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London's Oystercard Gets New Contract, But Same Suppliers

timothy posted more than 5 years ago | from the captain-amazing-wears-no-glasses dept.

Transportation 143

nk497 writes "Over the summer, the London travelcard ticketing system — called Oyster — fell over twice, forcing the transport authority to offer free travel to the six million Londoners using the system. After that, it cut its contract with the supplier of the system, a consortium called TranSys. But now, Transport for London has signed a new contract to replace the TranSys one — with the same two companies that made up the TranSys consortium. Sure, that should fix everything."

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Because... (2, Insightful)

Cornwallis (1188489) | more than 5 years ago | (#25820947)

Like economists, weather forecasters and politicians (feel free to add to the list), no matter how bad IT people screw up they always can get rehired.

Re:Because... (3, Insightful)

zappepcs (820751) | more than 5 years ago | (#25821093)

When you get the weather forecast, since you don't know the meteorologist's job it will seem like he is incompetent when you get rained on in what is supposed to be a sunny day. Your expectations of their abilities clouds your understanding of what can really happen.

The same things happen in the IT world. When those in charge have clouded vision (some even wear bloody blindfolds) they will have no useful understanding of how to manage an IT project. I believe that in the London area this is not the first demonstration that government types are fairly blind to how to successfully complete a major IT project. In fact, there have been so many stories of such blindness from London that it makes one wonder how they planned to use IT to manage all those cameras.

Anyway, when you only know two companies that want to do the job... whose CEOs happen to drink in the same club that you do..... errr well, a change in name should be good enough. After all, it worked for those blokes who make voting machines in America. Right!

Re:Because... (1, Funny)

Emb3rz (1210286) | more than 5 years ago | (#25821167)

those in charge have clouded vision

some even wear bloody blindfolds

Their lasik surgery went wrong and now the bleeding won't stop...?<rimshot />

Re:Because... (4, Interesting)

ShieldW0lf (601553) | more than 5 years ago | (#25821323)

What are they supposed to do? "Oh, these people are all stupid. Lets chuck em out and get some better ones." The problem isn't that they can't solve the problem. The problem is, they're being employed to try in the first place. Raise taxes. Make public transportation absolutely free. Watch cars on the road go down. Watch societal energy requirements go down. Watch population redistribute themselves along the public transportation corridors, reducing energy requirements further. Watch everyone get that little bit richer as a consequence. Problems solved. The strategy makers are the problem.

Re:Because... (5, Interesting)

hattig (47930) | more than 5 years ago | (#25821603)

For the most part Oyster cards work extremely well. Two downtimes in several years isn't the worst thing ever considering the number of people with travelcards on their Oyster cards who are paying regardless of whether the system is up or down at a particular time.

Without Oyster the entire network would grind to a halt at peak hours due to added processing time (even to put a ticket through the tube gate machines, never mind queues and buying bus tickets instead of simply swiping).

There isn't any room to raise taxes right now, they've done it consistently over the past 11 years until people have very little spare cash. Anyway, Oyster works in London, which has the congestion charge for cars, so most people don't drive to work here if they don't have to. If they did they wouldn't ever get to work.

The only issue is the Oyster card hack, that took years to appear. But the track record is pretty impressive, so choosing them as the supplier seems quite a sensible solution to me. At least it wasn't one of the waste of time governmental contractors like EDS who just absorb public money in return for nothing or freedom-inhibiting systems.

Re:Because... (1)

hattig (47930) | more than 5 years ago | (#25821673)

Oh, bollocks, EDS is part of TranSys. D'oh!

That's probably what caused the problem in the first place.

Re:Because... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25826031)

You haven't read the article.

In what sense are the contractors (EDS and Cubic) not EDS?

Re:Because... (1)

Grimbleton (1034446) | more than 5 years ago | (#25822185)

Okay, comrade.

Re:Because... (1)

ShieldW0lf (601553) | more than 5 years ago | (#25822513)

Ever notice how the people who make the snarky remarks about communism always have houses full of objects that were manufactured in communist countries, and yet, somehow, they still manage to feel that their society is superior, even though they're nothing but con artists and goons when you get right down to it?

Yeah, me too.

Re:Because... (1)

PachmanP (881352) | more than 5 years ago | (#25822883)

Their society is superior. They have managed to subjugate the communist country and make its populace make cheap running shoes. There are but a few ways to measure societal superiority and for most of history that's been it. So there!

Re:Because... (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25822457)

Pst, Red Ken isn't the Mayor of London any more. Get used it: Labour wont make it past the next general, either.

Re:Because... (2, Interesting)

jonbryce (703250) | more than 5 years ago | (#25824445)

The problem is that London's transport system can't cope the the volume of passengers that use it at the moment. Make it free, and the whole system will completely melt down from the number of people using it.

Very few people drive to work in London, as parking is way more expensive than public transport, and there is congestion charge on top.

Re:Because... (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 5 years ago | (#25821549)

That's true of any bureaucracy.

bureaucracy do complected things well. Most people only se the bureaucracy thorough a keyholes. as such often what they see makes little sense.

