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Herald on Sunday Editorial: Bus ticket fiasco has $10 rip-off

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The new AT Hop card.
The new AT Hop card.

Who would dare hop on an Auckland bus? The introduction of a transferable ticket, the "Hop" card, has been fraught with political and commercial intrigue. Consequently there are now two Hop cards: Snapper Hop introduced in 2011, and Auckland Transport's AT Hop, that is supposed to replace it.

Some buses are still equipped with Snapper card readers, some have been converted to AT Hop. Board a bus with the wrong card and you may be in trouble. Now, passengers may lose up to $10 when they exchange their Snapper for AT's equivalent.

If they bring in their Snapper with less than $10 on it, they will be unable to transfer their credit to AT Hop because the minimum top-up AT will accept is $10. The passenger faces the choice of making up the difference with cash, buying something else with the amount remaining on the card - or allowing Snapper to pocket the cash.

The sum is so small that most people will hardly give it a thought beyond noting the rip-off. But for some people reliant on public transport, every dollar counts.

They have been induced to buy a bus card that saves the cost of cash-handling and now they are being penalised for it.

Snapper blames AT Hop's minimum top-up rule but, in the heights of corporate arrogance, is happy to reap the benefits. And Snapper is threatening to put Auckland ratepayers to much greater expense still in compensation for losses it claims to have suffered in attempting to merge its system with that designed for Auckland Transport.

Snapper is a subsidiary of Infratil which also owns the largest bus operator, NZ Bus. Four years ago, when Auckland was in the market for an integrated ticketing system that could be installed on all buses, trains and ferries, Snapper bid for the contract.

Its card was in use in Wellington and Snapper argued it could readily be extended to Auckland. The regional transport authorities wanted a card purely for public transport and let the contract to a French supplier, Thales.

That was in 2009. When it became clear the chosen supplier would not have the system ready in time for the 2011 Rugby World Cup, the Government gave Snapper a temporary opportunity to install its card on NZ Bus services.

So Snapper adopted the Hop brand and launched its card on the back of buses and billboards. It also seized the chance to get its card into Auckland shops where it can be used for small purchases beside bus fares.

This was all on the condition that its Hop card could be easily integrated with the chosen system in due course. That did not happen. Snapper missed several deadlines, blaming changes in Auckland Transport's technical requirements.

Eventually Snapper was dumped - and said it would take legal action to recover more than $10 million it claims to have lost in trying to plug into the other system.

Meanwhile, the purpose-built system is finally being installed, but not smoothly. North Shore passengers were told to run down their Snapper cards in August, then the change-over was delayed. Last month, central area passengers were advised to carry both cards, plus cash.

This month, Auckland Transport advised its drivers to let confused passengers ride free for the time being. In the midst of such a mess, a loss of less than $10 on a card exchange may seem small beer. But it is typical of a saga that has left nobody with much credit.

- Herald on Sunday

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