Melissa Kite

Real life | 9 February 2017

It was looking very much like the latter if TfL’s automated phone system had anything to do with it

Real life | 9 February 2017
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The builder boyfriend declared himself very happy with his £65 pee.

He insisted it was good value for money because it was reduced from £130 if we paid within 28 days. Some would say that is still extortion, but the BB insisted he was a totally satisfied customer.

He was also unfazed by the fact that Transport for London issued me with two fines for stopping on a red route in Elsynge Road for 30 seconds so he could relieve himself. This is because he didn’t have the bother of sorting it all out.

The two fines had two different serial numbers so the total cost of the pee might have been £130 or indeed £260 if I had left it longer than 28 days to pay, and had I not rung up to challenge the error.

‘Welcome to Transport for London. If you would like to pay a fine press one. If you would like to make an inquiry press two. If you would like to speak to us in another language press three.’

I was tempted to press three and ask to speak to somebody in Yupik, a charming polysynthetic language spoken by residents of western Alaska.

‘Tuntussuqatarniksaitengqiggtuq!’ I would declare, which means ‘He had not yet said again that he was going to hunt reindeer.’

Otherwise, I could claim to be from La Gomera in the Canaries and demand to speak to someone in Silbo, a language made up entirely of whistles. Presumably, under equality legislation, TfL would have to find a person to whistle me an explanation of the double fine.

As it was, I suppressed my urge to mess with the messers on the basis that I really did need to bring this red route pee in on budget, and certainly for less than £260.

A cheerful northerner who at least spoke English perfectly well came on the line. ‘Hello, my name’s Ken! How may I help?’

‘Hello, Ken,’ I said. ‘I’ve been fined for stopping on a red route but you’ve issued me with two separate penalty charge notices. So I’m worried I won’t settle the matter by only paying one.’

Ken had a look and confirmed that the system had indeed made an error but, happily, one had already been cancelled. And he read out the complex serial number of the null and void one.

‘I won’t pay that one then, I’ll pay the other,’ I said.

‘Yes,’ he said. ‘That’s right.’

It would have been nice if TfL had written to let me know which of the fines I ought to pay. But no matter. Let’s just get this pee paid for.

However, Ken said I would have to go back to the automated system to do that.

He put me back to the computerised voice, but when she’d taken my card details she said: ‘To pay another PCN, please press one.’

Did she know something Ken didn’t? Ken had said the other ticket was cancelled. But he was only a human being. This lady, well, she was an automated system.

I pressed two for no with trepidation and there then followed that horrible receipt barking segment where the computerised voice reads out a confusingly long serial number which you have to take down as proof of payment. The voice always becomes half muffled and strangely nasal at this point, and the number sounds as though it is going to go on for ever. You start panicking as if an irrational part of you deep down believes that you might have to spend the rest of your life on the phone having numbers barked at you.

‘Your receipt number is,’ said the lady, and I turned up my phone volume, my heart thumping:

‘Nee wah ee oo five eight ee wah six …six …six …(oh no how many sixes was that?) six …(oh no another six, is that four sixes?) wah eee nee!’

Holy Moses, I’ve no proof I’ve paid!

‘If you would like me to repeat that, press one. If not, press two.’

So I pressed one, and she began again: ‘Nee wah ee oo five eight ee…’

When she’d finished a second time I found myself wondering if it would be rude to ask her to repeat it again. Of course it’s not rude, you moron, she’s a computer, I thought. So when she offered me the repeat option again I took it.

But after the fourth repeat I did decide she would probably get me double fined again if I asked for another go.

So I pressed two and hoped I could at least prove something with my bank statement. But I did not dare hang up until she said ‘Please hang up the phone.’

And then I hung up really carefully and respectfully, after she had fully finished saying the word ‘phone’, like that made a difference.