The OneCard System is in Dire Need of Consistency

No system can claim itself to be perfect; all systems have defects. However, this is not a reason to give up on seeking improvements. This can be difficult, as a defect sometimes cannot be identified immediately until it has caused a problem. Unfortunately, this is how I discovered a defect within our OneCard system.

On April 5, I was trying to use my late-night meal swipe in Science Center Cafe. I had not used my meal swipe elsewhere that day, so I answered “no” when the cashier asked if I had already used a late-night meal swipe in Essie’s. However, my meal swipe was not accepted by the system. I thought that I may have remembered wrong or somebody else had used my meal swipe when I lent them my OneCard, so I did not argue any further and simply used my Dining Dollars instead.

Afterwards, I re-checked my OneCard history but could not find evidence of any transactions in the GET app for that day. I thought that there must have been something wrong, so I decided to try again. I returned to the Science Center Cafe, took another serving of food, and asked the cashier to try my OneCard again, this time equipped with evidence should it fail once more. Unsurprisingly, it failed again, and the cashier once again insisted that the system would not allow me to use a meal swipe. I showed my transaction history to the cashier, and they pointed to an earlier transaction at Crumb Cafe as the root cause. However, the date of the transaction read March 31. Understandably frustrated, the cashier told me to just leave with my food and left, leaving me anxious and apologetic to the whole line of students waiting behind me.

I decided to report this to the OneCard Office, as it had become a major problem and I did not wish for things to end on such a sour note again. Later, at the suggestion of a friend, I also checked my transaction history on the official OneCard website. And there appeared the real cause of my problem: there was a transaction recorded around 8:50 p.m. on April 5 at Crumb Cafe, during which the cafe should not have been — and indeed was not — open. Hence, this transaction was simply impossible. I then discovered that the contents of this transaction corresponded to that of the one I made on March 31. In short, I had swiped at Crumb Cafe on March 31, the transaction had been belatedly processed on April 5, and the dining system had thus counted my late-night meal swipe for April 5 as already spent!

The OneCard Office responded to me the next day. They attributed the problem to an “offline transaction” and expressed their intention to fix the problem, which I appreciated, but I decided to write about this in order to advocate for an established protocol to deal with such issues should they arise in the future. Given the nature of the problem, other students might very well have experienced similar issues with their OneCard, especially those who had used a late-night meal swipe at Crumb Cafe on March 31. Furthermore, it is not at all clear whether the OneCard Office is focusing on fixing this particular incident or making long-term improvements to the system.

We are definitely in need of a reliable OneCard system for campus life, which means that it should, firstly, be informative and honest, and secondly, be predictable for troubleshooting and easily mended. At Swarthmore, students’ lives are heavily dependent on the smooth operation of the OneCard system. Our obligation is to pay the tuition and to follow rules regarding the usage of our OneCards, while the obligation of the relevant offices of the college is to ensure the proper functioning of the OneCard system. This is a convention that we must have faith in to comfortably fulfill our duties as Swarthmore students. Any flaws in the system will cause inconvenience and mistrust between the administration and the student body, so administrators should undertake fixing defects within the OneCard system as a serious priority.

The defect that I found caused me great trouble, not only consuming a lot of time and energy but also negatively impacting my mental health and productivity for the rest of the night. Perhaps I did not necessarily have to use my late-night meal swipe or report the problem. However, then another student would have encountered and suffered through the same issue. We can only trust and follow the policies if the policies work as they are stated. After this experience, I am no longer confident that my meal swipe will work every time, even if I follow all the rules. Fixing the issue for good is important to ensuring that no one else has to undergo similar obstacles in the future.

The late-night meal swipe significantly expanded dining options for all students. It encouraged students to visit the student-run Crumb Cafe, whose creative employees are continuously making new inventions to enrich our diets. However, after I had attributed my issue to their transaction process, I became hesitant to visit Crumb Cafe, and I wonder how many students would feel similarly discouraged if they also encountered such an issue. 

Still, I realized that the true issue was not with Crumb Cafe but with the system’s failure to prevent this problem. I still have no idea what the “offline transaction” in question is and how it functions, but clearly, whoever enabled such had not been informed of the negative consequence it would have on students. Thus, keeping staff members informed about the workings of the system is crucial to ensuring smooth performance. Besides being able to perform appropriate tasks, they should also have knowledge of and be responsible for basic troubleshooting. The cashier who I argued with at Science Center Cafe seemed to have no knowledge of troubleshooting, despite having worked at the Cafe for a long time. I asked them who I could contact to solve my problem but received no answer. As I would imagine, someone should at least be able to give me the name of an office to contact. I would also expect the college to provide training to those who work with the OneCard system in dealing with these problems.

With the OneCard system’s current state, the most pressing thing to do is to fix the OneCard system and eliminate the issue for good. Under a reliable system, no one else should experience the same issue as I did, or have to endure such a troubling encounter.

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