Saturday, April 28, 2007

Another Rant - This time...GNER

Well here I am in First Class on 1D26 (08:53SO London Kings Cross to Leeds, due into Leeds at 11:34).

Apart from the extra legroom, etc, and general lack of football "fans" a screaming kids, GNER offer "free" Wi-Fi in First (whereas it's £2.95 for 30 minutes, £4.95 for an hour, £7.95 for 2 hours, or £9.95 for 24 hours in Standard).

There is just one drawback to this...The ISP they've partnered with to offer this service are based in Sweden. (Can you see where this is going yet? - Ed) As such, Google, and associated sites such as Blogger, think you're in Sweden and redirect you to the Swedish sites...So $DEITY only knows how this post'll appear!

And for the second part of the rant, the crew came through to clear away the used cups and saucers just as we passed Grantham at 10:10, around 1 hour 15 minutes after leaving Kings Cross, with 1 hour 25 minutes left to go, and giving nobody joining the train at Newark, Doncaster or Wakefield a chance to obtain refreshments. In fact, I wouldn't be at all surprised to discover that the Buffet (oops...Café Bar) closed at about the same time as well.

I have e-mailed GNER to query this policy (which only seems to happen if the crew is London-based), and await their response.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Not Happy

If you don't want to read a rant, I suggest you look away now, as this post is pure vitriol!

As you're probably aware, I'm currently temping as a Ticket Office Clerk as needed, and have spent most of the past year working at one particular TOC.

This notwithstanding, my Agency can still ask me to go elsewhere if needed. Given that their idea of "fun" is to try and get me to go right over the other side of town for stupid o'clock in the morning, sometimes even when I'm due to be doing a shift with my usual TOC, I generally say No.

Last week, however, they offered me 8 hours "babysitting" a couple of staff for their first shift on a new Ticket Issuing System (TIS). This was to be at a pair of stations that were adjacent on the map, from around 6:30am to 2pm, or something like that. I have to admit that my acceptance of this rôle was mostly because they were effectively offering me time and a third to do it, but still...

As such, when the Roster Clerk for my usual TOC rang me the following day to check my availability, I said that I was unavailable one day this week at my Agency's request, but was available the rest of the week.

Yesterday afternoon (Tuesday), I got a phone call from the Agency to confirm times for the shift in question. There were two major changes to the original plan:
  1. It was no longer the originally proposed pair of stations, but two in completely different parts of town.
  2. Instead of being 6:30am to 2pm, it was now 6:30am to 8:30pm or thereabouts.

Obviously, having already agreed to do it, I could hardly refuse, but I'm not exactly happy given that I won't get home from work 'til at least 10:45pm tonight, then need to leave again at 5am on Thursday for the first part of the shift, and won't be back home again 'til around 10:30pm.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Happy New Year

I'd just like to wish my reader (all one of you) a happy and prosperous 2007.

"But what's been happening in the wonderful world of the privatised railway since your last post?", I hear you cry!

Well let's see. Here's a quick summary:

In November 2006, Transport for London introduced the long-threatened policy of deducting the maximum fare from Oyster cards when touching in on the DLR, London Underground and selected National Rail routes. The concept being that you get charged £4 when you touch in at a Tube/DLR station and £5 when you touch in at selected NR stations, then have the difference credited back when you touch out on exit.

Only touch in, or only touch out, and the charge stays at £4 or £5 and doesn't count towards your daily cap...And you also run the risk of being charged a Penalty Fare or reported for Fare Evasion.

In addition, Cubic have finally sorted out the new version of FasTIS, which now handles Oyster. At present, however, it can't do Bus Passes on Oyster, but I believe they're working on that.

It works in much the same way as an APTIS ANT Unit does, in that presenting an Oyster card switches the machine over to Oyster mode. Unlike the AAU, however, you can take the card off once it's read the data and don't need to put it back on until you want to update the card.

