diamond geezer

 Thursday, February 21, 2019

I love Citymapper, I mean who doesn't, given that TfL can't be bothered to make their own travel app because the private sector made a better one. I've been saying nice things about Citymapper since 2011, and about the app since 2013, and basically it seems impossible they still offer it for free. But now there's a new thing that Citymapper will be doing, and that's act like a sort of contactless Oyster card, and basically I don't need it so I don't understand why anyone would need it so I don't know why they bothered.

I loved Citymapper more back in the days when the app loaded before the next bus arrived. It's got very bloated of late, packed with additional functionality I don't need, whereas it used to pop up quickly and tell me when the next 108 was coming. Admittedly some of this extra stuff has proved useful when I was travelling around Birmingham, Paris and Berlin, but the app also includes modes of travel I don't use in cities I have no plans on visiting, and basically I don't need it so I don't understand why anyone would need it so I don't know why they bothered.

Citymapper even started doing taxis last year only they didn't call them taxis they called it Smart Ride. It's basically Uber, but within a somewhat narrower area, and they have drivers in black Merc minibuses circling on specific routes so essentially not really Uber at all but similar. Obviously at £5 a time I'm not interested, because that's more than three times what a bus costs and I'm not ashamed to slum it with the plebs. You wouldn't see me dead in a taxi and basically I don't need them so I don't understand why anyone would need them so I don't know why they bothered.

The new feature is called Citymapper Pass and it launches next month. Essentially it's a like a contactless card because it is actually a contactless card except it's green. You can't get hold of one yet because it hasn't launched yet, but a limited number of green cards will be available to users of the app like what I am, except I don't want one because basically I don't need it so I don't understand why anyone would need it so I don't know why they bothered.

The idea is that, instead of using your Oyster or bankcard or mobile smartapp like you would normally, you use the green Citymapper Pass card instead. Everyone has an Oyster or bankcard or mobile smartapp so it's not like they need another piece of plastic, but Citymapper hope you'll want another piece of plastic because of the extra things it'll do and how much it'll cost, however hard it turns out to be to actually get hold of one of them. Not that I care because basically I don't need one so I don't understand why anyone would need one so I don't know why they bothered.

Your Citymapper Pass is a subscription card, so you pay a set amount and can then pick from a smorgasbord of travel options and use them as much as you like over the course of a week. In this respect it's more like a Travelcard than Pay As You Go, which is odd given how much TfL have gone on and on and on and on about contactless capping being better than Travelcards. I already have a Travelcard so I wouldn't use a Citymapper Pass enough to make it worthwhile so basically I don't need one so I don't understand why anyone would need one so I don't know why they bothered.

They haven't announced how much a subscription will cost except they vaguely have. According to websites which aren't Citymapper there will be two types of subscription. The cheapest will cost £31 and will be the equivalent of a Zone1/2 travelcard. That means you can use any tube or rail service in inner London, except the ones you can't, plus any bus presumably anywhere. As I have already mentioned I already have a Travelcard, and it's annual, so basically I don't need anything else so I don't understand why anyone would so I don't know why they bothered.

What's intriguing is that a Zone1/2 Travelcard caps out at a maximum of £35.10 per week whereas Citymapper are offering exactly the same thing for £31 which is about four quid less. TfL are still going to get the full amount because Citymapper have agreed to pay the difference, which is either an extraordinary act of mass generosity or an evil landgrab to trap as many commuters as possible within their financial web before removing the subsidy. It sounds like a conspiracy theory to me, but it doesn't matter because I don't need one so I don't understand why anyone would need one so I don't know why they bothered.

Even at £31 a week that's expensive. A Zone1/2 Travelcard costs £1404 a year, whereas fifty-two weeks of a Citymapper Pass would cost £1612 which is £208 extra which is basically four quid a week. You could get an annual Zone1/3 Travelcard for that. Citymapper are keen to let you know you can pause your subscription as and when, and nobody spends every week of the year in London anyway, but if you have the money you should definitely buy an annual Travelcard instead like what I have, and basically I don't need anything else so I don't understand why anyone would so I don't know why they bothered.

What's more if you go outside Zones 1 and 2 you'll have to pay the normal extension fares, just like you had a Zone1/2 travelcard anyway. Most Londoners live outside those zones, so they'd be better off getting the appropriate Travelcard instead, and not even Citymapper's generous £4-a-week subsidy will save them money. I haven't actually worked that out, I've just assumed it, but basically I'm not interested because I don't need it so I don't understand why anyone would need it so I don't know why they bothered.

The second Citymapper subscription option, the Super Duper Pass, will cost £39. For this you'll get exactly the same as the £31 option plus unlimited use of the TfL bike share scheme plus two free rides on Citymapper's Smart Ride system. The extra £8 is worth five days of Santandering or it's worth two trips in a smartbus, so you need to be either a confirmed cyclist or cab-user for this to be worthwhile. I'm neither, and obviously unwilling to engage with either, but basically I don't need it so I don't understand why anyone would need it so I don't know why they bothered.

There are obviously plans to extend all this beyond zones 1 and 2 eventually, but not yet because this is only the beginning. Also Citymapper are keen to get other bikeshare systems on board, like those chunky lime green bicycles you sometimes see dumped on roadside verges, plus future transit systems like electric scooters or presumably personalised jetpacks. My rigid mindset means I won't ever need any of those so I don't understand why anyone would need them so I don't know why they bothered.

Citymapper must have embarrassingly deep pockets because the app's been free for several years and they run their black cab Smart Rides at a loss. Now it seems they're willing to throw away a fiver a week on everyone who signs up to their new Pass, which'll eventually add up to a tidy sum, so we should be asking what's in it for them? Essentially they want your undivided attention, and to be the conduit for your future transport costs in London and all other major cities. Plus of course they hope you'll end taking lots of extra Smart Rides at a fiver a time which I would never do because basically I wouldn't do that so I don't understand why anyone would so I don't know why they bothered.

Our entire economic future is basically subscription-based as private companies try to get us to dripfeed them money on a regular basis for services we'd once have paid for as one-offs. Spotify does it, Amazon does it, Netflix does it, your local gym does it, and now Citymapper is trying to do it by placing themselves at the heart of your daily travel payment routine. The prize is big for whoever takes long-term control, so it's worth them investing money at the start for massive rewards later. The rest of us can just carry on using the free parts of the app for free, because they were just the entry-level sweetener, and basically I'm not going to fall for it so I don't understand why anyone else would fall for it so I don't know why they bothered.

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