Minor bus pass WTFs



  • I have a bus pass for the city in Spain where my in-laws live. It's a pre-payment system featuring a contactless card. My card died, and thus begins a long train of minor WTFs.

    WTF #1: It died at all. The thing sits in my drawer except for the couple of weeks a year that we visit the in-laws. My Oyster card (similar contactless card for public transport in London) is in my wallet in my back pocket most of the time and is much older and more used and abused; it works just fine.

    WTF #2: Dead cards are apparently quite common. It died slow - working most of the time, then working some of the time, then not at all. None of the bus drivers I presented with a dodgy card were in the slightest bit fazed.

    WTF #3: All of the drivers had different little tricks to try to get it to work. Bend it like so. No, no, bend it like this. Put a ticket between the card and the reader. Press it harder against the reader. Each one had to repeat their particular trick a bit more each time I used the card. I am not convinced that the tricks actually did anything - from where I was standing it looked like a "repeat until it works" thing with a less-and-less-intermittent fault. Cargo-cult thinking among bus drivers?

    Bonus WTF: Putting #1, #2 and #3 together, is it possible that the city went with the lowest bidder for their bus passes?

    WTF #4: The issuing office for new cards has a sign telling you to wait in line and a take-a-ticket-and-wait-for-your-number system. I didn't notice the ticket system, and just waited in line (behind one guy who was being served) for about thirty seconds until they opened a second desk. However, it apparently operates even when there are two customers, and I got a tut-tut for not having a number. Alright, I'm partially TRWTF here for not spotting the tickets. In my defence, "wait in line" is a complete system for managing serving order, and they hid the sign board and tickets for the ticket system in a corner where they wouldn't bother anyone.

    WTF #5: You need to present photo ID to get a new card. I wonder if fraud through stealing broken cards and getting the money transferred to a new card is common.

    Aside WTF: You need to present an ID card or passport to pay with plastic in Spain. With chip-and-PIN authorisation there is no added security in showing photo ID for any purchase less than 250 Euros since, if I have your card and know your PIN, I can just get cash from an ATM and pay with that.

    WTF #6: The issuing office can only issue cards, they can't transfer the balance. For that you have to go to a different office...

    WTF #7: ...but not on the same day. From which I infer that there are two separate databases handling the cards which only get sync'ed at night...

    WTF #8: ...or maybe once a week. Staff at the other office looked extremely doubtful that transfers could happen on the following day and said it normally takes five-to-ten days. Worked OK in my case, so this may be a training WTF rather than a tech WTF.

    WTF #9: This is apparently a surprisingly slick process by local bureaucratic standards.



  • Wow! That makes the California DMV look like a paragon of efficiency!

    I've traveled a bit in Europe and the only places I had trouble was in Spain and Italy (ok, a little bit of a hassle in Britain). Everywhere else (especially Switzerland) was fine.



  • Which city?

    @Ibix said:

    WTF #5: You need to present photo ID to get a new card.


    Interesting. I know that in Valencia you can purchase a blank card with no requirement for ID.

    @Ibix said:

    Aside WTF: You need to present an ID card or passport to pay with plastic in Spain. With chip-and-PIN authorisation there is no added security in showing photo ID for any purchase less than 250 Euros since, if I have your card and know your PIN, I can just get cash from an ATM and pay with that.


    600 euros with some banks. But most places seem to do chip and sign the touchscreen rather than chip and PIN.

    @Ibix said:

    WTF #9: This is apparently a surprisingly slick process by local bureaucratic standards.


    It's not slick for a commercial operation, but compared to anything government-run... To sign up for the dole in Valencia you first queue to talk to someone from the employment agency, who takes various documents, registers you in their system, and makes an appointment for you to get your official CV drawn up. You then have to phone an automated system to get an appointment about a week later with someone from the actual dole office, in order to get financial support. Oh, and you might need to open a new bank account, because they only work with a handful of banks. When you go for the official CV generation, you discover that you must pigeon-hole your experience into a list which dates from the late 90s. If anyone wants to try to date it, it's not possible to have experience working with .Net, but it is possible to have experience working with Java. So you have to guess which tags a company looking for .Net experience might use as a proxy. All this would be much simpler if they gave you a URL with a list of the whole taxonomy in advance, but that would be too helpful, and the poor person (a Red Cross volunteer) who's entering your data into the system is under time pressure.