Re:Because... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25826321)

I'm interested to hear your justifications for this. As a post below indicates, the new contract is awarded at a significant discount and with much more protection for the client. Why is this bad?

Also, the Oyster system is probably one of the most reliable components of the entire underground system - why would you through this out? And what would you replace it with? ITSO?

On this point i commend TfL for NOT bowing to political pressure refusing to implement the sub standard ITSO even though it's endorsed as the "official" near field standard.

Calling what's-his-name... (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25820949)

London needs help on their series of tubes.

Re:Calling what's-his-name... (1)

The name is Dave. Ja (845139) | more than 5 years ago | (#25822093)

... and I hear he's available now !

Re:Calling what's-his-name... (1)

ZankerH (1401751) | more than 5 years ago | (#25822661)

London needs help on their series of tubes.

They could always replace them with a big truck you can just dump people on... [instantrimshot.com]

Damaged RFID cards (2, Insightful)

sakdoctor (1087155) | more than 5 years ago | (#25820973)

Why do the cards need to be writeable in a way that can cause permanent damage?

Re:Damaged RFID cards (2, Informative)

compro01 (777531) | more than 5 years ago | (#25821287)

Unless I'm misunderstanding, it's not writing to them, it's overloading them. RFID works a bit like a crystal set radio, they're powered off the transmission and use that power to transmit a signal back. Transmit a powerful enough signal to them, and you fry the chip.

Re:Damaged RFID cards (2, Insightful)

djdavetrouble (442175) | more than 5 years ago | (#25821927)

Transmit a powerful enough signal to them, and you fry the chip.

So if I walk through a facility with my Chip Frier(TM) I can just wantonly destroy
any RFID chip that stands in the way of me and my goal? That seems bad.

Re:Damaged RFID cards (1)

autocracy (192714) | more than 5 years ago | (#25822281)

Well, yes... yes you could.

Re:Damaged RFID cards (1)

guruevi (827432) | more than 5 years ago | (#25822769)

Yup, you can indeed do so. Of course, you might need some protection for your 'junk'. Sure a lead apron won't cause any suspicion.

Re:Damaged RFID cards (1)

teh kurisu (701097) | more than 5 years ago | (#25825115)

I'd love to know how how long someone could carry an active chip frier [wikipedia.org] on the tube before being shot by a policeman who thought it was a table leg.

Re:Damaged RFID cards (2, Informative)

Chabil Ha' (875116) | more than 5 years ago | (#25821431)

A casual look at wikipedia [wikipedia.org] reveals the following:

The system is asynchronous, with the current balance and ticket data held electronically on the card rather than in the central database. The main database is updated periodically with information received from the card by barriers and validators. Tickets purchased online or over the telephone are "loaded" at a preselected barrier or validator./quote

Re:Damaged RFID cards (2, Insightful)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 5 years ago | (#25821583)

> The system is asynchronous, with the current balance and ticket data held electronically
> on the card rather than in the central database.

This is remarkably stupid.

Re:Damaged RFID cards (1)

AdamInParadise (257888) | more than 5 years ago | (#25821911)

Why is it incredibly studid?

Re:Damaged RFID cards (1)

duguk (589689) | more than 5 years ago | (#25822143)

It's relying on that the RFID card had not been tampered with, changed or duplicated. If it was stored server-side, the major problem would probably mostly only be with duplicated cards.

I love the articles about the UK; my sarcasm detector goes off the scale.

Re:Damaged RFID cards (4, Insightful)

AdamInParadise (257888) | more than 5 years ago | (#25822429)

Well, with a server-side solution, you just have to make sure that every turnstile can call a central server and process a transaction in less than 200ms. This includes the turnstiles in buses and in remote locations...

Truth is, every transportation system with more than a few fixed turnstile stores the rights of the user locally, in the smartcard chip. Of course, transactions logs are analysed every night and it is usually possible to detect incoherences between the values stored in the card and the reference value stored in the server. In that case, the ID of the misbehaving card is placed on a "hot list" and the card cannot be used anymore.

Of course, this works only if you use real cryptographic algorithms (like 3DES or AES) to protect the content of the card instead of relying on a vendor's snake oil.

Re:Damaged RFID cards (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25823961)

Well, with a server-side solution, you just have to make sure that every turnstile can call a central server and process a transaction in less than 200ms. This includes the turnstiles in buses and in remote locations...

Or you have the turnstile trust the card temporarily, and then have it send the updates to the server in batches.

This way a hacked card can be used for a day or two, but when the server is updated the counterfeiting will be detected. You then send out a list of blacklisted cards (each card has a unique ID).

This is what NYC's MetroCard system does.

Re:Damaged RFID cards (1)

AdamInParadise (257888) | more than 5 years ago | (#25824417)

Sure, this is pretty much the system I describe in the second part of my post. However, my point was that you need to store something in the card that tell the turnstile whether the card is valid or not: you do not want to admit someone because he presents a generic RFID card to the turnstile. And this exchange must be authenticated to detect fake cards right away. If the cards are not authenticated but simply detected after the fact and placed on a hot list, a cracker simply have to generate a new card every day.

