Last week I looked at station boarding data which had been provided to me by Auckland Transport. The way it was provided showed the number of people that tagged on with HOP as well as the number that brought paper tickets. This allows us to work out how many people are using HOP both across the entire rail network as well as at an individual station level. The results paint a very different picture of the rail network than what the boarding data did.

The table below sets out the percentage of trips that used HOP and just to recap from last time, the data excludes fare evasion along with travel made on legacy tickets & passes, special events, group travel, incomplete HOP transactions or transfers. I’ve ranked the data by the top performing station.

HOP usage by train station

Some of the things that stand out for me in this data are:

  • The numbers bounce around a little which I suspect is due to differences in the make up of each month e.g. I suspect that commuters are probably stronger users of HOP than those who take one off weekend trips. If that’s the case then months with a higher number of weekend days would impact on the numbers.
  • There’s probably not enough data yet to be sure but there does seem to be a slight increase in the percentage of people using HOP. That’s the trend I would expect to see as the system becomes more mature and accepted amongst customers.
  • Grafton is way out at the top of the list and been there constantly. This really surprised me but then I wonder if this is the result of a lot of school kids simply not tagging on or buying a ticket at all. That might help explain why the number of people using Grafton seemed quite low compared to the numbers of people that seem to use it every day.
  • Related to the point about Grafton. December saw the percentage of people using HOP spike upwards for most stations. I wonder if there is any relation to fewer school kids using the trains then.
  • Most of the bottom 5 stations for HOP card use are all stations that had less than 10,000 boardings per month, the exception being Henderson (which had 28k in March). In many ways Henderson isn’t a surprise as it’s not uncommon to see queues of people lining up for a ticket machine.

All up the numbers show some positive signs of increases but the question is, what can be done to really get those currently without hop on to it.

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  1. Grafton is likely to have high numbers of HOP card users because of the two huge schools next door, and the faculty of medicine and healths sciences up the road. As such all these people have a motivation to be on HOP to get the tertiary discount, the differential between tertiary and cash is closer to a 33% discount so worthwhile.

  2. But also Grafton, like Panmure, is proving to be a fairly useful transfer station; people either arriving [Panmure] or departing [Grafton] by bus. These people are financially incentivised to use HOP by the .50 discount.

    Henderson could do with being gated.

    But surely the most obvious pattern is that stations in poorer areas record a lower proportion of HOP use. Getting the cards into the hands of people who struggle to spare even small sums for later Transit use is an issue that needs attention. I guess lowering the barriers to acquiring the cards and increasing the incentives to do so is what’s required.

    1. If we are going to persist with this ticketing system then ALL stations must be gated. The current system is utterly incomplete and hopeless and it is common knowledge that trains are free to use outside of Britomart and Newmarket, especially those short trip journeys going two to three stations.. The clumsy slow ticketing machines that are easily vandalised and seem to be perpetually out of order need to go and be replaced by something a hell of lot more robust and quick and ticketing booths with human beings set up on the busier platforms.

      1. I don’t agree that all stations need to be gated. Just the ones that key destination stations with roving staff monitoring the rest (they need more powers though). Gating all stations is extremely expensive and likely to provide little additional benefit. Need to balance the cost of fare evasion with the cost of enforcement.

    2. Patrick, the socioeconomic factor in Hop card use was the thing that jumped out at me too. Perhaps AT could do some worksite promotions in industrial areas with untapped potential like Westfield and give out some free HOP cards to workers to encourage greater use of the train.

      It would also be interesting to see the socioeconomic breakdown on auto-top, I suspect its a similar story.

  3. Yes, Patrick, I agree. We need to make the barriers to entry to purchase and use HOP cards lower.

    As you are aware, I am totally against the 25cent top up tax AT has with the HOP card. I also think the $10 purchase fee should be removed. Possibly make the price $10 with $10 credit only of registered online, so we have more real card registrations.

    We need to lower barriers for the poorest in our community. Too often I read comments from users on here who would be the polar opposite of poor, and to them 25 cents or $1 a top up makes no difference.

    Additionally, we need gates and quite a lot of stations, Middlemore included as I witness countless free riders there while catching trains to and from work.

    1. Boston has a more or less identical card for their PT, and it’s handed out for free. Drivers have a bundle that they hand out to people getting on without one, most of the top up machines around the city have a stack sitting on top. I’m not saying this is the best option, and of course it’s difficult in Auckland since our cards can go into debit and the Boston ones can’t, however, perhaps we need to simply remove the debit ability and give the cards away free instead – if we want to get everyone using it and benefiting from the time savings for loading.

      and I agree the 25c top up fee is ridiculous and penalises basically those people who don’t have the ability to simply auto top-up 40$ and have that money sitting their inaccessible.

    2. Jon, I’m aware of your concerns about the 25c, you know my point of view there already. Think it’s an irrelevancy so don’t much care either way, charging that fee as part of the ticket price rather than a separate item all comes out in the wash. If you campaign to have it removed I shan’t complain.

