For 20 odd years the city of Oslo has been working their way towards an electronic ticket system much like the Transport of London’s Oyster card. So far they have used about 600 million Norwegian kroner (roughly one hundred and ten million US dollars with today’s exchange rate) on the ticket system that they call Flexus. About two years ago, the first ticket machines and card validators were installed, and a month or so ago they started a limited public trial of the system. I’ve been one of the lucky ones to test the system and I’m sorry to say that after 20 years of planning, designing, more planning and then some redesigning there is still a long way to go before everything is ready for the masses.

First, I got two electronic ticket cards in the mail. A bit strange, since I just need one, meaning that their distribution system could need a little polishing. To use the card, you need to go to a ticket machine, buy a ticket and have it transferred to the card. The ticket machines have some design flaws that will eventually make Joe Sixpack attack it with a baseball bat. The machines have a touch screen for user input that works good or bad depending on your height. I always have to push below the actual button on the screen, which gets a little annoying rather quickly.

Then there is the process with transferring the ticket from the machine to the electronic ticket card. There is no card slot where you insert the card, you just place it on a small shelve in the machine and it must not be removed before the machine is done with it. The problem is that there’s nothing preventing you – or anyone else for that matter – from removing the card from the shelve at any given time. So, if you remove it after you’ve paid the money for the ticket, either with cash or credit card, but before the ticket has been written to the card, you’re screwed. The money is gone, but you have no ticket. Based on the machine’s design, I think it’s very likely that a lot of people will make this mistake.

When you have saved the ticket on the card, using it can be quite the pain. None of the buses have working validators yet, so you rely on the bus drivers to know about the cards – and not all of them do. If you take the tram – and I did that a lot last week – there is a 50-50 chance that the tram has working validators. If they work, be careful how you use the validator. It will read your card if you hold it close enough, but, even if it’s perfectly possible, you can’t slide it by the validator in an up-down, down-up or sideways motion because it won’t validate properly in most of the cases. You have to push the card perpendicular to the validator to get it to work every time.

The problem with that is that a lot of people will slide the card over the validator and will get an error message telling them to try again. And again. And again. Using the card on the subway works like a charm, though, as they have different validators at the subway stations.

I’m impressed by the fact that they have been able to spend all that money on a system that is clearly not mature. That said, if or when they iron out the flaws, and make it more idiot proof I’m sure it will be a pleasure to use and make the Oslo area public transportation system run a bit smoother.