90 Minutes and $2 Wasted on Metro Incompetency

I’ve been riding Houston Metro more frequently lately. It started with taking it to concerts downtown, then picking my mom up at the airport and dropping her off (it took longer, but picking her up by taxi = $130, by shuttle $75, by bus $3!), and it really took off when my bike was broken.

The bus connections are fairly good, but the busses don’t come very frequently (twice an hour tops), and sometimes they don’t come at all. A few times I’ve called Metro to find out when the next bus would come, because the bus I wanted to take was a no-show, and then decided it would be faster to walk.

Light-rail, of course, is amazing. And so is the Q-Card, the proximity card that you can reload using cash and credit cards in most busses and at the light rail stops. It’s probably the only RFID-equipped item I carry (and know of) that I like. My American Express Blue credit card has an RFID device embedded, and I had the that way of paying deactivated, but of course the RFID inside the hard is still happily sending out information.

But with the Q-Card, all you need to do is hold your wallet against a button on the bus or on the light-rail platform, and it’ll deduct the fare from the card and display the remaining balance. You can’t accidentally pay twice, and transfers from one bus to another are automatic. I love it because fidgeting with money always makes me nervous (US currency is still foreign to me, and so is Euro currency actually), and I could never quite figure out when to ask for a transfer ticket.

So, while riding the bus, I found out the other day that students get a 50% discount with the Q-Card. That’s huge. I’ve probably burned about $30 on my Q-Card, and while a dollar for a bus ride isn’t much (at least not compared to the EUR 2.15=$3.25 in Bremen, and I don’t think that allows you to transfer at all!), 50 cents makes it even sweeter.

I called Metro today to find out what I needed to do to change my Q-Card to a Student Q-Card. I actually think that option should have been pointed out to me when I got the Q-Card a few months ago. I was told to just go to a Metro Store with my student ID and some proof that I’m a full time student. I was also told the Metro Store, which is just down the light-rail line, closes at 5:30 PM.

Since it was 5 PM, I printed out some documentation that I was a student, sprinted the quarter mile to the rail station (I actually made it, without being too much out of breath), and got to the Metro Store around 5:20 PM. There was a long line, though, because today was the last day to exchange other types of fare tokens to Q-Cards. So when it was finally my turn, I pulled out my Q-Card, my student ID, and my documentation, only to be told that I needed to go to the Treasury Department on the 2nd floor, which closes at 5 PM.

Think of all the things I could have done instead of take that trip down light-rail lane (and subsequently complain about it here)…

It was generally a bad day: I overslept, I let a friend down, I wasted time with Houston Metro, and the crack at the side of the MacBook reappeared.


About Mathias

Software development engineer. Principal developer of DrJava. Recent Ph.D. graduate from the Department of Computer Science at Rice University.
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