Friday, July 20, 2012

In defense of the Go card

In Brisbane, the local transport authority has issued a card that allows people to use the public transport system without having to tender cash at stations and bus stops, and allows swift entry and exits from train stations, buses and ferries without the need for a manual ticket inspection. It's been around for a few years.

In Brisbane, it's called a Go card. In London, it's called an Oyster card. Other places around the world have probably adopted something similar.

The usage is fairly simple. When you arrive at a train station, or board a bus or ferry, you touch the card against a round disc called a Go card reader. It tells you how much money you have left on the card. Before you leave a train station, or leave a bus or ferry, you touch the card again. It will tell you how much the fare was, and how much money you have left on the card. With the bus system, you have to wait until the onboard computer is sync'd with the central system before you can see your journeys online.

The tech isn't without it's faults. Typically, I catch the train into work, but a few weeks ago I decided to catch the bus. The bus is closer to my house, but counts for three zones of travel, which attracts a price of $4.24 each way. When I catch the train, I drive for 15 minutes or so, and catch a train that is only two zones and costs $3.58.

Anyway, one morning on the way to work, the ticketing computer on the bus decided to continually reboot. This meant that anyone already on the bus was unable to swipe off on the way off the bus, and anyone getting on would be traveling for free. The side effect is, if you don't swipe off, your fare is not calculated until your next journey, and is usually considerably more than what the fare normally would have been. The bus driver mentioned it might be $10. It's easily fixable, since you can call up the helpline on the card, and get the fare adjusted. Looking at the online records, it turned out I got charged $5, instead of the normal $4.24. I wasn't too worried about that difference, so I left it.

But back to the main story.

The number of people leave the train platform at Central Station was a lot. Enough to make me impatient, anyway. So when the four people in front of me all have troubles with their cards swiping on the gates, I start to get a bit pissed off. They all had their cards tucked away in their wallets, and were just swiping their wallets.

The recommended usage is to remove the card from the wallet, and tough it to the reader. With this method, you remove the chance for interference from any other RFID devices you may have in your wallet, like your credit card.

After all, many credit cards and debit cards now have a swipe to use function. When you use those, you're careful to only swipe the card you want charged, not just waving your wallet at the device and hoping the device picks the right one.

So when the lady in front of me also has an issue with hers, and then snipes at the attendant, "Why don't these cards ever work?", I vocalize my displeasure with a retort, "Because you're supposed to remove the card from the wallet before swiping". The attendant indicates an agreement, but it's too late, we're already through with a second swipe from her, and a working first time swipe from me.

"But it always works", she remarks as we start down the crowded stairs. "Evidently not", I reply. My bloody is boiling at that point. The logical inconsistencies of her two previous statements have face rolled by buttons, but it looks like she's about the take the left exit in the underground tunnel, and I'm going to take the lesser used right exit.

"The man before me had his card in his wallet", is the last thing I hear her say as she makes her left turn, and I peal off to my right. The Oyster card I had when I was in the UK worked just fine in a single card holder issued by Oyster themselves. I've seen similar holders issued for Go cards, but didn't happen to get one when I picked my Go card up.

Thinking on the engagement as I walked to the elevators, I found it most odd that I was defending the Go card, a convenient payment mechanism for what is touted to be the third most expensive public transport system in the world.

If you're a Brisbane resident and use public transport, or are trying to weigh up if public transport is worth it, BrizCommuter is recommended reading.

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