Auckland Transport rules out bringing back cash option for bus passengers, only HOP cards accepted

AT’s HOP cards are the only accepted payment method on buses since the option of using cash was removed with the arrival of COVID-19 in March 2020.

25th May, 2022

Auckland Transport rules out bringing back cash option for bus passengers, only HOP cards accepted

Raphael Franks - Te Rito journalism cadet


Auckland Transport won't be bringing back the cash option to pay for bus fares. Photo credit: Newshub

AT’s HOP cards are the only accepted payment method on buses since the option of using cash was removed with the arrival of COVID-19 in March 2020. 

An advocacy group for digital inclusion, the Digital Equity Coalition Aotearoa (DECA), has questioned how this change will encourage and enable more people to use public transport.

A spokesperson for DECA says migrant communities, including Pasifika, and tourists are a large proportion of the “cash economy” and might not know what a HOP card is.

Public Transport Users Association National Coordinator Jon Reeves says he’s seen passengers, who didn’t have HOP cards but whose cash wasn’t accepted, get on without a fare.

Reeves also pointed to international arrivals who might not know they needed a HOP card to use buses, especially as the country’s borders are opening up.

A spokesperson for AT says over 90 percent of customers are already using HOP cards, however DECA says there are some individuals who rely on cash as a payment option as they do not have bank accounts or debit/credit cards. 

These individuals will not be able to use Auckland’s buses unless they purchased a HOP card online or from a retailer. 

DECA asks how accessible HOP cards are for people without access to online banking or for whom retailers are too far away.  

Reeves says there ought to be more retailers who offer HOP cards and that in Sydney “shops where you can buy transit cards are all over the place.”

The Reserve Bank’s website says: “Cash can and should continue to be accepted for essential purchases, but retailers are not legally required to accept cash.”

"We know that there are some people, who are generally more vulnerable, who cannot pay without using cash,” the RB says. 

AT says the removal of cash keeps passengers and drivers safe. 

“When customers use cash to pay, this creates a bottleneck where people are gathered around the driver, which means that [COVID-19 safety precautions like] social distancing can’t be adhered to,” says AT.

The use of registered HOP cards also enables contact tracing. 

“Cash fares can result in disputes or cash robberies, which is easily avoided when customers simply tag on and off with their AT HOP cards.”

The Herald reported an assault on a bus driver in January this year, and Police had reported 35 incidents of abuse or aggression towards Auckland bus drivers between August 1 - September 17 last year - all occurring after cash was removed as a payment option. 

DECA says AT needs to consult with impacted communities, and help people with limited understanding of public transport or access to online services to enable greater patronage. 

AT said it would give out free HOP cards to anyone trying to use cash in 2020. 

The spokesperson for DECA says this is the kind of support that can help people transition from cash to digital payment methods, and they would like to see efforts like this continue to ensure inclusion.