How TfL keeps screwing me for delay refunds

Let me tell you about my ongoing woes with Finsbury Park station. I admit upfront that this is a first-class, first-world problem; but I make no apologies.

You see, I’ve recently experienced the delights of efficient and effective European transport rail and light-rail infrastructure, so the continuing trials of my local tube station leave me dumbfounded.

Finsbury Park station is a badly designed station. Its entrances are narrow, and its walkways are too small, and there’s no real chance of expanding its internal footprint. It regularly overcrowds as a result, and the TfL staff at the station — largely over-cautiously in my experience — often just close the entrance gates so people can’t get in.

It’s a straightforward solution to a straightforward problem, you might think. That’s certainly true. The unintended consequence of this decision, however, is delays to your journey.

The problem

I must get caught in a Finsbury Park closure at least once a week. When you’re late on a Transport for London journey through a fault on their part, you’re entitled to a refund. Your entitlement kicks in after around 15 minutes. Theoretically, you can submit a refund request when you experience a delay and they give you the money back.

Here’s the problem: if they close the station and turn off the entry barriers, you aren’t “touched in”, which means that TfL won’t give you a refund.

It makes logical sense, of course. TfL don’t know that you’re late, and by the time you touch in and touch out again, they won’t notice any difference. To the automated system, there is no delay.

I have tried multiple times to claim refunds for these delayed journeys. None of them have worked.

I’ve tried sticking it out and claiming from the time I arrive at the station to the time I emerge at the end of my tube ride. I’ve tried claiming for a refund when I’ve had to take the bus instead because the station is closed with no hope of re-opening. Nothing works.

I’ve been screwed out of probably dozens of eligible refunds in the last year thanks to this. Whilst I recognise this is convenient for TfL, there really needs to be a better way to compensate people for this kind of disruption. Especially when it happens so regularly.

An idea to fix it

This issue seems easy enough to fix; in part, because it already has been elsewhere.

When you travel on the London Overground and you skirt around Zone 1 instead of going through it, there are purple readers dotted throughout the stations so that TfL can track your journey. That way, they know you went a certain route.

It seems obvious to me that the way for delayed passengers, stuck outside stations, to register their delay is to reuse this same system outside the ticket barriers. It would be simple enough. You would:

  1. turn up at the station and find it’s shut
  2. beep your card on the terminals outside the entrance when you arrive
  3. beep again on your way in the gates once they are re-opened

TfL could do some clever things with machine learning or some other buzzword to spot whether these were genuine outside tappers (like checking to see how many others were also tapping to signal a delay) and then judge whether to give out the money or not.

It could also work across buses too. If you turned up at your station and it was shut, you could tap the delay terminal and then hop on the bus. All London buses are equipped with GPS now, so TfL could cross-reference the times and locations and give you the cost of the normal tube journey back for the delay.

An aside

Whilst they’re at it, TfL should start issuing automatic refunds, rather than expecting people to claim them. If it knows someone is delayed, they shouldn’t have to ask for the compensation.

End of rant

Those are my Finsbury Park woes, my middle-class rant about them, and a possible solution to the problem.

Here’s another idea: tweet this @TfL if you agree.