When I first moved here, everyone would complain about Transport for London, which didn't worry me much: I figured it couldn't be worse than ATM, Milan's transport system that brought us the joy of weekly strikes (always on a Friday) and timetables that apparently existed just for the purpose of bus stop decoration. After two years in Milan, I was ready to take on TFL, where the only troubling aspect was the ridiculous price (that I had also been warned about).
And it was smooth sailing - at least while I was freelance. As soon as a daily commitment to be somewhere (that also happened to be somewhere quite far from my house) on time every day came into my life, I was faced with the less pleasurable sides of Transport For London (the more pleasurable ones being the elusive chance of getting a seat on the Northern Line at 6pm on a Thursday). Case in point: engineering works at Embankment.
Oh, dear TFL, I understand you've got lots to do and you're making Embankment station even more amazing than you think it already is. But. These oh-so-important engineering works - did they have to take place from January to November on the year when I have a January to October work contract that requires me to take the District Line?
But fear not! TFL has a solution for all of us Northern-to-District commuters. It's easy: go to Charing Cross, take a refreshing 5-minute walk down Villiers St (where you'll be tempted by Costa, Pret, Eat and TWO Starbucks!) and descend into Embankment station. Obviously your Oyster card won't be charged twice.
This last aspect didn't even concern me as I shell out £136 of my precious, hard-earned cash every month to buy a zone 1-3 travelcard. So I wasn't worried. Imagine my surprise when, trying to touch in one morning this week, I was informed that I couldn't "travel with a negative balance".
Negative balance? But I have a monthly travelcard.
I head over to the assistance desk expecting to hear "we're sorry". The lady at the desk passes my card and nods, "yes, your balance is negative".
I repeat that I have a travelcard. She proceeds to explain that "there is a computer glitch at Charing Cross that charges pay per go instead of travelcard".
Oh. So all that "you won't be charged twice" lark on the info boards and posters...was that all an April Fool's joke? Because if it charges pay-per-go, even if you don't have a travelcard, then they're already doing exactly what they said they wouldn't do. Turns out that not only will you be charged, you will be charged EVEN IF YOU HAVE ALREADY PAID, by purchasing a (very expensive) travelcard.
"Okay," I venture, "what can be done about this? I bought a travelcard for the very reason that there's no way I can afford the pay and go charges".
The lady, after repeating "this is not my fault: I don't work in that department" offers up a number to call. Which, incidentally, is not a free number. "So that you can get your money back", she explains. How long will it take? "I don't know; I don't work in that department." Oh, that's right. Will I get the money back on my bank account? No, on my Oyster card. Too bad that's not where the money came from: it came from my bank account, where I would have liked it to stay, but where it's not to stay if I am to get to work today. So I top up, while my mood sinks to my shoes, and head to the office.
During my lunch break, I decide to write an email to customer services (trying desperately to avoid the cost of calling - I feel like I am already giving up enough cash for TFL). I craft a very informative email, where I explain exactly what happened and when. After I press send, a message comes up on the screen: thank you for your message. We will reply within 10 working days.
What? Ten working days? That's ten more days of paying pay-per-go, which in my case is £1.80 single trip, amounting to £9 one way a week. I decide to call.
Thank you for calling Transport for London. If you query is about timetables, press one. If your query is about season tickets, press two. If your query is about wanting to jump under a train because we are so freaking unreasonable, then please hold. Okay, I might have added that last part. But I do hold, while they play what can only be described as the most annoying music known to man into my ear. Did I mention this isn't a free call?
When a lady finally answers (my lunch break is far over and my line manager has passed by a couple of times, giving me "why aren't you at your desk" looks), she proceeds to take my name, address and every transaction on my Oyster card since the dawn of time. Subsequently my money is added back onto my card. Where I do not need it, since, oh, I have a travelcard. Where I would like my cash to go is back into my bank account, so I can buy some fruit and coffee and maybe a magazine with it (it's £7.80! That's how much money they've charged me without me knowing). Before I hang up, the TFL lady has one final question: did this, by any chance, happen today too? Why, yes it did.
"Oh, because there's a twenty-four hour limit on the money-back process, so you're going to have to call back tomorrow."
That's it. As soon as I get paid, I'm going to the nearest bike shop.
Picture from Pinterest
Picture from Pinterest