Bus card operator Snapper could snaffle up to $2 million from commuters who are left with cash on their cards this summer.
A quarter of a million Aucklanders have Snapper Hop cards, which are being phased out after an ugly battle with Auckland Transport.
Commuters who have less than $10 left on their cards will be unable to transfer the money to the new Auckland Transport Hop cards without jumping through complicated hoops - meaning Snapper will be able to quietly pocket their money.
Snapper and NZ Bus are owned by the same company, and Snapper was authorised to install its smart cards on its buses as a temporary measure through the Rugby World Cup. The company was meant to integrate its technology with that of Thale, the official smartcard provider for Auckland's trains, buses and ferries.
But after a string of botch-ups, Snapper announced it could not integrate its systems - and its lawyers are now threatening to sue Auckland Transport to recover $10 to $20 million it says it has spent in technical and bureaucratic wrangling.
Yesterday, bus users expressed fury at the latest development. Beena Joseph, 27, said she had been forced to carry a Snapper card to use on NZ Bus routes and an AT Hop card to use on other buses and trains.
Joseph used public transport five days a week, she said. "Obviously I'd be concerned about losing $10 credit on my card," Joseph said.
"The changeover process has been frustrating. Auckland Transport should deal with the transfer and make it easy for the customers. The customers should not have to deal with this."
Alan Quata, 19, of Glendene, said he used a Snapper Hop card five days a week. "Auckland Transport could have got it right the first time and spared the changeover," he said. "I'd be a bit annoyed to lose $10 credit in the changeover."
And New Lynn's Simon Inab, 40, called for a better public information campaign to explain the changeover. "I am more tempted to use trains instead of buses."
Fewer than 130,000 AT Hop cards are in circulation - so there will be up to 250,000 Snapper card users who need to transfer their balance to a new AT Hop card.
The minimum transfer on to an AT Hop card is $10. So if the Snapper card balance is below $10, users must either top up the purple card to more than $10 and transfer that to the AT Hop card, spend the balance at one of the 150 Snapper-affiliated businesses in Auckland - or let Snapper keep their money.
Snapper chief executive Miki Szikszai blamed the problem on Auckland Transport. "The $10 limit is AT policy, not Snapper."
There was no time limit on when the Snapper Hop cardholders could use any leftover balance, Szikszai said. They would not be giving cardholders their money back.
When pressed on why not, he said: "We're actually not able to, due to the Anti-Money Laundering Act." He would not elaborate.
Auckland Transport spokeswoman Sharon Hunter said the $10 policy was created by the former Auckland Regional Transport Authority, which was in charge of transport in Auckland before the Super City amalgamation.
"It was in the original terms and conditions of the purple Hop card." She said it was easy to transfer the money.
See editorial: Bus ticket fiasco has $10 rip-off