Mifare cards can be bought online for a few dollars, from perfectly legit shops. The only difference between a generic Mifare card and an Oyster card is that the encryption keys for the Oyster network are not loaded in a generic Mifare cards.

Re:Damaged RFID cards (1)

cheater512 (783349) | more than 5 years ago | (#25824823)

But what if your balance goes below 0?
The turnstile wouldnt know unless it had a mirror of the central database.

Re:Damaged RFID cards (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25822235)

...what? How can you see nothing wrong with this?

Rule 1: Never trust the client.
Rule 2: Never trust the client.
Rule 3: Never, ever, ever, trust the client.

Storing the balance on the card isn't only stupid, it's idiotic. Anyone with an RFID reader/writer and enough time could modify their card to report whatever balance they want.

Oh wait, it already happened. It's why the old company was being dumped.

Re:Damaged RFID cards (2, Informative)

AdamInParadise (257888) | more than 5 years ago | (#25822835)

Rule 1: Never trust the client.
Rule 2: Never trust the client.
Rule 3: Never, ever, ever, trust the client.

This is a good rule when the customer can do whatever he wants with the client, including reading and modifying values in memory. So this is true for PCs. Smartcards are different in the sense that they are designed to prevent the customer from accessing and modifying the content of the card. Of course, given enough time and money, everything can be cracked. Now, in some cases it is possible that the convenience of storing the data locally, in the chip, outweighs the risks. The people in charge of the deployment of the Oyster card misjuged the risk associated with Mifare cards and are now paying the price.

Anyone with an RFID reader/writer and enough time could modify their card to report whatever balance they want.

This is only true for Mifare Classic cards, which is the type of cards used in London. Transportation systems that do not use Mifare Classic cards are totally unaffected by this hack.

Oh wait, it already happened. It's why the old company was being dumped.

Actually, they aren't. It seems that they only dumped two consultants. Furthermore, the company that manufactures the Mifare cards (NXP) was not even a part of this consortium. Also the company in charge of the procurement of the card is still there. Finally, switching to another type of card would be extremelly expensive. They are simply going to use the newer Mifare Plus cards that relies on 3DES. Mifare cards with support for DES and 3DES have been available for a while, it's just that they are a bit more expensive than Mifare Classic cards.

Re:Damaged RFID cards (1)

hotdiggitydawg (881316) | more than 5 years ago | (#25822297)

Off the top of my head...

1. Anyone capable of altering the card [schneier.com] can give themselves free unlimited travel.
2. If the card is damaged to the point where it no longer works, you lose your remaining balance.

It's the RFID equivalent of storing all your Internet banking data (accounts, balances, etc.) on the client side as a browser cookie.

Re:Damaged RFID cards (1)

AdamInParadise (257888) | more than 5 years ago | (#25822601)

1. Anyone capable of altering the card can give themselves free unlimited travel.

Yeah, sure. That's why transport operators with half a clue use standard cryptographic algorithms to protect the content of their cards instead of proprietary, unpublished algorithms like the Oyster card.

2. If the card is damaged to the point where it no longer works, you lose your remaining balance.

Storing the data in the card does not prevent you from mirroring it on a server.

The objections you rise are valid. Thankfully the smartcard industry knows how to handle them.

Re:Damaged RFID cards (1)

hotdiggitydawg (881316) | more than 5 years ago | (#25822925)

The objections you rise are valid. Thankfully the smartcard industry knows how to handle them.

Yeah, because they've been doing a great [theregister.co.uk] job [avirubin.com] so [computerworld.co.nz] far [avirubin.com] ...

Re:Damaged RFID cards (2, Informative)

AdamInParadise (257888) | more than 5 years ago | (#25823267)

The first link is related to the Mifare hack. Mifare cards are insecure, this has been known for a long time. Now I will grant you that the response from the MTBA and NXP have been distateful but predictable.

The second link is an "Analysis of an Electronic Voting System" so it has nothing to do with the security of smartcards per se. If Diebold doesn't know how to implement a secure voting system, this cannot be blamed on smartcards.

The third link points to a PR from the Smart Card Alliance ("a nonprofit industry body representing several large vendors of smart-card and RFID technologies") pointing out flaws in the government plans for RFID passports. That's a pretty responsible move for an industry body that's supposed to lobby on behalf on its constituents.

The last links is identical to the second link.

Re:Damaged RFID cards (1)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 5 years ago | (#25824321)

> Storing the data in the card does not prevent you from mirroring it on a server.

What's the point of doing both?

Re:Damaged RFID cards (1)

cheater512 (783349) | more than 5 years ago | (#25824869)

Its a bit tricky for a bus far away to contact a central server to validate everything in a reasonable amount of time.

Re:Damaged RFID cards (1)

nogginthenog (582552) | more than 5 years ago | (#25822187)

It has to work like this in order to work on buses. The buses upload their data to the central database at the end of their route. AFAIK the other forms of transport (underground & train) use 'live' data.

Re:Damaged RFID cards (1)

Captain Hook (923766) | more than 5 years ago | (#25822263)

This is remarkably stupid.

