Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

When Free isn't Free.

The Land of the Free. That's right, USA.

Well, I find a lot of things misleading in the USA, tons of "Free" things, but are they free?

Free Checking Accounts:

Banks are reaping huge profits from their low-balance account holders. Thus the “Free Checking” accounts banks advertise are not really free. Most customers use their checking accounts to make purchases with their debit card and to withdraw money at an ATM. Simple financial transactions such as writing a check, withdrawing money at the ATM or purchasing something with a debit card come with complicated and often unexplained policies and fees. Banks’ free checking accounts create confusion for their customers. Banks will regularly cover overdrafts for the majority of their customers, turning ATM and debit cards into expensive shortterm loans. Banks rely on low-balance account holders to overdraw their accounts and pay costly overdraft fees on a regular basis.

“I have been charged around $1,000 in late fees and over draft charges. They are misleading to the customer about their free checking account. They never provide them with facts that free checking, isn’t free as they say.”

-Erica of Tujanga, California

Free Cell Phones:

Often, when you go to a cell phone store, they have cell phones which are labeled as "Free". Even when you re-contract your phones, those "Free" cell phones are not free.

There is actually a "Connection fee" for the phone, to get the phone on the network. (But when you just buy an unlocked phone, and put in a sim card, it still works, even though there is no "Connection" made) I find this practice very misleading, and simply wrong as they should just subsidize the phone and have no "connection" fee but the phone companies such as T-mobile, AT&T and Verizon all practice it. What's worse is the bill comes up to 2 months later, and for those who do direct debit and do not look at the bills, they are simply charged without them knowing.

I just re-contracted my family line with 4 phones, and all the "free" new phones cost me $70+ Tax and other miscellaneous fees. What's worse is there is often an "upgrade" during the signing of new contract, and they give you some free services for 3 months, and once the 3 months is over, you get charged for the services.

Free Coupons

Have you received those "Free xxxx" Promotions in the mail? Well, I recently bought some blank DVDs for "Free" but you have to pay up front and get the cash rebate. It has been 3 months since, and still no cash rebate checks in the mail.

Free Magazines

Free magazine subscription, just give them your credit card number? Hell no! I received Forbes free for 3 months, and it took me another 6 months to cancel before they stop sending, and they charged me for the subscription.

If you are a sucker for free stuff, you better check to see if it is a scam or if it is really "free" as the fine prints may mean you are selling your soul away.

--Iron Bowl

Friday, January 01, 2010

Cambridge Parking Sucks.

Looking back in 2009, I realized that I actually got a lot of parking tickets from a city, and for the most part, the tickets are not my fault, yet the city does not care enough to correct it. That is right, the city is Cambridge, MA.

I have drive in many cities, Boston, New York, Toronto, Montreal, Washington DC, and sometimes get parking tickets. In small towns like Brookline, MA, you do get parking tickets easily if you miss the parking meter by 10 minutes, however if the meter was broken, or did not work in the morning, when you write in to challenge them, you can usually get the tickets waived if it is not your fault.

It is to my opinion that if the city want people to visit, it needs great public transportation accessibility or parking accessibility. I feel that Cambridge, though it has 2 great universities, seemed to be a little lacking in accessibility. For example, getting from BU to Central Square, just a bridge away, would take 5 minutes by car, and probably 40 minutes by Train. Maybe because the MBTA bus services which are pretty irregular, totally sucks and you have to take the Green Line to the Red Line, which is highly annoying, but sometimes, cutting through from Central Square to Allston and Brighton areas give students more housing options too.

I can live with bad public transporation as many people like to compare it with places like South Darkota or Montana, where population density is non-existent, and having a bus system or a train system is great. So lets talk about the parking situation.

In Boston and the vicinity, most drivers will be aware after their 3rd ticket, that there are many meter maids out there to get you. The city loves to make money off the minor infractions you cause, and make you pay. I believe the system is fair as you get to choose where you park, and it is basic supply and demand principle. However, the major difference with Cambridge, MA and the rest of city area near Boston is -- Cambridge will fine you, and will not review your case at all -- simply expect you to pay for every ticket.

I've parked my motorcycle in Cambridge, near Harvard Square, at 6pm where the meters are off. When I returned to my motorcycle, I found that a car had parked in front of it, and another behind it, and I got a parking ticket. Apparently, my motorcycle was moved slightly to allow 2 cars to park, and parking between the cars was a violation.

On a second incident, I parked my motorcycle at a space which is smaller than what a car can park at 6pm, after the meters were off, and got a parking ticket for not parking at a "valid" parking spot. There was no hydrant nor was I blocking anyone in that small spot that nothing else but a motorcycle could park.

On a third incident, I was trying to park on a cold morning at 8am, and I've driven to 8 parking meters which were frozen due to the cold. I wasted 8 quarters and the meter was still not registering the quarter. I changed another 8 quarters and placed 4 of them in a meter, but still the meter read "expired". Finally I gave up and had coffee in the store while looking out for my car. A meter maid came, and I got a ticket, and when I explained to her and even showed her that the meter was broken, she simply said that I can appeal.

On three cases, my appeal failed and I got the same reply -- Your ticket CANNOT be dismissed. I feel that this city is very impersonal, and from this minor interaction, I would not see myself living or starting a business there as the administrators simply do not care and would probably hide behind bureaucracy.

I am very disappointed and probably would avoid Harvard Square at all costs and do my businesses elsewhere as the city, though central and easy to get to, does not encourage people to park there.

If I had time and nothing better to do, I'd be fighting for my parking ticket, but alas, I have a life.

Cambridge MA, you really suck.

--Iron bowl