Ladies and gentlemen, behold the most chaotic ‘smart’ ticketing scheme ever conceived - by Sushil Nash
In August 2017, Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) announced the introduction of a new and improved paperless ticketing system to be rolled out across the city’s transport network - a scheme described by Manchester Evening News as “one step closer to a London-style Oyster”. As a city-centre dweller, I’m not too closely acquainted with Manchester’s public transport offering. In fact, I spend far more time trying to avoid ending up under the trams than I do being on them. However, as an ex-Londoner, the comparison to Oyster caught my attention. Particularly since I’m so frequently asked by friends visiting from the capital, “do you guys not have an Oyster Card type thing?”
Thus far, the answer to that has been a sheepish ‘no’ followed by a ‘yep, I know’. But it looks like that could be about to change. It seems that finally, in 2017, we do indeed have our very own Oyster Card type thing.
Intrigued by the announcement and excited to trial some fresh new tech, I thought I’d take a ‘quick’ look into how the new scheme works and how it stacks up against the MEN’s claims. And so, blissfully unaware of the rabbit hole I was about to dive into, I clicked through to TfGM’s FAQs page. Or, as I like to call it, 'Pandora’s Box of What The Actual Fuck?'.
Before peering inside, let‘s briefly address the catchy name that the TfGM marketing team has given to its new baby: ‘My Get Me There’. Yes, these are the actual words they’re hoping the general public will use when they’re, say, telling their mates they need to top up. “Hey, mate, hold on. I need to put some cash on my My Get Me There”. I swear, the last time I achieved this level of second-hand embarrassment, Wolff Olins were showing off the London 2012 logo. But hey, whatever, don’t judge a book by its cover and that - as long as it does the job, right?
Now, given that Manchester is the UK’s so-called ‘second city’, let’s look to the capital for a bit of context. Not London today, but London thirteen years ago. In 2004, the city rolled out an exciting new contactless card system for public transport users. Designed to replace old-fashioned paper tickets, the fancy new plastic allowed commuters and tourists alike to access any of the capital’s travel networks - Underground, DLR, Tramlink and buses - with nothing more than a wave of their wallet. The super-simple fares structure ensured that, for all the journeys a user might make in a given day, they would never be charged more than the cheapest combination of traditional tickets they could have bought. As a result, Oyster became an instant ‘no brainer’ in terms of cost.
The system was dead easy to adopt too. Travellers could pick up a card from a machine or a person at any station in the city and start using it there and then. Adding funds could be done however, wherever and whenever would be most convenient - chuck some spare coins onto it, pay by debit card, or buy specific passes such as an unlimited travel for a week/month. Do it online or at the station or in pretty much any newsagent. Minutes before travelling or infinitely far ahead of time.
That was thirteen years ago. In a year when The Corrs and Victoria Beckham and Frankee were on Top of the Pops. When Busted and McFly were two different bands. When Prince Harry hadn’t yet dressed up as a Nazi.
Manchester’s finest transportation masterminds have been pissing about like Barry and Paul Chuckle
Fast forward to 2017 and ‘topping up’ an Oyster seems almost archaic. You don’t even need to carry a card. Instead, travellers just tap whatever they want - a phone, a bank card or even a watch. It’s great. It’s a breeze. It’s like living in the gosh darn mother flipping future.
But, as Tony Wilson famously said, “This is Manchester. We do things differently here.” So while those smug London folk have been busy tapping in and out with their fancy gadgets and Twittering the heck out of their underground wifi, Manchester’s finest transportation masterminds have been pissing about like Barry and Paul Chuckle, cobbling together the city’s own bonkers version.
Ladies and gentlemen, behold the most chaotic ‘smart’ ticketing scheme ever conceived.
The first of the new system’s fun quirks is that My Get Me There isn’t just a card, it’s an app too. Now, you might think that’s to be expected - it’s a convenient way to manage your card, right? The two work together in harmony, right? Wrong. The app and the (presumably ironically-named) ‘Smart Card’ are two completely separate systems that work entirely independently of one another.
Your first decision is therefore whether to opt for the app, the Smart Card or, as will be the case for most travellers, both. The app is certainly less tricky to get hold of (more on that in a moment) but the significant downside is that it can only be used on Metrolink - Manchester’s tram network. Which means no smartphone fun for Team Bus or the vehicle-agnostics, but app-tastic news for all tram devotees.
Having said that, there are a couple of things that even you dedicated Metrolinkers should watch out for before ditching the paper tix. Firstly, know that you’ll need to make sure you’re not low on battery when heading out the door because, if your phone gives up mid-travel, you could be hit with a £100 fine. Secondly, you’ll need to remain online...ish. The reason for the ‘ish’ is that you don’t actually need web access to use the app once you’ve bought your ticket. However, any tickets on your phone will expire if that device 'has not been connected to the internet for a long period' (that’s literally the timescale specified on their website).
So do make sure your phone has a plenty of juice and has been connected to the internet at least once in the most recent ‘long period’.
Bought a ticket and want to change your plans? Tough titties
If that all sounds like a bit of a faff and/or you don’t want to commit to using a single mode of transport for the rest of your My Get Me There life, a Smart Card is probably your best bet. All you’ll need to do to get your hands on one of those is to create an account on the TfGM website, submit a bunch of details, pretend you’ve read and agreed to the 6,325 words of Ts&Cs and wait 5–7 days while your prize works its way through the Great British postal system. Or, if that seems a little ‘last decade’ to you, the other option is to head over to your nearest ‘TfGM Travelshop’ (of which there are a grand total of two in the city centre) where they will be happy to issue you with one.
