Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Case of the Never Happy Ticket Wicket

As technology changes, so to do the ways we do some of the simplest things.

Take money for example – I remember a time not all that long ago, when in order to get your money out of the bank, you had to line up at the bank teller. Automated Bank Machines (ATMs) didn’t exist back then. And to make matters worse, banks were only open weekdays, during normal business hours, so everyone went during their lunch hour, which meant the line up to get your hard earned cash was all the longer.

Bank machines really have revolutionized our commerce-driven society. Gone are the long line ups, the tedious withdrawal slips, and worrying aboJustify Fullut getting to the bank before it closes.

You don’t even have to go to a bank to get your cash – ATMs are everywhere these days – from grocery stores, shopping malls, even bars and restaurants.

But when ATMs fail, and there isn’t anyone around at the bank to help out, you could be in a real pickle. If the ATM eats your card, runs out of cash and can’t provide you with what you need, or for whatever reason, just won’t do what you ask of it, you’ll need to find some other way of paying for whatever you were going to spend your money on.

I recently had a similar experience with an automated ticket machine. I went up to the machine, which proudly boasts that it takes Interac debit, all major credit cards, even cash and coins (which it claims to provide change).

It had a cool touch-screen, which I effortlessly went through to select the tickets I wanted, the quantity and how I’d like to pay. I selected credit card – and everything was working until it got to the next screen where it silently screamed: “We’re sorry, credit card transactions are presently unavailable.”

It gave me debit card and cash as the remaining two options to use for payment. So I touched the screen for debit card, where the machine again flashed: “We’re sorry, debit card transactions are presently unavailable.”

Batting oh-for-two, and I hadn’t even taken anything out of my wallet, I chose the one remaining payment option, cold, hard, cash. Good thing I happened to have enough cash on me at the time, or I’d have to go to the ATM!

The machine started humming, and the bill and dollar slots lit up, indicating it wanted to be fed.

So, I took a $20 bill and slid it into the bill slot. The automated ticket machine quickly gobbled up the money, hummed for a moment, then immediately spit out the same bill.

Maybe I inserted it wrong? So I turned it the other way, fed it into the machine, and after a moment, it too came back out.

Figured I’d just use another bill. Again it rejected it. There are only so many ways you can slide money into these things, and I turned the bills upside down and downside up, forwards, backwards – thought about crumpling it up and forcing it down the machine’s electronic throat – decided against it.

Large image of an ATM Photographed inside a :e...Image via Wikipedia

I remained calm and walked over to a newsstand kiosk nearby. I told the clerk on the other side of the kiosk what had happened, and asked her if she new anything about the machine.

She laughed, and told me people come up to her all the time because it doesn’t take their money. She said it works with coins, and offered to exchange my bills for change.

I gladly accepted her offer – though I thought to myself, how anyone uses the automated ticket machine, because carrying over $20 of coins seems ridiculous – not to mention a nuisance as they weigh a tonne.

I thanked the woman behind the kiosk, and went back to the machine.

I had to start from scratch, re-touching my complete ticket order – but this time I selected the cash option to pay. When it started humming waiting for money, I began feeding the coins into the machine.

This time it gladly swallowed the coins, though some of the coins had to be re-inserted. I guess if you feed them in too fast, it gets indigestion. Technology can be so finicky sometimes.

Eventually, I got my tickets, but despite the “wow” factor of using an automated, touch-screen ticket machine, it would have been far simpler and quicker for me to have just gone up to a living, breathing, human being selling the same tickets, and purchase them from him or her.

Automation, one day, may be a wonderful thing. But it still has a long way to go before it really is the better way to do things.

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