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Equipment Malfunctions

Obviously in a system as large as Oyster there are going to be occasional malfunctions.  Many of them, while annoying, will not have serious repercussions.  If a gate stops working it will usually be blocked out of use, but what happens if the error doesn’t affect the actual gate function?  I have become aware of three instances recently where Oyster data has been compromised in some way.

Back in the summer a single gate at London Bridge failed to update the date.  Anyone using PAYG exiting through that gate ended up with two incomplete journeys, one ending on the previous day and one starting at their origin on that day.  Around 100 cards were affected before the issue was fixed (or the gate locked out).  I wonder if the way it was spotted was when someones card wouldn’t open the gate as their balance was negative before trying to create another incomplete journey.  I hope no-one was subjected to an incorrect penalty fare, or that it was cancelled later on.  The person who tipped me off about the issue had their balance adjusted and I hope that any other victims were similarly compensated.  The FOI team couldn’t say whether this had happened or not.

Then there was an issue with one gate at Lewisham which wasn’t taking account of travelcards loaded on the Oyster card.  I understand it has since been subject to a software update to resolve the issue.  It seems a pretty obscure bug for one gate to suddenly alter the way it processes fares. Again, I hope that no-one was hit by a penalty fare, perhaps because they inadvertantly travelled with a negative balance.

Finally I personally had a strange issue at Sidcup last week.  I travelled from Crayford to Sidcup and back in the late evening, returning with my son.  His Oyster card was charged correctly, but the validator I used in both cases did not transmit it’s data back to the central system.  On the way there I was charged for an incomplete journey from Crayford while on the way back the system tried to be clever and charged me for a single to Green Park.  This was a journey I had made recently so wasn’t completely random.  This happened on Friday and I noticed it when checking my journey history on the Sunday evening.  I was able to tell it where my destination was for the incomplete journey and the refund was applied by reducing that days travel charge – very impressive.  Using the “contact us about this journey” link I explained what was wrong with the Green Park journey on the Sunday evening.  I received an email response on Tuesday confirming that a further refund was being sent straight to my bank, and it duly arrived the same day. I really can’t fault TfL’s handing of this error.

However, it took a strange turn on the Wednesday when I logged in to my account.  There was a notice saying that the incomplete journey refund had been closed because the missing touch had turned up 5 days late and the system noted that I’d ended up paying the correct fare.  It also processed an automatic refund for the Green Park journey, yes another one!  I’m not complaining, obviously.

The main message of this post is to always, always check your journey history.  And if something doesn’t add up, query it.

3 Responses

  1. Similar situation a few weeks ago, my wife’s Oyster didn’t register a touch-out at Dartford when the barriers were open, the others did but when I come to think of it she used a different barrier. I looked online a couple of days later and it said there was one incomplete journey available for refund but I knew she wouldn’t be travelling in the next 3 days so I decided to wait. When I knew she would be travelling I tried again but now there was no incomplete journey available for refund but the journey history was still showing a missing touch. As soon as she touched in, however, her card was topped up with £1.20 which was the correct amount. I know about auto top-ups and funnily enough there was one in place at Tower Hill earlier that day but I told everyone to touch out anyway because I don’t trust them, but reading this post I wonder if it was a malfunction which they had discovered hence the lack of a possibility to apply for an online refund?

  2. Hi Nick,

    This sounds like my issue with Sidcup. The touches from that gate must have arrived late. With Oyster it will mark the journey as un-correctable online and queue a refund to be picked up next time the card is used. Had you corrected it earlier you would have got the refund and the late touch data would just have confirmed the adjustment.

    As for Tower Hill, I think you are talking about auto-correct. It is pretty good at completing journeys where known issues occur (was it the candle display at the tower?) with overcrowding. If it doesn’t correct it then the helpdesk are very good at sorting things out. Auto top-up is the mechanism whereby a deposit of £20/£40 is applied when starting a journey with less than £10 on the card.

  3. Hi Mike

    Yes I meant auto-complete and it’s that I don’t trust, I also have auto top-up set up hence the typo. That was the candle display, yes. I’ve looked back at the journey history and it is still showing missing touch and a top-up of £1.20 the next time the card was used.

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