Jul 23, 2023
In a digital world, there’s still a place for paper train tickets
Old hand Christopher Howse and young gun Guy Kelly ponder the perils of entrusting your phone with your travel plans There is plenty about modern life to cause celebration and aggravation in equal
Old hand Christopher Howse and young gun Guy Kelly ponder the perils of entrusting your phone with your travel plans
There is plenty about modern life to cause celebration and aggravation in equal measure... but it is never safe to make an assumption about how the different generations feel about anything, from vegans to scented candles.
This week, our columnist duo have strong views on paper train tickets.
Alice’s dreamlike state in Through the Looking-Glass is captured by John Tenniel’s illustration of her sitting in a railway compartment with the guard leaning in through the window and inspecting her with opera glasses.
Typically for an anxiety dream, she finds she has no ticket. Sitting opposite her, a man resembling Disraeli, dressed in a white paper suit and a white paper hat, says: ‘Never mind what they all say, my dear, but take a return ticket every time the train stops.’
That advice from 1871 is almost identical to best practice today in buying a railway ticket online. Split-ticketing means buying separate tickets to cover every stage of the journey’s trajectory. It can work out cheaper because of railway companies’ incomprehensibly complicated ticketing systems.
Anyway, once you’ve bought your ticket online, though uneasy that it will be rejected by the guard as invalid on that route at that time, what do you do? Print it out at home if you have a printer that works. Or fetch it from a machine at a station. I did that for a train from Liverpool Central. But Liverpool Central has no such ticket machine. A nice woman at the booking office printed it for me, so I might as well have queued to buy a ticket as nature intended.
But if you have taken leave of your senses, you can preserve a virtual ticket on your mobile. The obvious danger is that the phone will have run down when the guard demands to see it. Then you will be sentenced to pay the equivalent of the cost of transportation to Tasmania by way of a ‘penalty fare’. Penalty fares are really fines and go against Magna Carta by making railway guards judge and jury. But them’s the breaks.
If it takes an optimistic idiot to put a railway ticket on a phone, what does it take to do it with an air ticket? At airports you see desperate men surrounded by children in the last stages of exhausted insubordination, only kept from cannibalistic savagery by a stalwart mother, like patience on a monument smiling at her husband’s stupidity in putting the whole family’s holiday tickets on his unreliable phone.
I was confronted with a new question when I bought a suit earlier this summer: ‘Would sir like a ticket pocket included on the jacket?’ I blinked and thought about it. In the silence the tailor scoffed. ‘It’s just an old-fashioned thing really, nobody needs one now. We’ll leave it off, don’t you think?’
He was right about nobody needing one, obviously. Paying extra for a tiny pocket designed to hold only a physical train ticket in the year of our Lord 2023 would be like insisting consideration be given for the fact I wouldn’t be seen dead without my cutlass, or asking for a small pouch to be sewn into the lining to convey my pet dodo, Vernon.
Plucky as it can be to rage against the digitisation of everything – menus, parking machines, doorbells – the arguments for paper tickets over mobile ones are about as thin as the card they’re printed on. (Speaking of which, the major victim is a friend of mine who always used to ask me if I had a train ticket so he could make a roach for his jazz cigarette.)
Ultimately, they appear to start and end here: ‘Well, what if I haven’t charged my phone?’
Then that’s on you, pal. Personal responsibility. Bring a charger. Locate a plug socket. Know that if you screenshot your ticket, put your phone in aeroplane mode and close all other apps, it shouldn’t leak much battery until the guard comes round. Quickly WhatsApp said screenshot to the person next to you, just in case your phone dies.
Practise opening the Trainline app in front of the guard before bashing buttons, loudly complaining that your bought and paid for ticket won’t open due to internet issues, even though the truth is that you switched off Wi-Fi and mobile data half an hour ago, then gabbering on until the guard loses interest and walks off. Locate a good toilet to hide in until Totnes. Pretend to be dead.
This is the kind of thinking you need if you want to avoid a fine on the railways these days. It’s easier, and yet to fail me. Apart from that one time I boarded a train without my phone. Now, would sir like a phone pocket…