On buying tickets

I like to travel around, usually by railway — it’s the most comfortable means of transportation (unless you’re talking about Ukrainian trains or French TGV). And the fastest one for short to long distances (planes are technically faster but consider time getting to the airport, from the airport, security checks…).

So to travel around you need to buy tickets (I’m not made of money to afford some magic “travel anywhere, pay monthly through nose” card) and that’s what I’m complaining about. My requirements are rather easy: you should not need to interact with people and you should be able to see what are the possibilities for the travel.

France. Le facepaume. Ticket vending machines there reflect national spirit frighteningly perfect.

Ticket vending machines.

That picture was taken in one French town near the border. There are two vending machines. To the right is French one. Here’s a short comparison with its neighbour:

  • Languages — half a dozen for one, French for another.
  • Controls — touch screen for one, weird knob with a button in centre (and you cannot change audio tracks with it).
  • Destinations — countrywide and beyond in one case, one region in the other case.

To be fair there are SNCF ticket vending machines that should offer countrywide destinations and I heard you can even get e-ticket from them and they even support other languages than French (which is the hardest to believe). The only problem that you should handle them politely (i.e. point and stick you finger as hard as possible) and I rather value my fingers.

Germany. Three years ago it was a bit quirky but they’ve upgraded vending machines software and now it’s almost perfect. Half a dozen of possible languages, rather intuitive interface, some additional features. And you can buy a ticket to the destinations in neighboring civilised countries (Switzerland and Netherlands) not served by Deutsche Bahn directly. The main WTF is that sometimes you see the trains but you cannot buy a ticket for them there (probably some special trains?).

Netherlands. I’ve used it only once but I remember it being pretty decent.

Sweden. Pretty decent ticket vending machines, I like the additional features like printing bought e-ticket (and you can get it in many other places too). Also I like the fact they have both touch screen and real keyboard and trackball. The only downsides are that it’s a bit slow and that it does not deal with cash and accepts only cards. Sweden is an advanced country after all, you can pay with card almost everywhere but it sucks to be foreigner from a mostly cash-based country (i.e. me few years ago).

Switzerland. Simply WTFiest ticket vending machines. They might be the reason most people buy rail pass instead. You can buy a ticket but it will ask you which route you prefer and it’s not optional. But it’s compensated by the fact it does not offer you any information on trains. You bought your ticket from A to B via C, now go and find what train goes that way in some other place.

Ukraine. In my opinion it should just give up that automated system for ticket sales (made in Soviet times) and cashier should write tickets by hand. Then it will be perfect stone age. I heard there are some advancements in that area: you can now buy e-ticket (but you still need to go to the ticket office where they print it out) and there are talks about removing the requirement to show your ID during ticket purchase. And if you don’t speak Russian you’d better not try buying tickets at all.

3 Responses to “On buying tickets”

  1. e-t172 says:

    About the french machine: it’s a TER ticket machine, so it’s perfectly normal that it only offers regional tickets (TER = Train Express Régional). That also explains why there’s no other languages. The actual, countrywide ticket vending machines are quite easy to spot: they are painted in the same bright yellow color as the SNCF ticket validator on your photo and are generally in the same area as the TER machines.

    The yellow machines support plenty of languages and are able to do nearly everything, including selling international tickets, getting the tickets from an online reservation or e-ticket, etc. IIRC, they can even do reimbursements and changes if you insert your existing ticket. The only issues I have with them are the shitty touch screen and the general slowness of the interface, but that’s nitpicking.

    Ironically, they also sell TER tickets – for this reason, I have no idea why there are still TER machines laying around (maybe it has to do with some regional cards which the yellow machines do not recognize).

  2. Peter says:

    Kostya, I am afraid, when you visit Australia you’re probably going to have to interact with a cashier to obtain regional tickets. These are the type that the ticket inspector comes by and punches a hole in.

    Metro trains have had smartcard tickets for three years in the state of Victoria. These have touch screen vending machines. The same system is going to be introduced on regional trains soon. Unfortunately *each* state here has a different smartcard implementation.

  3. shahriman says:

    Oh man. You are so going to love my country! Just pay a guy about 20% – 100% extra (varies with season) and get your ticket. Don’t even bother trying to buy ticket from counter – not many locals can do it, let alone foreigners.

    Alternatively, just travel ticket-free on the roof of the train. It seems to be the preferred way to travel.