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How do daily differences affect us? On why I hate the oyster card

April 16, 2012

Okay, I have half an hour to blog. Let’s see how fast I can type / think / edit!

I spent this weekend in London visiting friends and it was lovely. But getting around isn’t quite so much fun.

Every time I visit, new things hit me about how impersonal London is, and how disconnected everyone is from their fellow Londoners. On the first tube I got onto on Friday evening, a man got on who was walking with a crutch. I was sitting in the priority seat, so obviously (I say obviously, I was in the furthest one from him and no-one else got up) I got up to let him have my seat. He didn’t sit down. He delivered an impassioned plea to the carriage for people to help him. He had worked for 30+ years and paid income tax. He had been injured in an industrial accident which was why he couldn’t work. He was homeless. He just wanted enough for a hot meal. And he was ignored. I was on quite a tight budget this weekend, so I couldn’t help him with cash, but he said he could find a use for my squash, so he got that from me. But nothing from anyone else. How could someone so obviously in a desperate situation be ignored like that? I was shocked.

When I met up with my friends, they told me that this was quite common. Later that night I cried for the man whose name I wish I’d asked for.

This doesn’t happen in Sheffield. I have a theory for why, and it’s the oyster card.

As soon as I got back to Sheffield, I got on a tram to go home. Unlike the tube, there are buttons. You have to signal if you want the tram to stop, and press another button to open the doors.
As a passenger, you have more control over the journey. And trams have conductors. To get a ticket, you have to talk to someone. An interaction which requires a ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, and frequently involves comments about the weather, compliments for outfits (last night for a group of middle-aged women who had obviously made an effort and looked great got praise from the conductor and had a bit of a giggle together) and banter about how the Tories are rubbish.

And there are differences on buses too. In London, you don’t need to talk to the driver – just do the oyster thing (no-one I saw this weekend even said thank you to the driver except me). In Sheffield, you have to buy your ticket with words, and to not say thank you when getting off? Well – you’d better have a good reason.

Also, it’s a small thing, but accents are important. In London, all transport announcements are in received pronouciation. In Sheffield, you hear the local accent. It’s just more personal. It reminds you that the people around you are people, not just bodies.


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One Comment
  1. limnaia permalink

    It’s why I can’t bear London. How can you live in a city and not care about her inhabitants?

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