Oyster was designed for very high transaction rates spread across a large number of access points (not all fixed, the same cards are used on the buses) with low value transactions, querying the server at every transaction would only slow the process of getting onto public transport slower for negligible gain.

Oyster is basically designed to query the card, deduct the amount needed for the ticket and check the ticket is used to get out at the right station.

Re:Damaged RFID cards (1)

jonbryce (703250) | more than 5 years ago | (#25824521)

For trains / tube, you are charged on exit, or if you don't exit. Otherwise it would have to ask you where you are going when you enter the station, and that would take time.

Buses have a flat fare to anywhere in London, so you are charged on entry there.

Re:Damaged RFID cards (2, Insightful)

djt (30437) | more than 5 years ago | (#25824901)

It's really not stupid given that the oyster card has to work across the whole tube, bus, DLR and train networks, on hand-held devices that conductors carry around the busses as well as barriers, turnstiles and 100 different ticketing systems. The Oyster card system works exceptionally well given the millions of transactions that occur daily. Changing suppliers would be an incedibly difficult move to make given the "if it ain't broke don't fix it" rule.

Re:Damaged RFID cards (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25823351)

The New York City transit system's Metrocard works the same way. By storing the data on each individual card, the reader does not have to maintain a 100% uptime communication link to the central database, and since the real-time portion of the fare transaction is all local, it can be processed much faster. The readers & database are reconciled, but not in real-time. That means the transit agency may occasionally be giving away a ride it shouldn't, and it means some vulnerability to scamming. But on the whole it is way better than requiring that every bus and hundreds of subway stations maintain uninterrupted connectivity for real-time transaction processing, which simply is not a realistic goal.

Amateur Transplants (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25820981)

Take your oyster card [wikipedia.org] and shove it up your arsehole [youtube.com] .

Two Things: (4, Informative)

wild_quinine (998562) | more than 5 years ago | (#25821009)

1) The new contract excludes one of the original parties in the consortium.

2) The renegotiated contract includes 'significant savings'.

Sounds like the government decided five nines wasn't as important as cutting the bill in half... as well as one of the former parties to the contract. ;)

Re:Two Things: (1)

Oktober Sunset (838224) | more than 5 years ago | (#25826301)

Well if they save more than 2 days worth of fares then it is worth it for them.

FYI (4, Informative)

djupedal (584558) | more than 5 years ago | (#25821039)

TranSys is a consortium of four global companies:

  • Electronic Data Systems (EDS)
  • Cubic Transportation Systems (CTS)
  • Fujitsu Services Limited
  • WS Atkins

Re:FYI (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25821363)

Electronic Data Systems (EDS)

Well theres yer' problem!

And yet... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25821065)

people seem more content than ever to hand over more and more of their rights and responsibilities to government bureaucrats. Nevermind bureaucratic incompetence and cronyism - that is nothing new. What does that say about people as a whole?

Re:And yet... (1)

djupedal (584558) | more than 5 years ago | (#25821563)

>What does that say about people as a whole?
It says:
  • we've been here for quite a while
  • certain traits have been known & displayed for most of that time
  • how much longer we'll be around is anybody's guess...
  • 'bureaucratic incompetence' is redundant

Bank station (4, Interesting)

Rik Sweeney (471717) | more than 5 years ago | (#25821115)

So, who here from London has the misfortune of having to use Bank or Monument Stations? I'm staggered how they can fuck something like replacing an escalator up.

Just for everyone who doesn't know what I'm talking about, here's the lowdown:

TFL are replacing the escalators that connect Bank and Monument stations together. How long do you think this should take? 2 weeks? 1 month? Nope, here's how long:

18 months.

18 months to replace a fucking escalator. The building opposite where I work was put up quicker than that! Meanwhile, the poor bastards who have to use the station all have to walk down a corridor that's been designed to only take a 1/4 of the volume it's experiencing now.

I love the advert projectors too, especially the one they've placed right in front of the LCD screen so you can't tell when the next train is due.

Greed, nothing but.

Re:Bank station (1)

Kenshin (43036) | more than 5 years ago | (#25821633)

18 months? I'm amazed. I thought the TTC (Toronto) had lengthy escalator repair times.

They always put signs up with the date it should be back in service, and week-to-week they extend that date by another week. (Some of the damn things are broken more than they're working.)

Escalator Repairman (1)

phorm (591458) | more than 5 years ago | (#25821901)

I noticed that too in Toronto, but I also noticed that the escalators in a lot of other places (notably a bunch of Chapters locations, stores, etc) seemed to also break down quite frequently. The stores tended to get things fixed a bit faster than the TTC, but overall I'm wondering if there's a shortage of escalator repair-persons or perhaps the parts are in short supply (I've heard that many parts come from overseas - Germany I think - and are available only from a very small number of suppliers).

Re:Escalator Repairman (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25823259)

Maybe they're unionized.

