Recognise that thing on the right? It’s a long, long overdue arrival at Charlton station – an Oyster card reader. In fact, there’s a pair of them, carefully hidden under black covers. Finally, some concrete evidence that sometime before the world ends, Oyster pay-as-you-go is coming to Southeastern trains. Let’s party like it’s 2004!
The whole Oyster fiasco is one of those things which sums up the disaster that is public transport in this country perfectly – city government introduces nifty smartcard for its trains, but when it tries to get other, private trains to take its system, the private trains spit their dummies out and it takes years for them to be forced into line.
Even more aggravatingly, the only rail firms which take it now are all north of the Thames – I managed to go to Rainham, on London’s eastern fringes, using my ticket the other day. But even then, that didn’t stop rail firm c2c putting up stern signs warning of dire consequences if I ever set foot with the thing into Essex. Their slogan? “Making travel simpler.” So simple, I got a mate to pick me up at Rainham instead of risking fines by carrying on to Purfleet, which is where I was really going. Their loss.
Even now, it’s not certain when Oyster pay-as-you-go will kick in – September 2009 has been a widely-quoted start date, but according to a newsgroup posting, South West Trains don’t plan to start taking it until early 2010. How this affects our friends at Southeastern is not clear – we know they’re more concerned with the high speed trains in Kent we’ll never see – but they are determined that you won’t get a cheaper fare using an Oyster card. Can’t be encouraging regular travel now, can we?
Anyhow, I’ve a feeling Charlton’s two readers will get vandalised before anyone gets to use them – they’re positioned off the platforms, out of the light and maybe out of security cameras’ gaze. One’s next to a side gate which station managers have tried to close twice in recent years, the other’s where a cash machine got destroyed a few years back. The Oyster saga will probably rumble on for a while yet.
(A thrilling Thursday night update: There’s now four readers, one actually on the London-bound platform. The two near the other platform still lurk in the dark, but aren’t as close to where the burnt-out cash machine was as I thought they were.)