Sunday, January 9, 2011

Getting a Velib Annual Membership. Part 2

You will recall that my husband and I received our Navigo cards and were eagerly awaiting the arrival of our annual Velib memberships. This would allow each of us tie our Navigo card to our Velib account and use the Navigo card to unlock the Velib directly. As easy as a visit to the local pub, "put it on my tab," I'd be saying electronically. [for the record, this is literary metaphor, I’ve been to a pub about twice in my entire life.] No more lengthy interactions with the Velib kiosk. No more having to remember the number of the Velib locking post that has the bicycle I have so carefully selected as problem-free. Did I mention that some of the Velib stations are so big that half of the bicycles are on the other side of the street or around the corner?

Imagine my excitement when my letter from Velib arrived. The day had finally come! I opened the letter to find that my application had been denied.
The Velib annual application requested a €29.00 fee, to be paid with a check. Thinking that a postal money order would suffice, my husband had purchased one from the local post office and included it with my application. Velib returned the postal money order explaining that they do not accept cash.

Now I have a €29.00 postal money order made out to Velib. I can't get my money refunded from the post office because we had thrown out the receipt (1. why would I want to keep the receipt? 2. why can't the Post Office give me money back without a receipt when the postal order is from me and I'm standing right in front of them with a passport?)

So we request a checkbook from our bank. An online request of course. In order to expedite the checkbook, we selected "pickup at our branch". 3 weeks and 3 trips to the branch later we finally receive our checkbook. So we resubmit our applications with the €29.00 checks enclosed.

A week later we are again denied. Now we learn the significance of the RIB. The "Relevé d'Identité Bancaire" is a piece of paper with 4 numbers on it. The bank ID number, the branch number, the account number, and a 2 digit RIB key, essentially a checksum calculated from the other 3 numbers. There is some other redundant information on the piece of paper like the name of the bank and their telephone number, but the essential data is contained in these 4 numbers. We entered all of these numbers in the specified fields on the Velib application form, the one which we printed out and submitted. So when the application instructions asked to include the RIB, my husband thought he had done it. But no, for some inexplicable reason it is necessary to include the special piece of paper the bank gives you copies of with the same 4 numbers on it.

All of this wasn't entirely obvious to our French friends either. We asked them to look at the letter and see if they could tell what we were doing wrong. Only upon patient cross-examination did they discover that my husband had not sent in the RIB bank slip of paper in addition to filling out the required filled.

"Of course! How could you be so stupid? Of course you must send in the RIB!"

"But it contains the same information that I entered on the form," my husband protested.

"But you must include it!"

OK, so we send in the applications again. This time with the pre-printed form, the €29.00 personal check, and the the all important RIB piece of paper.

Finally our annual memberships arrive. Two separate accounts, one for each of us. The letter tell us that we must now activate our membership by going online within 45 days. I picture someone at Velib headquarters who has been specifically designated to wait the 45 days for my account to expire. He's just sitting in a room with a clock and a calendar counting down. He's going to press a big red button which has been directly wired to my account if I don't stop him.

I sign in with my special ID number I've been assigned and my secret PIN, which must be entered twice into two separate boxes. I'm not sure why one isn't enough.

Et voila! I am signed in to my account. Velib thinks my name is Chase Robin, not Robin Chase, which will cause a moment's confusion the next time I try and sign in because in order to sign in I must enter my assigned number, my secret PIN (only once now) and my last name, which Velib thinks is "Robin". I'm not sure why they think this, since they got my husband's name right.

RIght away I try to use my Navigo to get a Velib, but it doesn't work. Velib kiosk reports that it is not associated with any account. Has all our work been in vain? I go back and log into my Velib account and find that there is no Navigo card number associated with my account, even though giving my Navigo card number was an important step I had completed back in November. So I enter one in the field for Navigo card number.

Now it works!! And it is really much easier than dealing with the kiosk. Now I think nothing of swiping my card and hopping on a Velib to ride just a few blocks. My travel time is cut in half getting to the train station. I check my account a few days later and am amused to see a long list of trips, every one of them under the 30 minute free limit.

But wait! After 4 months of effort and an almost innumerable number of steps, my husband is not so lucky. Even though we applied in parallel, attended to each step in parallel, made all the same mistakes and missteps in parallel, when he enters his Navigo card into his Velib account he is told that “the staff will take it under consideration.”

Now, if we can just figure out this one last thing...

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Saturday, January 1, 2011

What does it really cost to get around in the US today? By get around, I mean car, subway, bus and not planes or hotel expenses. Data from 4 million users tell us that it is cheaper in cities and more expensive in states where you have to drive long distances.

I've been interested in aggregate data from for a while now: 4 million users across the US, real data, from their credit cards and bank accounts, not remembered data. And of course, my statistical self has to recognize that there is sampling bias of some kind with mint users. And it doesn’t take your cash expenditures into account either. If I had to guess, because these numbers are low, they don't include the cost of insurance (around $1100/yr), and obviously not depreciation (around $1500+/year). Regardless, the comparative data is interesting.

But we can assume that for your car related purchases – i.e. the car, the maintenance, the fuel, the tires – most people do most of them with credit cards and primarily at stores that are actually vehicle-only retailers, so the data must be relatively clean.

I broke Mint's system (or rather it timed out) when I tried to get Mint to give me the aggregate data for the whole US. This isn't one of their queries. I edited the URL in search of it. But Mind does let you query state by state, and for specific cities.

So here it is: comparative “Auto & Transport” data of average monthly (yearly) expenditure – as eyeballed because the graphs don’t give precise tick marks.

NYC: $250/mo ($3000/yr)

Boston: $250 ($3000/yr)

San Francisco: $340 ($4080/yr)

NYstate: $310 ($3720/yr)

Texas state: $390 ($4680/yr)

Massachusetts state: $300 ($4000/yr)

California state: $410 ($4920/yr)

If anyone manages to get the US data set to load, I'd love to see what those numbers are. Or if you can get this data in Mint's piechart format, that shows you what fraction of household budgets are spent on what, I really want to see that.

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