This is a guest post by reader Frith Stalker
Dear AT Hop
I have used Auckland buses for 30 years
I am very smart, very pedantic, very polite and very Rule Abiding
I am your perfect customer.
I always thank the driver.
In days of old – I always had the correct change, now I always have my card.
I am always ready when my stop arrives, and I get off quickly and efficiently.
I give up my seat for the old, the very young, pregnant women and those with disabilities.
I ‘be the bad guy’ when no one will move down the bus, so we can all get on with the journey.
I pick up rubbish and I teach my kids bus etiquette.
I report the dangerous bus drivers, but yes I also commend the good ones.
I study your crazy maps, persist with your: series of bus cards, totally random electronic “real time” (ha ha) boards, user-unfriendly-websites – and log in repeatedly to your user accounts until I get to where I need to go, one way or another.
I have no choice.
I have no car.
Lately I got a Smart Phone. I got your App. I use it – every day – despite the times it monumentally lets me down.
But, you know, when a bus is finally in front of me, and I can’t get on it – despite my monthly pass – that’s when I finally say: ENOUGH.
You want to know why buses have a bad rap? You want to know why lower income users don’t use your AT Hop cards?
I’ve estimated my usage. A monthly pass is worth my while, just, as I spend near that (gulp) but importantly it allows me: jump-on-jump-off without calculating every single fare.
I’ve budgeted. I talked to the hotline to check my facts. I’ve loaded up $140 monthly pass on my card.
It was scary shelling out for that. It’s scary spending that anywhere. (I don’t spend that in one go on groceries for my family of four) It was not easy to put that money aside and spend it in one hit. I waited weeks to have it ready. Now I am off: Unlimited trips within Zone A for 30 days. Right?
- Day One: Today seems okay. I Tag On/Tag Off and it’s working. It’s a good feeling.
- Day Two: The morning is fine. The afternoon… I get on an Inner Link and Tag On (Ponsonby Rd). All good. At K’Rd, as I Tag Off, I catch something other than the green light out of the corner of my eye. But it’s too late to read the message – I heard the beep and now I am off the bus. Shrug. Run for the next bus.
- Next bus, out of breath, I jump on (I am racing to take over childcare). I try to Tag On, but it reads “insufficient funds, please pay the driver”. WTF? $140.00 and now I can’t get on a bus. [In fact I refuse to get off. A lovely (or resigned) man offers to tag me on. The driver gives up, declines his offer and drives off. I’m humiliated. Angry. But at least I am on the way home.]
- I phone the AT Hop number, they tell me my card has to be in credit (cash credit, over and above my $140 monthly pass) for my pass to function. I am disbelieving. I am also indignant: I did have credit. A few dollars. Otherwise how did my card work on Day One. Right? How can I fix it? Go to Britomart (ok, using my bus card? With my 2 year old? Shall I take time off work to go somewhere not on my way to fix a problem I didn’t create?)
This saga dragged on and my card was useless to me for the next two days. Something had gone wrong on that second tag off – and it wasn’t me. Credit had been removed from my card, and my monthly pass was non-functional until I could top up with more cash. There are two major problems with this, and a third catch:
- I was not informed, upon purchase of my pass – nor on the Hotline when researching the pass – that a cash balance would be required on top of my $140 top up. Surely this constitutes a breach of good faith between customers and AT Hop?
- There was cash on my card – entirely coincidentally. It was removed due to an error with AT Hop which they refuse to acknowledge.
- I’m not due to go past a Top Up point until the day after next – no car, childcare drop off en-route to work. I have to plan my top ups with care…
So how to remedy it overall? Surely, AT Hop say ‘sorry! We messed up’ ‘please accept this credit on your card for the costs when you couldn’t use your card.’ Right?
Wrong. Email exchange with AT Hop: they refuse to refund my fares. No cash fares refunds – not even with receipts. I suggest they credit me one extra day on my monthly pass. No. What if I spend $16 on my card (once my pass is expired) and they can refund that? No.
Can they explain what happened? No response. How can I be sure it won’t happen again? No response.
The final insult to injury is when the journey becomes visible (or not) on my online account. The story does not add up. At All. My trip from Ponsonby to K’Rd doesn’t even show. There’s one totally bizarre entry for that afternoon: a Tag Off on Customs St (missing Tag On). Now – I was nowhere near Customs St that day – and my email records prove that I was still at work over an hour later.
My Tag On the Inner Link (around 5.00pm) was just fine – but it wasn’t even on the record. A more paranoid person might think At Hop had altered my record (I had told them in no uncertain terms how far I was willing to go to ensure the issue was not simply brushed under the carpet. It makes you wonder…)
So, I think this sort of issue is a fairly stern deterrent: I fork out 25% of my Gross Weekly earnings for a monthly pass, and five days later I cannot board a bus? Not good enough.
The existence of failures of this sort (technical) are not ideal, but I can understand and accept that they happen. Given they do happen, however, there must be something in place to protect the customer (I suggested pass holders present the receipt for their pass – with valid dates – to the driver for travel if their pass failed… No answer).
If issues like this continue to be swept under the carpet you will not get a culture of faith in the everyday workings of our transport network. When you don’t have a car – and therefore have no other means of transport – this is not just an inconvenience it’s a massive stressor and potentially a barrier to reliably participating in the workforce. Not good enough.