The Oyster goes regional – happy now?

So, today it was announced that train companies operating services in and out of London would be enabling passengers to use Oyster by 2009 (originally via Londonist, and also this morning’s traditional deadwood press).

For readers who don’t frequent the capital of our fair nation: Oyster is a system whereby you have a cash-chargeable electronic card which you swipe over readers in Tube stations and on buses and trams, removing the need for paper tickets and unifying the travel experience across the network. It’s futuristic, fabulous, and the people demand it! says Mayor Ken (well, that’s the gist of what he says, anyway). It has been around for a few years now. Over the past year, Transport for London has been “encouraging” people to “upgrade” to Oyster, by offering better fares if you use the system and don’t use daily tickets.

I live outside London, and I don’t (currently) work in London throughout the week, and I often need to expense travel. Therefore, I generally buy paper travelcards from my home station. I don’t own an Oyster card.

So, won’t I jump for joy at the prospect of a shiny plastic card replacing these backward paper monstrosities called “tickets”?

Well, no.

For a start, I’ve yet to be convinced of the privacy and security issues. I have recently been told (and I have to admit that I’d never bothered to investigate) that you don’t actually have to register your name and address in order to get a card, they will just issue one. Previously, I’d thought that you had to provide all of your identity date in order to get one. So, if I can use it “anonymously”, should I be worried about surveillance? Well… I’ve got nothing to hide, but I can’t get over the niggling feeling that I don’t want all of this information recorded about me. There are apparently ways to shield the card, so that information can’t leak out, but it won’t stop the network tracking my movements, even if it doesn’t know who I am – not hard to correlate times with CCTV footage, for example, and we know just how much we’re all under the watchful eyes of cameras in the UK these days.

Another thought… I’m sat on a train right now, and the guard has just been through to inspect tickets. Wonder how that will work when Oyster is introduced? I’ll have swiped my card at the mainline station to get through the barrier to get on the train, so naturally I’ll be within my rights to be sitting here. Unless I jumped the barrier, or got on at a smaller regional station. Could be fun. Maybe they could do an iris scan and check my ID card on the way through the carriage. Flashbacks to Minority Report

I suppose this discussion forms an interesting counterpoint to my views on Declarative Living (to borrow James Governor’s term). I do spray information about my location, my listening habits and my daily life around the web on a fairly liberal basis.I listened to a great podcast on the way home last night, where Suw Charman and Stephanie Booth discussed whether or not geotagging and geoinformation is such a good thing, and it got me thinking. I guess the reason I’m more comfortable about my activity information being online is that it feels more “opt-in”. With Oyster, I don’t have a choice about what information is stored, and I have to travel so can’t avoid it; with Web 2.0, I choose whether to run the Plazes or last.fm client software at any point in time, controlling both the what and when of the information in question (unless I forget to switch off the last.fm client when listening to Shania Twain…). It’s a personal option.

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13 responses to “The Oyster goes regional – happy now?

  1. _Wonder how that will work when Oyster is introduced? _

    The DLR is mostly ungated and the train captain caries a little scanner device which checks Oyster cards whenever he can be bothered/is bored enough.

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  2. “There are apparently ways to shield the card, so that information can’t leak out” – quick! Get the man a tin foil hat to wrap around his oyster card. 🙂

    It’s a fair point that updating Plazes (and Last.fm and everything else) is a choice. I guess using the Oyster card is also a choice. You don’t want Big Brother watching you (and I mean the attentive state rather than the TV programme)? Pay by cash for that journey.

    Personally, I am delighted by the news, and not just because I’m lazy. I hope it’s interoperable with my RFID reader at home, so I can track when I leave and arrive all based on a card I’d carry with me anyway (believe it or not, before I moved house I was doing this for a while with an RFID keyfob). I hope the train operators make an RSS feed available for each card, so I can mashup my rail journeys with Plazes.

    Neither of these are likely to happen, but would give me a chance to live increasingly declaratively.

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  3. Jon: right. And now I think about it, they’ll know where you swiped in last, and that therefore you have the credit for the journey. Makes sense now. I hadn’t thought that through…

    Roo: RSS feeds for Oyster, interesting idea. As you say, never going to happen. It’s a closed system, whereas the aforementioned Plazes etc. lets you mashup your data anyway you like.

    Oh, and not all of us have RFID readers at home 😛

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  4. And, perhaps most importantly, Ken’s heart is in the right place. But then having been a London student at the time of “Fare’s Fair” and having met him a couple of times I would say that, wouldn’t I. :-)*

    * Do I really have to spell out to non-UKers (and youngsters) the origin of the phrase “Well they would say that, wouldn’t they?” 🙂

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  5. I have an Oyster card.
    Oyster charged me for an “incomplete” journey I supposedly made, when in fact my card was on my personage, and I was delivering a speech in Salzburg.
    I complained to Oyster and they told me to stop crying like a baby and refunded me the fine.
    I wonder if their IT systems understand assured delivery and 2 phase commit .. hmmm …

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  6. ‘unless I forget to switch off the last.fm client when listening to Shania Twain’

    Ha! The cat’s out of the bag now. You do realise that made it out of your brain and into your blog entry? 🙂

    Just kidding.

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  7. It made it out of my last.fm client yesterday too, when I walked away from my desk and iTunes decided to merrily wander around my music directory, the contents of which I am not wholly responsible for (long story).

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  8. Wibble-man: knowing your expert abilities with 2PC and assured delivery, perhaps you could see about reviewing the system for them?

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  9. Whilst I do like the idea of the Oyster credit card, my only problem has been the fact that they seem to be another one of these items that people purchase on cloned credit cards. I had my card cloned and over a 24 hrs period, someone had spent about £300 on mobile phone top-ups and Oyster cards. Part of me thinks that you should have to register for your card, a name & an address to prevent fraud, and the other part of me sees the big brother is watching angle.

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  10. Graham, there’s plenty of other stuff you can buy on credit card without giving your name or address, though. I don’t think requiring them for Oyster card purchases is going to fix the fraud problem: unless we rolled out that requirement to all purchases. I think that’s a long way off – just the infrastructure change required would be immense, and that’s without even discussing whether it’s a good idea 🙂

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  11. As an addendum to this post, today for the first time in my memory we had ticket inspectors on the Tube! They came along the carriages. As Jon mentions, they had a handheld scanner and checked Oyster cards by holding them across it… no idea what they actually saw on the screen, presumably that the card had been swiped at a reader on the way onto the Tube network today, and was in credit.

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  12. “Over the past year, Transport for London has been “encouraging” people to “upgrade” to Oyster, by offering better fares if you use the system and don’t use daily tickets.”

    — Correction, What TFL and Ken livingstone have been doing for the past couple of years is put up cash fares by ridiculous amounts (+150%!) to literally force people to have an oyster card. This must be a nightmare for tourists and occasional users/people from outside London as the system is in no way simple.

    Also, when your Oyster card fails at any given moment (my third card has done just that) you are forced to pay the extortionate cash fare for bus/tube which you are probably not going to get refunded. That’s hoping that you are actually carrying cash as backup or you’re quite simply buggered.

    I’m sticking with my paper ticket…

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