Tuesday, October 28, 2014

How I Spent the Summer Banging My Head Against a Brick Wall of Bureaucratic Futility, pt. 4

My favorite time of the year is not Autumn or Springtime or holiday season. No, it's the time of year when I venture forth to get my new yearly student bus pass. This adventure is always fraught with uncertainty, danger, & mental anguish. Egged has the unique talent of turning even the simplest task into a distressing ordeal. They could make a walk to the corner store for milk into a perilous undertaking, fraught with dragons and falling meteorites.
All I want to do is take a bus. Is that so much to ask for? I'm a simple girl, with simple needs. One of those being the ability to get home at night.
This year Egged decided to set up stations in various places around the city during various times where you could drop your card in an envelope in the morning and they'd return it fully loaded by 16:00. All you had to do was go to their website, fill out the online form, and give them your credit card information. Then you could leave them your card and return later to pick it up.
I decided to take care of this on Monday, as my card was due to expire on Wednesday. Sunday night I got home from work at about midnight. Even though I was about to collapse on my keyboard from sheer exhaustion, I WAS GOING TO FILL OUT THE FORM. They had most of my information from the previous year, so all I had to do was choose my area, click the option for yearly as opposed to per semester, and type in my credit card information. Unfortunately my credit card was DENIED. Perhaps I'd gone over my limit, so I changed the payment option from 2 monthly payments to 3. I clicked on send and got a loading page for a few minutes. I tried to click on send again but was no more successful the second time. I went back and refreshed the page, but this time I didn't have the option for the Jerusalem area, leading me to believe that I had already been signed up for it (according to their FAQs you can't sign up twice for the same area, so if your area doesn't appear, you're already signed up).
I didn't know what else I could do but hope the payment went through and bring my card into the bar that had been appropriated by Egged the next day. I went about my daily business, picked up the card at 17:00 before work, and went my very merry way. I had no confirmation of any kind whether it had worked or not since nothing had been removed from or added to the envelope, and there were no notes written anywhere. But I was hopeful.
I rode around the city in a blissful state of freedom for the next few days, enjoying the ease with which I could get on the buses and trains, congratulating Egged on the simplicity of the whole affair. And it only took them 4 years to get to this relative state of efficiency!
Until Tuesday night. I got on the train, no problem but when I swiped my card on the bus, the red light came up. I tried again with the same result.
“It's empty,” said the apathetic bus driver without even glancing at me.
“But I have a yearly pass! I JUST got it on Monday.”
The bus driver just shrugged and motioned me past. I looked at my watch and realized it was 12:05 am of the day my bus pass had been supposed to expire. It seemed that the payment had not in fact gone through and no one had cared to let me know that they'd returned my card without actually doing anything to it. I spent the next 20 minutes of my ride home, cursing and invoking upon them and all their family plague and pestilence.
Egged was going to be returning to the pub on Sunday and Monday of the next week with their stack of empty envelopes. It was the same deal- leave your rav-kav in an envelope between the hours of 8:00 and 10:00, and pick it up between 16:00 and 18:00. This time I paid with my mother's credit card and got confirmation of payment. I left the house at 9:00 in the morning, waited for a bus that didn't come, just missed a train, and ran through the door of the bar at 9:57. I did the entire process again and prayed for the best. I had been asked to come in to work at 16:00 but had warned my boss that I would need to pick up my rav-kav first so I'd be about 15 minutes late. He said fine, no problem, so I arrived back at the bar at 15:45. So I waited until 16:00. And then I waited some more. 16:30 came and went and the Egged staff member in charge of bringing the envelopes back was apparently still sitting in traffic a few blocks away. Of all the people in the entire country, you would think that an Egged worker would have planned for traffic. Apparently he'd forgotten that Jerusalem is a large, and very diverse parking lot.
He finally showed up at 16:40. I had my envelope in hand 5 minutes later (after the very Israeli initial mass convergence on the box of envelopes). It had a halfway illegible note written on the outside saying that my card had been put on the black list and that I'd have to go get a new one.
The girl in charge of this whole rav-kav-bar project wasn't exactly sure what having one's card blacklisted meant and the Egged guy had disappeared about 8 seconds after he'd arrived. She just looked at my face and said, “I am so sorry.”
I felt even worse than the guy who hadn't realized that he was supposed to leave his rav-kav in the envelope. By the time I got to work, my eye was twitching and people kept backing away from me in alarm.
I was not excited to go to the Egged office at the central bus station. In fact, I was the opposite of excited, whatever that may be. There was a line of students about 12 meters long (I'm not even exaggerating) waiting to get their yearly student bus pass. They seemed to be working out of 2 offices- one just for students, and one for the regular rav-kav issues. Every once in a while someone would be “chosen” from the student line to be admitted (ahead of the line) to the regular office. There did not seem to be any pattern to the choosing, but I was pulled out of the student line (after I'd finally gotten to the front) to be admitted to the regular office where I waited longer than if I'd just stayed in the other line. Figures. However, I finally got the answer to the burning question: why had my card been blacklisted? As far as I knew, it had no communist ties and was not even a member of any political party, let alone a far-left party.
The answer was... a post-it note. Apparently, the post-it note I'd stuck on it with a list of bus times had caused irreparable damage to the card and it was limping along on its last leg. This should have struck me as more absurd than it did, but the truth is, the entire process had been so unbelievably ridiculous that I just accepted this as another fact of life along with sunrise and winter snowfall.

