Yesterday, for a special treat, I used the M6 Toll road. It’s just a couple of miles from my house and takes around 20 minutes off my journey but I, along with many, many, many other people, simply don’t use it due to the insane cost. At £5.50 for a main toll and £4 for a local one, it’d cost well over £2,000 per year if I went to work and back on it. Sure, I could shave some 40 minutes off my day, but I’d rather buy a new car instead.
Anyhow, I’d done my usual trick and gone to work without a wallet. My iPhone has Apple Pay and my Android phone has the Vodafone Wallet / Vodafone Pay system that I wrote about earlier. So far this week I’ve visited the local co-op to get some milk, bought some diesel, used a vending machine and even bought a few bags of chips – all using my phone and the contactless payment feature.
The M6 Toll, as you’d expect, has contactless readers at the toll booths, but as I pulled up I found that two cars were both stuck in the lanes and there was a lady in a fluorescent jacket running around trying to help the drivers.
Now, two things struck me as weird. Firstly, it’s very rare that you actually see “staff” at local toll booths any more. Back when the road opened there were several of them and there’s a lovely building where they can go and have a cup of tea in their breaks. Now, you rarely see anyone in a booth and it’s mostly automated. If everything else fails, you push a button and talk to someone in an office somewhere while a drivers in queue of cars behind you start getting annoyed.
Secondly, I couldn’t understand why these drivers were stuck. The one in front was waving her phone around at the machine but nothing was happening, and the lady in the jacket was talking to the other driver.
After quite a wait, I found out why. The M6 Toll accepts contactless payments, but they don’t do contactless payments on your phone. Whether it be Android Pay, Vodafone Pay or Apple Pay, it simply doesn’t work. You HAVE to use a contactless card. If you, like me, went out without one, you’re stuck.
The lady explained that I couldn’t use Apple Pay, but when she spotted my Android phone she got completely confused and suggested that contactless payments “could only be done on iPhones anyway”. Sigh. The next 5 minutes involved me trying to hear the muffled voice coming out of the speaker system, as cars behind me revved their engines impatiently (remember, this is a road that is supposed to “save time”). I couldn’t hear her, she couldn’t hear me, I had to spell my name, then I had to spell it again phonetically. Then she wanted my address, then she couldn’t understand the letters in my postcode, so I had to spell those out phonetically too, then repeat them, then repeat them again, then give her my phone number….
…still with me?
..then a piece of paper gets printed out along with a little card telling me how wonderful a Toll Tag is (they’re not as good as the ones in the US, let me tell you – you can’t rattle through the toll booths at 50mph on the M6 Toll – you’d smash into the barrier). Finally, eventually the barrier lifted and, as I parked up outside my home just 5 minutes earlier than normal, I then had to spend a further 5 minutes online paying the toll via their online system.
I questioned this via Twitter, because if you’re advertising “Contactless Payments” then you should offer just that. Not “some contactless payments, only the cards, not the phones”.
Their response was this…
I’m sorry, I don’t agree. Slower? Not as reliable? If a vending machine in a hospital can do it, if my chip shop can do it, then an incredibly expensive toll road can do it. They’ve got the ability for me to speak to someone at their HQ from a toll booth, so why can’t they do online payments? Why do I have to waste time talking to someone, holding up everyone and then going online later?
Lesson of the day then. If you’re going to use the M6 Toll, don’t just rely on Apple Pay or Android Pay, because they don’t accept this contactless payment. Which is…. rubbish really. There’s absolutely no mention of this restriction on their website and I, along with those other two drivers, were caught unawares.