Robert Hampton

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10th March 2015

Smart? Arse
Posted by at 7.40pm | 1 response | Liverpool, Trains

Saveaway is Merseytravel’s off-peak travel ticket giving unlimited travel on buses, trains and ferries. For the princely sum of £5.10, you get a scratch card on which the day, month and year can be rubbed off using a coin (or a finger, if you don’t mind getting all the silvery scratch-off stuff underneath your nail). Generations of Merseysiders have learned the skill of sticking down the plastic cover without getting any lumps in it.

Scratch off Saveaway

It’s a simple, foolproof system. Go to your local corner shop and get a ticket. Maybe buy two or three and keep them in a drawer somewhere until you need them. No further hassle required. That’s probably why the basic format has remained unchanged for over 30 years, barring the occasional special edition like the short-lived All Day Saveaway and (I kid you not) the Pope John Paul souvenir Saveaway.

The first signs of change came a few years ago when railway stations stopped selling the scratch-off Saveaways. Instead, they now sell them in a standard rail ticket format. This change was a bit of a pain for those who wanted to buy in advance and validate as required, but as the scratchcard style remained widely available elsewhere, this wasn’t too much of a problem.

Saveaway "Day Ranger"

Today, however, saw the big change. The scratchcard Saveaways are no longer on sale. Instead, you can purchase your Saveaway and have it loaded onto a Walrus card.

Walrus, for the uninitiated, is Merseytravel’s smart card scheme, which eventually (it is hoped) will be the equivalent to London’s Oyster card. Walrus was supposed to have replaced all of Merseyside’s paper ticket products by now, but it’s been delayed more than a number 26 bus on match day (SATIRE). The original flashy web site, launched in 2011 and since quietly removed, promised that by 2013 we would have full London-style pay as you go functionality. Suffice to say, it hasn’t quite worked out like that, and my Trio ticket is still a dog-eared bit of paper with a stick-on date label and horrendous passport photo.

Finally, after much wrangling behind the scenes, there was a decidedly low-key launch for Walrus in November 2014. That month, Saveaway tickets became available in smart card format on the Wirral, replacing the scratch-off version which is no longer sold. You can buy a Saveaway and load it onto a Walrus card at any PayPoint outlet, keeping the smart card for future re-use.

Walrus Card

“Smart Saveaway” has now been rolled out to the rest of Merseyside. So the trial must have been a success, yes? Well… sort of.

The big problem: with the change to smart cards, Merseytravel have removed the ability to buy a ticket in advance. This sounds like a trivial thing, but it’s actually a big problem. Not everyone lives near a PayPoint shop. Even those that do may find their journey starting at a time when the shop is unlikely to be open. If you can’t buy a Saveaway for immediate use, tough – you’ll have to pay for your journey some other way – probably using that pesky cash which we’re supposed to be phasing out!

Merseytravel say they are “exploring the possibility” of being able to buy in advance and have multiple tickets on the card at once. Their press release today mentions that you might be able to buy a ticket for the next day… sometime this summer, maybe. Given that they have pushed Walrus out to the rest of the county without changing anything, I’m not holding out much hope. Part of me suspects they are hoping that people will just grumble for a while and then forget about it.

Merseytravel’s Twitter feed has seen many complaints from users about the above, and also problems with actually buying the card. In theory, any PayPoint outlet on Merseyside can sell the card. In practice, some shop staff have seemed ignorant of how to issue them… if the equipment is working in the first place. There’s also reports of people being turfed off buses after the cards fail to read correctly.

Another problem – much of the rail network is completely unequipped to deal with smart cards. There are eight Merseyrail stations with ticket barriers which have card readers. However, human ticket inspectors currently do not have any way to check that a smart card is valid. So, if you see a ticket inspector, you need to show your smart card and the receipt to prove it has a Saveaway loaded onto it. In other words, you need to carry two tickets around instead of one. THAT’S NOT AN IMPROVEMENT.

The easy way to deal with such teething troubles would have been to retain the old-style Saveaways for a changeover period. In London, where Oyster has been part of day-to-day travel for over a decade and contactless credit card payments have just been introduced, paper Day Travelcards are still available as a backup. However, Merseytravel have rushed to get rid of the scratch cards, and the rest of us have to put up with the fall out.

The whole thing smacks of “haven’t thought it through”. It’s made a useful ticket a lot more inconvenient. I just hope it doesn’t put off people from using public transport.

I’m also anxious about the rest of the ticket products – Trio, Solo and Railpass. Will Merseytravel screw these up in a similar fashion? 🙁

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One Response
  1. Comment by Andrew Bowden
    29th March 2015 at 8:31 pm

    When Oyster launched in London there was a similar problem with checking and validating tickets. Except it only existed on the heritage Routemaster routes and only really affected pay-as-you-go so who cared? The rest was so basic they solved the problems quickly. If Merseytravel was pioneering this stuff, there would be an excuse. But they aren’t and this is the basics, and that’s very worrying.