Thursday, January 11, 2007

Is the T deliberately trying to take your extra nickles and dimes?

There is a term in the accounting world known as "breakage" to indicate cards that have been sold but not redeemed. Revenue from breakage is almost entirely profit, since companies need not provide any goods or services for unredeemed gift cards. There are an untold number of CharlieTickets in circulation that at first glance fall into this catagory.

A CSA (customer service agent) at Harvard was telling me that it is one of the biggest complaints they have been hearing from customers since the conversion. Many riders who are still unfamilar with the CharlieCard buy a CharlieTicket from the vending machines for $5, $10 and even $20 only to find out that they have to pay the higher fare. The CSA says her life would be a lot easier if the vending machines could convert value on a CharlieTicket to a CharlieCard. It would seem that the machines could be programmed to do this. The machines are set up to read a CharlieTicket and to add value to them which was necessary before the CharlieCard was introduced but doesn't seem to make sense now. Why can't the machines simply be programmed to take the amount on a CharlieTicket and transfer it to a CharlieCard? As of now the only way a rider can do that is to travel to the T's Charlie Service Center at Downtown Crossing and have it done there.

However the CSA pointed out something else that is happening. As CharlieTickets are used they drop below the $1.50(bus) or $2(subway) level and value is needed to be added. Riders being told about the CharlieCard are then adding new value to the smartcard and simply discarding CharlieTickets with small amounts of unused value on them. Those nickle, dimes and quarters add up fast and the T is pocketing the money.

Was this by design or simply an oversight? Only 10 Park Plaza knows the answer to that.

Can the fare vending machines be programmed to transfer value? I would think they can since they are able to read the value of a CharlieTicket. I see no reason why the machine can not void out the CharlieTicket and return it with no value on it if the machine doesn't have the ability to eat the ticket.

Customers being able to do this at any vending machine would eliminate a trip to the Service Center downtown which you think the T would want. Then again maybe they are thrilled with riders just discarding cards with small amounts on them.

Only way we will know for sure is to have people email the T or Scheidt & Bachman (the designers of the system)

to email the T email
to email Scheidt & Bachman in Burlington email
or contact the German office directly of Scheidt & Bachman directly


Ron Newman said...

People are leaving behind more than nickels and dimes.

Out of curiosity I picked up each CharlieTicket I found tonight in Central and Davis stations that had an initial value of $5. Most of them still had some value:

Anne said...

I sent an email to and a few hours later got a canned response

On behalf of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, thank you
for writing to us about our automated fare collection program. Your
e-mail has been forwarded to the appropriate personnel for any follow up
as needed.

This e-mail address is for questions or comments regarding our customer
service enhancements and automated fare collection. If your e-mail was
regarding a different topic, it has been forwarded to

Thank you for your comments.

Team Charlie

I probably have 5-6 dollars tied up in these stupid tickets and I can't go running out of work to go downtown.

Anonymous said...

Shocking! I guess Chicago, NYC, Washington and all other transit agencies in the world who have smart cards are in on this 'scam' as well. Not to mention Crate & Barrel, Banana Republic, and Starbucks and any other retailer's gift card that has remaining value on it that is less than a full item but still could be used towards a purchase.

Ron Newman said...

Anne: Just "top them off" and use them. For instance, if you have a $1.50 ticket sitting around, add 50 cents to it at a vending machine and use it for your next subway ride. Sure, you'll pay the 30-cent ticket surcharge, but that's a lot better than throwing the ticket away.

Brian said...

Yeah, but why should anyone have to pay $0.30 just to not lose $1.50?

Anonymous said...

Has anyone here actually used the mythical ticket machine feature that lets you combine multiple bus ChangeTickets? What happens if one of the tickets after the first one is actually a CharlieTicket from a vending machine?

Anonymous said...

To your point: "Riders being told about the CharlieCard are then adding new value to the smartcard and simply discarding CharlieTickets with small amounts of unused value on them".

I don't think you can make the T responsible for riders discarding tickets with value on them. There are ways to make use of that value, such as adding more $$ or having it transferred to a CharlieCard at downtown crossing (I know, maybe not convenient for all, but nonetheless an option). I suspect that those people who toss the CharlieTickets with value left on them are the same people who drop dimes and don't bother to pick them up. It's a choice people make - and not something you can blame the T or the new AFC system for. Not everything is a conspiracy, so just get over it.

Ron Newman said...

This problem would go away entirely if the T added a "Transfer value from ticket to card" function to the fare vending machine.

Anonymous said...

The T should be held responsible because:
1) There were no signs in stations about the CharlieCard surcharge, so people didn't know not to load a lot of value onto CharlieTickets. Some stations *still* don't have signs explaining the fares, and station officials have had to put up handwritten signs themselves.

2) The procedure for transferring money off tickets onto cards is ridiculously slow (waiting in an hourlong line at Downtown Crossing), and isn't even possible for most people who have jobs

Mike said...

picked up 2 discarded cards at Park St and there was .50 on one and .70 on the other. Charlie I think you are right about this.