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Old 07.10.2012, 08:28
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SBB Complaint: Fined for handwriting date on day pass

To preface, I have been living in Geneva for 7 years and speak French fluently. I regularly use the trains without complaint - just renewed by 3-year demi-tarif (halbtax) this spring, in fact. So I know my way around, but I was shocked by how poorly I was treated on a trip to Zurich from Geneva yesterday:

My husband and I purchased two day-passes from Migros during a special offer, which could be used on all trams, buses, and trains in Switzerland. However, as they were valid for about 3 months from the date of purchase, there were no dates written on the tickets. On the back of the tickets you are told to validate the tickets in a special machine (available at the train station), however if there is no machine where you board you are allowed to hand write the date on the tickets. Once the date has been handwritten, you should not also insert the tickets in the machine to be printed.

In the morning, we took a bus to the station and then boarded the train to Zurich. As there are no SBB ticket validation machines on Geneva buses or ticket vending machines, we wrote the dates by hand on the tickets in case we were stopped by a ticket checker. Once we got to the station, we did not bother to validate the tickets in the machines because of the warning on the back of the ticket.

However, on the train, we were loudly berated by the SBB lady who told us that writing in the date was an offense punishable by a fine of 10 francs each. I argued that since there were no ticket validation machines on Geneva buses, and since we had wanted to use the ticket on a Geneva bus (which is allowed), we were well within our rights to write the date by hand.

She would have none of it and forced us to give her the 20 francs (she had already printed out our receipts before letting us speak), even though she confessed that she knew nothing about Geneva buses (or the availability of SBB ticket validation machines on them) and allegedly called a colleague (via phone) to back her up and then told us that the colleague had confirmed that we were not being truthful (I could not understand what was being said as they spoke in German and in any case we could only hear her side). A few passengers next to us backed us up that there is no way to validate an SBB ticket on a Geneva bus or tram, but she refused to believe anyone and gave me a number to call to contest the fine if I wished.

In Zurich, I attempted to explain the situation to the Customer Service staff of the SBB, but was met with a man who said he could not believe that in Geneva there are no SBB ticket validation machines at the bus stop, and told me that if I was really telling the truth I should speak with Customer Service in Geneva. I told him to call his Geneva counterparts and ask them about the situation there, but he flatly refused saying they would not pick up the phone.

In Geneva, I was told that they do not have a Customer Service office, so now I have to call a number in Bern. Not only will the call cost me about 10 francs since it is a paying number, I am also fairly sure that they will tell me I am lying about the non-availability of SBB ticket validation machines in Geneva buses and bus stops.

In order to make sure that I have my story straight, I have verified for myself (since everyone called me a liar I thought I must be one) that there really is no way to print dates on SBB tickets at Geneva bus stops, either on the old or new ticket machines.

At this point I have little hope of seeing my CHF 20 - after all, how would a customer service officer in Bern know that I am telling the truth about Geneva bus ticket vending machines? (If any EF-ers who don't live in Geneva are curious, I could put up some pictures of the machines in question so you can see for yourself.)

I'm thinking of sending them an email with pictures of the machines attached - would that work, do you think? At this point it is not so much the money; I am just really indignant that everyone I spoke to accused me of lying when they themselves did not know the reality of the situation in Geneva; and the SBB lady in Geneva I confronted refused to intervene and redirected me to Bern.

My only consolation is that passengers around us were quite sympathetic and one lady who was not even sitting next to us was so moved she came up to apologize for the lady's behavior and encouraged us to ask for a refund.
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