Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A problem with the Go-To card

I've got an issue with Metro Transit's Go-To Card. I've had my card for about 4 years now, and it has degraded to the point where it is unreadable about half the time. I got it shortly after the system officially became available to the general public back in the spring of 2007. Those blue footballs installed at the front of buses had sat there taunting me for years already, so I was happy to finally get it. (The Go-To card was supposed to be introduced along with the Hiawatha Line in 2004, but there were a lot of bugs in the system that needed ironing out. It took years to get it right.)

My card is apparently showing its age. When I got it, I didn't even need to take it out of my wallet for the readers to scan it. Slowly, the card has become harder and harder for the machines to read, so I started taking the card out of my wallet and holding it up right next to the reader. Last year, the conductors on the Northstar train had trouble verifying the card with their mobile devices. They'd try a couple of times, but it just wouldn't work, so I became reluctant to ride the train after that. Recently, I've had more and more trouble with bus readers, and it has gotten to the point that I get a "Card Error" almost every day.

Metro Transit has a number of retailers around town who sell new Go-To cards and allow you to fill them up, but they are apparently not set up to handle replacement cards. I don't know why that is. Metro Transit does charge a $5 fee for replacements, but it would seem to me that a retailer could handle that just fine. Similarly, Metro Transit's own phone system and website both let me fill up my Go-To card, but I can't order a replacement through either method.

I have visited a retailer (Cub Foods up in Roseville), and I have called Metro Transit's help line, and it has been my experience that I can't get a replacement either way. This seems to contradict Metro Transit's Go-To Card User's Guide, which says:
Non-functioning cards
If your Go-To Card or Pass fails to work on a bus, use another form of payment. To receive a replacement card, contact Customer Relations at 612-373-3333 or visit a Metro Transit store.
That implied that I could get a card through their phone system, but the representative I talked to directed me to one of the downtown stores instead, which are only open during the day, Monday through Friday. Unfortunately, my workplace is not in either of the downtowns, so I would have to take time off of work to get there.

(By the way, I had originally gotten my card at the former Metro Transit store at the Mall of America, which was open on Saturdays, but it doesn't exist anymore.)

I'll probably try calling again tomorrow and see if I can get another representative who may see things differently. I can take vacation time to visit a store, but things are busy at work and I'd rather not do that at the moment. I should probably just feign ignorance and go get a "new" card through one of the retailers instead. I'd lose my remaining balance, but that's not a big deal for me because it's below $10 right now. However, I could see how someone might have a damaged, lost, or stolen card with a large sum on it—the maximum stored value is $400—so it could be a bigger hit for them.

Of course, this is a fairly minor foible in an otherwise good system. I don't really like to complain about Metro Transit since they're always in the crosshairs of deficit hawks, but it seems that all of the necessary pieces are in place. My feeling is that the only requirement is another checkbox on a form somewhere, some new paperwork to get into the right hands, or perhaps just some education of the retailers and representatives. Besides, as these cards age, there will inevitably be more and more people who will need replacements. This is going to become a bigger issue in the years to come.

I really appreciate the convenience of the card, since I never have to worry about carrying change—I can devote all of those quarters to laundry instead. It also makes it easy for me to upgrade my transfer from a local bus or light rail line to the payment level required for an express bus or the Northstar commuter service—I basically don't have to worry about it at all. And on top of all of that, they give me an extra 10% for every dollar I add, which is roughly the same savings you get from buying multi-ride or monthly transit passes.

I'd just like to have a card that works again.

1 comment:

  1. Yeah, had the same problem with my ~3-year-old card last fall; fortunately, I was able to hop on a Nice Ride over lunch and get it replaced!

    But yeah, there should *really* be more than two places (in the *entire Metro area*!) to replace a card... why not something like the "advance return" system PC manufacturers use, where they just send out a new card, and if you send back the defective one, there's no charge?