March 1, 2005

Over the last several months, I've been spending a great deal of time in New York City on business. In that time, I have never been quite as suprised by prices as I have tonight. I wasn't even trying to do anything all that unusual, just two loads of laundry.

Normally, I'd expect that two loads of laundry would cost about \$6. The washer would be \$1.50 or so per run, and the dryer would be another \$1.50 per run, for a total of \$6. Maybe even \$7.50, if you decide to run a second dryer cycle. Even in New York (west Midtown Manhattan), I've been in apartments recently that charge about that much.

However, this apartment is special: they use a "smart" card system to manage payments. There's a dispenser on the side of the wall that sells \$7 cards for \$10 (cards themselves cost \$3). The dispenser also allows you to reload cards in \$5 and \$10 increments. Once you have a card, there are slots in each of the washers and dryers that accept the card and debit from it the \$2.50 it takes to buy a cycle in one of the machines. Yes, you read that right: \$2.50. \$2.50 in my apartment complex buys a 34 minute washer cycle or a 30 (yes, 30) minute dryer cycle.

So tonight, I spent \$15 (200% of my estimate) and got this:

• A \$3 "smart" Card to carry around and not lose
• Two complete loads of laundry that will inevitably end up damp, thanks to the pathetic dryer cycle.
• \$2 of "change" on my "smart" card that I will never get to spend. (Since every machine in the laundromat costs \$2.50, and the card can only be reloaded with \$5 or \$10)

The part of this that bothers me the most is the \$3 surcharge on the smart card. Thanks to the pricing structure of the laundromat, the \$3 surcharge really amounts to a \$5 surcharge. This means that someone was either stupid enough not to notice that customers would always end up with \$2 of useless change, or was malicious enough to use this as a sleazy way to bilk customers out of an extra \$2. Not to mention that I get the hassle of trying not to lose this stupid card, lest I want to drop another \$5 on yet another card.