We are still yet to hear anything much from ARTA about the progress of integrated ticketing, aside from a rather bizarre press release from NZTA a few weeks back that some agreement had been reached on a technical standard. Big questions like whether we will have zoned based ticketing, whether we’ll have free transfers, whether we’ll have time-based ticketing and so forth remain unknown for now, although hopefully ARTA will decide at some point in the near future to share their grand plans for integrated ticketing with the rest of the world.

However, tonight at the monthly Campaign for Better Transport meeting, a couple of people from Thales, the contractor who is implementing the smartcard integrated ticketing system presented a progress report on what they’re doing, gave us a bit of an idea about what we can expect from the system and also gave us an idea about the timing of how the system will roll out. I can’t remember every detail of what they said, but here are a few key points that I do remember:

  • The ticketing system, in terms of the actual card and how it works will be very similar to overseas cards like London’s Oyster Card and Hong Kong’s Octopus Card.
  • There will be a range of different “products” that can be loaded onto a card – stored value, monthly passes, weekly passes and so forth. ARTA will determine the final range of products – Thales’s job is simply to implement it.
  • There will be “tag-on” and “tag-off” at each railway station and ferry terminal and on each bus. The Thales equipment is being installed for train stations and ferry terminals, while on buses it could be different equipment but will obviously have to understand and recognise the Thales card.
  • Britomart and Newmarket are to be the only train stations with ticket “gates”. The gates at Britomart will be at the top level (obviously there will be gates at the eastern end too).
  • Other train stations will have “tag posts”. You will need to make sure you’re tagged on by the time you get on the train as there will be ticket checkers who can read your card and tell whether you’ve tagged on or not.
  • Buses will have two tag points at the front entrance, so even if someone is holding up the bus by digging through their bag for change you’ll be able to bypass them on the right side of the bus entrance.
  • Each reader will display how much money (or how many trips etc.) you have left on your card when you tag on/off.
  • You will have the option to register your card, which means that you will be able to link it up with your bank account and if you choose, have your card be automatically topped up by a certain amount once it gets below $10 (or once your monthly pass runs out it will be automatically renewed etc.)
  • By August next year there will be a ‘limited functionality pilot’ operating, which means that the system will be up and running in some form on some trains, buses and ferries. I think the goal is to have the rail system operable by the time of the Rugby World Cup.
  • Full operation is likely by mid 2012.

Overall, it all sounds really great. Thales clearly know what they’re doing (as they have done this many times before) and are delivering a world-class quality product for Auckland. It is pretty exciting to think that in less than two years time we’re finally going to have our version of an Oyster Card.

There is still the issue of what fare products will be available, whether we’ll have free transfers, zone based ticketing, time based ticketing and so forth. Whatever fare options exist, the Thales system will be able to handle it. I just really hope that ARTA sorts out the fare policy in a good way that makes it far easier for people to transfer between services. We wouldn’t want all this great work in creating the integrated ticketing system to be somewhat wasted by not updating our fare system and bringing that into the 21st century too.

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31 comments

  1. The guys from Thales/Telus were quite good, really informative and willing to answer any question. They also said there would be vending machines at each train station to purchase tickets and that they would weigh 500kg each. Most stations have infrastructure in place already to allow the readers to be installed quickly (yes there was future proofing done) however some will require some work to dig trenches etc.

    Data is available daily and each operator will be able to see their services only with ARTA being able to see the data for the whole region and NZTA getting high level stats on PT use. This could lead to some interesting info as ARTA will be able to see how many passengers are using each bus stop and what trips people are doing (not from a big brother sense).

    Initially there will be no micro payments available but the card does have the capability to do so. Thales don’t do this as part of their business but it is able to be developed with banks should ARTA wish to.

    1. Ah thanks for that Matt, I knew I’d forget some things that were mentioned. I agree they were really great.

      I just wish we got the same level of openness from ARTA on this project.

  2. Sounds great! Truly world class then. I hope the integrated fares structure is rolled out at the same time as the cards to maximise the impact.

