Friday, October 12, 2012

Exact change

Everyone likes exact change. If you're buying something that costs $2.57, for instance, it's nice to give the cashier $3.07, instead of a $10 bill.

That makes sense. However, British bus drivers take this logic way too far.

Crazy change experience #1: Taking less than the price, rather than making change.

Shortly after I arrived in England, I decided to do a race about 15 miles away. Happily, the city bus had a route that would take me within a mile of the start. Great! I tried to look up the fare online, but to no avail. All I could determine was that the maximum possible return fare was £4.80. So, just to be safe, I brought all the change I had (£3.80) and £50 in bills besides. I had learned that England is really expensive, and I was not about to take the chance that I would a 10-mile race and then have to run 15 miles home due to running out of money.

I got on the bus and told the driver where I wanted to go. "That'll be £3.90," he said. I handed him a £10 bill. 

"Don't you have any change?" he asked. I poured all of my change into my hand and held it out to him.  He quickly counted it up. "That's only £3.80," he said, "not enough."

"Right. That's why I gave you the £10." I held it out again. "Don't you have any other change?" he asked. "No. This is all I have." (What, would I hide coins because of some secret agenda?) He sighed and took the £10 bill. Then he changed his mind, handed it back, and took the £3.80 in coins instead.

Crazy change experience #2: Taking all my money and not giving me change.

I was going to meet my parents in London for the day, so I got £20 from the ATM. The return bus ticket cost £13, and I figured that the remaining £7 would be enough for my expenses during the day in London.

I got on the bus at the head of a line of people and handed the bus driver my £20. "Do you have £3, so I can give you a £10?" he asked. "No, sorry, this is all I have." "You don't have any other change?" I poured all the change out of my wallet into my hand and held it out. "You don't have any pound coins?" "No, sorry." 

He sighed, took my £20, and handed me two receipts, then started to move on to the next person.

"Excuse me, I need £7 change," I reminded him. He took one of the receipts back and showed it to me. "Give this to the bus driver tonight, and he'll give you the £7," he said.

I looked at the receipt. It was essentially an IOU from the Oxford Tube to me, for £7 (about $11). 

Really? Is this even legal? They just take my money, and then instead of giving me change, they give me this slip of paper. Awesome. So if I lose it, then they never have to give me my change. Also, I now had no money for my day in London. (Of course, I could still use a credit card -- which is not as simple as it seems, and provides enough material for its own post.)

That evening, I got on the bus, showed the driver my ticket, and then gave him the IOU for £7. 

"Do you have £3?" he asked. 

"No! If I had £3, I would have given it to the driver this morning!" I was getting a little fed up with this racket.

"But you must have spent some money in London today, and gotten change," he said.

"No. The bus driver took all my money this morning, and just gave me this piece of paper."

He literally argued with me for another 30 seconds, expressing disbelief that I didn't have change, and refusing to give me my money. Finally, he gave me £7 -- a £5 bill and a £2 coin. Was that so difficult?


brownian said...

a Similar thing happened to me in DC.
In my case I had to pay even more than the fare and I just thought it was my fault to not have the exact change. Do you think in US bus drivers give change, I never saw that.

Diana said...

Hmmm, everyone (you and those commenting on Facebook) have convinced me that the bus drivers are right to expect exact change, and I should have had it.

I am not sure if I have ever paid for a bus fare on a bus in the US -- I have only gone on longer-distance buses where I bought a ticket in the station, or used the subway. So, I'm not sure. But my friend Kim says that the NYC bus drivers don't give change.

However, I do think that if they are going to expect exact change, there should be a way to look up how much it is going to cost. This morning, with this discussion in mind, I went to the grocery store before taking the bus, and bought a single banana with a large bill, so that I would have as much change as possible. I got on the bus with my £1.50 in my hand, ready to pay -- and then it cost £1.90. I didn't have 90 pence. Luckily, I gave the driver £2 and he gave me 10 pence change.

But I really think that it is unreasonable to expect people to carry around sufficient change to make any possible fare.

What is the minimum number of coins needed to make any number of cents from 1 to 99 using the US coins in denominations 1, 5, 10, 25?

What is the minimum number of coins needed to make any number of pence from 1 to 99 using the UK coins in denominations 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50?

I'm sure people know the answers to these questions, and I'm equally sure that most of the urban populations do not.