Public transport dystopia

Welcome to 2008. For public transport in southeast Queensland, it is the dawn of the go card. Note that it is virtually impossible to mention “go card” to people without them hearing “go kart” instead. A go card is apparently a smart card, but you know what they say: Never trust anything that can think for itself if you can’t see where it keeps its brain.

There is a lot of propaganda around the go card. Here’s my experience:

  • You can order online with the Safari web browser (despite claims you cannot), just type junk into the username/password box when ordering.
  • If you try to get off a bus and the card reader isn’t working, all kinds of exciting lights and alarms will go off—it is very bracing!
  • Forgetting to “touch off” will cost you $5 ($10 from July).
  • It is hard to remember to touch off, especially since hardly anyone else has to.
  • When more people are using go cards, they’ll touch off and this will help you remember, but there will be more queueing to leave the bus/train station.
  • The card readers on buses rely on GPS — no bribing the driver to let you off at your house or flagging them down if you’re not quite at the stop, you cannot touch on/off.
  • It costs the same for Monday–Friday commuting — 10 journeys, to and from work per day — as a weekly ticket costs.
  • You won’t pay for trips you don’t make — due to illness, public holidays or flex time.
  • Travelling 4 days (8 journeys) in a week is cheaper with go card than any alternative because the last 2 journeys will be half price.
  • Extra journeys throughout the week (more than the typical 10) — which would be covered by a weekly ticket — will cost you extra.
  • … unless you can squeeze these trips into a 3 hour window of opportunity, but this requires math to work out the most cost-effective way to travel, and math is tiring.
  • If/when you own a go card, you can still buy other tickets if/when you like — no-one will know or care.
  • The fare machines at train stations are atrocious! You can only pay cash for large amounts (over $100 in my experience), EFTPOS for smaller amounts using a pokey pin pad. Terrible machines.

The dystopia, however, stems from a different source. Once upon a time, ticket conductors on Queensland Rail services — we used to call ’em “trains” like in Thomas the Tank Engine, now they’re “services” — would check for your ticket and sell you one if needed. This was a convenient, customer-friendly service. One was especially appreciative if one had arrived late and had to jump on the train without time to buy a ticket. Perhaps if services were more frequent this would be less of a concern.

In recent years, the revenue protection unit has taken over. They now check your ticket and fine you if you don’t have one. This is not a convenient, customer-friendly service! 😉 As it turns out, they’ve mostly been issuing warnings. This year they have new warnings, spoken over the public address system in Central Station in a lifeless female monotone… the gist is customers are now advised that travelling without a valid ticket, or valid reason for not having a ticket, will now be fined. Fines will be enforced. Hearing that message really did drive home that the dystopia of cyberpunk imaginings is now my reality. It is exactly like living in Romdo (if you don’t understand this reference, go watch Ergo Proxy).

And what is a “valid reason” anyway? It sounds like stock options. I’d like to purchase a valid reason for not having a ticket today, please.


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Ben Boyle

Web developer, Dad, gamer, mentor, animator, universal design advocate, fan of gadgets and sunshine!

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