Following on the recently raised issue of online HOP top ups disappearing if customers don’t tag on within 60 days, last week Mayor Phil Goff announced Auckland Transport were making changes.

Mayor Phil Goff has welcomed changes, made at his request, to the Auckland Transport (AT) HOP card refund system.

There will now be an upfront warning telling people they need to tag on within 60 days and passengers who have not tagged on for 60 days will now have their money automatically refunded.

AT have begun a process, expected to take 18 months, to implement a full open loop system which means mobile phones and credit cards can be used for payment of trips by casual public transport users.

“When the issue first came to light, I had a discussion with Auckland Transport around the genuine public concern that people who had made online payments to their cards, but not tagged-on, could lose that money,” said Phil Goff.

“I am pleased with the constructive response from AT which has agreed to make some significant changes.

“This is a good outcome for our public transport customers and I welcome the recognition of the problem and the positive response to customer needs,” Mayor Goff said.

There are a couple of points in here worth discussing and highlighting.

The top up issue

It’s good that AT are going to sort out the immediate issue that was raised of top up money being blocked if you don’t tag on within 60 days of processing it. This only affects a small number of users but it is definitely inconvenient for them. As I’ve said previously, there are valid reasons why AT would want to do this but it was silly that AT could have dealt with this better. After all, to top up online you have to have an account with AT in which you register an email address. Even a simple email to people to remind them to top up as they were approaching the 60 day cut off could have saved this issue from occurring. It may have even been a marketing opportunity for AT to get more people using PT i.e. “Hey you need to tag on so why not try making your next trip by PT”

HOP with Mobile Phones and Credit cards

Far more significantly though is the comment that AT now plan to eventually allow trips to be made using mobile phones and credit cards. This is a positive step and something that is likely to fundamentally change how a lot of people use HOP, both casual and regular riders alike. In London, where contactless credit cards have been able to be used for many years now, it is estimated that up to a third of all trips are now made using one.

Of course it will be interesting to see just how AT implement this. Presumably AT would need to implement it similarly to London where the system just reconciles your tag on and off activities at the end of each day and charges you the correct fare. As such, one of the downsides to using credit cards is that tag posts are not able to tell you individual trip costs, although I imagine many are like me and very rarely look at the figures that flash up and so it’s not a huge issue.

The use of mobile phones is equally positive. However, it’s worth noting that this isn’t the first time mobile phone based payments have been promised. AT first announced over five years ago that they were going to trial mobile phone based payments but nothing has been heard about it again.

While on the topic of giving money to AT, I’ve got another little issue I’ve recently discovered for them to add to the list.

Earlier this year, AT launched their parking app for phones. The app is excellent and far easier to use than any of apps they’ve developed for PT. Instead of having to use a parking meter to pay on-street parking and put a ticket in your window, the app allows you to do it all from your phone. Every time I’ve used it it’s worked wonderfully.

But recently I came across an issue worth highlighting that AT should do more to address.

Some months ago I changed the credit card I use. I updated the credit card linked to my AT account for HOP and it’s worked fine. However, last week I used the parking app for the first time since I changed credit cards and to my surprise, the payments went to my old credit card, which luckily I hadn’t cancelled yet as I was making sure I’d updated all my payments linked to it.

I had forgotten that AT HOP and AT Park, while both being services from AT and accessed from my AT account, are completely separate systems and not linked together at all. I raised this issue in the post when AT Park launched and it’s as silly now as it was back then. While it wasn’t a challenge to update, it was annoying. With most organisations you expect that if you’ve updated your credit card in one place, it’s updated in all places. It highlights that AT need to do a much better job of unifying the experience they provide to customers. At the very least updating a credit card on one AT service should prompt you to update it on the other.

This has also made me wonder if AT should be more open about its future plans and strategies for technology. While I appreciate they might not be able to give exact timeframes for changes, having some form of improvement road-map publicly available might help to give more confidence that AT are actually aware of some of the issues the public experience.

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51 comments

  1. I hope the new CEO brings a
    new sense of urgency to the organisation. New bus network years behind originally planned schedule. Bus lanes glacial progress. Hop card implemented then nada for years. My personal experience with them with one exception has been “too hard”, “no budget”, “we’ll put it on a list”. It might be the nature of the PT beast but I can’t help contrasting this with the energy of Sadik Kahn. Or is that a case of don’t believe the hype?

