Ellen Perlman was a GOVERNING staff writer and technology columnist.E-mail: email@example.com
I truly cannot believe what it took to get a $3.65 refund from the Metro system in D.C., also known as WMATA, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. It required a chat with station agent, filling out a paper form and mailing it, two phone calls and two emails.
I purposely put myself through this to test the system. When my farecard didn't work last month (I usually use a more technologically advanced "SmarTrip" card that I just flash at the barrier and the gates open, but I'd left it at home) I showed it to the station manager. He gave me the option of sending the dead card in for a refund of the amount left. Yes, $3.65 is a trivial amount but this can be a bigger issue for people who load a card up with, say, $100.
After about a month had passed, I called the number on the receipt I'd ripped off the envelope I'd been given to mail in my card. They told me it would be another four weeks or so because they were backed up. But if I gave my SmarTrip number, the amount could be loaded electronically onto that right away. That is, if I'd registered the card when I got it years ago.
I pulled out my card but the number was rubbed off. (New vendor for the SmarTrip cards needed?) So I emailed the SmarTrip office to see if I could recover the number. A return email asked for my address. I gave my current and my previous one. Two days later, I had my number.
I called the very backed-up "fare adjustment request" people again. I will give them this much -- they were polite and helpful both times. I was put on hold a couple of times while a woman looked up my information. There was a loud clicking noise on the phone.
She got back to me to tell me she found my receipt number and my SmarTrip card number and by the end of the day.....dead air. The connection had been cut off.
I presume my $3.65 will be added electronically to my card and I can put the final touches on the refund when I get to a farecard machine in the Metro system. But really, folks, is this any way to run a railroad??
Written and compiled by staff writers and editors, GOVERNING View is an on-the-ground, and sometimes behind-the-scenes, look at the topics we're covering in print and online. From notes on what's up in statehouses, county courthouses and city halls, to encounters with people, places and things, GOVERNING View is a window into the side of state and local government you don't always see.