      But the $10, that has a very real and useful function. All HOP cards allow you to go into negative balance on one journey. The purpose of this is so you can make one last trip and never get caught out unable to travel without any credit. It allows you to get home, or to get to a top up machine or somewhere else without getting stuck on the wrong side of town. This is very useful for all sorts of things, forgot to check balance, machine broken, one day to pay day, left wallet at home etc. It is a safety net, especially useful for children and those on limited means.

      $10 aligns with an eight stage regular fare, about the maximum on the network (generally speaking).

      The problem with not having the card fee up front is that you would have to remove this safety net ability to go into the negative. If you didn’t, people could simply get the free or cheap card, use it once to go into the negative, then throw it away and get another free card, etc. Outcome is lots of people not paying for travel while the public budget picks up the tab, with thousands of cards going to waste. It would bankrupt the system.

      So are you proposing to remove the negative balance safety net, on cards that aren’t registered at least? I think that would be a step backwards. You say make it $10 with $10 credit, well that is basically what it is already. You pay $10 and you can go up to $10 into the negative.

          1. If I remember well, oyster was like this in 2006. I would buy one even to stay in london a couple of days

      1. There is no need for the $10 charge and the ability to go into debt. Just make the scanner beep and display when you go below ~$10 balance, it is effectively the same, and then makes the cards “free” to hand out

        1. Then you’re effectively doing the same thing for the first $10 on the card. Of people can’t go negative then how do you freak with someone to travels more than their balance? e.g. what if I get on a bus/train and only have $5 left on my card but my trip home is $6. When I get on the card doesn’t know how far I’m traveling and could only be going on a $2 journey. Need to have some way of dealing with that.

  4. That the poorest in society don’t have Hop cards is no surprise. Look at how they use ‘their’ cars; never leave any gas in the tank and only put in enough for your journey because it’s probably not going to be you who uses the car next. Pay by use is the model, not pre-pay. There’s a great opportunity here for creative employers to do payday updates and negotiate away the 25c charge.
    2ndly; Get the startup community to get their heads around this ‘opportunity’, brain storm it and I’m sure there are some great left field opportunities out there to crack it.
    3rdly; Does anyone have access to the AT balanace sheet and can they tell us how much is sitting in the Hop pre-payments account? I bet the interest on that amount makes the 25c charge look pathetic and not worth the hassle of being a hurdle cost for many.
    Come AT think “quick, simple, pleasurable journeys” rather than accounting efficiency.

    1. I do know the cost to AT to process each transaction through the banks is a lot more than 25c. However if the separate fee is an issue they could raise the price of each fare by a few cents to compensate. Same outcome but people would probably feel better about it.

  5. Perhaps Nick can do an OIA on the numbers of HOP users who have gone into debit, and for how many days they were in debit for? It might prove that it is very insignificant. That would be just like the amount of revenue raised by the HOP top up transaction tax – raising insignificant amounts of revenue so not worth doing at all (fortunately, I understand AT agree with me on this point).

    1. Except if you remove the purchase price for a hop then the unintended consequence is that punters will use their AT Hop card once for long trips and then throw it away.

      As for the “lower barriers for the poorest in the community” argument, I think poor people should well and truly understand that the AT Hop card is the cheapest way to go, even after paying the purchase price and top up fees. So it is a communication issue that needs to be overcome more than anything. Increasing the gap between cash and AT Hop should also increase the uptake.

      1. “Except if you remove the purchase price for a hop then the unintended consequence is that punters will use their AT Hop card once for long trips and then throw it away.”

        Is there any evidence for this? Why throw it away? You’d have to waste the time and energy of buying a new one. Make the card free with no credit on it, and tell people they can pay whatever they like in terms of topping it up.

        1. You can do that, but only by removing the ability to go into negative balance, which as I’ve suggested below would be a major step backwards and cause some very difficult situations for people.

          1. That immediately excludes a large proportion of users, particularly new users who have only just started. New users, and people who don’t use PT much are precisely the ones who won’t be familiar with topping up and using the card, so exactly the ones who most need the negative balance bit.

        2. Could you waive the cost if you put $30 worth of credit on the card? You’d have to use $30 worth before going into negative, which would make it a lot less inviting.

    2. How many days they were in debit? Why would people go into debit for days? I get the feeling you don’t understand the purpose of the negative balance service.

      Take me for example. My local roadside bus stop is a pole in the ground in the suburbs. It doesn’t have a Hop machine or retailer nearby, and never will. If go to the stop without enough credit on my card I can still tag on, the thing beeps red and green to let me know it’s low, and I can then top up at the dairy at my local shops, at the busway station, or in town depending on where I am going.

      Without the negative balance facility I would not be allowed on the bus, and would have to hike 2km over the hill to the shops. Not the sort of thing I’d want to do when I have to get to work or an important appointment.

