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photos by Lara Shipley

The Human Touch

March 7th, 2006 · 5 Comments

So, as I mentioned in a previous post, I’m fresh back from a trip to Madrid and Paris with the lovely Kerry Howley—about which I expect I’ll have more to say once I’m over my jet lag. But here’s one observation about cultural differences: Automatic ticket machines seem not to work in these two great European capitals.

At train stations in both cities, we noticed folk waiting on long lines to buy rail tickets from human tellers who took a pretty ridiculous amount of time to go through the process of producing a couple slips of printed paper for each customer. The walls, meanwhile, were lined with abandoned automatic ticketing machines. I found this odd… until I tried to use them. None of them worked properly. And, in fact, the only people who even bothered trying them seemed to be tourists, who invariably walked away frustrated and ticketless—suggesting that this was a sufficiently longstanding problem that the natives had all learned not to bother. Kerry attributed this to a more relaxed European attitude toward, well… fixing stuff. I harbor dark suspicions that some kind of nefarious conspiracy by the human ticket clerk unions. Other hypotheses are welcome.

Tags: Personal



5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Grant Gould // Mar 8, 2006 at 7:09 am

    Boston has exactly the same phenomenon — the city spent vast sums a few yearsw ago on automatic ticket machines, allowed them all to fall into useless disrepair, and now has humans doing all the work. The stated reason for the disrepair is that they will all, any day now, be replaced with a shiny new hi-tech futuristic automated fare card system, which presumably will also be allowed to fall into disrepair in a few years (if, indeed, it is ever put into practice at all).

  • 2 Adrienne // Mar 8, 2006 at 3:35 pm

    We can play the anecdote game all day long, so here’s my contribution: during my 10 months in Europe, I bought lots and lots of train tickets from automated machines in Paris, Florence, Bologna, Venice, and lots of smaller cities around France. Mostly problem-free.

    There, I refuted you!

  • 3 Thomas // Mar 8, 2006 at 6:05 pm

    Never seen a broken machine in Germany. Ja, ve haf vays of makin’ dem vork!

  • 4 Stephen // Mar 9, 2006 at 11:07 am

    When Homeland Security gets around to it, you too may have useless ticket machines. Here in London many old, useful machines have just been replaced with touchscreens that explode in a light breeze. At the same time we’re being encouraged financially to get smart cards that allow our movements to be tracked. Cory Doctorow explains how to fight back!

  • 5 digamma // Mar 15, 2006 at 10:21 am

    I was last in Paris in July of 2005 and the ticket machines worked just fine for me then. I really like the rolling thing you spin to select options.

    In Philadelphia, on the other hand, I haven’t touched a Regional Rail ticket machine since one of them stole a $5 from me more than a decade ago. (The machines haven’t been replaced since.)