Saturday 17 September 2011

Mangeyster Mystery

Mango, Key, Oyster and First (and worst)?

When fbb travelled to school on York Brothers' bus, Dougie sold him a ticket like this:-
It relied on some very overbearing technology. First you take hold of a pencil; clear so far? They you write the fare paid on the ticket; getting a bit tricky now? Then you click the lever on the issuing machine, there is a heart-warming "kerching" sound and the ticket is torn off an given to the passenger.
The "Bellgraphic" machine retains a "carbon copy" (ask you granny what one of those was) of your ticket for accountancy purposes. Now, Dougie, the regular conductor, could take 60 or so fares on the double deck in about 10 minutes, then jump off and do the same on the duplicate; all before the first passengers wanted to alight. Yorks also used the same system for one-man journeys. Try doing that with one of these new fangled button-pressing electronic monstrosities in use today. Sadly the system is no longer in production, Bellgraphic now being a trendy design company. 
Meanwhile this appears on First's web site:-

FirstGroup, the UK’s largest bus and rail operator, today revealed it is to invest £27m in revolutionary new ticketing technology for its 5,000 strong bus fleet in England, outside London. 

The company intends to be the first bus operator outside London to offer customers ‘touch in touch out’ contactless payment. The new ticket machines, designed to read contactless debit or credit cards, in addition to ITSO smartcards such as concessionary bus passes, will be introduced to buses from the autumn and will initially allow customers with an ITSO smartcard to touch in. Contactless bank cards will be accepted across England from late 2012.  

Unlike Oyster, customers won’t need to carry an additional card or worry about pre-payment or topping up. Customers using the contactless cards will simply see the cost of the fare deducted from their bank or credit card balance.

Contactless Bank Cards? We need to get used to this logo ...  
... which indicates that, in additional to the normal "chip and pin", we can just wave our card over the reader and the cash (sums up to £15) is whisked from our electronic money box with no further intervention from us.
So, in future, on our First bus, we will "touch in" as we get on the bus, then "touch out" as we get off.

That sounds like a great way to speed up payment, OR clog up entry and exit so much that the bus is horrifically delayed. TWO machines on every bus. TWO machines to go wrong. TWO machines to be paid for by increased fares. that's TWO card readers, plus conventional ticket machine technology for those who still want to pay with those much maligned old fashioned little metal discs.

The "back-office" confuser will then calculate the fare and deduct it "seamlessly" from our account. Like Oyster, we are told, the clever little gubbins will "cap" our expenditure as a replacement for various seasons and travelcards.

Now, fbb has never been a great lover of über-technology (surely not?) but the following appears on Trent-Barton's web site:- 
An update on MANGO from trent barton

We are really, really sorry for the top-up problems this week with MANGO - but we have resolved part of the problem and the top-up area of the MANGO web site is now open, but there's a change to how you sign in.

You must sign in to your account using your email address - and not your user name.

The main issue relates to a corruption of the user name field. Whilst we have now created a fix and you'll be able to top-up, you will not be able to sign in using your user name. To gain access to your account, you should use the email address which you used to register your account - this will be the email address we have contacted you on today.

Once you gain access to your account, you can top up online using your original password. Please be aware that your account history won't be up to date at the moment, so please check using the readers on the bus.

You will need to get in touch with us if you have more than one account registered to your email address.

We need to make sure that your preferred account is the one which you want to top up. If you have several active accounts registered to one email address, we can ensure that you top up the cards you want - and we can talk you through this process.

Remember, you can also top up your MANGO at Broadmarsh, Victoria and Derby Bus Stations as well as at our office at Lammas Road in Sutton-in-Ashfield.

Thanks for bearing with us and, once again, we apologise for the delay in fixing this serious problem.

Mr Mango

In a word, Mango is busted and was exceedingly busted!

GoAhead have just introduced their "Key" card in Plymouth ...
... and fbb has previously expressed passing concerns about London's "Oyster". At least, with all these local systems, the passenger controls how much lolly is lodged on the card. With a Contactless Bank Card, the technology potentially has the ability to access ALL of your current account money, despite an advertised £15 transaction limit. Even elderly fbb has several hundreds of pounds available for a few fleeting seconds after nice Mr Cleggeron has paid his pension.

It's all safe, say the card people. Well, they would say that, wouldn't they? They said that about "chip and pin".
There are many folk "out there" who have reverted to using cash and nothing else for all retail purchases, because of understandable fears about "seamless" technology. fbb simply offers two pieces of timely advice:

1. Bring back "Dougie" (OMO if you like) and his "kerching"; it was much quicker.

2. Contactless Card Payment - be afraid, be VERY afraid.

To gladden the tortured hearts of us "old codgers" here is a lovely pic of a real Trent bus, preserved and pre-Mango and presumably once conducted by Nottingham's version of Dougie. Sigh! It was all so simple, then.

Next blog : Sunday September 18th  


  1. Thank you for bringing back memories of the Bellgraphic Ticket machines.
    I remember them as a child in the 1950s on the Hebble Bus Services between Halifax, Bradford and Leeds.
    Carbon paper was high technology then!

  2. The problem with the Bellgraphic system is that, although the carbon copy will give the operator all of the details of the tickets issued, the analysis of that data in the 'back office' will be very time consuming and labour intensive, in comparison to the modern computerised machines. So I don't think that the first of your two pieces of timely advice is very likely to come true.

    The second one, regarding the contactless card payment, is rather a different matter, and I am inclined to agree with you. If I want to collect some of the cash in my bank account, I have to enter a PIN number at a cash machine; and if I want to make a payment via internet banking, then the rigmarole is even more complex. There will be a password, sometimes another number or a question about my second cousin twice removed's inside leg measurement, and then perhaps a little game with a sort of mini-calculator like device (or similar). Additionally, I will probably be exhorted to download some dubious piece of free software called Musketeer (or something like that) to make my own, private, computer more secure. Yet now, I can get a piece of plastic and wave it near some electronic device on a bus, which has probably been 'used' in that way by thousands of other people, to achieve basically the same result - transfer some money out of my bank account. There is a distinct inconsistency in the approach to security, and I think some suspicion is entirely justified.

    Incidentally, the red mudguards on the Trent Titan look awful!

  3. Although I must admit to being more pro-technology than yourself and actually welcome these smart cards, I have to agree with you on the contactless option. It is very scary and has a massive potential to go horribly wrong. I still hope that it does work though. If this was being introduced by the governement then I would be even more worried. Hopefuly First will do a better job

  4. My suggestion re Bellgraphic was somewhat tongue in cheek, of course. More serious, however, is the question of what practical use all this machine derived data is. At the end of the day, a good manager can assess the success of his bus service by hopping out of the office and looking. I suspect this delirious desire for data has at its heart the dismal and depressing disease of bad management.

    Or perhaps it results from the persuasive profit-generating patter of the people who persuade the operators to purchase the kit!

    Having just alienated to whole bus industry ....