I had been meaning to blog about this a month ago but never did, though a post by Jo Walsh has just reminded me about it.
I don't mind the Oyster so much: it does add a certain level of convenience, and the prices go up less quickly than the non-Oyster equivalents. It does have it's problems though and Jo summarises some of the major ones, mostly social, but below is one of the first-hand negative experiences I've had with the technological side of the system (I'll ignore times in the past when I've tried to get onto a bus, lacked credit, jumped off, topped up the card, chased alongside the bus to the next stop and then got on that same bus, noticing the Cheshire-cat grin on the driver's face) added as a comment to Jo's post:
Last time I was travelling through London, just before Christmas in the midst of the fog chaos, I managed to leave my jacket in the loos at Heathrow. Realising I'd forgotten something, I got off the tube at Hatton Cross and jumped back onto the next train going back to Heathrow. Leaving the gates, I spotted a 0.20 on the display and thought, that's a good deal for a short journey! Luckily I found my jacket again, and went back to the tube.
This time, the gates wouldn't let me through, giving me only a cryptic number for the reason. The guy at the open barrier wasn't much more helpful, especially after I told him I knew I had almost 8 quid on there. He told me I had no credit and I should see the guy at the ticket desk.
At the ticket desk I was told the same thing, that I didn't have any money on there. I kicked up a fuss, knowing that I had money on there, and thinking that the last journey had cost me 20p. I explained the situation about 5 times, and he seemed confused. There was no record of me going into the system (I'd touched in, and the gate had opened), but then I'd come out, back to where I'd started. To them, after I'd told them what had happened, that was me going in without touching in, going one stop down the line, starting another journey without first touching out and then in again, and touching out for the first time. (Although why I got charged a double fine automatically, without them knowing that I'd touched in at the same place, I have no idea).
I didn't leave the desk until he'd re-credited the fine (minus a fee for a single journey, if necessary). Thankfully, he did just that. I was very grateful because he didn't have to, but as someone who was f*cked over by the system, I would have been very angry if I wasn't reimbursed.
The London Underground guy told me that the Oyster cards had caused more trouble for the staff behind the desks than the perceived benefits, and wished they were never introduced.
As you say, the queues may be shorter, but they take longer because the queries are hellishly complex.