The Strange Case of the Karmic Bus Ticket Machines…

Central London’s bus routes have a new feature – small machines that you must buy your ticket from before they will let you embark. They have two particularly interesting features. Firstly they are the least well-designed / usable ticket machines I’ve ever seen, with the buttons that you are forced to press before you pay placed (cunningly) about half a foot below the place where you put the money in. So you see loads of people putting in money and then pressing buttons and looking a bit blank when they should be doing it the other way around. They form in little clots around the machines and make it impossible for everyone else who isn’t quite as dumb to pay for a ticket before the bus moves off. It’s very frustrating.

The other significant feature is equally annoying. The accursed machines are just too easy for people to game. Every single machine I use on a regular basis is clogged up with money at least twice a week. The reason? There’s a guy who roams up and down Oxford Street, putting in sticking and/or clogging-up substances (gum, maybe?) into the paying slot. He then waits for the money to build up and then comes along later in the day to harvesting the machines of lovely lovely cash. I have lost several pounds to this nefarious prankster. He is … objectionable … in my sight.

Anyway – yesterday I got to the bus stop, put in a pound, pressed the button (wrong order again, dammit, bloody machines), then pressed the eject button and then the proper button (first this time, good Tom) and capped it all off with the insertion of a nice round pound-coin. And what response did I get? Nothing. So I pressed the ‘eject money’ button once more. Nothing. So then I thumped it with my fist… And… Jackpot! Five shiny pounds clang down into the tray at the bottom. I am rich! My bus ticket karma is strong and I have been rewarded!

One stop later and the world finds equilibrium. Two people get on the bus without tickets. They want to get off again and buy tickets while the bus waits. The bus driver is understandably cross and refuses to let them do this as the ticket machine process is long and complex. They refuse to get out. Everyone on the bus shouts at them. Even I shout at them which is a surprise (I don’t shout at people much in public – only at the infestation of charity workers that colonise Central London). But they won’t get off. They say they’ve been waiting for half an hour. Everyone on the bus says they were waiting for half an hour too thank you very much. After ten minutes of stand-off, I get off the bus, buy them both tickets, thrust them in their hands, give them a piece of my mind about their behaviour (I’m becoming my mother) and sit down again on my seat. But they throw their tickets on the floor, the bus driver refuses to let them stay on board, the police arrive and then finally they get dragged off – possibly (for all I know) to Colditz or Alcatraz. At the next stop, almost exactly the same thing happens again! Again! Would you believe it! Another clump of people sans tickets, poncing around and shouting at the bus driver, causing a big stink and being unreasonable. Only this time I’m wise to their tricks. No buying people tickets for no good reason for me… Oooooh no… Not me.

And so time passes and we can finally see the great plan of the karmic network in its totality. For my extra four pounds that appeared from nowhere, I must pay two back and suffer over half an hour in delays. This is my destiny and I embrace it grudgingly. The world is a complex, intricate, designed place. And those bloody bus ticket machines are right at the heart of it…

15 replies on “The Strange Case of the Karmic Bus Ticket Machines…”

I’ve been wondering about this new bus-ticket-malarky (I have routemasters on the routes I use most). What happens if, as you say is frequently likely, the street machine is not working? You can’t get on the bus?
If so, that seems a bit harsh.

If the ticket machine is bust, as happens, then you’re completely shafted: this has happened to me. I understand the thinking behind the new system but there wasn’t enough of it.. They should bring back the Routemaster buses: fast entry and exit, the ability to board or leave between stops, a cheery conductor (sometimes) and one of the finest and most durable pieces of British engineering since WWII. And, like Concorde, being phased out. Insanity.

I wrestled (figuratively speaking) with the machines for about a week after they were introduced. After that, and in spite of my inate fear of forward planning, I figured it was much easier to buy those clumps of saver tickets from news agents, they work out at 65p each and are a lot easier to carry around than a load of loose change.

If the ticket machine is bust, you can often ‘walk’ a short distance to the next stop and use the machine there. Unless you are laden with kids or large bulky objects, etc.

Good Post Tom. These are my favorite type of posts from you and the reason I keep coming back to plasticbag. More please. I love to feel your pain.

Those machines are going to look ancient in about 2 years’ time. Heck, they already look ancient!
I missed two buses because of those machines, got fed-up (i’m very impatient) so i now have the oyster card.
You should check it out, it’s the best thing for speedsters.

These machines certainly weren’t sold well enough to travellers. In Central London tourists often use buses, and will be even less likely to appreciate the rules of travel (few systems of this kind exist elsewhere) and non-English speakers will just be perplexed when the driver tells them to get off.
Also, the prepay model assumes a level of trust (that a bus will come soon, and go al the way to your destination without being turned around) that just doesn’t exist among Londoners used to late running and cancelled services. In this respect the hexagonal carnets mentioned by Tom P are more ‘karmic’. (You can reclaim for a ticket not used because of late running, etc, if you post it to the relevant bus company with a covering note…).
Additionally, the machines give no change, and don’t take notes. Anyone who has just got cash out of an ATM has to then buy something locally to get change, assuming there are local shops that are also open.
There are many interesting scenarios with Oyster Cards, but I won’t go into them here. The question for me is: why does an organisation with so much experience make these basic mistakes?

Yup, those things are a joke. I usually just tell the driver the machine’s broken and they let me get off at the next stop to buy one. Sometimes if they can’t be bothered they give you this bit of paper which says you have to send ¬£1.20 to london transport to pay for your ticket! I’ve also noticed a band of rat children who live out their lives in a sort of modern Oliver Twist type fashion. They approach people having difficulty with the machines, then bash them, and take all the money out. If you’re lucky they’ll give you yours back. Either way those machines are a joke.

Seems these inefficient little bus ticket machines are designed to speed up buses but slow down passengers. After all, buses would travel so much faster if nobody ever got on.

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