  • @Ibix said:

    thus begins a long train of minor WTFs.


    Apparently you haven't heard of Melbourne's Myki system... it's three years since they started rolling it out and so far it's cost $1.5 billion (and that amount is still rising), you can't buy a short term ticket (that is, you must have a Myki card, unlike other systems where you can, e.g. in Adelaide you can buy a singletrip or a daytrip ticket on the vehicle), the vending machines will print two receipts if you ask for a receipt and one if you ask for no receipt ([url=http://www.myki.com.au/Latest-News/myki-machine-receipts]and that one is filled with personal information[/url]), if you have a negative Myki Money balance but a positive Myki Pass balance it won't validate... the list goes on. Needless to say, very few people in Melbourne actually like it.



  • So, can you just pay at each trip? Or you have to use the card?

    Looking at that kind of things I realise that Brazil is indeed improving. Everything used to be that way here, nowadays some things are, other aren't.



  • @Ibix said:

    Cargo-cult thinking among bus drivers?

    The behaviour you described isn't cargo-cult thinking but superstition. Superstition is doing things because you think they will affect something that the things you do have no effect on whatsoever — like bending a bus pass in a certain way to make the machine accept it, when the real cause might be because you're not holding it in exactly the right spot in front of the machine. Of course, this can have the desired effect: perhaps the bend or the repeated fiddling with the pass puts the chip in the exact spot it needs to be, but this is basically just coincidence. Whereas cargo-cult thinking would be not knowing what a bus pass actually is, but cutting a rectangle of cardboard the size of one, taking a marking pen to draw stuff on it so it looks like a real bus pass, and then holding it in front of the machine — and fully expecting it to beep like it does for all the other people who have one of those things.

    @Ibix said:

    Bonus WTF: Putting #1, #2 and #3 together, is it possible that the city went with the lowest bidder for their bus passes?

    You say that as if it's unexpected 😉

    @Ibix said:

    WTF #6: The issuing office can only issue cards, they can't transfer the balance. For that you have to go to a different office...

    That reminds me of the public transport chip card here in the Netherlands. If you get one, you can use it in any bus, tram or underground (subway, metro, whatever) right away, but in order to use it to pay for a train journey, you have to go to the railway company's web site and tell it you want to use the pass for the train (the reason for this is because you have to indicate if you want to travel first or second class, so this is not really a WTF). However, before you can actually use it on the train you have to go to a ticket vending machine at a railway station and activate it there. For some reason, the system seems unable to link an activation on the railway website to the card company's database.



  • @Gurth said:

    @Ibix said:

    Bonus WTF: Putting #1, #2 and #3 together, is it possible that the city went with the lowest bidder for their bus passes?

    You say that as if it's unexpected 😉

    It is. In Spain it's more likely to be the bidder with the biggest bribe.


  • @pjt33 said:

    Which city?

    A Coruña - a place whose two heroes are Maria Pita, who led the local defence of the city against the British, and General Sir John Moore, who led the British defence of the city against the French. European history is a string of WTF, too.

    Also, home of another WTF, I believe.

    @pjt33 said:

    I know that in Valencia you can purchase a blank card with no requirement for ID.

    My guess is that it's just reflex to ask for photo ID when doing anything because they can and it does no harm to security. Some places stop and think "Is this worth it?"

    @pjt33 said:

    But most places seem to do chip and sign the touchscreen rather than chip and PIN.

    Maybe it varies by province - everywhere I've been in Galicia seems to do chip-and-pin.

