Free Metrocards!

Axel has written here previously how much he hates the $10 charge for metrocards. He explains how we never used to pay for them, it was introduced in 2011 to give Ecan some “free” money.

Well he’ll be happy to see that a few days ago Ecan announced that they are waiving this $10 fee for a month, to encourage people to get Metrocards so they can minimise cash payments for covid-19 reasons. At least there is now an acknowledgement that the $10 fee does prevent some people getting metrocards.

I’ve been meaning on getting my daughter a card for a while so I thought I’d take advantage of this offer. But despite the waiving of the $10 fee, I was still surprised at the convoluted process it is to get a card. Here’s what the I went through:

  1. My first step is to look up the metroinfo website to see where I can get a metrocard. There’s a limited number of agents: mostly it’s libraries, plus a handful of others like the exchange, Ara, University and the airport. I drove my car to the nearest agent (Te Hāpua Halswell library).
  2. The service desk appears to be closed, although it’s not immediately obvious. I go into the library and inquire of a staff member. She is very friendly and says she can help me.

    No one behind the counter at weekends
  3. She finishes putting away her books, then walks through to the Metro counter with me.
  4. She starts trying to operate the machine to get me a card, but isn’t sure what to do. She apologises profusely saying this is normally done by the service desk staff so she isn’t that familiar with it. After several attempts she manages to get the machine to work. I have to fill out a form with my name, address, email and phone number on it.
  5. She asks me if I have ID for my daughter which, given she is only 7, means her birth certificate. This is not a document I ordinarily carry on me. Luckily I had been told this in advance so I had brought it with me. I wonder how many parents have been caught out by not having this on them.
  6. I get a metrocard. It’s actually really nice looking – some great artwork by Janine Millington. And it comes in a nice wee card wallet with some info on it.

    The new cards look a lot nicer than my old dunger
  7. Despite the ID and filling out a form with all my details, I’m told I still need to register the card online.
  8. I go home to register. I first try in Firefox but it doesn’t work. I try again in Chrome. The website says that not only do I need the card number, but I’m supposed to have got some independent verification number for online registration. I pore over my three receipts + card wallet, and try several of the numbers on these. None of them work. There is a number to call if you don’t know your verification number (which suggests this is a common occurrence).

    Apparently there is supposed to be a verification number on one of these receipts. I tried just about every number on them but nothing seemed to work.
  9. I call the help desk. I’m expecting it to say it’s closed over the weekend, so am pleasantly surprised when someone answers. I explain my situation; she tells me my verification number.
  10. I go online and finish registering. The last step is waiting for a verification email, then clicking a link in that to activate the account. I do this and the card is all good to go.

This seemed like quite a process to me, just to get my daughter a fully functioning bus card. Compared to the relative ease of booking domestic flights say, this all seemed a bit over the top. It’s certainly more onerous than other cities I’ve bought public transport cards in where you just go into the nearest dairy and buy one – there’s no ID required, nothing required online, no forms to fill out, all very quick and easy.

If it felt complicated for a regular user like me, I imagine it must be even worse for new users who aren’t confident with the whole public transport system. I wonder how many get deterred by the complicated process they have to go through. I do know at least one friend who got halfway through her kids’ bus cards and then gave up because the requirement to bring in their birth certificates was too much of a hassle. It’s like the bus system is designed only for the committed faithful, not for all the normal people out there who might use the bus if only we didn’t make it so difficult for them.

Waiving the $10 fee for a month is a good start. But we could go a step further and make that permanent (as it used to be), and also remove the paperwork currently needed to get a card – as they have already done in most other cities around the world.

On a final note there is a national ticketing scheme underway which is programmed to be rolled out in Christchurch in a few years time. The intention is that this would replace metrocards. So any changes to metrocard would only provide benefits for a few years.

6 thoughts on “Free Metrocards!

  1. It is incredibly bizarre. I am thinking of Oyster Cards in London, which can be found over the counter at a variety of sellers without the need for ID; you get discounts for registering the card. On the other hand, based on my visit in 2016, I believe that you do need to pay for them.

    Exactly why Metro even needs ID is curious. I have yet to hear of Metrocards being used for contact tracing or fraud, assuming they were ever that sophisticated. It is just another case of pointless bureaucracy for its own sake. Why do you think ID is deemed necessary?


    1. I’ve heard that the main reason registrations were originally required was so people who lose their card can still retain the credit left on it when they get a replacement. Probably handy if that ever happened, but it seems like a pretty infrequent occurence (I’ve had my metrocard for 8 years and never lost it). And even if I did it’s never got more than $20 on it so it’s not a massive loss.


  2. Haha, thank you for designating a post to me. I was told half a year ago that this (free Metrocard) would come but it can’t be quite the final scheme yet (sounded like permanently free). But yes, there are some archaic attitudes that need to be nuked. How can it possibly be clever to make it that complicated? Easiest way to get an AT Hop card in Auckland? Jump onto their website, enter your mailing address and payment details and it’ll turn up in your letterbox.

    With regards to the national ticketing scheme, I wrote an article about it the other months as I wanted to understand myself what is going on. Low and behold, it is possible to make things more convoluted than the Metrocard purchasing process. Be aware – it’s a long read and it’ll make your head spin.


  3. Totally agree with your comments, the registrations should be optional. Because people have to go into the exchange to register it, that is the key reason people do not actually have the cards in the first place. In other words you should be able to buy a new card on the bus, and register it without having to go in. This has just not been thought through at all, but that is hardly unusual when dealing with Ecan.


  4. Kinda late, but the online registration code you should have gotten would have been on another receipt, the library you went to must not have printed it or something. Yes, you get FOUR separate pieces of paper if you buy a just ONE card. Yes, you get EIGHT receipts if you buy two cards, eg for another person. One for if you pay using EFTPOS, one for “issuing the card”, one for “topping up” and another one with the registration code and other card details. I don’t why they don’t just do it all on one receipt, HK, Adelaide, Singapore, Sydney, Auckland all do it, I don’t get why Christchurch has to be so special.


  5. The registration code you should have gotten would have been on another receipt. The library you went to must not have printed it. Yes, that does mean you get FOUR separate receipts; for topping up, issuing the card, online registration code and EFTPOS (if applicable). Yes, that means if you buy two cards (e.g for two people), you’ll get EIGHT receipts. I don’t get why they don’t just print it all on one. Pretty much everywhere I have been does that; Sydney, Adelaide, Singapore, HK, LA, London, Tokyo, even Auckland does it. I don’t get why Christchurch has to be so special.


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