Too stupid to live

This is one of the new ticket machines on Brighton station. Not bad really. A nice touch screen, which means that there are less moving parts to break - and that the interface can easily be updated by installing new software. It takes credit cards, which means that, what with the new chip-and-pin system, buying a ticket should be quick, easy and painless. Its cousin - not pictured - takes coins and notes as well as cards, so there really is no excuse for not being able to buy your ticket now.

Finally, something that will free us forever from Ticket Hall Hell - where belligerent morons use the fact that they're buying a ticket from an unfortunate cashier to make the rest of us wait in a frustrating, interminable purgatory. You know the types.

Firstly, the kind of person who doesn't know where they're going, when they're travelling or what a train is until they arrive at the ticket window. They then proceed to use the hapless ticket clerk as a sounding board about what route to take, what time of day would be best to go, and whether Auntie Mabel would like an Easter egg this year.

Then there are the sub sentient suffers of BRAF Syndrome (Blind Refusal to Accept the Facts), who, upon being informed of the fare, begin cantankerously arguing with the ticket clerk, apparently unaware that their quarrelsome bartering system doesn't extend beyond Sunday's car boot sale in the station car park.

So all in all, can we now safely say that these new machines, such fine specimens of twenty first century technology, will offer all decent ticket purchasing folk a brave new world of relaxation, convenience and greatly reduced frustration?

Like fuck we can.

Unfortunately, all the intense usability testing and high-powered human/machine interface design in the world cannot make up for the fact that 90 per cent of the general public are basically just too stupid to live. You can understand that perhaps the first couple of times someone uses one of these things they might be a bit bamboozled - but every single time I use one, every single person in front of me behaves like Neanderthal man suddenly and inexplicably finding himself at the controls of the space shuttle.

Firstly they go round and round the menus, ending up every couple of minutes or so back at the beginning again. There seems to be something very basic about selecting the name of their destination station that gives them trouble. I know that some people say educational standards in this country are slipping, but surely most people at least know the alphabet?

Eventually - I suspect more by accident than design - they manage to select the name of the station to which they're going only to be confronted with such complex conundrums as the difference between "single" and "return" and whether it's 10am yet.

By now I've usually missed at least two trains and am silently seething. However, the worst is yet to come - they have to pay for their tickets. I normally choose one of the machines at which you can pay by cash or card, so am treated to the sight of the cash-payers examining every square inch of the right-hand-side of the machine (where the card slot is) and the card payers looking for somewhere to insert their plastic on the left-hand side of the machine (where the coin and note slots are). I've genuinely seen people actually give up at this point - despite the huge arrows on the screen that indicate into which side they can insert their chosen method of payment.

Somehow a few of them actually make it through to the dispensing of the ticket. They scrabble around in the tray to retrieve it, peer at it suspiciously and then hang around in front of the machine as if waiting for permission to go.

What can we do about it? A trap door that opens up in front of the machine if they haven't completed their transaction in two minutes? Or, as I've said before, two queues for everything - a normal one and one labelled:

"People Who Don't Know What The Fuck They're Doing".

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