Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Not so online tickets

Coming back to Germany, one welcome innovation is the introduction of online train tickets available from I can still remember my grandfather who worked for German rail for over 35 years complaining when they switched from small, preprinted cardboard tickets to computer printed tickets as that increased the time it took to sell a ticket at the train station significantly, at least for the majority of tickets that are to a small number of 'mainstream' destinations.

The following years, it became the rule that you had to queue for a train ticket for at least ten minutes, much more in peak hours. Then they introduced vending machines where you could buy your ticket with your credit or debit card. But those were restricted to 'simple' tickets. For more complicated things like reservation of a seat with a socket for the laptop or trips with complicated stops in the middle you still had to queue.

But now, you can surf to the above address, register your name etc. and then search for a connection and get your ticket as a pdf file. This pdf document contains your name, part of your credit card number and a 13 character key containing letters and digits. On the train, the conductor slides the credit card through some gigantic PDA, checks a photo ID and types in the security key to verify the ticket. So far, that sounds reasonable.

On last weekend's trip to Berlin, I had to learn hat a fourth step is important as well: The conductor insists on stamping the ticket. Before leaving, stupid me had been so clever to move the printout from my bag to a pocket. However, this is not an atomic procedure and multitasking interrupted right in the middle. Effect: I left the printout on my desk. I still had my laptop with me that had the pdf on the harddisk and I had it as well on my USB stick. But at Bremen central station I couldn't find a place that could print out one page of pdf for me! I had to buy a new ticket because the cannot stamp my laptop's display. I can return the online ticket, but this costs 15 Euros. Why?

For old style tickets it makes sense to devalidate them by stamping them. But why do they insist on this once they gave me the pdf that allows me to produce hundrets of printouts of the ticket? It seems, this rule procedure was implemented by somebody lacking some basic understanding of how computers work.

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