Thursday, April 28, 2005


Although I have written a long essay on how to respond to anti-Americans and anti-capitalists, there are times when I have to admit I am thrown off track. … Thus, one day on a TGV heading south, I thought I would tell the train controller about the trouble I had on the SNCF's website and how it needs to be made more user-friendly. Basically, the problem is that you cannot get a complete overview of train departures to a certain destination the way you can with a printed timetable. The only option you have, before seeing a (limited) range of options, is choosing the (approximate) departure time beforehand, on a particular date, and (after a lot of typing) you will get the timetable for the closest departure to that time, with the next four or five departures.

It may be that most people have a very precise idea of when they are leaving, but still it would be nice to have a user-friendly overview that can — précisément — help you make that decision in the first place, the one concerning what day and what time of day you want to leave. (Even if you had planned to take a train on a Friday afternoon, say, you might want to change to Friday morning, or even to the Saturday morning departure, if, at one glance, you can determine that another option provides a more direct link with no changes; also, if you are afraid that city traffic may make you miss your train, it is nice to know that the following departure is only one hour later, rather than three or four hours later.)

Besides that, if you don't write out the (full) date in exactly the manner prescribed (with slashes and all) — nothing, not even the year, is preset for an easier reset — you don't get anywhere (on the site or by rail).

So, when I met the controller, I told him as much (and in a warm and polite tone of voice, too). The controller was also warm and polite — and with nothing but an entirely matter-of-fact attitude — when he answered:

Oh, but that's unnecessary. That would be giving the consumer too much choice. We don't want to do it like the Americans.

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