The Good Old Days! 

Technology has taken over the World. 

Hellfire – I’m even writing this on a mobile phone! But as I immerse myself in my grouch-like mid-40s “middle age”, I often consider the downside to our seemingly ever-increasing reliance on all things cyber. 

In my day job on the railways, I notice the rise and rise of mobile phone ticketing. Everything, it seems, can be stored in our hand-held devices. On a journey this morning on the Stourbridge branch line, every passenger (around 15 of them) was peering into their phone. Every last one. 

The convenience is well known and appreciated, but I worry that we’re heading towards a scenario whereby a major hack (by the Russians or whoever – possibly some 13 year-old kid I’ve just told off for not having a ticket, maybe) will throw millions of us into a blind panic. 

People of my age (hark at me) can remember a time before tech. We’ll be the last generation. I appreciate “real” things, like actual paper timetables, for example. Yesterday, I went mooching around rural Shropshire by bus – and there were things to consider by ever-ageing old farts like me.

One of the reasons I actually planned this mini-jaunt was to use an Arriva Midlands Day ticket – stored on my phone. I’d embraced this techy world last year, when the aquamarine crew held a “flash sale” of mobile tickets. Hence the £6.20 product was on offer for a short time at half price. I bought 2 and stored them on my phone. 

And there they lay, quietly, until I fancied a roam around the large Arriva Midlands patch. Except when I upgraded my handset just after Christmas, the promised “easy transfer of apps” was anything but. My Arriva app didn’t appear on my new phone. So I downloaded it again. But I couldn’t log in. So I re-registered. But my tickets weren’t there. Somewhere in cyberspace lay 2x Arriva Day tickets. 

Then I had an email from Arriva telling me I had 4 days left to transfer my tickets to their new app. They’d been emailing me about it. (They hadn’t). But it was OK. All I had to do was click the link below and they would magically appear on my new phone. (I clicked. Nothing happened). I emailed Arriva. They didn’t reply, but I received another automated email saying I really had to get a move on clicking the link below to transfer my m-tickets across. 

So, with nothing much happening, I went on my Shropshire romp the good old-fashioned way – by handing the driver coinage in return for a paper ticket. 

Of course, as expected, once out and about, Arriva promptly replied to my email telling me that they could see my 2 tickets in cyberspace, but couldn’t see my new app on my new phone. It turns out that, although I had my new phone, I had somehow downloaded the old app – which I thought was the new app. Keep up. I’ll ask questions pub quiz-style at the end. The next day, I downloaded the “new” app, and tried to buy a ticket to see if it worked. It did. Then Arriva emailed me and said joy – they could now see my new app and they transfered my 2 existing day tickets across. So now I have 3…(plus £6.20s worth of paper ticket for the previous day’s travel).

The postscript to this jolly romp through the despair of technology was that when checking that I actually had 3 m-tickets to use on my phone, ready and waiting to go, my new Arriva app promptly froze, then said I couldn’t connect to their server! An hour later, everything seemed to have rectified itself and there – finally – in my app “ticket wallet”, sit 3 Arriva day tickets ready to use. But what might have happened should I have been boarding a bus when the server horror show occurred? 

Such are the potential pitfalls of an over-reliance on tech. Arriva even warns on it’s website that flat mobile phone batteries (that curse of modern day life) cannot be tolerated. In other words, if your phone’s dead, pay up. Of course, there’s nothing else they can say – how many would try that old chestnut if they thought they could get away with it? – but it’s another example of the potential fragility of living your life through your mobile. 

Another example of this over reliance of tech lies in online timetables. Printing is expensive, say the councils and operators. And they can be quickly out of date. Just check online, they say. So when I found myself halfway between Bridgnorth and Kidderminster, close to the beautiful River Severn, on a plucky Optare Solo, wishing to check my connection times in the carpet town, I was bamboozled by the fact that mobile phone data signals didn’t extend to this lovely little corner of Shropshire. Luckily, in my trusty bag (complete with large British Rail logo from the 6os to remind myself of better days when iconic design was the norm) I possessed a paper copy of said timetable. Yes folks, the old fashioned way didn’t let me down. 

And I was delighted to pick up, in Shrewsbury bus station, a recently-released copy of a new Shropshire bus map! It’s basic, and has little of the beauty of an FWT product, but it’s there, in my hands, ready to be of use there and then, when I need it. 

It’s produced by volunteer members of Bus Users UK in Shropshire, with financial help from local independent bus operator Tanat Valley. In an era of cash-strapped Local Authorities, could this be a way forward in other areas? 

The small independent travel office in Shrewsbury bus station (situated in the back of the newsagents) is also a joy for nostalgia freaks. It resembles something out of the 1970s, with timetables adorning the walls – a mix of professional-looking Arriva ones, dead-basic independent operator ones, local coach holiday brochures, and a handwritten note informing us that photocopies of any timetable are available – for 50p.

But I recall in my not-so-distant youth, Shropshire County Council providing a really excellent timetable service, which consisted of a ring-binder containing timetables for every bus route in the county, which for an annual subscription they would send updates for. So you had an up to date set of timetables without any need for an Internet connection! They also provided a rather nice map too. Neighbouring Hereford & Worcester (as it was then) did similar, although they did area booklets with subscription to updated leaflets. 

I suppose it was never going to survive. There has long been an argument about having to pay for timetable booklets at all – which is why most of them don’t exist any more. But I suppose it’s geeks like me who are more than happy to cough up for things of beauty like the Derbyshire booklets and maps. These are the work of real transport professionals who obviously take a pride in their service. The European Rail Guide is another example. 

And yet the existence of this printed matter offers ideas that Internet facilities often do not. Online journey planners are decent enough (if still on too many occasions clunky to use), but browsing printed material shows alternative ideas for travel. Looking at the new Shropshire bus map gives me ideas for future days out, and reminds me of links between different areas that I’d forgotten about. Overall, it shows a network of public transport services in the county and makes sense of it. And to think it has been produced by volunteers who believe in the very idea of bus services restores just a little faith in a humanity you could easily be led to believe now lives it’s entire existence “online”…

Technology has it’s place. This blog wouldn’t exist without it. It provides convenience. But we should caution against it absolutely taking over our lives to the point that, if it all fails big-time, we have nothing left to fall back on. 

Long live the Shropshire bus map. And the team of volunteers that believe in it. 


One comment

  1. Robert · March 2, 2017

    Excellent post. Such a pity that production of a transport map is down to voluntary organisations.

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