So we’re at Brixton tube station. And we’re late for a meeting.
We rock up to the gates, slam down our Oyster card on the reader only to be greeted with a high pitched squeaking and a sign saying, “Seek Assistance.”
Anyone’s who been using Oyster cards for some time will realise that these little moments make up the joy of having a contactless ticketing system.
The solution is usually straightforward enough: simply slap the card down a few more times until the machine relents, the gates open and you’re on your way.
Slap. Thump. Jazz Funk.
This time, however, the machine was standing firm. Bish, bash, bosh went our card on the deck and still nothing happened. We took the card out of its plastic sleeve to let it get more intimate with the reader, but still no joy.
In desperation, we tried flipping it over, hitting it down hard and even threw in a few jazz-funk angles but still the gates remained locked shut.
Mindful of a growing crowd behind, we looked across to the ticket office, but sighed at the sight of a long, slow moving queue – and we were already late for our appointment!
We hotfooted it to the automated ticket machine to see if that would cast any light on the problem, and were greeted with a succession of weird errors.
‘Your card cannot be read at the moment’ it said, suggesting that it may be inclined to read it later when the machine’s good and ready.
PRESTIGE. Who they?
Several attempts brought the same results until it upgraded to a more curious message: “Your Oyster Card has not been initialised for PRESTIGE.”
We’ve no idea who PRESTIGE are, or why they have to have their name in CAPITALS, but we sensed that we were about to be even later for our meeting.
So we hit the ‘Call for Assistance’ button. And waited. And waited. We hit the button again. Nothing happened. No help, no assistance, nowt.
After ten minutes of standing around like a plum, we went across to a well staffed window with a sign proclaiming, “Assistance.”
Could they help sort out my ticket? No, they couldn’t. I’d have to join the ever-growing queue for that.
The comedy button.
“Why didn’t you respond to the ‘Call For Assistance’ request?”, we asked.
“We never do,” was the response.
“So, you’re saying that there is absolutely no point customers calling for assistance from the ticket machine because you never bother to respond?”
“That’s correct. You’ll have to join the ticket office queue.”
So there you have it. If you’re having trouble with your Oyster card (or any aspect of using the ticketing machine) at a tube station, save yourself some time and unnecessary grief and leave that ‘Call For Assistance’ button well alone, because it is, in fact, LT’s comedy option.
It’s as useful as trying to employ your psychic powers to make the card work or attempting to make a replacement card out of discarded Evening Standard newspapers.
In the end we sloped back to the vast queue snaking around the Ticket Office and eventually got served by the lone worker who fiddled about with the card before insisting that there was nothing wrong with our card at all.
In fact, it was ‘perfect’ according to him, but if we wanted to exchange it, would we be so kind as to fill in a double sided A4 document and bring along proof of ID. We declined, on account of already wasting twenty ruddy minutes fannying around with our card.
Eventually, after a prolonged (and, we admit, rather theatrical) bout of slapping the card relentlessly down on the reader, we finally got on to the tube system.
Naturally, we encountered the same problems at the other end and on on the way back, but with a ‘perfect’ Oyster card in our possession, we guess that must be our fault too, eh LT?
Perhaps Jay Walder, New York’s metro chief who’s currently hiring in tube experts to help modernise their system, might want to fix this ‘undocumented feature’ before adopting a UK-style Oyster system.
We hope that this lengthy rant will prove helpful if you encounter similar problems. We’re off for a little lie down now. And then we’ll be cycling into town for the Critical Mass.