Re:Bank station (1)

PachmanP (881352) | more than 5 years ago | (#25823047)

An escalator can never break! It can only become stairs!
http://www.comedycentral.com/videos/index.jhtml?videoId=41938&title=mitch-hedberg-wall-knocking [comedycentral.com]

Re:Bank station (1)

paulius_g (808556) | more than 5 years ago | (#25822283)

They changed some escalators in the Montreal (Montreal, Quebec, Canada) metro too and it seemed like it took forever.

I recall the escalator change at the Guy Concordia station taking at least 12 months, more like 14 I believe.

Now they also have their new Opus system, which looks very similar to the Oystercard system. It's ridiculous. It's slow, their refill terminals are running Windows XP and I've seen them crash, and all the seniors using the subway are utterly confused.

Re:Bank station (1)

Timmmm (636430) | more than 5 years ago | (#25824747)

"I love the advert projectors too"

I hate those too. And the LCD adverts. Sadly they don't seem to have been stupid enough to leave the infrared bit of the projectors exposed...

Re:Bank station (1)

almost_lunchtime (1370619) | more than 5 years ago | (#25824907)

Amen - Bank station is a joke. However the workers putting up the building opposite you are a) above ground, which presumably makes things a little easier, and b) don't have to avoid disrupting thousands of commuters during construction. Also, they might be reinforcing or widening the existing tunnel. The worst thing about London transport is the heat though. It is unbearably hot when it's busy, and it's often crowded enough that there isn't room to remove your coat by the time you realise. Travelling in winter sucks here

Re:Bank station (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25825549)

I have a friend who is an engineer working on this project.

The back story is that TFL awarded this contract to Metronet. After a year of delay, Metronet went bust. So TFL took a few months to rethink, and re-awarded the contract to Tubelines.

My friend has spent the last three months trying to get the basic design information out of Metronet and their sub-contractors. They are refusing to provide any, or dragging their feet so slowly that they get the same effect. So Tubelines are having to design the new escalator again from scratch.

That's why it's taking so long....

My My... (4, Funny)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 5 years ago | (#25821153)

The great ship Titanic certainly does seem to be on a much more even keel since we moved these deck chairs around...

Tracking (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25821221)

Better not mention that this card will enable the authorities to track all travel. They have already got rid of paying by cash on a lot of bus routes, forcing cash payers to pay twice as much as the Oyster payers to "encourage" the card use. To aid this, they have recently got rid of the pre-pay paper *1 tickets under disguise of mass fraud *2. Also children under 16 get "free" *3 travel using Oyster whilst data is actually being secretly collected for the governments ID card system.

*1: They were offering travel using these tickets the same price as the Oyster system.
*2: http://www.tfl.gov.uk/tickets/faresandtickets/singlefares/2904.aspx [tfl.gov.uk]
*3: Free as in other sucker taxpayers paid for their privilege.

Re:Tracking (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25821539)

Paying tickets in cash elongates stopping times considerably, especially when the tickets are to be bought from the coach. This is a fine rationale for forcing people to pay in advance.

At least around here (in Finland) all subsidies to ticket prices go directly to pre-paid and particularly period-based travel prices. One-use tickets are cold, hard cash.

Re:Tracking (2, Informative)

nogginthenog (582552) | more than 5 years ago | (#25822229)

You don't have to register an Oyster card to an address (mine isn't, but I do use a credit card to top it up so...). I heard they are available pro-loaded from vending machines at airports.

Re:Tracking (2, Interesting)

poot_rootbeer (188613) | more than 5 years ago | (#25822983)

Better not mention that this card will enable the authorities to track all travel.

I depend on the public transportation infrastructure of New York City, and I wish "the authorities" (ooo, spooky) would start tracking all travel here already.

Right now, what does the MTA know about subway usage patterns? They know how many people get into the system at each station (thanks to electronic fare control gates), and have a pretty good idea of how many people exit the system at each station (not all exit gates have counters attached), but they can only estimate what people are actually doing once they're in the system. From Grand Central, how many passengers are heading uptown vs. downtown vs. crosstown? What are their ultimate destinations, and what routes take them there?

If every passenger's entrance and exit points from the system were recorded individually, that data could be analyzed to make the entire system more efficient.

Re:Tracking (1)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 5 years ago | (#25824435)

> If every passenger's entrance and exit points from the system were recorded
> individually, that data could be analyzed to make the entire system more efficient.

And think of the targeted advertising possibilities were your name, address, and banking details attached to that complete record of your travel patterns (not to mention the opportunities to detect "suspicious behavior").

UK transport a disgrace (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25821273)

Comments here that gripe about the UK, always seem to focus on privacy and the state. But transport in London and the rest of the UK is our real embarrasment.

Entirely foreign owned, manned by minimum-wage slaves who can't speak a word of English and run by greedy, grossly incompetent asshats the UK public transport system is a disgrace. It's a dirty, unreliable, overcrowded, polluting, expensive, piss poor apology for a public transport system. On a good day.

Roads and railways close at random. Everything is at a halt while speed cameras, penalty travel fines and congestion zones rob any traveller of money to feed the machine. We have a war on travel in the UK.

