Simon Calder: Why do 21st-century travellers need tickets?

The man who pays his way

Tickets: we all know how they work. Catching a bus? Buy one on board. Hoping to fly? You need one, electronic or not, before you're allowed near the plane. Trains are a muddle. Usually you buy a ticket in advance or pay dearly on board – either a penalty fare, or something that feels like an on-the-spot fine, such as the £137 fare for a 100-minute hop from London to Macclesfield.

Two notable exceptions: the express links to Britain's busiest airports. When the Gatwick Express was launched in 1984, it was revolutionary. This dedicated non-stop service meant airline passengers between Victoria station in London and Gatwick no longer had to endure cramped and clunky stopping trains, while commuters on the main line south of London could stop grumbling about the overcrowding caused by airline passengers bulging with baggage. Better still, travellers short of time and long on luggage enjoyed the right to buy tickets on board. But this week, the gates have gone up, ending 27 years of barrier-free travel. Five million passengers a year must wearily accept two more hurdles before the plane.

With the benefit of 21st-century technology, travel should be getting easier. But unless you avail yourself of booking in advance, you will need to queue up to buy a small piece of cardboard with printing on it, or you're not getting through the barrier. So you may as well instead use the ordinary Southern Railway service from Victoria to the airport, which takes only one minute longer but saves you 30 per cent on the Gatwick Express fare.

As with culture, cuisine and contending with financial disaster, the rest of Europe does things rather differently.

German rail and underground stations have no barriers: fare-dodging is discouraged by periodic well-organised swoops involving plain-clothed officials. In rural Sweden, they have hit upon the solution of passengers buying tickets from the train driver. And on the northernmost line in Denmark you buy a ticket from a devilish on-board machine. Not only does it demand a complex sequence of button-pressing and money-inserting, but there is the added pressure that the device is fitted with GPS, knows where you got on and looks as if it might get angry if you don't hurry up.

Imagine being allowed to board a plane at Heathrow with neither ticket nor identity check, and paying for the flight while sipping a drink at 30,000 feet. In these security-obsessed days that concept sounds far-fetched. Yet three decades ago, British Airways' domestic Shuttle from Heathrow to Belfast, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Manchester allowed just such a "turn-up-and take-off" arrangement.

You could breeze straight from taxi to security check to departure gate with no documentation. As long as you reached the gate 10 minutes before departure, you were allowed on. And you could cut it even finer, recalls former BA terminal manager, Jamie Bowden: "Many of the passengers were regulars. You'd be down at the gate, and someone would call to say 'so-and-so is on his way'. You knew from experience how fast they could sprint, and hold the door open for them."

Passengers picked up a meal as they boarded, because once in flight, cabin crew had their work cut out collecting cash and processing credit cards. But fare-dodging was never a problem.

From North London to the Southern Mediterranean

As you may have heard, "bendy buses" have been expelled from London. These high-volume, easy-access articulated buses were supremely effective queue-busters. What made them so efficient was the array of doors – which also, says Transport for London, facilitated fare-dodging.

The organisation says it expects to save £20,000 a day in fare evasion – a staggering sum that suggests TfL's revenue-protection teams could take some useful lessons from their German counterparts on the gentle art of passenger persuasion.

London's loss is Malta's gain. The island formerly operated a fine fleet of veteran British buses. EU rules on vehicle emissions took them off the road, so the eviction of the bendy bus has proved timely.

The award-winning novelist, Magnus Mills – who also drives a (non-bendy) London bus – returned from a winter break on the Mediterranean isle to report that the old destination blinds are still installed. Befuddled locals aiming for Luqa or Mosta are teased with exotic destinations such as Wood Green and Camden Town.

travel@independent.co.uk

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
News
Former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin, left, with her daughter, Bristol
newsShe's 'proud' of eldest daughter, who 'punched host in the face'
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
A cabin crew member photographed the devastation after one flight
news
Life and Style
Carol O'Brien, whose son Rob suffered many years of depression
healthOne mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
News
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
News
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Life and Style
healthFor Pure-O OCD sufferers this is a reality they live in
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Life and Style
Sexual health charities have campaigned for the kits to be regulated
healthAmerican woman who did tells parents there is 'nothing to be afraid of'
Life and Style
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
The John Peel Lecture has previously been given by Pete Townshend of The Who, Billy Bragg and Charlotte Church
musicGodfather of punk will speak on 'free music in a capitalist society'
News
peopleAt least it's for a worthwhile cause
News
Shoppers in Covent Garden, London, celebrate after they were the first to buy the iPhone 6, released yesterday
tech
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Affiliate Marketing Manager / Affiliate Manager

    £50 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Affiliate Marketing Manager / Affiliate Mana...

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Day In a Page

    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments