At the moment we’re going through a rather challenging process of changing over from Go Rider cards to HOP cards on all NZ Bus services. North Star buses swapped over a couple of weeks back, Go West and Waka Pacific will change over this coming weekend, while Metrolink and Link Buses will make the swap in a couple of weeks time. With a few exceptions it seems that the transition has been OK so far, although as I blogged about a couple of days back the real challenge may be yet to come – particularly in the next couple of weeks as a huge number of routes will be operated by a mixture of buses: some only accepting HOP cards, some only accepting Go Rider cards.
But it is only a couple of weeks, and I’m hopeful things go fairly smoothly. What I’m starting to get more worried about is the fact that it seems we will have to do yet another card changeover later in the year – in around November or December. This is because the HOP cards that have been given out over the past few weeks, and will continue to roll out over the next few weeks, are actually not “proper” HOP cards at all – they are merely rebranded Snapper Cards. This is problematic because Snapper did not win the tender to be the provider of Auckland’s integrated ticketing system – Thales did. And while the Snapper machines (the card readers and the driver’s consoles) being put onto all NZ Bus buses at the moment are able to “hook into” the Thales system, apparently it is not possible for the actual Snapper/HOP cards to hook into that system.
In short, from around November onwards it seems likely that the Snapper/HOP cards been given out over the past month will be useless for catching public transport in Auckland. So we will need to go through the whole card swapover palaver once again in around six months’ time it would seem. A kind of weird outcome from the whole Snapper/Thales contractual debate of a couple of years back.
This creates quite a few questions in my mind:
- How will Auckland Transport get across the message that people need to swap from a HOP card to a HOP card?
- Will the Thales HOP card look distinctly different from the Snapper HOP card? (Aside from simply not having the Snapper logo).
- How will the card swapover work – will we give back the Snapper HOP cards in order to get a real HOP card for free? Or will we be able to keep the Snapper HOP cards so they can be used for purchases?
- Will there be a “big bang” swapover, or will the system be able to accept both types of HOP cards for a while?
- Will all the parts of NZ Bus change at the same time, or will it be ‘drip-fed’ like what’s happening now?
I’ve tried to get some answers to these questions from Auckland Transport but it would seem that they haven’t quite got around to figuring out how they’re going to get themselves out of this mess. So instead of being unhelpful and just moaning what idiots everyone is that we’ve found ourselves in such a bizarre situation, I figure I might try to be helpful and suggest some tactics for getting them out of the mess.
Ultimately, there are probably two basic approaches for how to “sell” the need to change over the HOP cards once again. Broadly, these might be called the “upgrade your HOP” approach and the “Snapper screwed up” approach.
The “Upgrade Your HOP” approach:
The “Upgrade Your HOP” approach seems the most likely one to proceed, and would focus on the current Snapper/HOP card being an interim measure, to simply get the system going and test how it works and doesn’t work. Once the initial rollout of HOP is completed (June 5th) the marketing could emphasise how the implementation of HOP is an iterative process, with this stage of it being focused on getting people used to tagging on and tagging off, getting people used to topping up their cards off the bus, getting people used to how a smart-card works and so forth.
Once November comes, there should be awareness among the general public that to get the best out of the system they will need to “upgrade their card”. That is, to be able to use it on the train or ferry, eventually on other bus companies (hopefully a date for full rollout might be set by that point), so that monthly passes, daily caps, internet top-ups and other features can be used, the current card needs to be swapped over for a more advanced HOP.
This presents a number of practical challenges. The new “real” HOP card will need to look substantially different to the HOP/Snapper card in my opinion – to ensure that it’s simple to tell the difference between the HOP/Snapper one and the new “upgraded” card. There will also need to be a period when either card can be used on NZ Bus services, but a clear “phase-out” period of perhaps three months to make it easy for people to “upgrade their HOP”. This will allow people to run down the balance of their Snapper/HOP cards before “upgrading”.
Looking at the design of the HOP card, I wonder whether the blue side could be changed to either white, or perhaps to a light shade of purple to make it absolutely clear that this is a different card. It might also be worthwhile putting a sticker on the “upgraded cards” highlighting that they are upgraded cards and can be used on trains, ferries and on many of the bus companies (with the rest hopefully not too far away). It will be important ensuring that eventually the HOP/Snapper cards are fully phased out, as it would undermine the integrated ticketing project to have a pile of non-integrated HOP cards forever in use.
The “Snapper Screwed Up” approach
This approach is less likely, as I think it could also rebound on Auckland Transport as being complicit in the stuff up that has led to the need for another card change. The details of the changeover would probably be similar to what I’ve outlined above, but the reason for it could also include placing the blame on Snapper for having a card that can’t operate on the Thales technology properly.
Ultimately, Snapper’s involvement in this entire process has been largely an annoyance, I think designed to throw a spanner in the works of the integrated ticketing project once they found out they weren’t going to win the contract for Auckland. Auckland Transport’s ability to have stopped all this from happening has probably been relatively limited: with one branch of Infratil owning NZ Bus and another branch of Infratil owning Snapper it would be difficult stopping them from upgrading their ticketing system. This was made even more challenging by the fact that the integrated ticketing budget is relatively low, and relied upon the bus operators themselves updating their ticketing machines – giving Auckland Transport even less opportunity to demand that NZ Bus not use Snapper.
I suppose in the end Auckland Transport have done an OK job ensuring that, while Snapper has effectively “gone ahead” with its rollout in Auckland, that has been with the HOP brand, rather than the Snapper brand: probably making the transition from Snapper HOP to real HOP easier when it does eventually happen later in the year. But it would still be great for them to put the blame on Snapper if the public gets tetchy about this weird second card swapover – as ultimately that is where the fault lies.
I am curious about how Auckland Transport will actually manage the “upgrade” process later this year. Hopefully they take a few of my ideas on board.