'They maxed it out': Peggo auto-reload feature overcharges 36 Winnipeggers more than $70K

Winnipeg Transit is apologizing to customers after the auto-reload feature on its Peggo payment system erroneously charged 36 people more than $70,000 total.

36 customers charged in error multiple times last Friday; Winnipeg Transit says refunds processed

Scott Hazlitt flips through a print-out of his credit card record, including 161 unauthorized $50 charges that were never actually credited to his Peggo account. (Cliff Simpson/CBC)

Scott Hazlitt was sitting on a bus Friday morning when he got what seemed like a perfectly normal email, notifying him that his Peggo account had drawn $50 from his credit card. 

After all, he'd set up the system's auto-reload feature to automatically credit his Peggo account with that amount when it got low.

But then the messages kept coming, and coming and coming. More than 150 of them, in fact, each one drawing $50 from his credit card — so many that his inbox started sorting the emails into his junk folder.

"The only reason, I think, that they stopped charging my card was that they maxed it out," he said.

At first, he hoped it was an email-related glitch, not actual charges being made on his card. But when he checked his bank accounts the next morning, he saw his credit card had been maxed out, with $8,050 in charges to his Peggo card he didn't want.

Hazlitt called 311 and was told he'd hear back on the next business day. He said he got an email on Monday informing him there had been an error and the refund process was underway.

In total, the error affected 35 other customers, racking up just over $70,000 of erroneous charges, according to a spokesperson for Winnipeg Transit. The charges all happened Friday, and Transit said it identified the error immediately and turned off the auto-reload function right away.

"We recognize that this had a significant impact on those customers who were affected and we sincerely apologize for the inconvenience," the spokesperson wrote in the email to CBC News.

But Hazlitt wasn't impressed by some aspects of how the city handled the issue.

"The most disappointing part is that I had to reach out to the city," he said. "I'm thinking the city probably knew about this error last Friday, but nobody reached out to me."

He won't be using the auto-reload feature again, he said.

"There's no way I'm going to use that now. I have no confidence in that at all."

Peggo removed $8,050 from Hazlitt's credit card account, $50 at a time, on Friday morning. (Cliff Simpson/CBC)

On Wednesday, the Transit spokesperson said all the refunds had been processed.

As of Thursday, Hazlitt said he had received the full amount.

He also found that despite charging his credit card, the system never actually delivered any of the money into his Peggo account.

"I never got $50 on my card. I went to get on the bus on Monday and it said 'insufficient value,'" he said.

Drivers let him on the bus Monday morning and afternoon, but on Tuesday afternoon he says he was stuck explaining his story to a sceptical bus driver. 

The charges were an inconvenience for him, but he said it could have been worse: there could have been an emergency or customers could have been travelling away from home while it happened.

"I just can't believe in this day and age that they have a system that would allow transactions to go through so many times without stopping," he said.

"Maybe they shouldn't have that feature on at all until they're sure that it works properly."

Peggo woes improving, report states

There are over 100,000 Peggo cards in circulation with an average of 91,000 fare-box taps per day, the spokesperson said.

The contractor in charge of Peggo is working on a solution to the glitch, she said.

The system has faced other issues since its introduction in 2016, including a glitch that prevented Peggo credits purchased online from getting transferred to the cards themselves.

In January, council's finance committee was told that Peggo had largely resolved its problems and was testing its final product — a visitor pass.

"Since September 30, 2017, the Peggo system's software and fare boxes have experienced increased stability and reliability, and customer concerns have been significantly reduced," the report reads.

Aleem Chaudhary, president of Winnipeg's Amalgamated Transit Union 1505, said the latest batch of problems with Peggo indicates a larger issue with Transit funding.

"When you cut corners instead of investing in quality service, the results speak for themselves," he said.

Payment issues and other problems discourage ridership, he said.

"That's why we're calling on both the city and the province to work together by dedicating standalone funding for public transit, so that together, we can get our transit system back on track."