if you use Swift). My intention is to see how easy it is to use, then use said ticket on a day of my choosing.
It’s simple enough. There’s a big red button that says to “activate”. But curiously, it gives an expiry date of something like 2am the next morning. I think nothing of it and go to work. I’ll use it on my day off next week.
Except I won’t. Because next morning, the curiosity of the expiry date gets the better of me and I check the app. In my wallet, there’s nothing there. My Daysaver has “expired”. I hadn’t activated it, but it’s gone. Deep in the “terms and conditions” (hey, who reads those?) it explains that your ticket is ready to use and “valid immediately for travel at the time you make your purchase. Please ensure you wish to travel on the day you purchase the ticket as no refunds will be given”
Which is completely different to their contemporaries, where YOU choose when to activate and travel. There is no warning that you have to use the ticket on the actual day you buy it – indeed, you are lulled into a false sense of security by the fact it asks you to activate it before use!
Joy. £4.40 up the swanny. Maybe I’ll just pay by cash next time…..