    1. Not sure. Probably some senior staff will be from overseas to ensure we get the necessary expertise. There is an Auckland office though, so I imagine there will be local staff too.

    2. The senior guy that was there, I think he was heading or at least high up in the project sounded like he was Australian

  3. Guys, you absolutely have no clue about Thales. You’re think they’re great, knowing what they’re doing, etc? Forget it. They’ve been implementing the same e-ticketing system as Oyster in the Netherlands for more than 5 years and it’s quite a mess. It should be implemented in 2 years max.

    Thales is extremely good in selling, but delivering is horrible. Many of the products are not possible, e.g. kilometerbundles. Their ticketing machines costs 100.000 euro each, excluding SLA but with a incredible bad MMI. Their POS are even worse.

    I’ve been involved from the inside and Thales eventually does the job but it takes at least double the time expected. And double the costs as well.

    1. I might be too much of an optimist, but this will be one of the first “big ticket” items on the agenda of the new Auckland Mayor, so it should get enough visibility to ensure that it is a success. We might even win the World Cup.

    2. Doing a ticketing sytem for a whole country, undoubtedly with a variety of producst in each city, sounds extremely complex and something that would take a while. But we shall certainly keep an eye on Thales and their progress.

  4. This is fantastic news. Looking forward to the day where all will be paying their fare share for train use. Why is it that people who only travel one stage can get away with not paying for their trips? Once we have integrated ticketing in place we can start building new rail lines…

  5. “…while on buses it could be different equipment but will obviously have to understand and recognise the Thales card.”

    Ah that’s where the NZ Bus Snapper rollout currently underway fits in.

    That’s going to create an initial customer base of Snapper cardholders who would have credit on those cards, who would be reluctant to change to the AT/Thales card and lose their Snapper credit balance.

    Which means they’re more likely to stick with PT services that their card is valid for, ie, not other operators, and not the trains.

    Clever strategy.

    I wonder what other value-added pull factors NZ Bus plans to add to their Snapper service as pull factors? Greater discounts than the AT/Thales card perhaps?

    1. I am assuming with the above that Snapper readers will read all cards, but Snapper cards will only work with Snapper readers and not Thales readers deployed on the rail/ferry systems and non-Snapper bus operators.

      1. The fares policy will have to be very strong here. The last thing we want is Snapper offering better deals for trips on NZ Bus services but higher prices for other services. I think the Snapper Card will be likely to work on everything, as long as they meet this technical standard NZTA is establishing.

        1. I am trying to read between the lines to work that out. Every reader must read the Thales card, but I don’t yet see anything that says other cards such as Snapper must work with Thales readers, so I’m going to remain skeptical until I see otherwise.

          Also Snapper works with retail purchases but with Thales that’s “coming later” which implies the two systems remain quite different.

          For fare discounts, I’m reading off the existing system of the Maximum Fare Schedule, of which operators are free to charge less. The question is, will operators be able/allowed to top up fares themselves if it’s in their commercial interest to do so?

        2. I am fairly sure the whole point of the long and protracted “standards exercise” is to ensure that cards are cross compatible and each card will work in both types of readers.

          The card/readers are a pieces of technology and can be shaped to fit a number of situations, the issue about zonal/capped pricing and free transfers is a political issue for ARTA/Transport CCO,

          And to be honest they should make it clear whether they see the intergrated ticketing project as simply a replacement for all current tickets, or whether they will roll out capping /zones/timed travel periods/free transfers at the beginning.- but this is a political decision not a tech one

  6. Welly, I actually think there won’t be anything in the standard that forces Snapper to be compatible with anything else. So each card will NOT work in both readers (at least not automatically, if NZ Bus doesn’t want it).

    However, if NZ Bus was to make their readers incompatible, the standard WOULD force them to have an extra two readers in each bus (or even more, seeing that the standard seems to require two readers at the driver’s entrance). If they want to do that – meh. Not our problem as long as the Thales card works.

