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an Auckland bus and a hop card against a green background with dollar signs
When will the cost of tagging on increase? Image: Tina Tiller

SocietyMay 9, 2023

When Auckland buses are late, commuters are paying more for the privilege

an Auckland bus and a hop card against a green background with dollar signs
When will the cost of tagging on increase? Image: Tina Tiller

If you need to transfer buses in Auckland, you can avoid a second charge if you do so within 30 minutes. But one customer says the system doesn’t work if buses aren’t turning up on time (or at all).

Auckland Transport has been accused of making money off delays and cancellations across its bus network.

The council-controlled organisation has made headlines for reliability issues in recent weeks. An RNZ investigation in April found more than a thousand scheduled services failed to show up on an average February weekday. On the worst day, one in every nine scheduled buses didn’t arrive. In an opinion piece for the Herald, Simon Wilson suggested AT should subsidise customers’ Uber rides if buses failed to turn up. “A promise to pay for Ubers will force AT to do whatever it takes to fix the bus services,” he wrote. “And we’d know, because of the promise, that the agency really was committed to it.”

It’s not just limited to buses, either. Just last week, The Spinoff’s Madeleine Chapman took aim at a sudden standstill on the city’s train network in a pointed opinion piece simply titled: “We might as well just stay home”.

Auckland commuter Maria has a problem of her own. As a regular bus user, she has become frustrated at being forced to pay for two buses each way because of unexpected delays or cancellations making transfers near impossible. 

In theory, the system should work as follows: if you catch two buses in one trip, and the gap between buses is less than 30 minutes, the two buses count as the same journey. That means the second bus should be free (or discounted) and counted as part of your overall trip. However, if you board your second bus more than 30 minutes after tagging off the first, regardless of the reason, your trip will be counted as a second journey and you will be charged the full fare. 

Maria says her regular commute requires two bus trips, and she often finds herself forking out for both because of unplanned delays on her trip to work. That means what should be a $1.89 trip goes up to $3.99 each way – or $39.90 per week. “It may not be a big difference to others, but it is to me, and to many others who use public transport,” says Maria, who tries her best to cycle to work to avoid the “stress” of taking public transport. 

“I cannot afford to make daily donations to Auckland Transport’s executives.”

Photo: Getty Images

Maria says that these small additional costs add up quickly and securing a refund has proved difficult. “[Auckland Transport] recently redesigned their website layout [which has] made it harder for the technologically challenged to request a refund. For the rest of us, their tactic is to delay and hope we forget. They never respond to a refund request within the given timeframe. When they eventually respond, they just condescendingly explain that the charge was correct due to the long window between buses.

“I rarely get any money back. It’s a totally unfair and exploitative system.”

It’s been an ongoing issue for Maria, who says she first raised the issue with Auckland Transport about four years ago. While she has managed to get her money back on at least one occasion, she found the response patronising (in an email from AT to Maria, seen by The Spinoff, a customer service representative said the refund was a “gesture of goodwill”).

“I do not understand how it is fair for customers to be charged extra for a bus issue out of their control,” says Maria. “This is Auckland Transport’s mistake – why are they the ones profiting from it? How does that incentivise them to provide a reliable service? It seems to incentivise unreliability.”

In another email from AT, about two years ago, Maria was told her request for a refund had been rejected as the delay was deemed out of the organisation’s control.

Maria has a solution for Auckland Transport that she says should, in theory, be simple to implement. “Either extend the transfer window to 60 minutes or calculate the window from the time a passenger gets off the first bus to the scheduled arrival of their second bus. Doing so would prevent passengers from being charged on error – but it would also cut into Auckland Transport’s profits.”

The Spinoff asked Auckland Transport several questions about its fares, including whether it believed it was profiting from delays impacting customers. None of the questions were answered. Instead, in a brief statement, a spokesperson said it would not be making any changes to how its bus fares were calculated but promised refunds in future. “We acknowledge our customers’ frustration on this one and can refund them if they’re caught out by this,” they said. “As this is not a widespread issue, we manage it on a case-by-case basis.”

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