I'm in the process now of writing a very angry letter to Egged and sending it to them with all the bus and train tickets I was forced to buy during the period I had already paid for bus pass privileges, requesting my money back. I am not overly optimistic about the chances of a refund, but I must stand up for my rights as a citizen of the free world!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

How I Spent the Summer Banging My Head Against a Brick Wall of Bureaucratic Futility, pt. 3

Every year, I empty out my bank account in order to pay the down payment on my tuition (some 4,000 shekels). Then I apply to minhal hastudentim (the illustrious “student authority” for new immigrants) for a refund on my money, invariably messing up my paperwork since they've changed the system without informing me. One year, I had to bring in all of my documents in person (along with all the other immigrant students in the city of Jerusalem, creating a line that even the post office would be proud of). The next year they fired all the staff and created an email account for all the aforementioned students to scan and send all their documents to, creating an electronic backlog that took the one guy still working there months to get through.
This year, they decided to make the system more efficient and created an online form to be filled out, with all necessary documents to be uploaded. After having sent all my documents via the former method (the email address), I received an email with a link to this new form. A non-functional link to the form, I may add. The link consisted of a picture of the log in screen, but nothing happened when I clicked it. I tried again with another browser but no dice.
I waited until the next day and tried again. This time the link opened up to a box requesting my ID number. The “continue” button on the bottom led to a screen requesting my ID number, email address, and date of birth. When I filled in my details, a window popped up saying that my details were incorrect. This was perplexing to me since I'm quite certain about such details as my ID number, email address, and date of birth. There's not a lot of room for uncertainty there.
I sent an email imparting my woes and disclosing my imminent bankruptcy were this matter not to be taken care of immediately, and my money refunded to me. I got a response inquiring whether I had perhaps clicked on the link for new students as opposed to continuing students. I relayed my assurances that I had definitely not clicked on the wrong link and was quite sure that I had typed in the correct details. I received a reply a week later saying that they would check it out.
Meanwhile, I had received an email from another department of the student authority (most likely a woman sitting in the office next door to the one guy who checks the emails) that I had to do 120 hours of community service over the next year in order to receive funding for my studies, and fill out and return the attached forms in order to be placed with an organization. Which was also quite perplexing seeing as I did my community service hours last semester and as far as I understood, they would only foot the bill for 3 years. Considering that the second semester of the upcoming year will actually be my seventh semester, I had assumed that I was on my own for that one. I replied to the email, outlining my concerns and politely inquiring what in G-d's name they wanted from my life, and upon not receiving any reply whatsoever, sent another few emails along the same vein over the next few weeks before finally deciding that I had more pressing matters to deal with (the bank and class registration). It took another month or so before the coordinator actually called me on the phone to question me about my situation. She asked me if the government was financing my last semester and I told her I had no idea, since no one had kept me informed of such matters and why the hell was she asking me, anyway? She's the government bureaucrat, not me. She rang off, saying she still didn't understand whether I was supposed to be reimbursed for the last semester or not, but that she'd look into it. I'm sure she either promptly forgot or is at the bottom of a canyon in Peru, seeing as I haven't heard from her since. I did finally fill out the form and email it back to them with another inquiry about how many hours I was supposed to do if any, and whether or not the last semester will be paid for, just in case. As usual, I'm not too optimistic about the chances of anyone having any idea what's going on and getting back to me on the issue, but such is life (or at least such is government offices).
A week or so ago, I tried again to get into the link to minhal hastudentim's new and improved online form on a whim and was suddenly granted access to the mystical and somewhat capricious form. I was quite excited that I'd finally be able to fill it out and get reimbursed for the down payment to Hebrew U, until I got to the part where I needed to upload a certificate of study confirming that I'm a current student. Which I wasn't going to be able to get until signing up for classes.

That, right there, is the point where I started banging my head against the wall.