Mark* (not his real name, but he’s a real person) has recently moved to Auckland and has been “in between jobs” as they say, for some time.
He came here for a fresh start. He was a big user of public transport in Wellington and transferred the same preference for travel to Auckland.
Anyway, Mark managed to get a part-time job. It’s a start, he was excited, and he investigated the cheapest way to get around for someone who likes to travel to work and all over Auckland on what he calls his “tiki tours”. He goes to lots of markets and likes to sightsee this way. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s his. It certainly wouldn’t be mine. I’d rather die.
Anyway, the best option turned out to be the monthly pass by Auckland Transport.
After a couple of weeks on the job he had saved up the $250 required for a monthly pass, plus the money for the actual card plus the “discretionary balance” required of about $30.
It was a lot of money but for someone on a budget it worked out best. It meant unlimited travel on buses all over Auckland.
Or so he thought.
In that first week of travel, he noticed money was being taken from his card whenever he used the card on the green inner city bus, going Customs Street to Victoria Street. It would take $1.60 off the card each trip. But if he did the trip in reverse, it took nothing.
As he had paid for a monthly pass, he knew it shouldn’t be dipping into his discretionary money on the card so he went to see Auckland Transport at Britomart. Mark doesn’t like to communicate much online. He’s a bit old-fashioned.
They asked if he had registered the card online. He hadn’t as he didn’t like the idea that bus drivers and all agents for HOP cards can look up and see where you travel to and from to. He doesn’t do anything wrong, he just doesn’t think that’s right.
He was once shown by a bus driver what they could see. “What if I was a young lady,” he said. “All the dairy owners and agents can see my patterns of travel too, that doesn’t seem right to me.”
Generally Mark’s at home in the evenings watching telly, but it’s the principle so he doesn’t want to register his card online. Besides, he’s a people person, he’d rather go into the agency and top up when he needed to, and have a bit of a chin-wag and come home and say he’d met a friend.
Anyway, the AT office told him that because he has not registered his card online they cannot refund him the money due. They concede he was incorrectly charged the inner city fares but there was “nothing they could do to help”.
Why not? If he was topping up his card with cash, that would be fine without registering but if they owe him, they can’t return it? Even as an electronic transfer to the card?
No, not if you aren’t registered online.
Mark was annoyed but decided he just wouldn’t catch that bus in the future. He didn’t really know what to do. It was a matter of $1.60 here and there. About $5 all up. Best move on. Wasn’t going to break the bank. He’s a reasonable man.
Almost three weeks into using his monthly pass, things were going fine. Until Thursday September 3 when he got a red light when boarding the bus, telling him he could not use his card. This was despite the fact the monthly pass was not due to expire until Friday September 12.
The bus driver told him to try the next bus “because there have been some problems with the monthly cards”.
So he tried the next bus and it was the same story. So as he was near Britomart he popped in and asked the lady there what was wrong with his card.
“It’s been blocked as you haven’t always been tagging off”.
Tagging off – that is swiping your card past the reader as you leave the bus.
Mark can only recall two or three times when he hasn’t tagged off. He catches a lot of buses. They all end up back at the same place though, in Birkenhead at the end of the day.
At any rate, when he first bought the monthly bus pass he was told two different things. 1. that as it was monthly pass, the only thing that would happen if he didn’t tag off would be the fine through his discretionary balance.
and 2. He didn’t have to tag off. Just tag on the first time to activate the card.
So he looked it up online to be sure and that’s what the terms and conditions seem to say too.
37 Period passes, monthly passes
A Period Pass is activated by “tagging on” and expires when the
specified number of days from the day of activation has elapsed.
There is absolutely nothing in the terms and conditions to say you have to tag on and off with a monthly pass. Mark had made a habit of doing it regardless, just in case.
Mark asked the operator the number of times he hadn’t tagged off and why did it matter if he’d paid $250 for a month anyway?
“Eight times in three weeks,” she said.
This meant his card was now blocked. Not only that but they would be keeping the discretionary $30 he had on the card PLUS about $70 left of travel he had left until September 12.
He arrived home, having paid cash for his fare, demoralised. He could barely afford the card in the first place and now this.
“Call them,” I said. “They can’t just take your money. You’ve paid for a month of travel!
He calls them. “What exactly have I done wrong?” he asks.
“It’s fare evasion.”
“But how can it be fare evasion when I have already paid you until September 12?”
“It’s in our terms and conditions.”
“But this is double jeopardy. You’ve fined me the fares for not tagging off, even though I thought I had anyway, AND you have taken my other money as well. How can you do that?”
“It’s in our terms and conditions.”
There’s this: 12.1 We may retain, cancel, or suspend any AT HOP card or the System or any of our services at any time without specifying the reasons, but we will endeavour to minimise any inconvenience caused to you.
What? How is that fair?
Mark has read that AT are currently having problems with people catching trains and not paying for their ride at all. Supposedly they can be fined $20. Problem is, AT can’t catch the people and it’s not 100 per cent clear the fine is legal.
“But I have paid for a month’s worth of travel and because I haven’t tagged off, they can just take all my money because I did the right thing and paid and they can? They say I am an evader… how can I be an evader when I have paid for the service upfront?”
How indeed. I’d love someone to answer us that question.
Tomorrow Mark will pay $10 return to get to work and back to his new part-time job. That will be the same every day till next Friday when his pass was due to end. That’s an extra $70 he will now have to pay – without going anywhere else apart from work.
He was really looking forward to the markets again this weekend. But there will be no tiki-touring. No sight-seeing.
His wages this week will now barely cover what he has spent on transport, given that he’s having to pay twice.
How is that fair Auckland Transport? How? Is it any wonder people like me HATE your public transport and all it represents?
I want to tell Mark that it will be ok, surely it can be sorted out. But I know Auckland Transport. They’re not in this business for the people.