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:
- 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).
- 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.
- She finishes putting away her books, then walks through to the Metro counter with me.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Despite the ID and filling out a form with all my details, I’m told I still need to register the card online.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.