Thursday, September 26, 2013

Let’s hear it for the Hack Bureau

Last Saturday, we took a cab from JFK to our temporary (one week) home away on the Upper East Side. In terms of coming into The City, the timing wasn’t perfect. Unbeknownst to us, the Steuben Day Parade – which celebrates all things German (well, not all things German: just the good ones) – was blitzing down Fifth Avenue, causing all sorts of traffic tie ups. And the UES – that’s Upper East Side to you provincials – was crawling with Steuben Day revelers, recognizable by their dirndls, lederhosen, and some get-up that made the men wearing it look like chimney sweeps.

Anyway, the cab dropped us off  amid mega-traffic, yelling cops (yelling at us, or at least at our cabbie), tipsy lederhosers, honking cabs, etc.Foolishly, amidst this chaos, I decided to conserve our cash – and why not, it being nearly impossible to find an ATM in a pokey little town like this – and use the credit card system in the back of the cab. This decision was doubly foolish, given that, on the way in from JFK, I had remarked to my husband how cloudy the screen was on the all-purpose information screen now present in all cabs. And aren’t these devices such a welcome addition to the cab ride experience? After all, we wouldn’t want to be deprived of diversion for a nano-second, would we? In this case, the “entertainment” was a perpetual Jimmy Fallon-Brian Williams  loop that repeated every 3 minutes or so. I tuned Jimmy Fallon out, but Bri -  who I’m kind of sweet on, so I couldn’t just tune him out -  was talking about how wunderbar the folks out in Colorado were for jumping in to help out their flooded-out fellow citizen, I couldn’t actually see Bri, as the screen – the same screen that’s used to take care of a fare-paying credit card transaction –was very blurry. And the decision to pay by credit card, rather than fork over the cash, was triply foolish given that my husband – now standing outside the cab with our bags, while another couple, anxious to get away from the Steuben Tag-ers, were trying to get into the cab – was yelling at me to just pay cash.

But once I started down the path of paying by credit card, well…

Did I mention that the screen was cloudy-blurry?

Coached by the cabbie, whose English was not quite of the highest order (I kept trying to explain to him that I couldn’t read what was on the screen, while he kept telling me something I couldn’t comprehend), I put in the amount, swiped the card, and – fortunately – asked for a receipt.

As we settled into our digs, I mentally recalculated the amount I had just paid, and realized that I hadn’t given the cabbie as large a tip as I would normally have, having added in a total amount without taking into consideration the surcharge amount.

Oh, well, I told myself, I would always make it up next time…

Little did I know…

Several hours later, I happened to glance at the receipt and saw that what I thought I had entered as the total amount had been entered as the tip – a tip that was $55 more than I would have given.

So I quickly went from worrying about whether I’d been a cheapskate to kicking myself for not being able to read the blurry/cloudy screen.

I immediately called the credit card company, and they tried to get through to the reporting number that they had for the cab company, which, alas, was closed for the day. The fellow from Capital One gave me the number and suggested I call on Monday. He told me that if I couldn’t get it cleared up, I should call back and start disputing the charge.

Anyway, I called the number the Cliff at Capital One – who was very helpful, by the way; think what you will about Crapital One, but they have excellent customer service – had given me, and was surprised to find that it wasn’t the cab company, but the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission, formerly known as the Hack Bureau.

Since I had what they told me was going to be a 19 minute wait – to which adviso my mental response was ‘yeah, right’ – I had plenty of time to anticipate just what a lovely experience I was going to have communicating with what was, by any other name, the Hack Bureau.

Precisely 19 minutes into my wait, a woman came on the line and quite pleasantly asked how she could help me.

I explained the situation – emphasizing that I was not reporting an “incident”, i.e., did not feel that the cabbie/cab company had tried to screw me. Fortunately, the receipt had all the detail one might want or need (except for the phone number of the cab company) including the key bits of information: the medallion and hack numbers. The TLC woman – who I was now thinking of as part of TLC, rather than a Hack Bureau Apparatchik –  immediately put me through to the cabbie’s phone number, suggesting that I leave a message using my first name only, and let him know what the problem was. Given his limitations with English, and mine with Urdu, I didn’t think that this was going to work out all that well, but I followed her advice. She then put me through to the cab company itself, where I was able to explain what had happened to the manager there. He took down the information, asked me what I wanted the tip to be – which I upped to be a bit higher than my 20% norm – and he told me what refund he would put through.

As we concluded the call, I said, “Thank you, New York cab bureau lady, if you’re still on the line.” She said, “Yes I am, and my name is Valerie.”

So  thank you Valerie. You were pleasant, courteous, thorough, clear and good humored. And I just want on the TLC web site to let the commisioner know.

So far, the refund from the cab company has not yet gone through. Nonetheless, Valerie has restored my faith in people in general and government workers in particular.

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