    I think the “barrier” of changing to a Thales card just because you already have a Snapper card won’t be that big. I mean, all it takes is one conversation in the break room:

    – “Uh, what’s this stupid integrated ticketing thing about – I tried to use my card on the ferry yesterday, and it didn’t work”.

    – “Well, doh! You are using the wrong card – only the [Thales card] allows transfers like that.”

    – “Oh, well I better get one of those then. Didn’t know my [censored] Snapper card couldn’t do that!”

    In short, they are on a hiding to nothing if they try to keep a totally parallel system. They may slow down takeup, but that’s about all. Their best bet is to integrate their Snapper functionality in a swipe card that works for BOTH systems (using two RFID transmitters in one card if need be). That way they can do their own stuff and yet be compliant.

    1. They won’t be using RFID, the response to that was that RFID is a simple challenge/response system where as a contactless smart card has a coil to pick up power from the reader to activate a built in chip. The chip carries the program that includes the balance/products purchased. They said it could be developed further to integrate a credit card, again as with the micro payments question, it will have to be done by ARTA in conjunction with a third party

      Also in the future NZTA will have the option of offering the system to other regions in the country should they wish to. It will be up to those regions to decide if they want to use it or not. Should they use it the clearing house functions will already be built but doesn’t necessarily mean you will be able to use your card from Auckland in another place.

  7. Gah, tagging off of buses! This is one of my pet peeves with Myki, it is such an awkward requirement and it is going to do horrible things for dwell times onces people start using the new system exclusively. With my feeder bus I sometimes miss the train simply because it takes so long to decant 50-60 people through two narrow doors, and that is with a mad crush to get out. When all those people have to get their cards out and hold them to the reader one by one it is going to triple the time to empty the bus. It was such a drama for trams they actually revised the zoning so that it was all in one zone and people wouldn’t have to tag off.

    I can understand the value of the tag off in a zone based system, but only for trains and ferries where the action occurs at a station independent of the vehicle. If you have to do that as you board a deboard then it is going to compromise dwell times. Not that I have a scheme for how you would do it otherwise, but there has to be a better way.

    As a weekly pass holder tagging on and tagging off all the time is a real hassle, especially when I almost never leave zone 1. On the old system I only needed to validate the pass once and it was valid for the rest of the week. Now I’m supposed to do it every time I get on or off a vehicle. Is it really necessary for me to have to prove eight times a day every day that my weekly pass is still valid?!

    1. I think the main reason why they want you to tag off buses even if you have a weekly/monthly pass it so that patronage and travel trends can be accurately measured so that it’s possible to fine tune the system to a far greater extent. If you didn’t require tag-off then you’d never really know when people got off the bus.

      Not saying that benefit is worth the hassle of forcing people to unnecessarily tag off, but there is an argument there.

      1. Yes it is one way to get patronage data, plus I can see it being used in Auckland as the means to proportion funds among operators if an integrated fare structure is brought into place (thus providing a mechanism to continue the lacklustre commercial/subsidy model and avoid a shift to universal gross contracting).

        But personally I think ticketing should be a simple and low demand as possible for the user, at the end of the day it is just a means to prove payment which provides no intrinsic benefit to the service (but can result in disbenefits such as long dwell times, frustration and confusion). Folks shouldn’t have to jump through hoops for the honour of paying for their bus ride! If the council wants to collect and monitor patronage data then they can do that the old fashioned way.

        IMHO the answer is a subscription model, i.e. full gross contracting of all public transport services in the region and an extremely simplified structure of time based fares with a small number of zones that gets most regular travellers onto weekly or monthly passes. The tagging off can be done away with on buses and patronage data can be collected from a combination of tagging on and head counts.