And I'm now officially multi-skilled, having done a few shifts (or part-shifts) announcing, which makes a change from dealing with the public face to face.

And one of my colleagues and I are currently trying to get our Train Planning team to enter details of replacement buses into the timetabling system, as the specification does allow them to be shown, as that would mean they're automatically displayed on the departure summary monitors, even if they're not on the platforms.

The main reason for this is that it would save time in getting the details into the Customer Information System as, at present, we have to manually add the details multiple times:
  • Into the Central CIS Server individually, so they appear on Summary screens
  • Against the connecting trains on the Central CIS Server, so that they appear on the platform screens along the line for that train as "[Terminating Station], BUS TO: [Bus calling points]"
  • On the Local CIS Server at our London terminus, so they appear on the boards there. This is generally also combined with a "Train to: [Wherever]" after the bus calling points.

One thing that surprised me last week and the week before was the number of people asking what timetable we were running on Boxing Day (26th December), to which the short answer is, "None", as it has been for at least the past 20 years or so, yet this surprises people every year.

Or the people who haven't read the timetable properly and think we're running a full weekday service in the week between Christmas and New Year. Plus the Manager who asked for a Special Stop Order on a train for someone who hadn't read the timetable properly, and it was refused as there was a train stopping there all of ten minutes later.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

January 2007 Fare Changes

In potentially the biggest shake up of rail fares since the introduction of the Travelcard, journeys wholly within the London Travelcard Area are going to be priced on a zonal basis from 2nd January 2007, with Rail Only Seasons to follow suit from January 2010, to ease the introduction of Smartcard ticketing.

It goes without saying that there will be winners and losers in this new scheme, but here are the proposed fare levels for you.


Zones Peak single Peak Return Cheap Day Rtn
Adult Child Adult Child Adult Child
1 £1.80 £0.90 £3.60 £1.80 £2.70 £1.00
12 £2.10 £1.05 £3.70 £1.85 £3.00 £1.00
123 £2.70 £1.35 £4.60 £2.30 £3.60 £1.00
1234 £3.10 £1.55 £5.30 £2.65 £4.00 £1.00
12345 £3.80 £1.90 £7.20 £3.60 £4.70 £1.00
123456 £4.80 £2.40 £9.20 £4.60 £5.70 £1.00
2,3,4,5 or 6 £1.50 £0.75 £2.60 £1.30 £2.40 £1.00
23,34,45,56 £1.90 £0.95 £3.30 £1.65 £2.80 £1.00
234,345,456 £2.30 £1.15 £4.00 £2.00 £3.20 £1.00
2345, 3456 £2.70 £1.35 £4.70 £2.35 £3.60 £1.00
23456 £3.10 £1.55 £5.60 £2.80 £4.00 £1.00



Zones          Peak single       Peak Return         Cheap Day Rtn
Adult Child Adult Child Adult Child
1 £4.00 £2.00 £7.60 £3.80 £6.70 £2.00
12 £4.10 £2.00 £7.70 £3.80 £7.00 £2.00
123 £4.70 £2.30 £8.60 £4.30 £7.60 £2.00
1234 £5.10 £2.50 £9.30 £4.60 £8.00 £2.00
12345 £5.80 £2.90 £11.20 £5.60 £8.70 £2.00
123456 £6.80 £3.40 £13.20 £6.60 £9.70 £2.00
2,3,4,5 or 6 £3.00 £1.50 £5.60 £2.80 £5.40 £2.00
23,34,45,56 £3.40 £1.70 £6.30 £3.10 £5.80 £2.00
234,345,456 £3.80 £1.90 £7.00 £3.50 £6.20 £2.00
2345, 3456 £4.20 £2.10 £7.70 £3.80 £6.60 £2.00
23456 £4.60 £2.30 £8.60 £4.30 £7.00 £2.00

"How will this affect me?", I hear you cry.

Well let's try a few examples:

Enfield Town (Zone 5) to London Liverpool Street (Zone 1) currently costs £3.50 for a Single, £4.30 for a Cheap Day Return, and £5.80 for a Standard Day Return.

