Auckland Transport: Ripping you off. ‘It’s in our terms and conditions’

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.”

 It isn’t that we can see.

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.


A month or so ago we a received a pamphlet telling us our local bus service – Birkenhead Transport – would be ceasing the use of 10-trip bus tickets and entering the modern era by becoming part of Auckland Transport’s ATHop card system. With the ATHop, you buy a card, load it up with money and top it up “easily” online when it gets low.

I thought ‘great, no last minute car trips to get a bus ticket the day before school’, or rummaging for coins to catch the bus. Two of our family catch the bus – the teenager catches it to and from school if he can’t cadge a lift with a mate; and the husband catches it to the university every day, and home. Life would be so much simpler. Or so I thought.

We bought two cards, $5 each during a special period, thereafter $10, and topped them both up. I noticed 25c was deducted for topping up each which seems a bit ridiculous but nothing to lose sleep over I guess; it just means you should top up for a lot to reduce the “service charge”.

You then go to the website to register the cards but as the website was a bit confused over the fact we had two cards, I called AT and got a very helpful chap who linked the family’s two cards on the one account so now we can log in and see both in the same area.

That is where our happiness ends.

The amount on both cards was quickly reduced so I logged into at 9.30am on Monday July 29 and topped up the husband’s card. It warned me that it “could take up to 72 hours” to show the balance. It seemed an awfully long time so I also set up an auto-top on his card so that if it ever fell below $10 it would top up by $40 (forward planning I thought). I did both transactions on the morning of July 29. I also assumed the 72 hour thing was like a “best before date” where you are given the worst case scenario so that if the supplier does anything better you are truly grateful.

The next morning, Tuesday, I logged into the website, or tried to – the site was down. So we didn’t know if he could use it or not so he paid cash.
The next morning, Wednesday, I logged into the website, or tried to – the site was down again. Refreshed screen in case it was a hangover from the day before, no joy. Tried again 30 minutes later and got in. The money deposited was still not showing. By now 48 hours had passed.
Thursday came – logged in and the funds still weren’t showing. It was approaching the 72 hour mark now and the coins jar was empty. Rummaged around for some and husband tottered off on the bus, paying cash not ATHop card.

I decided to call the  ATHop people. I know it’s not the people on the end of the phone’s fault, but I wanted to to tell them it had been almost 72 hours and still no funds on the card.

Pleasant woman, repeated the same line over and over. “With the ATHop card it can take 72 hours. It does say that on the website”.
“Yes I know, but it’s ridiculous! Where does the money go?”
“I’m not sure,” she said. “That’s just how long it can take with the ATHop card, 72 hours.”
She asked me if I was logged in to the site now which I was. “Does it say pending transactions?” Yes it does I said. The transaction is showing the deposit occurred on the 29th but that’s not reflected in the balance and it’s now August 1.
“Yes, well with the ATHop card it can take 72 hours.”
Yes, yes it can. I think I got that.
Then she remembered something.
“Well the amount on the card won’t show online until you use the card on the bus.”

“You have to tag on and once you have used the card it will then show you your balance the next time you log into the website.”
“So you have to go through the embarrassment of the card maybe not working on the bus to find out?” I asked.

(I know my husband HATES things like that, he’s not the type to brazen out a declined eftpos with a “oh the wife must have been shopping” like I’ve heard others do.
“Well you should make sure you have some cash with you,”she said helpfully.

Ah, yes, cash, 45c more a trip than the ATHop card.

So I texted him this evening to tell him to try it on the way home. As by now it has been 78 hours, there’s a chance it could work I say, adding he should of course “have some cash on him”.

He tries it  and gets the Wehhh-Worrrr sound of rejection from the bus card reader. It’s loud, it’s embarrassing and he doesn’t like it. He pays cash and does the walk of shame to the back of the bus, slinking as best a 6″4 man can do.

But wait! He isn’t alone.
He hears at least two more people get on after him, and getting the Weh-Woor beep. One passenger loudly proclaims in anger “But I topped it up MORE than 72 hours ago, this is ridiculous!”

Yes it is ridiculous. Let me tell you the reasons why.

* how in 2013 can either of those electronic transactions take 72 hours, either the credit card or the direct debit from our bank account (which I am now fearful about, who knows how much they will take and when?)
* I can pay an online store in Hong Kong and have my parcel sent the same day and it arrive in four days.
* When I transfer funds to any other account, I expect to see them show up online the next day and not to have to buy something to be able to see my balance! Banks make transfers on the hour these days.
* I am paying 25c to top up each time.
* The website is unstable. Half the time you can’t get in. It’s even worse on ipad. You log in and EVERY time it logs you out and makes you do it again. When you do get in on a PC, 1/4 of the time you can’t see your balance. AND the error message spells “occurred” incorrectly as “occured”. There’s no cure in this I can assure you.
* There is no explanation as to WHY it takes so long or why my money goes into a vacuum.
* The temptation is to load up the card with funds so you don’t have to load it and wait… but that’s not so smart. If it takes 72 hours to see money appear on it, how long would it take to cancel it?

So much as I hate to admit it, the teenager is right this time. Best to bludge a ride with a mate rather than catch a bus. It’s just too hard.

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