Monday, April 02, 2007

Couldn't Organise A Piss-Up In A Brewery

Today was the first working day of April, and like a gazillion other commuters I managed to forget to buy my monthly train ticket before it was needed, remembering that fact just as I boarded the train.

The LIRR allows commuters of their overpriced monopolistic "service" to travel on their old ticket one-way, once, as a "courtesy". The fact is, people are going to buy the monthly ticket anyway, and when the LIRR tried charging for a one-way fare they were almost certainly inundated with complaints. It was cheaper to offer the "courtesy" than pay the complaints staff to turn up in all likelihood.


Having lost a ticket in the fantastically well-maintained Ticket Vending Machines just before Thanksgiving, and having gone through the wringer trying to get satisfaction from the LIRR drones for the next several weeks1 I wasn't about to try buying the ticket there again this side of armageddon. I decided to ride into Penn and use a TVM there. I would be late for work but at least if the damn TVM malfunctioned I would be able to see properly as I searched the crevices of the machine for the ticket, and find someone close to complain to if it didn't arrive.


I arrived at Penn to hear the announcer booming out the usual "experiencing delays" messages to the shell-shocked outward-bound travellers. These messages are to the Penn Station commuter what Muzak is to the elevator user - background noise. Then I stopped to listen more carefully. The announcer was actually announcing his regret that the ticket machines were experiencing delays with credit or debit card transactions.

"Experiencing delays"? What the flock does that mean. Other than the obvious fact that the ticket machines weren't accepting payment by card today of course. That much was effing obvious.

Bottom line: The LIRR's data infrastructure is so robust it cannot withstand a very ordinary loading that is totally predictable and completely periodic in nature. Most IT places would kill to be able to have data that reliable. The LIRR just kills the data. Typical.

I heard mutterings about this being the date that the daylight savings time adjustment should have kicked in if an act of congress hadn't been passed to make it happen three weeks ago. I doubt this is relevant even if it is true (and I can't be bothered to check) since the time change always happens on a sunday morning at 2 am. I have no trouble whatsoever in believing that some vital piece of LIRR computer kit was screwed up. What I have trouble understanding is how that could bring the operation to its knees.

With the amounts of public money that that bunch of useless spare parts have thrown at various parts of the LIRR infrastructure, it would be nice to think they'd avoided building in a single point of failure. But I'd bet real money that they did, and that we were suffering for that decision today.

The LIRR management are the only people alive who could take you to a cat-house and show you a miserable time.

  1. see previous entry

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