It has a staggering downtime. On any random day, particualrly at weekends, you will find whole subnetworks of the UK public transport system closed off due to 'engineering works'. You'll often get stranded in some back of beyond town and need to hire a taxi, hitch-hike, sleep in a hotel (or if you have no money in a station). Surely no other system in the world is this much of a fucked up, crumbling mess.

The airport and railway authorities are laws unto themselves, still wielding ancient bylaw legislation from the days when it was a National state run transport system. Passengers are just unwanted cattle. The fare structures are unfathomable, even if you have a degree in maths and logistics just try working out the best ticket to buy. They change the names of products and prices at random to stop any customers or intermediate sellers getting settled. They misrepresent contract law, making specious pseudo-legal announcements telling lies about where and when you must buy a ticket in order to maximise their profits. Station staff who could once help you have been sacked and replaced with machines and ticket barriers.

Lord only knows what it costs our economy! The UK government and the private companies that run our roads and railways are a complete and utter failure at transport policy. I honestly think they have an agenda to halt the entire country and make sure everyone stays in their homes.

Re:UK transport a disgrace (2, Insightful)

DavidTC (10147) | more than 5 years ago | (#25822199)

At least you have fucking mass transit.

Re:UK transport a disgrace (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25823243)

At least you have fucking mass transit.

Agreed.

Granted, the GP makes their public transit system sound like a horrible mess. But one would assume that you would periodically be able to get from $POINTA to $POINTB using public transit.

Large parts of the US have absolutely no public transit at all. Nothing. Nada. Not even a horrible mess. I live in one such place.

We don't have busses, we don't have trains, we don't have a subway. There are taxis that you can hire, but they hardly count as public transit. And due to America's obsession with personal transportation and urban sprawl nothing is within walking distance.

All of which means that I am basically required to own a car of some sort - I can't get to work without one, I can't go grocery shopping without one, I can't get anything done without one. So I'm spending money on gas, and insurance, and periodic maintenance... Just to get to and from work.

I'd happily ride a bus, or train, or whatever... I'd much rather do that than have my own car. But that simply isn't an option where I live. And it isn't an option in much of the US.

Re:UK transport a disgrace (1)

DavidTC (10147) | more than 5 years ago | (#25825103)

You're lucky.

My county and city doesn't even have taxis.

I believe there is one guy who has a nice, taxi-looking car and a cell phone, and hangs out in downtown (Such as it is.) at night, who gets called to take drunk people home for a small fee. I'm pretty certain he has some sort of license, but who knows. I do know he's only on duty in the evenings, possibly only on weekends, and there's just that one guy and one car that is that company.

There's also a 'bus', actually a minivan, you can hire, but only in advance, which old ladies use to go grocery shopping.

If, for example, I'm in town, and my car breaks down, I literally have no options, no one to call that I can pay money to to get me home.

Besides, obviously, people I know who'll do it for free, but that's not actually my point. My point is that, hey, you think only having taxis is bad...try not having anything.

Re:UK transport a disgrace (3, Insightful)

LackThereof (916566) | more than 5 years ago | (#25823193)

You have a system in London that supports 4.5 million riders a day, in a city of 7.3 million. That's nearly 2/3 of the population.

Here in America, most of our major metropolitan areas have abortive mass transit systems that support closer to 1/10th of their population. Diesel buses are the workhorses of our transit systems and carry the vast majority of our transit commuters. Most are standing-room-only, thanks to the gas prices of the past few years and infrequent service. Most of our metro areas are just now starting to build small light-rail transit lines to supplement the bus service.

Be thankful you don't live in the Atlanta or Phoenix areas. At least you can get to "some back of beyond town" on your system. On ours, you're lucky if it's even theoretically possible to do a weekday commute.

Re:UK transport a disgrace (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25823399)

Be thankful you don't live in the Atlanta or Phoenix areas. At least you can get to "some back of beyond town" on your system. On ours, you're lucky if it's even theoretically possible to do a weekday commute.

I took a vacation to the UK a few years back. I was absolutely amazed with how well I could get around without renting a car or hiring a taxi.

It was possible for me to get on a train in the middle of London and get off the train in some quaint little town out in the middle of nowhere.

Here in the US that just does not happen. If you live in a big city you might be able to get from one side of town to the other... But if you live in some quaint little town out in the middle of nowhere there'll be absolutely no public transit anywhere at all. Not across town, not to a neighboring town, and not to a nearby city.

Here in the US there is an assumption that you will either stay close to home, or you will buy your own car and do your own driving.

That means that you are virtually required to pay for your driver's license... Buy a car... Pay for insurance... Pay for registration... Buy gas... Pay for periodic maintenance... All of which adds up to a fairly substantial cost.

pfft ... amateurs! (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25825797)

As the saying goes, "citation needed" for your claims about mass transit systems in major U.S. cities.

New York City has an estimated 8.27 million people (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_York_City) and its subway/bus system moves an estimated 7 million people daily (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_York_City_Transit_Authority). That's more than 8/10's of the population.

Please Remember. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25826109)

London != The UK.

In any other western nation venturing from one major city to another does not feel like riding off to the end of the world. Hell, Scots from the central belt will often wince at the mere through of going to Aberdeen (Europe's main Petrochemical Hub), never mind Englishmen 200 miles to the south. That is how bad the road and rail services are.

