Buying train tickets in Romania – a tester’s story.

This year (or maybe at the end of last year) the Romanian national railroad company (CFR) introduced a new payment method: by bank card. I know we’re in 2010 and that this system has been in place for several years in many parts of the world, but in Romania it hadn’t been before. The thing I like most about this is that the option is only available in one ticket office from Bucharest Central Station – Gara de Nord – the one for international tickets, and nowhere else in Romania, as far as I know.
For the first seven months of this year I traveled almost weekly with the train, an 95% of the time I paid the ticket with a bank card. During this time, I observed the following process for POS ticket payment:
  1. you specify from the beginning that you want to pay by card (this is really important, because the ticket officer will automatically assume that you pay by cash, and this is irreversible!)
  2. the ticketing officer calculates the total amount to be paid
  3. she writes the amount on a small piece of paper and hands it to you
  4. you go to the international tickets office with the pice of paper and make the payment
  5. you return to the ticket office with the receipt
  6. the ticket officer enters again the ticket details, issues the ticket and hands it to you. At this point you are the happy owner of a train ticket 🙂
Only a couple of times the ticket officer issued the ticket in step 2, and then asked me to go and pay for it.
I want to talk a little about the steps described above. Let’s imagine the following scenario: you want to buy a ticket and let’s assume that it’s the last one available for your route and class. You take the piece of paper with the amount to be paid and go to the POS ticket office. In the meanwhile another customer goes to any of the 20 something ticket offices, asks about the same route and class ticket and wants to pay by cash. The ticket officer sees the same last ticket, and, as it wasn’t reserved in the system for you, she will issue the ticket. Now, what happens when you return with the POS receipt? You paid for a ticket that is not available anymore, and the CFR won’t upgrade you to the upper class either :). So basically you paid for a ticket but you don’t get one. I wouldn’t call this the best customer experience.
One time I asked the ticket officer “Why are you doing it like this? What don’t you issue the ticket before sending me to pay it?” “We want to make sure you can pay for the ticket, and the POS is not always working.”, she replied. “But if I pay by cash, you won’t ask me to show you the money before issuing the ticket, would you?”. At this point, a man from the queue yelled “Hey, we’re queueing here, not philosophizing!” and the ticket officer said nothing.
I must have bought at least 20 tickets during the 7 months, and the POS always worked. I know it’s a small sample and I can’t generalize and say that the POS always works, it’s software after all :). I did see once someone that didn’t have enough cash on her, so after the ticket was issued she had to go and withdraw money from and ATM machine.
I don’t remember if I used to notice things like this before being really interested in improving my skills as a software tester. Reading blogs and books by Jerry Weinberg / Cem Kaner / James Bach and others, following the software-testing user group, made me more aware of this type of reasoning.
And one more thing … I definitely don’t want to be like the man that was queueing that day.

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