July 30, 2006

Perhaps They Should Have Tested More - MBTA

MBTA glitch has riders feeling robbed

The MBTA's Charlie is ripping you off, sort of.
Mike of Winthrop explains about a glitch he found in the T's new automated fare collection system:

``Since I took a ride on the Silver Line (90 cents) I had an extra 35 cents on my CharlieTicket. No problem! I simply went to the machine and was relieved to see that there is an `add value' function which would let me add 90 cents so that I could take the T for $1.25," he wrote.

You know what's coming next.

``Every time I tried to add 90 cents, the machine rejected my card with the notice `Card Value does not have minimum of $1.25,' which means that `add value' does not work on any left over change below $1.25.

``Please have the MBTA write me a check for the money owed -- since it is lost to me -- 35 cents down the drain. I never would have used my card on the Silver Line!"

We thought this sounded fishy so we did our own little expensive experiment. Down to JFK/UMass we walked, up to a CharlieTicket vending machine, where we used the ``other amount" button to purchase a ticket for $1.60 to cover bus and subway fare.

We walked through the turnstile, turned around, walked back out the turnstile, stuck our ticket back into the vending machine and checked the amount on it, which was 35 cents.
And lo and behold, when we tried to add 90 cents in value to boost it back to $1.25, Mike was right. The machine would accept nothing lower than $1.25.

And there it sits in our wallet, 35 unusable cents.

(By the way, since there were no change machines around, we're also walking around with a hernia-inducing heap of dollar coins in our pocket.)

We talked to MBTA General Manager Daniel Grabauskas late Friday, who pledged that if the problem is a software glitch, it will be fixed.

``If it's an additional software programming change, and that's what our customers want, then that's what they'll get."