In any other 1st world country the vast cities of the North of England would be seen as an opportunity, with low land prices, housing prices and proximity to "major" cites and transport links. Due to poor infrastructure they are left to rot, with think-tanks suggesting relocating their entire populations to the south of England to be closer to London rather than bring the business and infrastructure to them.

That is how bad UK public transport is.

Re:UK transport a disgrace (-1, Offtopic)

will_die (586523) | more than 5 years ago | (#25823561)

Skip the transportation, what is with the UK and bathroom sinks?
Why do they have two nozzles? A single nozzle is great for temperature control and don't cause any wash back or have any additional disease risk.

Re:UK transport a disgrace (1)

Inda (580031) | more than 5 years ago | (#25823643)

I wouldn't worry about them. We manage just fine with two. Not sure what wash back is but I have never heard of anyone getting diseases from taps.

Re:UK transport a disgrace (2, Informative)

teh kurisu (701097) | more than 5 years ago | (#25825715)

I'd say that the vast majority of your post doesn't apply to the London transport system. I've visited a couple of times this year and was amazed by how efficient and useful it was. Everything seemed to be within walking distance of a Tube or DLR station.

Compare with Glasgow where the subway has never, ever been expanded from the single circle line, which doesn't really go anywhere now that the shipbuilding areas have collapsed. They've been talking about extending it for a while now but nothing seems to be happening. And then there's Edinburgh... they're building a tram line, but whether there'll be the money or enthusiasm to build beyond the initial plans I don't know.

Station staff who could once help you have been sacked and replaced with machines and ticket barriers.

This made me chuckle. Those ticket machines are a godsend, it used to be that a lot of stations didn't have them, and the ticket office was closed 24 hours a day (Fife Circle I'm looking at you). Sometimes the ticket inspector would fail to make an appearance on the train too. In Edinburgh Waverley they have a ticket office on the train side of the barriers, so that you could buy a ticket just to pass the barriers.

Re:UK transport a disgrace (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25825891)

Fucking Northern.

Monday morning, I got stuck on one of their shitty trains between Stockport and Buxton, for 4 and half hours. Four... and a half... fucking... hours. A journey that should've taken 40 minutes on a bad day.

So what was their lame excuse? They tried to cut corners (and save money) by not sanding the tracks. You know the score. Something about "the wrong kind of rain" and "leaves on the tracks" and apologizing for the delay and the inconvenience this may cause. What. A. Fucking. Joke.

Will Northern get prosecuted? No fucking way, they're the only operator! Will I get my money back? Sure, I'll eventually get my 11 quid back and a letter of apology (if I'm motivated enough). The question is, can I invoice them for my lost business? Huhu, I'm sure the small print will just tell me to go ahead and fuck myself!

Anyway, I better stop, I'm not even sure where this rant is going! I'll just wipe the foam off my mouth and be on my way.

I get the impression that (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 5 years ago | (#25821513)

a lot of people use the tube.
I wonder if it would be cheaper to subsidize it and make it 'free' to use.

The reason I bring this up is becasue I ahve seen instances where the fee's collects just barely cover the cost of collecting fees.
If your goal is to get cars off the road, this seems ideal.

Note: I know nothing about the London system, my experience is in areas in the US.

Re:I get the impression that (4, Informative)

gurps_npc (621217) | more than 5 years ago | (#25821683)

The instances where the fee barely covers the cost of collecting are always in less urbanized areas. In major cities, like New York and London, the fees cover most of the cost of transportation. In fact one of the things NYC's MTA is always complaining about is that the State and Federal government give huge amounts to subsidize suburban and rural public transportation and give practically nothign to the city

Re:I get the impression that (1)

hotdiggitydawg (881316) | more than 5 years ago | (#25822711)

Back-of-the-envelope calculations:

* 1,037,000,000 [tfl.gov.uk] passenger trips a year.
* Ticket price varies roughly in a range of 2-4 GBP per trip.
* That comes to maybe 3,000 million GBP annual revenue.

Yes, that's 3 billion pounds (American billion) give or take a bit, which is more than the GDP for most of the smaller African nations. Apparently this is all used to cover operating costs [google.com] , although annual operating cost is actually in the region of 1.2 billion pounds [tfl.gov.uk] (PDF warning, see section 3).

Sounds to me like they're actually turning a hefty profit.

Re:I get the impression that (1)

jonbryce (703250) | more than 5 years ago | (#25824681)

It's £1.50 on Oyster, and most people have Season tickets which cost even less per journey.

Trainspotting (1)

wild_quinine (998562) | more than 5 years ago | (#25823225)

Note: I know nothing about the London system, my experience is in areas in the US.

When it comes to transport, the UK has a lot of firsts. And especially, as that relates to rail transport.

Ever wonder why continental europe has sexy trains on two levels, but we don't in the UK?

Because our century and older railway bridges are too low.

We don't have steam trains any more, but our entire infrastructure was built around them.

Work on a London underground railway began in 1854 - although it wasn't really the London Underground till the 1930's.

