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Students Report Issues with Campus Vending Machines, College Plans Improvements

Once Renato Pizza and the Science Center Cafe close at 10 p.m. and midnight respectively, students in search of a late-night snack often turn to one of the 50 or so vending machines scattered across campus. Managed by RDS vending, the machines offer an array of healthy and not-so-healthy snacks and drinks and are accessible around the clock. Despite this convenience, some students have reported that actually obtaining products from these machines can be more difficult than it seems. 

“I lost my debit card and had to get a new one mailed because I didn’t have it in my Apple wallet, so I was like, I’ll just use my OneCard to pay for a drink at the vending machine, but it wouldn’t accept it,” said Zoha Ashraf ’24 in an interview with The Phoenix. 

Other students said that their valid credit and debit cards were denied, with the machine’s payment processor seemingly frozen in a “processing” message, and that some machines would only accept cash. These complaints come as RDS vending has undergone a senior-level transition with a new president and vision for the company over the past several months. 

Reached by email, Director of Campus Services Director Anthony Condo stated that all machines are set up to accept OneCard payments and that a new payment processing system, called “Cantaloupe,” has been installed in the past four to seven weeks. He noted that, while the readers were changed out, there were some “OneCard outages” while the new systems were installed and tested.  He expressed his optimism that these changes, along with the shift in leadership at RDS, will result in improved reliability going forward.

“Getting through some of the recent hiccups and implementing new initiatives …should pave the way for a much better vending experience,” he wrote. 

In an interview with The Phoenix, Carlotta Piantanida ’24 explained that she stopped carrying her physical OneCard after the college introduced the digital version on Nov. 1, 2022, but discovered that she wasn’t able to use it to pay for products at vending machines. 

“I don’t usually carry around my OneCard and try to use the one on my phone instead, but that doesn’t work on any of the machines, so I have to use Apple Pay,” she said. 

Condo wrote that, while the machines currently aren’t able to process the digital version of the OneCard,  he is hopeful this change will be implemented over the summer. 

Some students reported that, even if their payments were accepted, products were not always vended. Ashraf recalled paying three times for a single product at a vending machine in Hallowell Hall in an attempt to jostle it free from the machine. 

“I swiped my card to get a bag of chips … and it pushed out but not enough so that it would fall down,” she explained. “Then I did it again and the same thing happened so now there were two protruding but the third one wasn’t out, so I did it again and my friend had to shake the machine.” 

Condo wrote that the college will issue refunds in the case of a machine malfunction or a spoiled product and that students seeking a refund should visit the OneCard office. 

Students also noted inconsistency in how frequently machines were restocked, with some dorms having access to snacks and beverages and others being stuck with empty machines for long stretches of time. 

Condo explained that up until recently, only one RDS delivery driver was servicing the entire campus, leading some areas to have delays. He explained that, in response to concerns, two drivers will now split the service route and refill the machines weekly. 

In addition to addressing logistical issues, Condo added that the college is also working on further improvements to campus vending, such as installing “non-branded” beverage machines that offer both Coke and Pepsi products for greater variety and introducing light meal items such as ramen, oatmeal, and packets of tuna and chicken salad for more substantial late-night options. 

Condo encourages students who are still experiencing problems with a machine to email vending@swarthmore.edu.

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