    1. I think the truth probably lies somewhere in between?

      Here’s my three cents:
      — New network: Delays understandable given 1) desire to support connective network model with new infrastructure (e.g. Otahuhu interchange) and 2) need to synchronise implementation with the shift to PTOM contracts, which was the main source of delay.
      — Bus lanes: Slow progress on these is more perplexing/concerning, especially with regards to extending hours of operating on existing lanes, e.g. Mt Eden Rd. I
      — HOP card: I think your criticism is unfair. Since HOP was introduced, AT have rolled out integrated fares on buses + trains, with ferries to follow. Alt. payment channels can now follow.

      In terms of Sadik Khan, she is fabulous. No quibbles there. Although I suspect her ability to bring about large change was partly a function of the political environment. I’m sure she discusses such things in her book right?

      https://www.amazon.com/Streetfight-Handbook-Revolution-Janette-Sadik-Khan/dp/0143128973/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1507500587&sr=8-1&keywords=street+fight+sadik-khan

      1. New Network: Surely PTOM contract negotiation timeframes would have been known before the original commitment dates for the new network were given? Are you saying their only mistake was being overly optimistic?
        HOP: Didn’t it take 5 years or so for integrated fares? Ridiculous…

        1. Timelines for PTOM contracts was frequently delayed. First due to central government prevarication, second due to gnarly issues with contract design, third due to opposition from operators (IIRC NZ Bus almost took legal action against AT? Correct me if I’m wrong). Similarly, HOP implementation was delayed by central government, who decided to review the tender award to Thales rather than Snapper. HOP also got caught up with PTOM, and in particular the shift from net to gross plus operating contracts (under net arrangement operator keeps fare revenue, hence moving to HOP would have financial impacts for operators). Both PTOM and HOP are good examples of why we shouldn’t be too quick to blame AC/AT for delays to things like NN; more often than not the cause of delays are systematic and link back to CG.

          Incidentally, things like bus lanes lie almost fully within AT’s gambit, so is something where they do bear responsibility for delivery.

          Underlying all this, however, is the question of human resourcing. AC/AT are trying to do all of this while keeping staff numbers and salaries in check, lest they become the target of ridiculous articles in the Herald.

          At the same time you have CG trying to accelerate ridiculous projects like East-West link, which requires further human resource input.

          All the issues have consequences for timelines, and not all are within AC/AT’s control. Of course some, like bus lanes, are — and we’d do well to focus on those.

          1. P.s. One more thing: The time taken to implement integrated fares is not necessarily an indication that the issue has low priority within AT. Timelines may also reflect budget considerations, which are set budgets set somewhat independently of AT by AC and NZTA , as well as policies like Farebox Recovery Policy. Of course AT has some wiggle room to shift things around, but integrated fares is expensive — and so may have been delayed by financial considerations rather than organisational indifference.

      2. HOP card: Still dont have fully integrated fares with daily caps. This is not really good enough.
        Bus Lanes: Extending operating hours and more bus-lane I think is more about council not having the kahunas to implement them. Locals don’t like change, and complain with anyone threatening their beloved private 4 wheel vehiclar space.
        New Network: Highly complex issue that makes more sense, working them in with the PTOM contracts would mean less headache’s through the process so this one is understandable

  2. Mobile phone payment, that I assume is tagging on with your phone, is the same as eftpos using your phone. Its great in theory but the trouble is its not that reliable, having had issues myself with terminals reading the handset. And it’s made worse by protective cases meaning the phone is less sensitive to being read.

    I think it is technology that needs to improve somewhat first because slow and non reading of cell phones will hold up buses for sure.

    1. I would have imagined that they’d link to an app, rather than Android or Apple Pay / Bank proprietary app (eww). As for range issues, assuming that you’re placing the correct part of your phone to the terminal (NFC chips differ in where they’re located) it should have the same range as you ATHop or contactless credit card (~1-2cm)…

      Assuming that you’re using Android, have you tried downloading an NFC reader and testing your Hop card against different parts of your phone?

    2. In Prague they had a system in 2010 where you sent a text message to a number and it then texted you back a ticket. If an inspector asked you could show that text to them, they scan it and all good.

      I would think something like that based on how many zones you are crossing would be doable here.

    3. Most people these days have their phone glued to their hands. I would imagine this would hold up buses less than people fiddling through their more and more rarely used wallets to find their HOP cards.

      The problem would be cheaper smartphones may not have as good technology, however if its like Apple Pay on the iPhone, it would be quicker than using a card for most.

