Monday, April 02, 2007

How The LIRR Didn't Sell Me A Ticket, Blamed Me For It And Banned Me From Using My Credit Card

This all actually happened a while back. I hadn't realised until trying to tell the sorry tale of this morining's excuse for a commute that I hadn't followed up on the time the Ticket Vending Machine (TVM) in Flatbush Avenue swindled me, just before thanksgiving.

I called the number listed on the claim form at the start of December, where a young lady told me that they had sent me an affadavit that I would have to fill in and sign before the claim could be processed. This document never appeared.

I called again about a week before Christmas and was told (by the same young lady) that since I had initiated a chargeback through my credit card (one of the benefits of Visa Gold is easy access to this sort of service), I wouldn't be getting the affadavit after all. I said I didn't understand, since she had told me that it had been sent out over three weeks before. She replied that I wasn't entitled to file the affadavit because of the chargeback, and that furthermore the LIRR machines would no longer accept my card.

I said I understood that a chargeback normally indicated a lost card and so the LIRR was responsibly cancelling further access by that card, but since this was simply due to a fraudulent ticket sale charge I would like to begin the process of having my card's good graces reinstated. She explained that it was no reflection on me. I explained that on the contrary, it painted me as a poor credit risk and would reflect so on my credit history. She said it was policy and that there wasn't a "undo" procedure for it. I realised that I had inadvertantly uncovered a LIRR punative measure draped in the clothing of a "service" and struck my colours on that front (after mentioning that I always initiate a chargeback when my card is fraudulently charged - I wanted to stress my take on the matter since it seemed that was somehow not getting across) on the grounds of it being an unwinable battle, but I had another concern which I needed to address.

I explained that the LIRR could and probably would challenge that chargeback1, and the bank would simply re-charge the card and so I wanted to continue the claim process anyway. She told me that the chargeback meant I had my money back and that ended the matter. I asked for clarification. I had been told that an affadavit was already mailed. Now I am told that it wasn't and wouldn't be. Which of those two statements was the false one?

She replied that the affadavit had been mailed, had been received back at the claims department and another wouldn't be sent out. I said I was even more confused now. The affadavit first was sent out, then wasn't, then was and had been returned? Who had returned it? It couldn't have been me because I was in the process of calling to find out where the document was.

She explained that it had been sent to the wrong address. I asked how that could be. She explained that the address on the claim wasn't legible. I pointed out that before she said anything else she should know that I had the third (yellow) copy of the claim form in my hands and even though it was the last of a multi-part "carbon" copy form, I could read my address perfectly, She had the top copy.

She began to get defensive so I asked to speak to a manager. I got to speak to a manager.

Who simply repeated the nonsensical "Who's on First"2 style of explanation that I had already rejected as incomprehensible hogwash. I eventually hung up since I couldn't penetrate their well-maintained stupidity shields. For once, the LIRR had employed professionals, just not ones interested in protecting the customer's rights. The claim was dead.

But no.

At the beginning of January I received a letter from the LIRR informing me that since I had "refused" to fill in and return the affadavit3 backing up my claim, and since an examination of the TVM logs didn't support my claim, the LIRR was denying it4.

I stood stunned for a moment after I read this document, then rushed to the phone and called my credit card company with a view to investigating whether the chargeback had been overturned. I have had occasion to call the help lines about half a dozen times in the last two years and normally I get excellent help.

Not this time.

I was connected to the LIRR claims department girl's sister who couldn't understand what I was asking. I had a perfect record of the transaction, the dates of the various activities and so forth but she couldn't locate anything on her computer of the remotest help whatsoever. I was forced to wade through my credit card statements to figure it all out.

What actually burns me up is the unstated but clear implication that I was somehow trying to swindle the LIRR out of the price of a ticket. Even a cursory check would show that I had been a monthly commuter using these TVM things ever since they were installed5, that I bought only one ticket a month and that the day after Thanksgiving I bought a second ticket. Were I investigating such a case, those three facts would have me working from the assumption of innocence rather than one of the cunning free ticket swindler the LIRR obviously suspected me to be. I hope the person who actually got my monthly ticket7 is happy.

Still, now I get to make Bank of America happy by using my Platinum Planetary Society themed Visa card

  1. What, you thought this couldn't happen? Nope. If the vendor challenges the chargeback the funds are recharged to the card if written evidence of reasonable grounds for the chargeback aren't forthcoming
  2. An Abbot and Costello routine lengendarily famous in the USA. The routine revolves around one person asking about the status of the game in terms of the players on each base. Hoo is on first base. Watt is on second base. Idenow is on third base. When Bud Abbot asks "Who's on first?" Lou Costello hears "Hoo's on first" and confirms it. Bud Abbot then says confusedly "What?", only to be told "No, Watt's on second." Hillarity ensues entirely at odds with expectations from perusing the script, providing you grasp one or two basics about baseball. Even I find this sketch funny on occasions. The whole thing has achieved the status of a cultural icon, and any sort of conversation in which the people are talking at cross purposes or in which one of the conversants is deliberately trying to make that so can be classed as a "who's on first" situation
  3. Which I wasn't entitled to but had been sent out (albeit to a random address rather than the one I wrote down for them) and had been returned although it was probably missing tha notary's stamp and any useful illuminating information on the claim itself owing to the aforementioned address cock-up. Keep up!
  4. My official status with respect to the LIRR according to a strict interpretation of this letter was that of "big fat liar"
  5. Wyandanch was one of the first stations, if not the first, to have its staff replaced by a vending machine. The fact that this was viewed by many as a vast improvement should tell you something about the attitude of the staff that used to work at Wyandanch. All in all, I would estimate that I've been using the TVM with that same credit card or the one that periodically replaces it and thus maintains the audit trail for over a decade. Over 100 purchases with never a claim, but this one, along with the suspicious and out-of-pattern6 purchase of a second ticket only two days later rang all the alarms. Wuckfits
  6. Even if the LIRR doesn't track spending patterns closely, I know for a fact that the Visa companies do, and can tell in a New York Minute when the spending on your credit card deviates from it by so much as the cost of a t-shirt
  7. I have no doubt the ticket printed. I expect it either hung up in the works of the machine or lodged in a metal seam somewhere, to fall loose when the machine was next opened. It could even have fallen a few seconds after I looked. The machines in Brooklyn are housed in a dim, poorly lit area and I couldn't really see that well

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