Auckland Transport finally launched the AT Hop card this week, eventually it will be the integrated ticketing system for trains, buses, and ferries around the whole city but for now you can only use it on the trains. The whole system is late arriving due to the Snapper debacle, but better late than never.
The old system of paper tickets had to change. On really busy trains the conductor could never get around the whole set of carriages before the next stop. On more the one occasion the train was so packed that I rode all the way from Ellerslie to Britomart without getting my ticket punched - effectively getting a free ride.
The new card works well, the readers at the stations are quick and accurate enough to read the card without taking it out of my wallet. The fancy vending machines are also well designed and easy to use.
Some of the infrastructure is a bit ropey though. The widely hyped website has some weird limitations. When you first register a card you have to wait minutes before you can do anything. Do they have a people sitting around retyping your details onto an index card? Or does the server have to send a fax to head office? At least you only have to do this once.
More annoyingly, you may think that loading your card with money in advance via the website is a good idea. Unfortunately AT Hop's idea of "in advance" is 72 hours.
For reasons unknown it takes 3 days for the balance to be updated. I don't know if they are worried about fraud or the bank reversing the charges due to lack of funds but surely they could float a few dollars on the card to allow travel. It is hardly the crime of the century if a couple of people ride for free especially since any master criminal is risking their $10 Hop card being blocked if the funds don't go through. iTunes sells vastly more stuff online that you can download immediately and they don't bother to even charge your credit card for a couple of days.
Also, the 25 cent top up fee seems like penny pinching for the sake of it considering the card itself costs $10 (half price if you get in early). I know the system probably cost a bit to implement but surely the point of the whole exercise is save money.
Thinking positively, there are lots of good points:
- Apart from the 72 hour delay, topping up online is easy and beats queuing up at Britomart to buy a concession ticket.
- The price of travel has been reduced, hooray!
- Travel around Auckland is about to become a lot more flexible and easy once buses and ferries come online.
- The automatic gates at Britomart make a satisfying sound when you Hop through.
Today was the first time I used my brand new At Hop card, and the experience was quick and painless. Despite some minor annoyances, it is a huge and long overdue improvement.