  3. Thanks for the heads up on the CC issue with the otherwise excellent Parking App. The app is really simple, quick, cheaper (no transaction fee compared to a CC at a machine) and makes the whole process of parking and paying so much easier than before, especially as we’re often running for a ferry when we use it

  4. One of the main issues for frequent transfer users is that AT does not refund money if a bus is early or late and therefore the transfer takes more than half an hour. Not only do you have to stand in the cold for half an hour, you are also being charged extra for it.

    1. I think they should just get rid of the 30 minute window as it’s probably a bit complicated refunding people who have a poor connection. It should just be a case of the first five trips within four hours are treated as a journey.

      1. The Christchurch Metro system has a 2-hour transfer window. One transfer on a cash fare, unlimited transfers on a card fare (within the window). The idea being, you should be able to travel anywhere within the city on a single fare.

        1. Yes, it was Chch and Melbourne I thought of with this. Although I think four hours is quite good, this used to be the case in Chch prior to the introduction of metro cards, although it was for one transfer only and couldn’t be transferred between different bus companies.

  5. As someone who used to work in the dreaded AT call centre, seeing them fix the 60 day issue is a massive relief. At least 25-50% of our calls were either people not realising the online top up takes overnight, or people who haven’t used their card for 60 days and need that top up to be reactivated. It should lessen the strain on their customer service resources and lessen the need to hire more staff.

    1. A private company would have realised this massive cost to their business and customers and done something about it. A CCO doesn’t care until it makes it to the media.

    2. It would be great if they could fix online top-ups so that they worked straight away rather than not crediting the HOP card until the next day or even the day after sometimes.

      1. That’s not an insignificant fix, as it would involve building a system that communicated to all buses in real time all new top-ups.

        Currently buses take a download of new top-ups when they are at the depot. I think allowing payments with credit cards would be a better solution to this problem and would also have the extra advantage of being able to get rid of cash.

        1. Surely there is another option to allow credit card top ups to take effect at any non-bus tag post, where that issue does not exist? At least that way every train, busway, or ferry passenger would get their top-up recognized.

          1. That is already the case already with the non-bus points, they are hardwired into the system. It’s only the mobile bus based ones that are the issue.

    3. i just got this email saying my credit is due to expire. I only catch buses occasionally, usually to go to the airport.

      Their email says I should go and catch a bus to stop it expiring, but as an infrequent user I shouldn’t have to take an unnecessary bus ride.

      Does anyone know if I just tag on and off at a train station would that solve it without paying for a journey?

      1. I would think it would be fine – it is the physical act of tagging (off or on) that refreshes the balance, not whether you spend anything.

      2. As others have said, yes tagging on then waiting 30 seconds or so then tagging off works. (It doesn’t let you tag off straight away, says you’ve already tagged to avoid people accidentally tagging off etc I assume so you do have to wait.) For various reasons I rarely use PT nowadays so I’ve done that several times mostly because I check my balance too late so only belatedly top-up and it doesn’t get activated when I use the bus.

        Note you do have to tag on. At least as of maybe 3? years ago using the machine to check balance, or even topping up with the machine in the train station does not activate the credit card topup.

    1. not really. I think TfL spent a fair penny getting that technology developed and the system implemented? In saying that now that the tech exists, places like AKL are able to leverage off the sunk investment. Be a “fast-followed” if you will.

      But it’s generally not the sort of thing I’d expect places like NZ to lead with; we don’t tend to have the scale to be able to absorb the fixed costs in R&D. Where we should focus, I think, is getting the softer side of things right, like governance, integrated policy, and pricing.

      Which is equally important.

      1. Yes it cost a bomb in London, however they used it as the means to implement a no cash policy. You cannot pay cash on any london bus, only Oyster or credit.

        So big infra costs, but there would have been huge operating savings there.

        Is AT willing or planning to do the same here, that’s the question?

        1. …otherwise it’s just a case of building the whole credit back end system just to add credit card payment as an option in additional to cash payment and hop payment.

        2. AT would have to roll out 100 times more top up locations to make cashless boarding vaguely fair (I’m not exaggerating at all here).

          AT are absolutely terrible at enabling people to board without cash. I would bet that most people are so struck for cash that they can’t ‘just set up an auto top-up’ and actually have to top up in person. To make matters even worse, the locations where people are least likely to have the money spare are also the locations where it is hardest to top-up!

          1. Yes I think bit of work to go before we can go cashless. I presume a debit card would work as well as debit card for people who don’t like or can’t afford to have a credit card. To have a vending machines that dispensed HOP cards that can be bought with cash or EFT-POS etc at very least at stations & major PT locations/shopping locations etc (like universities etc) would also be necessary.

