Pricewatch: Readers’ queries
This week’s consumer issues relate to toll booths, a reg plate mix-up, and pricing discrepancies with Tesco coffee
You shall not pass: why is it so difficult to use mainstream debit cards at toll barriers? Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
For whom the toll doesn’t accept his debit card
A reader called Mark was travelling from Dublin to Galway recently when he came across what he describes as “a ridiculous and unnecessary barrier to my journey”. And what was this barrier? A toll booth. “I have no problem paying the tolls. I remember a time when it could easily take four hours to travel from east to west, but now I can do it in just over two hours, so I think the toll of €2.90 is a small price to pay for that,” he writes.
So what’s the problem? “When I pulled up to the toll booth, I realised I had no change so I handed the man my Visa debit card. The card is accepted virtually everywhere, but as soon as I handed it in, it was handed back to me – at least not if I wanted to pay by debit. Like a lot of people nowadays, I try to use my credit cards as little as possible, but I had to use it that night because there was no other way of paying.”
He wants to know why the company that runs the toll booths can not “move with the times” and accept Visa debit cards. He also asks what would have happened if he did not have a credit card? He could hardly have been turned back, given that it was a motorway, and nor could he have been left sitting at the toll gate for the rest of his natural life.
These seem reasonable questions to us so we contacted the National Roads Authority. Seán O’Neill told us that each of the toll plazas are operated by different companies and it cannot order them to accept a particular payment method. However, he said that there seemed to have been a system failure as Visa debit cards are usually accepted at the plazas. The process is more cumbersome than the chip-and-pin credit card system and involves a supervisor checking that there are sufficient funds in the driver’s account before lifting the barrier. It is time- consuming and not something to be recommended for either driver or toll-booth operator. Mr O’Neill said talks about the introduction of instantaneous contactless transactions were in train to speed things up.
This episode is brought to you by the letter O and the number 0
More tolls: Michael Cregan travelled to Co Down on the Sunday of the June bank-holiday weekend and used the M50 for a stretch. “I paid the necessary toll charge on the internet on the Monday morning and downloaded an eFlow receipt when I returned home on Tuesday,” he writes.
“A couple of days later I received a penalty notice from eFlow. In response I send them a copy of the receipt. They replied that I had entered an incorrect car registration number on my original payment and incredibly they spelt this out as 05D48462 instead of 05D48462. They also told me they had corrected my error.”
So Cregan replied, pointing out that the registrations were, in fact, the same, and that he had not made an error. They sent him this email: “Dear Mr Cregan. Thank you for contacting eFlow customer service. With reference to your web message received on 12/06/2014, we apologise for the delay in responding to your query. We endeavour to respond to all our customers’ queries sent by web message within two working days. Upon viewing your licence plate number we can confirm the licence plate entered was O5D48462 instead of 05D48462. We have transferred the payment to the correct licence plate number.”
So far so baffling, so we contacted the company and a spokeswoman insisted the notice was not sent in error but “the customer paid to registration plate o5D48462, rather than 05D48462, ie they used the letter ‘o’ rather than the number ‘0’ (zero)”. No penalty was charged in the end.
Magic beans: Tesco coffee pricing subverts the norm
In March we ran an item about coffee pricing in Tesco after a reader noticed that two small packets of its own-brand coffee cost less than the same volume when it was sold in a larger packet. Back then, a Tesco spokesman told us the store “recognises that the pricing for the larger packs is not consistent with our pricing guidelines. We apologise for this mistake and have reduced the price of [the larger packet].”
That’s not the end of the story. Last week an eagle-eyed reader came across Tesco French Fresh Ground Coffee selling at €1.99 for 227g. This works out at €0.88 per 100g. The 454g packet of the same coffee costs €4.75, which works out at €1.05 per 100g.
It was the same story with its own-brand Italian Blend ground coffee. A 227g bag costs €1.99, while a bag twice that size costs not less than €4, as you might expect, but €4.75. It was the same story with its Colombian own-brand coffee.
We contacted Tesco and were told it had recently reduced the smaller size 227g bag of Tesco own-brand French Fresh and Italian ground coffee from €2.39 to €1.99. “Due to human error the retail prices for the larger 454g bags were not adjusted accordingly,” a spokeswoman said. “We apologise for this mistake and have reduced the price of our Tesco own-brand French and Italian ground coffee to €3.89. We are happy to offer a refund to any customer who purchased the larger packs at the previous price.”