At yesterday’s Transport Committee meeting perhaps one of the most interesting things we learned was through a presentation by Fergus Gammie from Auckland Transport on what progress is being made on the integrated ticketing project. There have been a number of media releases to do with this project in the past that have told us next to nothing about the details of this project – so it was good to finally get a few answers to the questions I have. However, as seems to be the case with this project, each answer I get just raises a bunch more questions and I still have grave concerns about the way in which it’s being rolled out.
But anyway, the whole presentation can be viewed here.
As is generally known, integrated ticketing will bring together the myriad of fare and ticketing products around the Auckland Region into one transferable ticketing system. You will be able to use your bus pass on the train, you will be able to use your bus pass on any bus – no matter what company operates it. (Well, that’s the promise at least). The change that will make it shown in the diagram below (from the presentation). I have looked very closely at the ticket in the map on the right and I see no sign of the word “Hop“. That’s a good thing!
One thing that integrated ticketing will clearly do is simplify the huge current number of ticketing options and different fares. It remains to be seen at what point rail fares will be changed to match bus fares – but I assume that is an inevitability (and fair enough too). The simplification of fares into four basic fare options is shown below:
I must say I find myself a bit confused by some of the decisions that have been made to come up with these options. Why is there no day pass? Why is there no weekly pass? Why do we still need a multi-journey option? It would be nice to hear about the justification and reasoning behind some of the decisions that seem to have been made on the future form of our fare system. Personally, I actually think it’s pretty disgraceful that there’s been absolutely no public consultation and participation in this process.
The project also misses a huge opportunity by keeping the current stage fare system – at least in the short term. Surely the whole point of the integrated ticketing system is to enable a new fare system that makes it easier for people to transfer between services and does not penalise them for using two buses to make the same trip that might be possible on one bus – if only there were a direct service. It was interesting to note that Mr Gammie said they are working towards a zone based fare system – but why not as part of this process? It seems utterly mental to create a detailed new smart-card ticketing system based around a fare structure that you have no plans on keeping in the longer term.
Looking at the details of the fare options – there are some positives and negatives.
I like the fact that the stored value system will involve a daily cap. This may get around the annoyance of not offering day-passes – although I think for tourists the day/week pass is something that is still essential to provide. On the down-side, I still don’t see the point of retaining the “pre-paid trips” option. It just seems to add unnecessary complication to the system. If you have stored value with the same level of discount you get from the “PPT” option, why would you want to limit yourself to only being able to use your pass for trips of a particular length? The only reason I used multi-journey for many years is that I didn’t know stored value existed! The only reason many students use multi-journeys is because for some bizarre reason the 40% Tertiary discount is only available on multi-journey tickets. Give Tertiary Students the same discount for Stored Value instead, and they’d flock to that like crazy.
Turning to the technology that’s going to make this all happen, on the buses there will be equipment at the front and back doors for people to “tag on” and “tag off”. You will have to tag off to ensure you don’t get charged for the maximum length of that trip. As my local 004 bus doesn’t go any further than one stage – technically I’d be fine to never tag off. For most other people it will be something they have to do, and I can see this being problematic with a mass of people wanting to exit the bus all at the same time. More detail is below: It’s odd that only Newmarket and Britomart will have ticket gates. I had always thought New Lynn would get them as well – particularly as the station seemed to be designed with that in mind (unlike Britomart). I assume the fare gates and tag-posts will mean train tickets are no longer sold on board our trains, but instead we will have ticketing machines at all stations. After all, if we’re not selling tickets on the train we need to make sure people are able to buy them easily elsewhere!
One final part of the brief presentation raised a lot of eyebrows and questions amongst the councillors on the committee – as it relates to the timeframe for implementing the project: Stage one is basically the rollout of Snapper onto NZ Bus buses – as per last week’s announcement. As the ticket will only be able to be used on NZ Bus buses (hopefully all different brands of NZ Bus buses at the same time!) it really has nothing to do with the integrated part of this project. At least it should mean faster boarding times I suppose. The second part is for the Rugby World Cup, and visitors will be offered with cards (I assume daily and weekly passes) that can be used for unlimited travel on all transport modes. From December next year onwards we will finally see the “proper” rollout of integrated ticketing – although once again only on the existing fare network. It remains to be seen at what stage of this process we actually start trying to really improve things by instituting the zone based fare system that was talked about a bit during the presentation by Mr Gammie.
Transport Committee chairman Mike Lee asked the question that was on everyone’s lips – how would the new ‘integrated’ card work with the Snapper Card. Essentially the answer was that the future card (whether or not it’s called the “Hop” remains to be seen) will be the main card that gets marketed and promoted. Other card operators – such as Snapper – can get involved, but the brand for the system will always be “Hop” (or whatever other name Auckland Transport’s marketing gurus foist upon us). An analogy with London’s ticketing system was used, where the brand is clearly the “Oyster Card”, but other providers – such as a Barclay’s Bank card which can be used as a contactless smartcard – can also tap into the system. I will be curious to see how that works out here.
Overall, while it’s certainly good that we’re finally being drip-fed some information about progress on the integrated ticketing project, there are still so many fundamental flaws with the way things are happening I find myself unable to not be worried about it. I still think Auckland Transport is trying to solve the problem backwards: figuring out the technical details before figuring out how a simplified zone-based fare system will work. Integrated ticketing is set up to work with zone-based systems: enabling free transfers. Smart-card systems are simply not set up to work with the current mess our fares are.
If zone based fares will cost a bit more, due to ‘revenue leakage’, then I’m sure we can find that money somewhere within the $300 million to be spent on new roads (excluding state highways) to be built over the next 8 months – most of them seemingly to support urban sprawl in places like Flat Bush.