    @pjt33 said:

    @Ibix said:

    WTF #9: This is apparently a surprisingly slick process by local bureaucratic standards.


    It's not slick for a commercial operation, but compared to anything government-run...

    I've seen a process where you had to queue for a form, fill it out, go to another office and queue to get it stamped, then go back to the first office to hand it in. You could make the process about two thirds shorter with a plastic tray and a postbox, but that does not appear to be the way the Spanish civil service thinks. Again, this was considered slick because the two offices were in the same building and were open at the same time.



  • @Mcoder said:

    So, can you just pay at each trip? Or you have to use the card?

    You can pay cash, but with the card it's about 0.70 Euros and cash it's 1.20. Depending where you drink, the saving buys you a coffee every three-to-five trips.



  • @pjt33 said:

    @Gurth said:
    @Ibix said:

    Bonus WTF: Putting #1, #2 and #3 together, is it possible that the city went with the lowest bidder for their bus passes?

    You say that as if it's unexpected 😉

    It is. In Spain it's more likely to be the bidder with the biggest bribe.

    And/or strongest familial connection to the responsible official. I gather that the husband of one of the princesses is in trouble for some financial malfeasance of this sort.



  • @Gurth said:

    @Ibix said:

    Cargo-cult thinking among bus drivers?

    The behaviour you described isn't cargo-cult thinking but superstition.

    Fair point. I was imagining the bus drivers mindlessly imitating a few passengers who actually knew something about the failure modes of the cards and the failure mode of their specific cards, but it's a bit far fetched. "Cargo cult" was marginally funny, though.

    As an aside, I found myself wondering what was actually wrong with the thing. My un-educated guess is something akin to a dry joint. It's in good enough contact to pass QA (assumption...) but normal wear-and-tear breaks the contact. Bending or pressing on the pass (and the only guy I saw putting a ticket between the card and reader also pressed on the chip) sometimes squeezes it back into contact and hey presto! But it also does mechanical damage to the card that isn't supposed to be treated like that, which makes the next try that little bit harder.



  • @Ibix said:

    Maybe it varies by province - everywhere I've been in Galicia seems to do chip-and-pin.

    Could be. I think the last time I was in Galicia was in 1998.

    @Ibix said:

    I've seen a process where you had to queue for a form, fill it out, go to another office and queue to get it stamped, then go back to the first office to hand it in. You could make the process about two thirds shorter with a plastic tray and a postbox, but that does not appear to be the way the Spanish civil service thinks. Again, this was considered slick because the two offices were in the same building and were open at the same time.

    The Spanish civil service isn't aware that they have a postal system. Apparently it takes a few centuries for that kind of information to trickle through.

    When I moved to Valencia I had to register as a resident and get a "Foreigner's Identity Number". This involved four visits to a police office in an industrial complex on the edge of town. The first time I queued for four hours and then gave up and went home because it was lunchtime and civil servants take long lunches. The second time I arrived earlier, and after queueing for only two hours managed to do the first step of giving them my details and some copies of my passport. I can't remember how long I queued the third time, but they gave me a form to take to a bank and pay. The nearest bank was about 15 minutes away. When I got back and handed in the receipt, I finally got the certificate with my ID number. I don't see why they can't make it possible to pay at the office on the first visit and then send the certificate by post.



  • @Ibix said:

    I was imagining the bus drivers mindlessly imitating a few passengers who actually knew something about the failure modes of the cards and the failure mode of their specific cards, but it's a bit far fetched.

    More likely, they're imitating other people's superstitions 🙂

    @Ibix said:

    As an aside, I found myself wondering what was actually wrong with the thing.

    TBH, so was I when I read your post. It's an RFID-type system, isn't it? So probably some kind of connection between the antenna and the chip that breaks with repeated flexing of the card, which could happen just by it being in your pocket or wallet, I suppose — but I'm no expert on these kinds of systems. All I really know is that my Dutch public transport chip card works fine if I keep it in my wallet in my jacket pocket, and just press the pocket to the machine.



