Friday, December 4, 2009

Paperwork and Redemption in an Italian Subway

The events of the past six months involving six Euros and proving that all it is not lost when a machine fails. The System can redeem itself, in a small way. Viewing it through the lens of Economics, it's about incentives. The subway system needs to feel some administrative and financial loss when a machine fails - accountability that can push for change. No loss means no need for change.
  • circa July 1, 2009 A vending machine in Rome steals 6 Euros from us without giving us anything in return. We keep piling in the coins because the machines are often slow to register them. If only they all took credit cards. An old lady bangs on the window to get an uninterested employee to give us a claim form.
  • August 19 Having just returned to Europe, I am excited to go to the post office to collect a piece of international registered mail. After the poor clerk searches through all of the certified mail, she finds mine in the registered pile (I guess there's a difference?). She asks if I know what it is. A subway refund, I respond. At home, it turns out to be a speeding ticket from Spain from a secret camera speed trap. I guess fines move more quickly than refunds.
  • circa September 20 I receive an acknowledgment from the Rome Transportation Agency that my claim has been approved. For payment, I need to forward them my European banking account number, called an IBAN code. My address is labelled USA, so they know I probably don't have an IBAN code. But I have a lot of time, so spending hours for 6 Euros seemed to make sense at the time. My bank in Texas works with a lot of military families, so I thought they would have a way to use IBAN. No luck. Citibank, who gave me a free iPod to sign up for a checking account, is a multinational corporation, but it said no. I have a Scwhab credit card that gives me rebates through Scwhab brokerage. They said yes, the transfer could go through a Citibank affiliate in Germany where Schwab had an account and then come to America to my Schwab account. (See if you want the complex details). It was too complex with too many countries involved, but why not?
  • Oct 2 I faxed the bank information to Italy. It wasn't a simple account number, it was Schwab's account with a comment to use my account.
  • Nov 16 I received a letter. I provided a fax, but I guess they wanted to spend the Euro to send a real letter. It certainly make a better souvenir: "With reference to your last communication received on October 02st 2009 (ref. nr. 116174 - cl. 110427), We inform that We transmitted your IBAN code to the qualified office that will provide to refund you [sic]."
  • Nov 30, In my Schwab statement: 11/27 Funds Received FOREIGN CURRENCY DEPOSIT 8.95
Victory! And there were no fees to destroy the value of the refund. Cashing a foreign check at my bank would have cost me $20, but the electronic process was slow but free. Five months later, justice is served! The decline of the US dollar since then actually made me a profit of about $0.50.

Well, then Saturday Dec 15 came along. Lara went to and ATM and was issued a counterfeit $10 bill. The Bank of America teller told us to talk to our bank in Texas. I'm back on the hunt for justice.


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