Under the new structure, those will go up to £3.80 Single, £4.70 Cheap Day Return, £7.20 Standard Day Return. (Inflation busting ncreases of 8.6%, 9.3% and a massive 24.1%, respectively).

Oh dear...Not a good start.

Let's try Enfield Town to Zone 1, including tube, instead. Current fares are £6.50 Single, £10.30 Cheap Day Return, £11.80 Standard Day Return.

Under the new fares, those go DOWN to £5.80 Single, £8.70 Cheap Day Return, £11.20 Standard Day Return. (Reductions of 10.8%, 15.5% and 5.1%, respectively).

Now let's go for a local journey:

Silver Street (Zone 4) to Enfield Town (Zone 5). Currently this is £2.00 Single, £2.60 Cheap Day Return, £3.00 Standard Day Return.

Under the new structure, these change to £1.90 Single, £2.80 Cheap Day Return, £3.30 Standard Day Return. (5% Discount, 7.7% Increase and 10% Increase, respectively).

Saturday, September 09, 2006

FasTIS Update

Well we're now almost fully FasTIS'ed up with, I believe, but a single APTIS left in operation.

This causes a problem, as the maintenance contract for the APTIS machines expires shortly, at which point the cost of the new contract will be shared between any TOCs still using APTIS.

The main reason for a station to still have an APTIS, at present, is because none of the next generation Ticket Issuing Systems can handle Oyster.

Having said that, Cubic have got a temporary accreditation for a system called SPORT, which will be capable of processing Oyster, until such time as FasTIS+Oyster is available.

Many of the initial problems we experienced with FasTIS have now been fixed, but we came across a new one a couple of days ago:

Scenario: Customer has a First Class BritRail Pass, and wishes to use a "Night Riviera" Sleeper down to Penzance.

As such, the customer needs to pay the £40 Sleeper Supplement, and we need to do a reservation.

Nice and easy in the non-GUI version of Tribute (as it combines the supplement and reservation into a single step), and with good old CRS, but not so easy on FasTIS.

What we ended up having to do was bring the journey details up in RJIS, add the Sleeper supplement to the Any Permitted First Open Single, make the reservation in RJIS, then set up the same thing in FasTIS, add the supplement, then transfer the reservation details by use of the "Manual Reservation" option, but issue just the reservation and supplement, not the ticket.

In other news, it is now possible to purchase Family, Senior and Young Persons Railcards online (except for Mature students), and I saw my first such Y-P yesterday.

The cards themselves are printed onto "credit card" style plastic cards (albeit without the magstripe), with the Young Persons incorporating a digitally printed photo of the holder (so no need for a separate photocard).

The rear of the card contains a signature strip, barcode (not sure what that's for yet) and return address.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

FasTIS Thoughts

Well the FasTIS installation programme is nearly complete, so I figured I'd share my thoughts on the system.

As always with new technology, there are good things and bad things, so let's start with the good, in no particular order:

  • A major improvement over previous systems is that FasTIS lets you enter the number of railcards right at the journey input screen. So if, for example, you have 5 Adults, one with a Network Railcard, one with a Young Persons, one with a Senior and 4 Children, you can quite happily say that when you're setting up the journey.

  • Coupled with the above, it works out the best combination of discounts for the journey. So for the example given, it'd suggest GroupSave 4 (4 Adults for the price of 2), 1 Adult at the Young Persons or Senior Railcard rate, and 4 Kids for a Quid.

  • GroupSave is applied automatically where appropriate, though it can be overridden if the group isn't returning together.

  • Once you've defined your journey details, you get a screen showing all of the applicable fares, with the cheapest ones highlighted, times of the next two trains, and any supplements you can add (e.g. AAA, Weekend First, Buffet Vouchers, Cycle Fees, etc.)

