Auckland Transport have some work before them to make buying HOP cards and topping them up easier. It’s often a long way to a HOP card vendor or top up location, and you generally need to know where they are in advance because wayfinding is minimal. Vendors in key locations are often only open during standard working hours and shut on Sundays, public holidays, and overnight.
People who use automatic top ups may not have thought about the difficulties of finding somewhere to top up. For a variety of reasons, including no spare money to keep any more money on a card than is absolutely necessary, plenty of people don’t use the automatic top up function. And anyone can lose a HOP card and need a new one. The problem affects us all in other ways, too.
To reduce our carbon emissions, we need massive modeshift. Trying and using public transport should be made a comfortable experience. Not everyone has access to a computer so we need to provide the infrastructure to do things in person. And with online top ups taking up to 72 hours, being caught out without funds unexpectedly happens often enough to people who usually use the online system.
Since the no cash rule was introduced, that last resort has disappeared, so more people are getting stranded. I’ve had to rescue quite a few people being refused entry to a bus, by loading their fare onto my card.
I saw yet another person in a pickle on Boxing Day. Boarding my bus in Warkworth was a man wanting to make his way to the airport, in order to fly home after a family Christmas get together. His journey was going to involve at least four buses, but it wasn’t going smoothly.
His HOP card was empty, because the top up he’d made over 48 hours before, on the morning of Christmas Eve, hadn’t yet appeared. Warkworth has a service centre, but it was shut:
Because this man was able to display the transaction on his phone, explain the situation convincingly, and because he struck it lucky with the driver, he was let onto the bus for free in Warkworth.
At the new Hibiscus Coast Station (which was fenced off for months, apparently completed, and possibly awaiting a ribbon-cutting ceremony) there was also nowhere to top up. Again, he convinced the driver, and was waved on a second time. Hopefully he found a place to top up in the city centre and met no further difficulties.
This “customer experience” was poor and he was pretty disgruntled. It could’ve been far worse for someone with less persuasive diplomatic skills, or for a more vulnerable person at night, or without a functioning phone. From what I’ve observed, most people treat data or phone credit on their phones as a “sometime” thing for sunny times, not an “always” thing for emergency situations. (And getting assistance via public phone is a thing of the past, before our public phone network was allowed to run down.)
More HOP card vendors and top up locations would make using public transport easier for a lot of people.
But they are also an important part of keeping people safe.
The AT website lists 229 “HOP card vendors”
- 76 in Central Auckland
- 36 in North Auckland
- 38 in West Auckland
- 70 in South Auckland
- 9 in East Auckland.
Some of these both sell cards and top them up, but some do only one or the other. According to an OIA response, there are 180 retailers, 10 service centres and 90 ticket top up machines. Presumably some of these machines are at retailers and service centres (so these numbers wouldn’t be additive).
How do we compare with other cities? I’ve used the number 229, being the number of places that the AT website directs the public towards. I’ve also used a population for Auckland of 1.6 million people.
The Opal Card network in Sydney and surrounding areas serves a population of 6.7 million people (I summed the population for each of the listed areas). At Auckland’s per capita rate of vendors, we could expect them to have about 960 vendors. They hit 1000 retailers 7 years ago, and today:
How many thousands I can’t find but I noticed that every 7-11 store sells Opal cards, and also that the retailers are strung out along the public transport routes, which is where users need them:
The Go Card network in Brisbane and South East Queensland serves a population of 3.6 million people (population from wikipedia). At Auckland’s per capita ratio of locations where you can top up and/or buy a card, we could expect them to have about 515. Instead they have 1600 locations where you can top up, and 680 locations where you can buy a card.
Again, the map for Brisbane shows the retailers are located along the transport lines:
To illustrate what it’s like in Auckland, the distance between HOP retailers directly on the popular Outer Link route in the Pt Chevalier to city centre area is 7.8 km.
There is also little or no wayfinding to retailers near the route at the city end. And while this meant I once walked from Victoria Park to the Ponsonby retailer in the summer heat when I could have just gone to Fanshawe St, a family member struck it worse. He walked all the way home in the rain from Victoria Park, hoping to find a retailer along the route.
