This is a guest post by reader Heidi O’Callahan
Children are walking and using public transport today, but what will they do as they learn to drive and become adults? Have we provided a user-friendly public transport system that enables young people to avoid the dependence on a private car? Or, as with older generations, will that be an addiction to break later?
Of course the actual routes, connections, and travel times matter. But so does user experience. So, how are young people faring under the AT HOP system?
The media have noticed that students get a bit of a bum steer when trying to get their concession cards at the beginning of the academic year. AT say they are investigating alternate options for applying for concessions and for improving the online experience. Here are some observations to feed into that process.
The 16 and 17-year-olds:
Using numbers from the Education Counts and Census records, I estimate that in March, over 96% of 16 and 17 year olds are eligible for the child concession. (I chose March because that is the month for which I also have AT’s numbers for concessions.)
Excluding the remaining few is the only “advantage” to having a concession scheme that is not just automatically awarded based on age. That’s an awful lot of administrative effort to exclude very few children.
In my opinion, all 16 and 17 year olds need concession fares in order to access their city and remain engaged. Those not at school or tertiary study at this young age are perhaps the most vulnerable to disconnection.
And what is the effect on the >96% who are eligible for the concession, yet have to go to some hassle to obtain it?
From figures provided by AT in March through a LGOIMA request:
(AT also added a note that this data does not include AT HOP cards where the date of birth was loaded directly onto the AT HOP card via a Customer Service Centre. I’m not quite sure how to deal with this note, nor why AT can’t access that info. Ignoring that for now…)
Only 63% of active 16 and 17 year old AT HOP users are receiving the secondary or tertiary concession, despite the fact that more than 96% are eligible. Difficulties in obtaining the concession mean that about a third of eligible active users are being overcharged.
Two main difficulties exist that I am aware of:
- The online step doesn’t work if your card is linked to your parent’s card.
- You have to attend in person to load the concession, which is a hassle and a cost.
Tweak required: Give all the 16 and 17 year olds the concession automatically, based on age, and save everybody the cost and hassle of registering and loading the concession.
Here are the steps required to get a concession for a tertiary student:
A student has to go to three different places, and in between, do two different steps online. That adds up to a fair bit of time – and sometimes cost – being spent by students city-wide, let alone AT’s own administration costs.
Why so complex?
Having obtained the AT student sticker (with its unique student number) from the tertiary institution, there is no justification for making the student attend an AT service centre in person. The student is unable to get more than one card, so there’s little risk of them handing cards around to friends. If AT has doubts about the integrity of the tertiary institutions’ photo ID processes, this can be resolved without 100,000 students having to attend an AT service centre.
The security in the system is that a passenger must present photo student ID on request. This would remain the same whether there is an “in-person” step or not.
In short, the cost of administering the “in-person” step, and to the student population going to all this bother, is unwarranted, and could be leading to massive overcharging, and likely student disenfranchisement from the public transport system.
Tweak required: Remove the “in-person” step required for loading a student concession.
Some children’s AT HOP cards are being charged at adult rates.
The LGOIMA response included the following information. (I am aware of the obvious errors and am waiting for corrections,)
OK, so because of the error in the numbers, we can’t tell the scale of the problem. It wouldn’t be true that 100% (or more) of these children’s cards have been charged adult fares. We do know, however, that cards used by children are being charged adult rates, for either of these two reasons:
- there is a delay between purchase and successful registration, meaning the card operates as an adult card.
- there is a delay between registration and first use, resulting in a registration “expiry”. These cards still show online as children’s concessions cards, but charge adult rates.
AT has acknowledged the second of these problems, and has started contacting people whose cards have reverted this year to charging adult rates, but have not done anything to contact those whose cards are still charging adult rates from a historical reversion.
- Make it possible to buy children’s cards which can’t lose their concession, instead of having to buy an adult card and convert it to a child card.
- Put alert statements online if the card is no longer functioning as a child card.
- Contact all cardholders who have been overcharged, reinstate the concessions, and refund the overcharged amount.
Other people who should be able to get children’s cards
Bus fares aren’t cheap if you have to buy a few for each journey. When you have a carload of children, the costs of running the car will always be cheaper than multiple fares. Only people committed to public transport or who don’t have a car will persevere with taking the children by public transport.
So it is galling that AT provides no mechanism for adults to obtain the AT HOP fare for children who are not their own, other than demanding the parents organise it. AT says:
This doesn’t work. A family who would normally carpool to activities in a week-about fashion with other families, should be able to switch to public transport, and keep and manage additional cards for the extra children. The car-using families may have no interest in public transport, and are already paying for their part of the carpooling deal, in petrol and car costs. They cannot be expected to also provide, manage and fund an AT HOP card.
Other examples: caregivers, holiday programme providers, respite carers, special needs carers, extended family members, specialist tutors or organisers of small group activities should be able to keep and use a “group set” of cards should they wish.
- Sell children’s cards as well as adults’ cards, and have them refundable when no longer needed.
- Long term solution: Just make public transport free for children, and do away with AT HOP cards for them.
And one more thing…
Children often start out with a card linked to a parent’s account, because then the parent can manage the card, and it is the only solution if the child doesn’t have an email address. But AT can’t de-link and re-register the card once the child is older. So the child is stuck with the parent managing the card forever, or has to buy a new card. Please, surely this can be sorted?
Tweak required: If AT can’t find a way to re-register a card to a child, replace the card for free.