October 17, 2008

Robbery on the Rails

I attended the “Next Steps: Moving Forward with Grace” event sponsored by the Episcopal Church’s Diocese of Pittsburgh last night. It was held at the downtown Trinity Cathedral, and I planned to ride the “T,” the light rail system of Port Authority of Allegheny County. I can board a train three blocks from my house and get off a block from the cathedral.

I don’t make the light-rail trip downtown often, but I keep tickets around, so that, when I do use the “T,” I don’t have to worry about exact change. The tickets can be bought in books of 10, and, a few years ago, the tickets were sold at a small discount. This is no longer true, but the tickets still allow riders to avoid a rush-hour surcharge that must be paid by those using cash.

Since I am not a regular rider, I don’t keep close tabs on Port Authority news, but I did know that fares had been raised since I last used the “T.” From past experience, I also knew that I would not be able to use one of my old tickets without paying an additional fee. I find this policy irritating—I wonder if the Port Authority folks have heard of the Forever stamp—but I was used to it. In fact, the tickets indicate on the back that they are “subject to fare changes”:

PAT ticket (front and back)
To avoid any surprises upon boarding, I called the customer service number on the ticket to find out how much I would have to pay. After a lengthy wait on hold, I was told that the fare change had been made in January, and riders had been given three months to use their tickets, which, in October, were no longer accepted. This was a very unpleasant and unexpected surprise. The tickets say, after all, “this ticket may be used for one ride through one zone,” and “subject to fare changes” does not suggest, at least to me, that the ticket could become worthless.

Before I got a chance to confirm that a transfer still costs 50 cents, I accused Port Authority of being a bunch of thieves, whereupon the customer service agent hung up on me. The customer, I suppose, is no longer always right and doesn’t even have to be listened to.

Having just been relieved of $12.50 by my local transit agency, I don’t think I’ll buy any more tickets. At least when I buy a stamp, I know it will always be worth at least what I paid for it.

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