Once you’ve got your Smart Card and/or app, you’ll probably want to stick some cash on it. A few moments and bit of head scratching later, you’ll discover that you can’t. That’s because, instead of a pay-as-you-go option where you top up your funds and use them until they run out, the My Get Me There forces you to buy specific tickets for specific times. And, you better make sure to use those tickets when you say you will because, if you don’t, they’re going to disappear - along with the cash you paid for them. Bought a ticket and want to change your plans? Tough titties - the ticket you bought is for that journey and that journey only. That applies to the app too, Tram Gang.
So you’re going to want to make sure you’re definitely going to be making that journey, and buy your ticket ahead of time. But don’t buy it too far ahead of time. Because, for some inexplicable reason, when you buy a ticket, an invisible clock starts counting down to zero - at which point your ticket will ‘expire’. How long that countdown lasts depends on whether you made your purchase through the app or with your Smart Card.
For the former, you’ve got a paltry two hours to begin your journey before it’s too late. So, if it’s 3pm, don’t be a wally and buy a ticket for 5:30pm because you’ll have precisely nowt to show the ticket inspector on your evening travels. This will also be the case if your phone updates its software or you change the time on your device (I presume the TfGM ticket inspectors are reasonably lenient on the days the clocks go forward/back but I wouldn’t like to make any promises).
Things are a little more relaxed for card carriers, since the insane two hour time limit only applies to tickets bought on your smartphone. If you’ve bought your tram ticket using the Smart Card, the tickets are valid for a full seven days which obviously allows for a lot more flexibility compared to using the app. But, in true My Get Me There style, there’s a catch: Smart Card tickets bought via the website cannot be used until the day after they’ve been purchased. Seriously, there’s some kind of 24 hour limbo period between buying a Smart Card ticket and it being ready for use. Maybe they need to ‘ripen’ or something, I don’t know.
Those of you who haven’t given up by this point might say that all of these rules and regs negate the benefits of a ticketless system. You might think it absurd to use the word ‘ticketless’ at all. You might feel like the whole thing is even more complex and antiquated than ever before. If that’s the case, you honestly may as well bail out here because you ain’t seen nothing yet.
Now that you’ve (probably not) got your head around the ticketing situation, you’ll likely want to know how, where and when you can actually load up your My Get Me There.
As we’ve established, if you’re travelling on the Metrolink, you can buy one in advance on the app (just not so far in advance that it expires) so, as you’d expect, you’ll need to sign up for a My Get Me There account and register your details before choosing and paying for your journey. Subsequent purchases are therefore pretty straightforward since all the information you provide will, of course, be conveniently stored securely within the app, meaning you don’t need to re-enter your card info every time. However, that is only until you log out of the app. Any time you do that, you’ll need to re-submit all your payment information upon logging back in - including card number, billing address and all the rest of it. So a fairly unremarkable process but with a classic TfGM twist.
Sadly, the relative ease of using the app is, as we’ve established, reserved for tram travel only. If you’re bussing it instead and haven’t yet lost the will to live, you’ll want to whip your Smart Card out. So let me take you through some of the ins-and-outs attached to that (I’ll be honest, they’re mostly ‘outs’).
The refreshingly simple rail situation is… No.
The first little surprise is that you’ll need to register for a whole new My Get Me There account, even if you have already created one to use with the app. The app and the Smart Card rely on two completely separate TfGM databases, meaning you’ll need two different accounts if you use both the app and a Smart Card. And before you ask: no, you cannot move tickets between the two accounts since they operate entirely independently of one another.
The second watch-out is that you can’t buy bus tickets for your Smart Card online because TfGM "don’t currently have a way of making your bus ticket available to be loaded onto your Smart Card." So you’ll need to stop at any of Manchester’s TfGM Travelshops (remember, there's only two in the city centre) or a ‘PayPoint Outlet’ (no idea) to buy a bus ticket for your Smart Card.
Thirdly, if you’ve decided you still want to use your Smart Card on a bus (which is, after all, the whole point of getting the card), remember that some buses don’t have Smart Card readers - so TfGM advise that you should always carry your paper receipt as proof of purchase (a bit like carrying a traditional ticket with you) in case you end up on a non-contactless bus. If you’re not sure which buses are sufficiently futuristic, the TfGM website helpfully describes them as 'any bus service that currently takes System One travelcards.' Whatever that means.
We haven’t mentioned trains yet but, to be honest, there’s not an awful lot to say. The refreshingly simple rail situation is… No. You cannot possibly use My Get Me There on the trains, you absolute mad man.
Unless you’re a youngster or an oldie, that’s pretty much all there is to it.
Those under the age of 16 can’t use My Get Me There (nobody should have to endure that at such a young age, to be fair) so will need to use their igo Card instead. I have no idea what an igo Card is and, frankly, I don’t think I have the mental resilience to explore another TfGM ticketing initiative.
OAPs on the other hand can use the system - although they shouldn’t use it early morning. So, for any pensioners travelling before 9:30am, there’s the Concession Card (again, I’m sorry but I really can’t) and, if it’s any later, it’s My Get Me There or the old faithful paper ticket.
And there we have it, Manchester’s take on a ‘ticketless’ future. In fairness to Manchester Evening News, we probably are 'one step closer to a London-style Oyster'. I just hope we can get a bit of jog on for the next 486 steps because, at this rate, we’re going to see The Corrs achieve a second wave of popularity (wait, what?) before we finally get the My Get Me There there.
Until then, I think I’ll stick with the sheepish ‘no’ when asked about our ‘Oyster Card type thing’.
Believe it or not, everything detailed above is one hundred percent not-made-up (as of 9th Sept 2017 anyway). All info was taken from the My Get Me There FAQs page. For anyone interested, those Qs and As can be found here (and there are, I kid you not, more than a hundred of them). Happy reading.
This article first appeared on Medium.