For Boomers – a journey to the HOP:

2007:

‘The Super Gold Card recognises the valued contribution our seniors and  veterans have made, and continue to make to New Zealand society’.   Ahh…  warm fuzzies.  Makes you feel proud doesn’t it? Included. Accepted. Institutionally respected  and acknowledged at the highest levels. Free to roam, off-peak that is.

Gold card2016:

 ‘Why you’ll love your AT HOP card…’ says the AT handbook about the change from Gold to HOP card in Auckland. You can simply tag on, helping everyone board faster, and tag off.  This speeds up the bus journey too, helping to make the service more punctual….(at a price). Boomers and other seniors  are being treated like children.  Advanced age and all that.  Has it occurred to the Ministry of Transport which dreamt up this change, that we’re retired. That we don’t care if we board fast or take our time and as late-life wanderers, arrive bang on time.

As many of us are from the Sixties, we also have built-in suspicions about moves which make us do anything, especially if the move to HOP means our public transport movements will be tracked.

We know we had a social contract. And we now know that its successor, forced on AT by the Ministry, is a con. First, we are no longer the valued seniors of 2007.  We have become part of the free market’s buy/sell mentality because we go from zero payment to $15. Not much perhaps, but there is – or was – a principle here and that was recognition of our status as seniors.

We are being asked to pay for what we once had for free. Like many market-driven moves, this one potentially has social consequences. Many older people are socially isolated and getting out for free reduces some of that. And though it may not seem much, $15  is simply an additional cost on many who budget carefully week to week on their limited income.

Then – talk about a journey – the process of moving from Gold Card to the HOP could send anyone on a bender of hops. You fill out the forms, you take them to  the recognised retailer, but they’ve run out of forms;  you go back and they say you need a photo ID. Much confusion because that was not what we were told on 0800 line. (Apparently all that’s needed is a driver’s licence ID).

Confusion over penalties too. On that same line we were told the card lasted for three years – a  view later contradicted to say it was a one-off payment.

Some seniors were alarmed to discover they would be fined $7 if they didn’t tag off when returning to Auckland  from Waiheke. But the 0800 line people said no that applied only if they were naughtily caught  out of the peak time zone… and so it goes.

NZ First leader Winston Peters says the Government is trying to kill off the Gold Card. He’s right of course, but the Government denies it.

Curiously enough, this year it has also been in denial over  the Auckland housing crisis, homelessness, child poverty,  the Panama Papers, the  scientific research  discrediting the 90 day  employment period,   our tax haven status and the illegal dumping of fish. For this Government, denial is not so much a river in Africa,  but their water supply.

Free travel for seniors off-peak is available in the UK, in Ireland and other Western democracies. The website Debate.org recently posed the question: ‘Should the elderly get free bus rides?’ 85% said yes, and 15% said no.

The questions we’re left with are, is this the thin edge of the wedge? And how did we slip so easily from valued citizens to just another commodity?

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Paul Smith

Paul is a veteran journalist, non-fiction author and writing mentor. He has also served on boards ranging from TVNZ to UNESCO.