The Swedish Train Ticket

I am visiting one of the Swedish partner universities of my school on Wednesday. A great excuse to spend a few days in our cabin in the south of Sweden, take a train up and back, and have a few more days at the cabin. I do my best writing when I am alone at the cabin with no meals to cook for hungry family and/or guests or exciting adventures to be organized.

Sweden is such an advanced eBusiness society, so when I visited the SJ pages to check the train times, I was invited to order my tickets online and have them sent to my house. Now that's an offer!

I slogged my way through the JavaScript navigation, having to select this and that and whatever. They have this stupid system of every train costing a different price, so there is no easy way to determine the cost of the trip. Great, I have to fill out a travel request form from my school stating what the cost will be. Anyway, I get through to the "bekräftelse", the confirmation of my order, and they offer take the money directly from my Internet banking account in Sweden. I am sure that this will not work, as my personnr is no longer marked as "living in Sweden", but what the heck, let's try.

I have to register with some sort of PayPal organisation, this is beginning to sound a bit fishy. But they really do open my bank account in an extra window using my Personnr (which is, of course, the magic account number key, as it is the primary key for all Swedish data bases). I am asked to get out my little doodad and generate a one-time TAN for the transaction. I do so, and am thanked profusely. I double check my account, and sure enough, the money has been deducted properly.

Well, that was painless enough. Good job.

I arrive at the cabin Saturday night - lots of snow here, good thing I will only be driving the 8 km to the station and not the whole way up to the partner university, which is a good 2 hours drive. I open the mailbox - empty. Oh well, we have nice neighbors with a key, they will have taken in the mail. Indeed, there is a pile of mail on the kitchen table (after I shovel my way in), but no train tickets. I go visit the neighbors the next day, to see if they might have some mail that they didn't want to wade through the snow to bring to me, but no, there is no mail there.

I wait for Monday - maybe SJ only sends the tickets 2 days in advance. But that would mean that they would have to be organized, and this is Sweden, so that is improbable, and there are indeed no tickets in the box. So I call the number given on the SJ home page.

I decide to "press 5 for english" because I am unsure if my Swedish will be good enough to explain the situation. "Press 1 for domestic travel" - I press 1. And am greeted with the Swedish recording telling me that the Stockholm station will be closed over Easter. Do I care? And would I understand this as an English-speaking person? Then I am informed that the wait will be 10 minutes. That is one technological advance in Sweden - they let you know how long the torture will be.

I do not want to wait 10 minutes, and anyway, I want to go to town today, so I can surely buy a ticket in some travel agency or other or some ticket machine.

But there are only ticket machines for Skåne, none for further afield. I walk around the station, have an old drunkard try and make friends with me (I suddenly can't speak Swedish any more), but there is nothing. Nada. The tourist office is across the street and open, so I drop by. She explains that I just call the number and book the ticket.

"And how do I get the ticket on time?" "Oh, you just go to a gambling place with your booking number and get the ticket."

A gambling place? These seedy dumps where the Swedes drop the little cash they have left over after the tax bite and food prices have taken their tribute, betting on horse races and playing Lotto and all sorts of other games? I would never set foot in one of them of my own free will. "You can also go to Pressbyrån", the newspaper shop. Well, at least they have a civilized front shop, the horse-betting is carried on in a separate room in the back.

Can I order the tickets from the betting place? That would make sense. But no, this is not possible. Just call the number. I debate sitting out in the cold, on hold for 10 minutes and then trying to write down the booking number with frozen hands. So I drive back home and call from there.

The number costs 1,70 SEK for every five minutes. I go right to Swedish this time, and sit through the announcement about Stockholm again. Waiting time is only 4 minutes now, well, that is a relief. The iron lady keeps suggesting that I book my tickets on the Internet.... After about 3:30 a woman comes on and I explain my predicament. I want to know why I don't have tickets. She checks her database and has no record of my purchase. "That happens a lot, there are a lot of errors that happen. If you don't get a booking number then it didn't work." "But I checked my account and the money was debited!" "Yes, but when it doesn't work, we return the money." "You are losing a lot of business this way!". But SJ is pretty much a monopoly....

So I book the tickets with her, at least I get the same train going up. The train going back is unfortunately already booked, so I shall have to spend another hour in the town. The price, interestingly enough, is now 27 SEK cheaper! Seems the closer to train time you book, the cheaper it gets.

Now I have a number, but I don't feel like driving back to get my ticket from the horse racing people. I already spent 15 minutes on the phone and this will be another 16 km to drive. Tomorrow is another day.

1 comment:

WiseWoman said...

Well, since no one but spammers leave comments here, I guess I'll have to.

It works. I presented a slip of paper to the guy at the Pressbyrån with my booking number on it, and he prints it out and takes my money. It even has seat reservations on it with a table.

Now I only have to worry about getting a parking place tomorrow, the train station looked packed the other day.....