Now, given that Manchester is the UK’s so-called ‘second city’, let’s look to the capital for a bit of context. Not London today, but London thirteen years ago. In 2004, the city rolled out an exciting new contactless card system for public transport users. Designed to replace old-fashioned paper tickets, the fancy new plastic allowed commuters and tourists alike to access any of the capital’s travel networks — Underground, DLR, Tramlink and buses — with nothing more than a wave of their wallet. The super-simple fares structure ensured that, for all the journeys a user might make in a given day, they would never be charged more than the cheapest combination of traditional tickets they could have bought. As a result, Oyster became an instant ‘no brainer’ in terms of cost.
The system was dead easy to adopt too. Travellers could pick up a card from a machine or a person at any station in the city and start using it there and then. Adding funds could be done however, wherever and whenever would be most convenient — chuck some spare coins onto it, pay by debit card, or buy specific passes such as an unlimited travel for a week/month. Do it online or do it at a station or in pretty much any newsagent. Minutes before travelling or infinitely far ahead of time.
That was thirteen years ago. In a year when The Corrs and Victoria Beckham and Frankee were on Top of the Pops. When Busted and McFly were two different bands. When Prince Harry hadn’t dressed up as a Nazi yet.
Fast forward to 2017 and ‘topping up’ an Oyster seems almost archaic. You don’t even need to carry a card. Instead, travellers just tap whatever they want — a phone, a bank card or even a watch. It’s great. It’s a breeze. It’s like living in the gosh darn mother flipping future.
But, as Tony Wilson famously said, “This is Manchester. We do things differently here.” So while those smug London folk have been busy tapping in and out with all their fancy gadgets and Twittering the heck out of their underground wifi, Manchester’s finest transportation masterminds have been pissing about like Barry and Paul Chuckle, cobbling together the city’s own bonkers version.
Ladies and gentlemen, behold the most chaotic ‘smart’ ticketing scheme ever conceived.
The ‘Smart Card’ in the above image may or may not be to scale. I wouldn’t be surprised either way.
The first of the new system’s fun quirks is that My Get Me There isn’t just a card. It’s an app too. Now, you might think that’s to be expected — it’s a convenient way to manage your card, right? The two work together in harmony, right? Wrong. The app and the (presumably ironically-named) ‘Smart Card’ are two completely separate systems that work entirely independently of one another.
Your first decision is therefore whether to opt for the app, the Smart Card or, as will be the case for most travellers, both. The app is certainly less tricky to get hold of (more on that in a moment) but the significant downside is that it can only be used on Metrolink — Manchester’s tram network. Which means no smartphone fun for Team Bus or the vehicle-agnostics, but app-tastic news for all tram devotees.
Having said that, there are a couple of things that even you dedicated Metrolinkers should watch out for before ditching the paper tix. Firstly, know that you’ll need to make sure you’re not low on battery when heading out the door because, if your phone gives up mid-travels, you could be hit with a £100 fine. Secondly, you’ll need to remain online… ish. The reason for the ‘ish’ is that you don’t actually need web access to use the app once you’ve bought your ticket. However, any tickets on your phone will expire if that device “has not been connected to the internet for a long period” (that’s literally the timescale specified on their website).
So do make sure your phone has a plenty of juice and has been connected to the internet at least once in the most recent ‘long period’.
If that all sounds like a bit of a faff and/or you don’t want to commit to using a single mode of transport for the rest of your My Get Me There life, a Smart Card is probably your best bet. All you’ll need to do to get your hands on one of those is to create an account on the TfGM website, submit a bunch of details, pretend you’ve read and agree to the 6,325 words of Ts&Cs and wait 5–7 days while your prize works its way through the Great British postal system. Or, if that seems a little ‘last decade’ to you, the other option is to head over to your nearest ‘TfGM Travelshop’ (of which there are a grand total of two in the city centre) where they will be happy to issue you with one.