  • If applying a 'manual' discount, such as Disabled but no Railcard, you no longer have to remember the discount codes, as FasTIS gives you an alphabetical list to choose from.

And now for some of the disadvantages:

  • FasTIS doesn't offer a Ticket on Departure facility, so if someone books a ticket through Telesales/the Internet and can't collect it from a Self-Service Machine, a FasTIS equipped station still has to phone the relevant supplier to check the status of the booking and/or arrange for the details to be faxed through so they can issue replacement tickets.

  • Doing "in-boundary" Travelcards and tube/DLR only tickets is counterintuitive as you have to specify a journey from a London terminal to another London terminal to get the fares, rather than from a London terminal to the appropriate zones.

  • Whilst GroupSave is usually applied automatically, it isn't for Travelcards unless you put the destination as the appropriate Zones.

  • In a similar vein, children accompanying Travelcard holders within London can either travel for free (if they're under under 11) or for £1. Other issuing systems (except APTIS and SPORTIS) manage this by having an 'extra' discount type for Accompanied Children. FasTIS doesn't have this feature.

  • Coupled with the above, though this more applies to London area stations, Transport for London do 16-17 and Student Oystercards, which offer the holder discounted tickets. Again, other TIS handle this as a discount type, but FasTIS doesn't.

  • Fares for bus add-ons and leisure attraction admission seem to be totally random as to whether they appear or not, and if they do appear, it's random as to whether they're correct or not.

  • Wasn't sure whether to put this as an advantage or a disadvantage, but I figured the cons outweighed the pros. As part of the Season Ticket issuing procedure, FasTIS has an integrated Season Ticket Database, which is a good thing. However, said database is populated with Electoral Roll data (and old Electoral Roll data at that), which admittedly speeds up adding new customers, but surely raises ethical issues, doubly so given how old the data is. (For what it's worth, our old Season Ticket Database just had access to the PAF to speed up address entry).

  • FasTIS has its own codes for stations that you can use instead of the NLC, CRS code, or typing in the name. Said codes, however, bear absolutely no relation to any of the others for the stations. London, for example, is 182 on FasTIS, whereas the NLC is 1072.

And yes, I appreciate that it's still early days yet, but most of the points above are fairly fundamental parts of Ticket Office operations...

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Automatic Ticket Gates

As most of you are probably aware, the majority of London Underground stations, and several National Rail stations are equipped with Automatic Ticket Gates, mostly supplied by CTS.

The gate system comprises various parts. First up, you've got the automatic gates. The more modern gates have one pair of "paddles", which can be set to either entry or exit mode, whereas the older gates seen at most Underground stations have two sets of paddles.

Supplementing the main, narrow, gates, you have a wider gate for people with heavy luggage/bicycles/wheelchairs and the like. This can either be manual (held shut by an electromagnet) or automatic, like the rest of the gateline.

In this particular setup, we have a pair of automatic gates (one set to Entry mode, the other to Exit), and a Manual Gate. On the "pillar" beside the wide gate are three keyswitches (Open, Emergency Open, and Cancel Alarm). The Open switch unlocks the manual gate, Emergency Open slowly opens the auto gates and sounds an alarm, and Cancel Alarm is self explanatory.

On the wall near the gateline is a locked box, containing an Emergency Open plunger, Open/Lock switch for the Manual Gate, and a reset switch.

In the Ticket Office, there is a "Station Control Unit" (PC with touchscreen monitor to enable remote programming of the gates, etc), and another Emergency Open plunger and Open/Lock switch for the Manual Gate.

This would normally be fine, except the gates currently aren't "talking" to the SCU, so any reprogramming/resetting has to be done via the control panel inside the gate pillar, and the lock on the manual gate is a bit "temperamental" and doesn't always lock.

It gets better though, as I emptied the ticket bin on one of the gates yesterday and found a piston within...Ho hum.

UPDATE: We've now discovered that the reason for the gates not communicating with the SCU is that the Master Unit was lost in a fire. Doh!