OK, I'm going off-topic for a short rant...next post will be Lotus-related...

I've written about the Chicago commuter rail system, Metra, a time or two before on the blog.  I have fond, nostalgic memories of taking the train downtown during childhood years, and back in the mid-90s when it was the daily commute method.  But some days, I think the system is stuck back in those nostalgic memories.

For weekday commuters, it's a great system.  But even though I now live walking distance from a station, I can't imagine taking it into Chicago on a weekend.  On Sundays, the train runs, at best, every two hours.  Want some friends to visit?  Either they go back to Chicago at 7:30 or 10:30 PM.  So much as I'd like to be a public transportation proponent, the schedule makes it tough.

What makes even less sense is the process to buy a ticket.  Almost every station on the line has a permanent station house of some kind.  Half have ticket booths.  Those ticket booths are usually staffed only during morning rush hour, usually with only one staffer.  At the start of the month, the queue can be incredibly long as monthly passes are sold -- cash or check only.  Oh, and as my other half found out this morning, the address preprinted on your check must match the address on your driver's license -- even if both are wrong, that's ok, as long as they match.

Can't get to the staffed ticket booth during its limited hours?  You can buy a ticket on the train from the conductor, who somehow knows what hours that ticket booth is open and determines whether or not to apply a US$2 surcharge for buying the ticket on board.  If you originate your journey in the city terminal, at least there the ticket booth is usually open.

But having taken trains in dozens of cities and countries around the world, I can't believe how archaic this all is.  It would surprise those who have embraced a cashless society that no credit or debit cards are accepted, not even for the ~$100 monthly tickets or even through the mail order system.  Non-Americans would be stunned to encounter a system where there is not a single ticket vending machine anywhere, not in the terminals nor even in those fancy unstaffed station houses all up and down the line.

The hassles of using the system just add to the reasons that people won't use it.  Maybe they need a usability study. :-)

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