  •  I live in London, and have to say that for the first few years, Oyster cards broke quite frequently.



  • @Ibix said:

    My un-educated guess is something akin to a dry joint. It's in good enough contact to pass QA (assumption...)
     

    ... how expensive are your joints that they required a QA process? Do people fight over those jobs? or is it like video game QA, where the glamor is all in your head, and you end up with a crush soul? (or a smoked soul, or a vaporized soul, or a brownie soul-- whatever is you, man)

     

     



  • @Ibix said:

    WTF #7: ...but not on the same day. From which I infer that there are two separate databases handling the cards which only get sync'ed at night...

     

    Nightly sync is a perfectly legitimate tool to deal with the problem of keeping two separate databases in sync, especially if the sync involves several CPU-consuming joins... provided there's any reason to have two separate databases in the first place. (My money's on "no.")

     



  • @ASheridan said:

     I live in London, and have to say that for the first few years, Oyster cards broke quite frequently.



    I've only ever broken one and that's because I sat on it and snapped the corner off, breaking the antenna loop. That incident aside I've found them to be pretty tough, it does annoy me however that if I'm not in London for a long while my card seems to get taken out of the cache and filed away on a spun-down hard disk somewhere, it works but sometimes it takes up to ten seconds to open the barriers which when you are holding up the line at a busy train station seems like ten years.



  • @ASheridan said:

    I live in London, and have to say that for the first few years, Oyster cards broke quite frequently.
     

    ObDerail: do Oyster cards "expire" if not used for some time?

    I had occasion to trip down the Big Smoke and I thought there was still quite a bit of moola on my card but the ticket machine refused it and the guard claimed it needed topping up. I just wonder if I lost the balance on it for non-use after 90 days or so.

    London Underground song, if anyone's not heard it.

     



  • @curtmack said:

    Nightly sync is a perfectly legitimate tool to deal with the problem of keeping two separate databases in sync, especially if the sync involves several CPU-consuming joins... provided there's any reason to have two separate databases in the first place. (My money's on "no.")

     

    It depends what you mean by "reason". The underlying problem is that the "other office" is not merely another office - it is a private sector entity. You can only top up the cards at ATM-like machines hosted in Caixa Galicia (Novacaixa, since the market crash) banks. There are plenty of advantages to this - La Caixa has a lot more branches in the city than the council does. But I guess they have information security rules that make live access to their systems from offsite an issue (although given that you can do online banking, that's a bit of a WTF in itself), so that's why the batch sync of separate databases. But why does the council need to be involved at all? If La Caixa can top up the cards, why can't they issue them too? It's not like they're passports or ID cards - they're merely technically sophisticated funfair tokens.



  • @Lorne Kates said:

    @Ibix said:

    My un-educated guess is something akin to a dry joint. It's in good enough contact to pass QA (assumption...)
     

    ... how expensive are your joints that they required a QA process? Do people fight over those jobs? or is it like video game QA, where the glamor is all in your head, and you end up with a crush soul? (or a smoked soul, or a vaporized soul, or a brownie soul-- whatever is you, man)

    I was imagining a process where someone swipes the card past a scanner and looks to see if it beeps, rather than full-on component and integration testing of every transistor in the thing. Or is this your earth humour?



  • @Cassidy said:

    ObDerail: do Oyster cards "expire" if not used for some time?


    I attempted to answer this by checking the credit of mine, which hasn't been used in a year or two, and it doesn't even seem to be registered any more. If I log into the TfL website and click on "My Card" it shows me the "My Account" tab instead. And yet I know that the card used to show. So I suspect that they do expire.



  • @Ibix said:

    You can only top up the cards at ATM-like machines hosted in Caixa Galicia (Novacaixa, since the market crash) banks.


    Wow. That's really different to the Valencian system. Here you can top up at any newsagent, and I think you can buy the cards from any newsagent too.



  • @pjt33 said:

    So I suspect that they do expire.
     

    Bum. That explains it.


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