      Now I suppose you could say I should be perfectly vigilant and check the balance every day to make sure I’ve always got enough to cover whatever trip I might take next, and go out of my way to top up in advance. Or maybe I should keep a supply of small change on me at all ones for when the card runs out… But all that really defeats the purpose of the card in the first place.

      Really don’t understand why you want to remove such useful customer service functionality.

      1. Because sensible people never go into debt for anything. This is a bad paradigm, and hold AT back from just handing out the very cheap to make cards.

        It should work like this. You get a free card, you load up some “money” on it, and use it. It beeps when your balance get below your typical daily usage. How hard is that!

        1. What’s hard is when it beeps to tell you you have no money left. Because it would beep as you are trying to get on a bus, with somewhere important to go, only to be turfed off for having no credit, only to wander off to wonder where you can top up out in the burbs.

      2. If you turn up to the bus stop with no cash in your pocket the bus driver doesn’t lend you the fare. I can’t see a problem with the Hop card working the same way especially if it makes it much easier to distribute the cards.

        1. Because is slows boarding. The idea is to get AT Hop card holders to top up online, at a vending machine or at the dairy before making their trip. Also reduces the risk to drivers if they don’t carry cash.

  6. The fact that you can’t seem to buy a HOP card in Henderson is probably a reason for the low usage.

    1. I observe there are a lot of short trips on the Western line. Henderson – Ranui; or Henderson – Glen Eden. The HOP discount isn’t enough to justify buying a HOP card. Remember there’s no fare evasion in these figures.

      Also there will be few commuters that board at Henderson – whereas the other stations further west than Henderson (Ranui, Swanson, Sturges) have more commuters.

  7. The poor understand all too well. Compared to taking your car, AT Hop card isnt the cheapest way to go for many people. Not when you take into account the PT network doesnt cover where many people want to go, in a reasonable time, without walking forever in the rain. Most families own at least one vehicle, and use it for more than just commuting to work. PT in Auckland is crap for most people and too expensive compared to using your car. This is why so few people use PT and why our roads are clogged. My point is that keeping HOP more expensive than taking the car, isnt going to get people using HOP. Having said that, they should just double the cash price, not give any change, dismemberment or public flogging for not having a ticket etc. Overnight you will get 99% HOP usage.

  8. The number of retailers for HOP cards has increased dramatically recently (from almost none across the entire city), so uptake should improve. It’s easier if you can just pop in to a dairy and pick one up when you’re walking or driving to the bus or train. The current temporary $5 price will help increase uptake too.

  9. I wonder if AT couldn’t do visits to secondary schools in proximity to stations. Arrange with the school in advance, so that students could know to bring their $10 for a pre-loaded card, and then at an appropriate time and location stand there selling them.

    You’d also give hints that fare-evasion would be cracked down upon, and follow this up to underline the message.

    You would then repeat this every February. (Doing it the first time in the next few months, of course.)

  10. Grafton can be an extremely busy station in peak hours and slightly prior to and after owing to school students and I am in no doubt that it is busier than Newmarket at times.. I reckon somewhere between a third – 50% of passengers get off/on here at times. However fare evasion is much higher than is ever admitted to so those numbers wont show…

    A head count of passengers on every train on random months would be a far better way of determining actual passenger numbers versus theoretical passengers numbers by way of revenue. Ratepayers deserve this from AT in the least to show that actually care about their money and care about maximising revenue per train. . .

    1. Just as easily, you could have people with click counters near (but not at) the entrances, counting the number of platform entries. Compare this with the tag-ons during the same time period and you know the discrepancy.

      1. The new trains are meant to have automatic passenger counters on them. Once rolled out it should be easy for AT to compare how many people board vs how many tagged on

          1. Yes, the lack of gates at Grafton means its the last chance saloon for fare evaders going into Newmarket or the city and the first in the return direction to avoid payment so you are quite correct. It would explain, to some extent, its additional popularity…

  11. Heavy hop card usage at grafton is likely due to the ticket machine there being almost constantly out, it surprises me that even 25% managed to buy a ticket.

    1. Grafton wouldn’t be the only train station on the network with a bad machine. Ranui’s Eastbound machine is rarely working. Two machines at every platform would provide redundancy

  12. AT could do a better job of promoting the cash-saving benefits of using HOP. Currently, ease of boarding is the only thing they really focus on. All you see at stations are the taggers and machines. No significant signage advising of the benefits of the card, or where to purchase them.

    1. What about an incentive for usage?
      The more you use / keep your card in a positive balance the more ‘Transport Points’ you receive. This would start with the returning of the purchase cost and then give the odd free ride when tagging off. To indicate the free trip the tag post/gate/reader would make a totally different sound, say a trumpet sound.
      The bonus system is used in all manner of loyalty cards and therefore well understood by the populace.

    1. Something that doesn’t seem to be promoted outside Britomart. AT need to be throwing the cards in people’s faces.

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