For my job, I have quite the commute. Our office is in
Thankfully, my firm participates in the TransitChek program. This allows you to set aside up to $105 of pre-tax income for public transportation. Until recently, TransitCheks were literally checks. They had a face value, and you would turn them into a teller (as you might expect, you couldn’t use them online).
Because my monthly commute costs more than the maximum $105 pre-tax allocation, what I usually did was buy a monthly pass online to save up my TransitCheks, and then the next month use the Cheks I had accumulated to buy the full monthly pass. A little bit of a pain, but hey, it was relatively simple and worked.
When our office manager informed us that we would be switching to a prepaid Visa Card TransitChek, I was thrilled. In my mind, I automatically assumed that we would be given a single Visa TransitChek that would accumulate value every month. I could still do my every-other-month routine, but I would be able to buy my monthly pass online, and get the small discount. Plus, no more having to keep track of old-fashioned Cheks!
My mistake: I unconsciously assumed that the program would be intuitively designed with the commuter’s needs at the center. How wrong I was.
The new credit card version of the TransitChek is, in a word, frustrating. It feels like the program took one step forward and three steps back. You are now given a new credit card every month. The card has the “Initial Value” imprinted on the face, but once you use the card, you have to keep track of the card value yourself – there is no way to just scan the card (much like a MetroCard) to see its value.
But here is the most annoying thing I’ve encountered to date: you can’t combine one month’s worth of a card with another month because you are not allowed to use two credit cards in one transaction. So you can’t put $105 on one TransitChek card, and the remainder on another. PLUS, you can’t put $105 on your TransitChek card, and then pay the remainder with your credit card. You have to pay for the remainder in cash. So to buy my monthly pass, I now have to take out $80 from the bank every time.
OK -- I'll stop ranting (but trust me, I could go on...). In sum, the whole system just smacks of thoughtlessness. I can’t help but think that whoever designed the program did not put a single hour of primary market research in to understand commuters’ routines and needs. If they did, they would have quickly realized that the redesign would sorely inconvenience anyone whose monthly travel is greater than $105. Instead, the system design seems to be entirely driven by what is easiest (and cheapest) for the TransitChek program’s administrative staff.
More than 10 years ago, I remember my Dad using the same TransitCheks that we used until just a couple of months ago. Is it going to take another 10 years before the MTA updates their commuter-hostile system?
Does anyone else feel the same way? Any quick fixes?
1/22 UPDATE: Thanks to the brilliant comments of a few readers, all critical problems have been solved. It is possible to transfer money from one TransitChek card to another on the TransitChek website, and even add post-tax money from your credit card to a TransitChek card. I spread the news to my colleagues and received emails such as "Hallelujah!" and "This is the best thing that I have ever heard. Thank you, thank you!" I am forever in debt to Adam and Mark for my new found popularity. ;)
I still contend that it is silly to give us a new card every month (and apparently very cool startup WageWorks has a system that just gives you one card) -- just an admintrative short-cut take by TransitChek. But I am very thankful for the work around!