  6. AT outsource different app to different software companies. So they all have their own customer database.

    AT should seperately build and maintain a central customer database API and keep it themself and force the different app to use it.

  7. AT has a long way to go to become a properly customer-focused organisation. Great to see Mayoral pressure get some results, and I’m looking forward to seeing what a new CEO and Chair can achieve.

  8. “AT have begun a process, expected to take 18 months, to implement a full open loop system..” What does this mean – does it mean that tag on and off’s will be immediately communicated around the system (eg live WiFi on buses etc?) or just that other devices/cards with NFC chips can be read? If the former we would be able to see charged price of a trip using a credit card/mobile phone, even if it were charged as one sum at the end of the day (important if an overseas user so as to not be charged currency conversion fees etc on every little trip cost).

    1. I’m not an expert but my understanding is that, at the moment, transaction data is stored on cards and more importantly readers (e.g. on buses and at stations), which periodically upload data to the primary account database, e.g. when buses return to depot. Reconciliation of debits/credits therefore doesn’t happen in real-time.

      I *think* a full open loop means that the different parts of the system (readers and back-end account database) are in constant communication. Just a hunch …

      1. From a technical standpoint, it’s not challenging or expensive (hardware capex-wise, perhaps $20 per bus) to add cellular modems to all buses. The cost is the software capex (because the vendors can and will charge like a wounded bull, not because of the complexity) and the ongoing opex, though perhaps the Mobile Network Operators would be clamoring over themselves for this rather large pie.

          1. Who can tell what’s in the minds of the inscrutable CCO SMT…

            My comment is purely based upon my technical expertise in embedded system design, also I’ve been revising a design to allow a similar kind of future-proofing. At one-off pricing from a hobbyist retailer, it’s $30US for a cellular module that does data/voice/GPS. Buy smarter and in bulk and watch the price fall… Considering how many buses we have, expect the price to fall lots.

          2. From what I understand the 72-hour thing is AT just being cautious. Any top-up should be able to be used immediately if you are catching a train, and by the next morning if you are catching a bus, as the bus company loads up the new top-ups onto the bus when it is at the depot.

            The 72-hour caveat is just in case there is an issue getting the data to the bus on a given day.

          3. Maybe the same rationale behind trying to make travel times more ‘reliable’ should apply to making top-up periods ‘reliable’. I think the damage done to customer satisfaction and trust is huge from this.

  9. AT Park is great. The only issue I’ve had is it doesn’t seem to be able to provide GST receipts, which you need if parking is a business expense.

  10. AT does have some rubbish systems. A few weeks ago one of my neighbours told me that she had contacted AT about repainting the yellow lines that run between my driveway and hers. She was not happy with their reply, so I sent an email, with pictures, in small words, and with a bit of jargon to show that I did speak some “traffic”, explaining why, the frequent parking on these yellow lines obstructed the exits from our driveways. 4 days later – actually at 11.15pm on a Sunday night, a contractor and machinery arrived, and duly repainted the lines. “Great service”, I thought. However, it all went pear shaped a few days later when someone parked on the yellow lines and someone called AT. There was some discussion with the Parking Warden and we received an email from AT saying that the yellow lines were not enforceable, they were not according to the Council standard, and the recent repainting had not been done by AT or its contractors. I promptly replied asking if they were really trying to tell me that 4 days after we requested the re-painting, some random person has just turned up and done it? Some further correspondence (with photos) was necessary before the AT person came round to admitting that the yellow lines had actually been put in correctly, they were enforceable, and yes, they had indeed been done by an AT contractor. So – their systems were so rubbish that their staff member initially gave me 3 pieces of information that were completely wrong. They did not even seem to have proper access to information about what road marking jobs had actually gone out to a contractor.

    1. Can you follow it through further to see how such misinformation could be sent? Sounds like someone parking illegally got his/her nose out of joint and assumed it must all be pesky residents taking the situation into their own hands – but that AT managed to swallow the story and regurgitate it without checking is incredible. If the AT person hadn’t checked the internal information before emailing you, it seems an apology and retraining are in order. If the processes weren’t in place, it seems an apology and new systems are required. It certainly doesn’t build trust in AT.

    2. As an aside anyone know if there are any document / info on all the parking info across the city we can get our hands on, ie adresss of all no parking, busbstios and loading zones etc etc?

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