  8. Nick it didn’t sound to bad and it is done in other cities. They claimed that their system can read a tag in 0.3 seconds and has a range of about 7cm so providing people have their ticket ready it shouldn’t really impact dwell times. Loading times will reduce dramatically from this. If you don’t tag off then it will depend on the ARTA fare policy to determine what you get charged, a common solution overseas is to charge just above the average fare for that route.
    The system also has the ability to black list cards (i.e. stolen cards) or grey list cards. Grey listing could be where someone forgets to tag off X number of times, they can then be given a message on the display, if the behaviour continues the system could be set to black list cards.

  9. You don’t have to tag off on London Buses with Oyster – but that’s helped immensely by a 1.20 flat fee per journey.

    Snapper will charge you the full zone distance of the bus destination you’re heading – so you could theoretically pick and choose if you wanted to tag off or not, depending on where you are going. Found that tagging off wasn’t much of an issue – though people not tagging the reader correctly so the card can be read remains an issue for new users, usually too fast. It’s not quite like an office swipe card in that respect, which is what I think a lot of people think it is like.

  10. What do you mean, Subria? “Too fast”? What is too fast? How can something that is supposed to read a tag in 0.3 seconds be used “too fast” by the user? Not sure what you mean.

    1. They claim the same sorts of things for Myki (.3 seconds to tag, 7cm distance etc), but in reality that is proving to be an act of fiction. You have to get the card out and hold it right against the reader for a full second or so for it to register. Another issue is that you can’t actually ‘swipe’ the card or wave it past the reader, it has to be held reasonably still in front of the face of it (on Myki at least, not sure about other systems).

      These card systems aren’t miracle devices, better than coins for sure but the do have their own problems. Plus the biggest thing is really the fare structure and policies rather than the means of verifying payment.

      1. This was not an issue in Hong Kong, Regulars do not even slow down when walking through the gates at the train stations. A quick simple tap of you wallet was fine.

  11. Karl, my understanding it Subria is stating that people remove there cards from the reader too fast. I understand snapper is much slower than the Thales card.

    Matt, I think they said maximum charge not average. Otherwise people will learn that they can save money by not tagging off for long journeys. They will then get angry when they get gray/black listed. This is better avoided to make it financially incentive’s to tag off every time.

    I recently visited Hong Kong. This is how the octopus worked there (Btw its awesome). There are very few “products”. Most locals use stored value.

    Trains: Tag on and of as entering and exiting stations (except airport express where there is no tag off or on at the airport as a trip is charges at a flat rate).

    Ferrys: Tag on to the Dock. Each dock goes only to one destination, no need to tag off (for the routes we traveled).

    Trams: Enter through a turnstile at rear, pay flat HK$2 fee on exit at the front

    Buses: Tag on when entering, flat fee depending on how far is left on the bus route. No need to tag off. This policy is interesting as it discourages short distance travelers from clogging long distance buses as happens in Auckland. For example if 50 people bound for Newmarket climbed on a Wakapacific or Howic&Eastern bus then it would fill the bus so there was no space for the people heading to the far end of the route. As the bus is unlikely to pick up 50 new passengers at Newmarket it means that it will run empty for the bulk of its route while leaving possible high paying passengers at britomart. This fair policy pushes short distance travelers towards the slower trams, or for an Auckland comparison the link bus rather than clogging the long distance buses.

    I don’t know if the bus and tram style systems would work here, Likely we do not have enough services for that method to work, but it is interesting to see how it works overseas.

    Other features I would like to see here:
    Micropayments, Combined with school/ Uni ID cards, Building access, Refund points in malls etc (in Hong Kong some malls, Central-Mid-Levels escalator etc had places where you could swipe and the mall paid for (some of) your transport to get there, Similar to offering free parking in Auckland).

    1. “Refund points in malls etc (in Hong Kong some malls, Central-Mid-Levels escalator etc had places where you could swipe and the mall paid for (some of) your transport to get there, Similar to offering free parking in Auckland).”

      Now that would be interesting if you could get Westfield to do that…

  12. I notice the posts for the hardware have been appearing on quite a few busses, very similar to the Snapper tag posts. Would seem to be good progress, especially if we are still a year out.

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