I asked Auckland Transport:
Does AT understand that the ability to buy HOP cards affects customer experience and ridership?
We understand that the ability to buy HOP cards affects customer experience and ridership which is why we carefully consider the location of HOP card vendors and sell prepaid HOP cards at retailers and online. This is balanced alongside operating in a financially responsible manner.
Does AT understand that the ability to buy HOP cards affects personal safety?
AT is aware that safety is a factor, we have over 250 locations to purchase AT HOP cards or top up, with online and auto top-up options.
Perhaps Sydney and Brisbane are not acting in a “financially responsible manner” when they provide their higher number of outlets per capita? Maybe they didn’t “carefully consider” the locations well enough? Or maybe it’s Auckland Transport who are out of step?
There’s certainly little cost or work involved in finding retailers willing to stock HOP cards and provide the top up service. Auckland Transport keep a waiting list, and must spend time and money declining applications. My local dairy has applied five times, but is declined each time.
Another dairy had their HOP services taken from them because the boardings nearby dropped relative to other places. AT justified it because there was another retailer 1.5 km away. The schools nearby say it would make things easier for them and their families. The dairy has re-applied many times, to no avail.
These dairies are applying because they have customer demand.
I asked Auckland Transport about their policy and financial analysis for making these decisions.
Could you please supply me with a copy of any analysis Auckland Transport has done to decide where HOP cards should be sold, how many vendors in Auckland there should be, or how to respond to a request to be a vendor for HOP cards.
… With Auckland’s growing population, it is important for Auckland Transport (AT) to ensure its retail network is optimised to meet customer demand. AT reviews retail locations on a 6-monthly basis or on demand.
To become an AT HOP retailer, the retailer completes an online application and submits this for consideration. Once the application is received, the application information is added to the applicant register.
This review includes:
- suitability of operating hours
- location to nearest existing AT HOP service
- location to public transport service
- previous applicant(s) expressions of interest.
In evaluating new applications, we consider:
- the number of trips in areas – by using data from our Geographic Information System to assess any gaps
- accessibility – commonly visited locations so customers can buy AT HOP cards at the same time as do their shopping
- opening hours
- device availability
- Existing HOP facilities in the area
How many vendors in Auckland there should be
AT don’t have a specific requirement for the number of AT HOP retailers in Auckland. Majority of AT HOP transactions happen via online and self-service channels, with under 20% via AT HOP retailers. The number of retail sites are determined by customer demand.
Does AT have a policy on how to decide to accept or decline requests by retailers who wish to sell HOP cards?
We don’t have a policy on how to accept or decline requests made by retailers. When an application is submitted, we review the request and assess the area using the criteria mentioned above to see if there is a demand. If a new AT HOP retailer is required, we refer to our register which holds retailer information from previous applicants, and we contact the retailer directly.
What, exactly, are they optimising here to meet customer demand? It appears Auckland Transport limits retailers to a level that’s much lower than what other cities enjoy, yet can provide no analysis to confirm that this low number is appropriate.
The process of “rationing” the locations appears to be algorithm or spreadsheet-driven which lends undeserving “scientificity” to the process. How many outlets, and where they should be, are decisions that should be made based on evidence-based network design principles that
- Improve customer experience and personal safety;
- Maximise modeshift – for helping with our responses to the climate emergency, the safety crisis, transport poverty and to improve social and public health outcomes.
I’m a little confused, too, that Auckland Transport said that
AT don’t have a specific requirement for the number of AT HOP retailers in Auckland.
Auckland Transport have previously given advice that the HOP system limits how many retailers we have.
If the HOP system does limit the number, was the system chosen poorly? Was it a cheaper version, more suitable for a compact city where distances are smaller?
Meanwhile, Auckland Transport could stock HOP cards in the vending machines at stations, like they’ve done for face masks. Similarly, it would only take a negotiation with the supermarkets to ensure every supermarket stocks HOP cards. These two changes would make a big difference to reducing the chance of being completely stranded.
There are many low-hanging customer experience improvements that would help people to shift from driving to using public transport. Auckland Transport needs to embrace them as a key part of decarbonising transport, and one that’s fully within their sphere of influence.