Re:Trainspotting (1)

Captain Hook (923766) | more than 5 years ago | (#25823733)

Ever wonder why continental europe has sexy trains on two levels, but we don't in the UK? Because our century and older railway bridges are too low.

But that doesn't explain why the new bridges and replacement bridges are still allowed to be built just high enough to take a single decker train. Mandate all future bridges must be able to take a double decker train and slowly the restrictions of what can run on our tracks goes away.

Re:Trainspotting (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25824535)

"Mandate all future bridges must be able to take a double decker train and slowly the restrictions of what can run on our tracks goes away...."

Sorry, how does this work?? Our bridges were built by the great Victorian engineers, and they didn't intend them to break down or be moved.

I live next to the main London-Birmingham railway, a few yards from a bridge built by Stephenson (Robert, not George). It was built in 1839, and has not been changed since. I expect it will stay like it is for at least 500 more years.

So mandating new bridges (and even harder, tunnels) would be a pointless activity...

They've been collecting fares for almost 150 years (1)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 5 years ago | (#25821547)

Why has it suddenly gotten so bloody difficult?

Re:They've been collecting fares for almost 150 ye (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25822183)

Two things

  • British Government
  • Computers
  • IT Consultants
  • Programmers who can't count

New Zealand adopted the idea (1)

duckInferno (1275100) | more than 5 years ago | (#25822213)

Over here it's called "Snapper" (continuing the nautical theme). I'm pleased to report that while it hasn't actually anything up much as originally intended, it hasn't slowed anything down either. In other words it's not a big shambling mess like the UK version.

I am still trying to figure out why they put it in in the first place, with its inspiration being plagued with issues.

Re:New Zealand adopted the idea (1)

duckInferno (1275100) | more than 5 years ago | (#25822275)

...hasn't sped* anything up much...

Re:New Zealand adopted the idea (1)

duckInferno (1275100) | more than 5 years ago | (#25822307)

Oh -- and they're fairly benign in the privacy department. Your personal details are only linked to your card if you register, and most people don't -- they just buy the card over a counter.

Re:New Zealand adopted the idea (1)

shermo (1284310) | more than 5 years ago | (#25822805)

They're actively pushing the registration however. Want to take bets on how long til registered cards get a special discount?

Actually, it has it's positives, since my 'normal' friends spout slashdotesque view points when snapper cards are brought up.

Re:New Zealand adopted the idea (1)

duckInferno (1275100) | more than 5 years ago | (#25822941)

They wonder how much data would fit on it, expressed in libraries of congress?

Re:New Zealand adopted the idea (1)

Timmmm (636430) | more than 5 years ago | (#25824873)

You seem to have the impression that the oyster card is no good. Actually it is great - much faster, more convenient and cheaper (artificially admittedly) than using paper tickets. It also has high uptime (only down two days in the last several years, and it's not like that was bad for anyone because they just made transport free).

As for the security flaws. They have only managed to change the 'cached' cash value on the card. When the back-end notices the discrepancy then the card can be banned. Although it's a serious flaw it is hardly the downfall of the system that many people here seem to think.

Re:New Zealand adopted the idea (1)

duckInferno (1275100) | more than 5 years ago | (#25825285)

Hmm, I read an article in an NZ paper (prior to Snapper's implementation) that Oyster was riddled with problems. I guess I shouldn't believe everything I read ;)

Re:New Zealand adopted the idea (1)

cheater512 (783349) | more than 5 years ago | (#25825065)

Queensland, Australia has had the Go card system for awhile now.

IMHO it works brilliantly. Its sped busses up a lot and there havent been major problems.

Stupid Slashdot Stories (4, Insightful)

lancejjj (924211) | more than 5 years ago | (#25822273)

So the Transport organization formed a new contract with the same parties that failed them before. HOWEVER, the new contract is much more robust, with many more protections for the transport authority, and many more penalties for the provider if and when they fail.

So what exactly wrong with this? That someone who screwed up got a new contract?

Let me say that there are very few organizations that have the ability to deliver ANY service in this area. Having a contractor with a track record and some history of failure doesn't mean that the contractor aren't the best choice for the job.

Is this corruption or stupidity? Likely not. This is simple business.

I've always thought that public transit (2, Interesting)

hey! (33014) | more than 5 years ago | (#25825305)

should be free. It'd take a large, complex function out of running a transit system, and simplify travel. I wonder what percentage of a fare dollar goes to managing the fare collection?

Of course, outfits like the AAA don't like the idea of transit riders getting, er, a free ride. But you don't pay to drive on a freeway, and that's pretty expensive to keep up. You don't pay the cost of the pollution you emit either. A big city like London ought to do everything it can to reduce the impact of cars: the traffic, pollution, parking problems and so forth.

I'm not saying this is a solution for smaller cities , but for huge cities, especially old huge cities like London or New York, cars just aren't a reasonable solution to moving people around; the density of the cities makes them impractical. You could try to keep them out, of course, with high bridge tolls, but I think it makes much more sense to make public transit really, really easy to use: no fare zones, no fare cards, no toll collectors, nothing.

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