How I almost got arrested

  It wasn't a good day for me on the trains. Checked my train times app over breakfast to discover my train this morning had been cancelled, so I'd need to get the next train, which confusingly is more expensive as it takes a different route. So I dutifully turned up at the station only to discover the ticket machine was out of service.

At least the later train arrived on time, so I boarded and found the guard to buy a ticket. Unfortunately, his ticket machine wasn't working awfully well, so we were almost at Guildford where I had a 4 minute connection before he could issue the ticket. Unfortunately it looked like this:


The guard, Shaun, said I could change it at the ticket office and I checked that Waterloo would be OK as there wasn't time at Guildford. He said that it would be OK.

At Waterloo, I tried the ticket in the gateline barrier, but not surprisingly it didn't work. So I showed it to a gateline supervisor and she let me through. I then proceeded to the ticket office where I waited in a queue for service for 10 mins and finally got to speak to a ticketing agent. She refused point blank to replace the ticket by one that was properly printed and with a working magnetic stripe. The reason was that First Great Western had sold the ticket, so South West Trains couldn't swap it for one that was properly printed. It's not as if you'd expect Sainsburys to sell you Tesco's goods, she said, illustrating a complete lack of any customer care or even relevance. I'd discover later this was a rehearsed mis-analogy.

I could at this point I guess have bought another ticket and claimed my 21.50 back from First Great Western. But a) I'm me, and b) it just seemed so ludicrous, that she must have got it wrong. I demanded to speak to the next level of SWT-droid.

He duly arrived and repeated the mantra about SWT not being able to make good a bad ticket issued by another train company. And yes, you wouldn't expect to buy Tesco goods at Sainsburys would you. I argued that I wasn't trying to do any such thing, but simply wanted a faulty piece of cardboard that gave me access to a network of railways including not only FGW and SWT but also Southern, South Eastern and TFL replaced with an identical one that worked. I could prove purchase as I had my credit card slip with me. But no, he too was blinkered by the absurd Sainsburys / Tesco analogy. So I demanded to speak to the manager.

Now let me introduce you to Mr Chico Coulibaly, the Duty Station manager. He at least spoke to me outside the glass walled enclosure of the ticket office. Once again he refused to simply swap the ticket for a working one. So I asked him to write down on a piece of SWT paper exactly why he was refusing simply to swap my ticket for an identical but working one. He refused, but told me about Tesco and Sainsburys again. His other suggestion was that I should go to Paddington and get FGW to reissue the ticket. He was unable to suggest how I should do that as my ticket wouldn't work in the ticket barriers. At this point I was getting just a tad annoyed, so said that if he wouldn't write it down, would he at least explain it again...

Video clip

Which seemed to cause him some disquiet and to utter the threat to have me arrested for taking his picture. I think he'd have been even more annoyed if he knew I was videoing him - and maybe more annoyed even than that if he sees it after I've put it on youtube.

He rushed off and found Ryan, a fairly affable PCSO. Ryan was phased by my question as to whether taking a picture of evidence of unhelpfulness was indeed an arrestable offence. Ryan did manage to calm Mr Coulibaly (and me) down. It was clear I'd get nowhere as Coulibaly was the most senior person SWT were prepared to let speak to customers (although they of course maintained I wasn't a customer as my ticket was from FGW). So Ryan and I wandered off towards the Jubilee line and he offered to come an assist if I couldn't get through the barrier.

I completed my journey by waving the ticket at the barrier supervisors on the tube, reached Maya House and had a well needed coffee. Now all I have to do is use the ticket to get home.

Maybe I need to cut a hole in my shirt pocket to facilitate covert filming next time, or just stand the iPhone on a cardboard prop to poke the camera over the pocket.

© 2011 Howard Fisher