I had resisted getting a bus-card for my Urban Express trips from work to home, largely out of protest more than anything else. I already have a “GoRider” pass from NZ Bus, which I can use for trips from home to the city or from work to the city and back. In fact, probably 90% of the routes that I would ever end up catching a bus along are operated by NZ Bus (in one of its confusingly large number of colours). However, frustratingly the 008 route from my home directly to my work isn’t operated by NZ Bus, but rather by Urban Express. Urban Express is, in all honesty, a stupidly tiny bus company that doesn’t really achieve any purpose in life other than annoy me by not being NZ Bus. Actually perhaps that’s a little harsh, as the drivers always seem reasonably friendly.

In a half-decent city, the fact that the bus I catch between home and work is operated by a different company to the one that operates most other buses wouldn’t really matter. Any sensible, half-decent city would have a ticketing system that allowed by pass to be used on any of the bus companies, and also on the trains and ferries, should I choose to do so. However, of course this is not the case in Auckland. Along with the fact that our public transport is slow, unreliable and infrequent (geez it’s a wonder anyone bothers to use it when I put it that way), as I have mentioned before the lack of integrated ticketing is a serious problem and definitely contributes to Auckland’s enormous car-dependency.

So, in order to avoid the need to forever carry change around with me for the bus, Urban Express charged me $10 for the privilege of being issued a standard card-sized piece of plastic. Hilariously enough, the “Conditions of Use” on the back of the bus pass categorically stated both “This card may only be used by the original recipient and is not transferable” (so don’t even think about paying for two fares at once with it or lending it to your friend) and “This card remains the property of Urban Express”. So effectively I’ve just paid $10 but not actually bought myself a bus card. Helpfully, point 6 on the back of the card notes that “The payment made at the time of issue, (comma there?) is a Card Issue Fee, (another comma?) and is not refundable. So basically I have paid $10 not for the card itself, but only for issuing me the card? Which furthermore I’m not actually supposed to lend anyone, and it’s not refundable either. I guess fortunately the drivers don’t seem to have read the stupid conditions of use themselves (whoever does apart from me when I’m bored) as every single morning I catch a 008 bus there are two kids who both use the same card to pay for their fares. I think the lawyers at Urban Express need to take a chill-pill.

On the bright-side I get 20c off each trip, if I top up my card in 10 ride chunks. So it’ll (only????) take 50 trips for me to get my money back. I suppose that I’ll manage that eventually. Plus it will mean I don’t have to buy quite so many Cookie Times from the dairy to get cash out for my trip.

So, a lack of integrated ticketing in Auckland totally sucks. The question remains what is being done about it. Which means we get back to ARTA, who inevitably always seem to end up with the blame for everything that’s possibly wrong with Auckland’s public transport system. A search of their website for “Integrated Ticketing” turns up the aptly named Auckland Integrated Fares System (AIFS) Programme. This provides some information on where we’re at with implementing integrated ticketing in Auckland, but also clearly outlines the frustrating lack of progress that has happened over the past decade on this issue. The page clearly outlines what the problem is:

Currently, each public transport operator has their own multi-trip and concession tickets and smartcards, which can’t be used on another operator’s service.

There are some minor exceptions to this rule, with Discovery and Get About passes able to be used on all public transport operators. But generally these passes are so supremely expensive that only about 30 monthly Discovery Passes ever sell (or something along those lines). The next bit drives me insane though:

Developing an integrated ticketing solution for the Auckland region is far from simple and has been the centre of substantial national and regional discussions for more than 10 years.

More than 10 years???? MORE THAN TEN BLOODY YEARS!!!!!!! How the hell can you “discuss” integrated ticketing for more than ten years and get absolutely nowhere? This shows utter incompetence on behalf of everyone in my opinion, and simply putting this incompetence aside by stating that “developing an integrated ticketing solution for the Auckland region is far from simple….” is utter rubbish. OK, well to be fair I am being a tad harsh on ARTA. For a start ARTA has only been around for around four years now. Secondly, up until very recently (with the passing of the Public Transport Management Amendement Act, or something along those lines) councils could ‘discuss’ integrated ticketing as much as they liked with the various bus companies, but they had absolutely no power to ensure the companies actually went with it. Each company was stupidly selfish about their own ticketing systems (without realising that they should try to grow the pie rather than just trying to keep their piece of the tiny pie) and refused to co-operate. Fortunately, with the passing of the aforementioned legislation, over the next year or so every single public transport route operated will come under the direct control of ARTA, so they will be able to make sure integrated ticketing does actually happen. But still, more than 10 years? It really does make you bang your head against a wall in frustration.

Now it seems like ARTA wishes to accomplish everything with this Integrated Fares System Programme. It will implement a new (presumably integrated) fare system for Auckland (hopefully somewhat along the lines of what I’ve suggested in previous posts on this blog) and will also introduce a “smart-card” system that uses a simple “touch-on, touch-off” technology to speed up the boarding of buses in particular. Well as long as it is properly done, this is definitely good news all round. Smart-card systems are the way of the future, and I very much enjoyed using an Oyster Card when in London. Although the technology is considered “cutting edge” in some respects, Hong Kong has now been operating its “Octopus Card” for around a decade, so it has certainly been well tested. I just do wonder how “smart” these new card will be. Will I be able to top it up online? Will I be able to use the card to buy other stuff like people do everywhere in Hong Kong? How expensive will this all be, and will it be worth it?

In some ways I wish that ARTA would just focus on implementing an integrated system using the simplest technology available (paper?) first. The smart-card system should definitely still happen, but the shift to integrated ticketing has already taken so long that I wouldn’t want that aspect of it to be held up by the costs associated with a smart-card system (such as gate-barriers at large train stations). Fortunately, it seems like something along these lines is being planned by ARTA, as the project is to be implemented in stages:

  1. System procurement – the smartcard Contractor to be appointed in the 4th quarter of 2008 (still waiting for the announcement though?)
  2. ARTA fares policy implementation – using existing technologies and systems where possible – in the 3rd quarter of 2009. (An excellent first step to make.)
  3. Smartcard development and implementation – the core smartcard system in operation in the 3rd quarter of 2010 (Less than 2 years away, a lot of work to be done by then I would think).
  4. Smartcard system enhancement – enhancements to the system completed by the end of 2011 (well… hopefully before the World Cup).

Now as long as things are still progressing as planned I’m fairly happy with this timeline. I do worry, largely because it has taken so long for this project to get where it is (which is basically nowhere) that we will just see more and more delays.

Now, if ARTA were clever they’d send every household in Auckland a free smart-card when the system is implemented. Maybe I’ll ceremoniously burn all my existing bus cards when that day comes.

Share this

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *