The current state of British travel was unimaginable even 30 years ago. Arguably, the biggest leaps towards truly convenient travel have been in Oyster technology and sat nav systems.
Historically, users of the tube/travel network had to carry tickets and a printed tube map. Stations were full of ticketing staff and queues. In 2003, Oyster was launched, the innovative smart card that saved time on ticket purchasing – you could top up online or at various stations and newsagents. It was then extended to buses as well as the London Underground. Contactless credit cards – being introduced to make small purchases faster, tied in very well with Oyster technology and the system was also introduced.
Contactless cards meant flexibility to not have to have a topped up Oyster card with you. It also meant tourists with contactless could use their own card at the cheaper Oyster rate and without queuing. A similar large jump was when London buses stopped taking cash payments completely. Tube and journey planning apps mean you don’t have to carry a map with you and you can see line status before you travel very easily. Commuters can work out if they need an alternative route to work to prevent being late.
On the trains themselves, the tube used to be a black hole for mobile signal and then both signal and mobile data. Wi-Fi on platforms now means that if you are running late, or meeting somewhere, you can communicate about it instead of leaving people with no idea where you are.
Not so long ago, drivers carried full UK maps in their cars, to check when going on an unknown journey. In the 90s, services like the AA launched their online route planner. Revolutionary at the time - you just entered your start location and end location, and you could print off the route with directions. However, like maps, printed directions were hard without a passenger to read them out. If you had a partner in the car, they inevitably got blamed for all imaginable scenarios. If you were alone, you had to stop to check the printout.
Satellite navigation came along to save both lone travellers having to pull over and numerous relationships. The technology actually originally came from the Cold War in the USA. Early systems like the Tom Tom, released in the UK in 2004, gave true freedom from the map or printers. However, there were stories of people following their sat nav without common sense – into water or hundreds of miles away due to mistyping.
Nowadays, newer sat nav systems have traffic updates and there is a huge range of mobile apps for satellite navigation, as well. Google maps now gives directions for driving, public transport, walking and cycling, even flights. Knowing where you are and where you are going couldn’t be easier.
Recent years have seen so much progress in convenience and getting around incredibly easily, who knows what the future will bring? It seems unfathomable.