Machines for Control, People for Service

Written on 2014-01-16 • conversation

It’s Friday evening and you rush to take the train home on the Belgian railways. You need to buy a ticket. You move to the back of the queue of the only self-service desk that works. As you play the excrutiating waiting game, you watch the departures board. Your train home is leaving without you and now you have to wait an hour. It’s your turn to buy a ticket. The machine asks you questions. Where are you going? What kind of ticket would you like to buy? Weekend pass? Go-pass? Railpass? You wish you could ask someone but decide to try your luck with the weekend pass. You enter the train. As the ticket inspector approaches, you feel uncomfortable about your ticket choice. Too bad: the weekend pass isn’t valid until saturday. You try to reason with the inspector but you lose your temper. You immediately feel bad about making her day worse than necessary. You pay the €150 fine. You’re home late, the dinner your loving spouse prepared is cold and the start of your weekend sucks. You hate the Belgian railways.

Rewind three hours.

It’s Friday evening and you rush to take the train home on the Belgian railways. Your electronic railway pass was linked to your bank account last year. As you approach the automatic doors that lead to the platforms, you hold up the badge and the doors open. You have a connection halfway but the train you’re on is running late. You decide to ask the train attendant. She assures you that the next train will wait until you arrive. You have a pleasant ride home. As you approach the station’s automatic exit doors, you hold up your pass and the doors open. Your bank account is debited with the correct fare. You’re home in time, you enjoy the dinner your loving spouse prepared and the start of your weekend is great. You love the Belgian railways.

We use machines for service and people for control. Wouldn’t it be better if it were the other way around?

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