Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Pickpocket Metro?

Several weekly bus pass users have written saying they've been having their bus fares subtracted from their main SmarTrip balance despite having bought passes.

Worse yet, Metro is giving them a nightmarish Catch-22 runaround in refunding their money. And EVEN WORSE, Metro does not appear to have let riders know of a major problem that is basically robbing them blind and apparently has been occurring since January!

Here's what one rider said, which is typical of the emails we've recieved:

WMATA's 7-day bus passes haven't worked right since they started, with a delayed roll-out. Users are often charged the bus fare after loading the $15 pass on the SmarTrip card.

My wife has lost about $20 just this week to bus charges with a valid pass. Many riders might not even notice the extra charges, as their cards seem to run down a bit fast. Despite months of problems, I've seen no notice to riders. Perhaps this is a WMATA effort to recover funds lost in countless liability matters.

Hope you can warn the public!
Another rider wrote the following:

SmartTrip card has been taking from my cash reserve instead of reading my weekly bus pass, and I keep getting the run around. WMATA says the readers are out in certain buses and you have to call in every day to get them to credit cash back through fare machines. They don't.
Many riders said they'd experienced similar problems, usually first noticed when the main SmarTrip balance seemed to dwindle faster than it should have, despite the presence of passes.

Another rider said they were warned by a clerk at a Montgomery Country TRiPS store not to ever buy the weekly passes because "passengers were losing hundreds of dollars."

Those who contacted Unsuck DC Metro said Metro promised refunds, but most have had to battle tooth and nail--including never-ending times on hold with customer service representatives--to recoup their money, if they've been able to refund the money at all.

I have wasted hours recovering about half of the unauthorized deductions from the "Service Center." [My husband] was also a victim on his personal SmarTrip card; he now keeps no rail money on the card for the bus pass, to avoid these phantom deductions. We have received NO replies to our repeated emails this week.
After huge email chains with this customer, Metro did, obliquely, acknowledge some kind of problem, but the email seems to be a cut and paste job from an email directed at those who manage transit benefits for organizations rather than the average rider.

Here's what their email said:

We, unfortunately, have encountered a problem with the new Autoload product that is part of the SmartBenefits migration process that you and your employees were participating in. It has been determined that the use of the new SmartBenefits® Autoload product disables the bus passes of subsequent customers. Our research shows that SmartBenefits® Autoload has been an indirect but significant contributor to the problems we’ve seen with use of the pass.

Therefore, we are delaying your migration to SmartBenefits® Autoload. It will not occur with June benefits. Your employees will claim their June benefits at the Farecards & Passes machine. A follow-up notice will be sent to apprise you of when the SmartBenefits® Autoload process will resume for your account. We apologize for the inconvenience to you and your employees.
We asked Metro about this, but received no response.

Why didn't Metro immediately let riders know they were being ripped off?

Is this Metro's stealthy way of shrinking the budget gap?

Perhaps, the skimmed money is going to a highly-paid army of PR officials. Who knows? Metro?

Other items:
Purple Line delayed as costs rise (Examiner)
Public/virtual input sought on budget gap (WMATA)
Vote for your favorite hypothetical Metro map redesign (GGW)
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