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:

  1. How will Auckland Transport get across the message that people need to swap from a HOP card to a HOP card?
  2. Will the Thales HOP card look distinctly different from the Snapper HOP card? (Aside from simply not having the Snapper logo).
  3. 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?
  4. Will there be a “big bang” swapover, or will the system be able to accept both types of HOP cards for a while?
  5. 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.

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21 comments

  1. My believe the machines must be able to work in both modes at the same time as they will need to when the RWC daily ticket is rolled out which is using the Thales system but is before the general commuter rollout. If this is correct then the rollout should be able to happen over a few months and it could be a case of getting a new card and the balances just transferred over straight away which would be pretty painless for customers.

    In terms of the “its snappers fault”, I don’t think that would be a smart move as at least this way we probably get more buses using it earlier than we would have had otherwise. However it on the other side of things, had Infratil threatened to just rolled it out without AT’s approval, AT could have just put the requirement to use HOP into any tender docs for routes (and with PTOM that would mean all services on a route). If NZ Bus didn’t want to comply with that then they would quickly see their number of routes reduce. The only thing is that strategy would have taken more time as AT would have had to wait for each current contract to come up.

  2. Perhaps another factor will be how robust Aucklanders find their Hop/snapper cards. I remember reading some comments from Wellington snapper users that suggested their $10 snapper cards had to be replaced earlier than they expected. I hope the new Hop/Snapper cards will prove to be hard wearing and reliable. Selling cards that will not last should not be a marketing strategy to sell more $10 cards or more expensive Snapper products!

    1. “I remember reading some comments from Wellington snapper users that suggested their $10 snapper cards had to be replaced earlier than they expected”

      Isn’t Snapper a contact card like Oyster that you can use without even taking it out of your wallet? If so, how would it possibly wear out? Magnetic stripes can get worn out eventually but I don’t think Snapper has that sort of feature.

  3. Is it possible for NZ Bus to not stop accepting their Snapper/Hop Cards? This means that they could still be collecting fares and earning interest on balances from all those customers who dont catch trains and ferries. Could it explain infratils motives- to build a long term system compatible with the Thales system?

    Of Course, even if you caught other modes of PT occasionally, the Snapper /Hop card still has the advantage of being able to be used at shops and on taxis (hopefully the thales network will become that widespread eventually).

    The above concept could also cause a lot of confusion amongst the public – how do you explain that their new advanced ‘upgraded’ hop card may work on trains and ferries, but can no longer be used anywhere else.

    1. Part of the reason for selecting Thales instead of Snapper was that AT would own the float so would get the financial benefit of that, my understanding is that Snapper had to agree to hand that float over when the Thales system went live (although unsurprisingly they are apparantly now fighting this)

      I think it would be extremely confusing having a Hop card that doesn’t work on all Hop readers so I think they will have to all be changed.

        1. P.s. I am referring to the fact that NZ Bus are now fighting to hold onto the float?

        2. I have heard it from a few places, most public of which was a piece from Brian Rudman http://www.nzherald.co.nz/brian-rudman-on-auckland/news/article.cfm?c_id=1502866&objectid=10718518

          “Auckland Transport sources indicate Snapper is now arguing that when Auckland Transport takes over the float, it should be allowed to keep the portion stored on cards for cups of coffee and other non-public transport purchases.”

          I have also heard it separately from someone who is involved, they indicated that snapper are trying to at least push out the date that they have to hook into Thales till mid next year as well as the argument about keeping a portion of the float.

  4. Personally I wouldn’t have bothered calling this card the Hop card. It should have just been Snapper, which would have made rolling it out much easier. Saying “Snapper is being replaced by hop” plus snapper should have been introduced earlier, last year perhaps like NZ Bus said they were going to.

  5. Sandringham Rd is served by both Metrolink and Go West buses. One service converts to Hop two weeks before the other. So there will be a mix of Hop buses and Go Rider buses on the same route. What a mess!

    1. nearly 2 weeks in, passengers are still being allowed on board my North Star operated Dominion Road express service free of charge if they present an unclipped Go Rider card…at least this should avoid the mess!

      1. Dominion Road and North Star? Does the North go down Dominion Rd on a timetable? I thought it was a North Shore service.

  6. I’m scratching my head trying to figure out why you’d want to change the cards. The cards are out there. The readers are out there. Thales’ back end system will be standards based and able to interface with any brand of cards and card readers. So why change the cards? Is there some benefit rolling out a different card stock to the one that Snapper is already using?

    1. Obi, my understanding is that the Snapper card can’t communicate with the Thales system. I don’t understand why not, but that’s the cause of our problem.

      1. I work for a company that produces software that interfaces with just about any related component that the customer specifies, hardware or software. If we don’t already support something the customer wants then we’ll sit down and write a connector. If we didn’t then we’d limit our potential sales. The idea that either Thales or the card and card reader manufacturer has designed a product with limited interface capabilities is absolutely incredible. It’s the sort of weirdness that Apple get up to but which is pretty much a thing of the past in the rest of the industry.

        1. From what I understand, the Thales system is obviously compliant with the new national standards and the snapper readers (currently installed on the Northstar buses) have been shown to be able to converted to be standards compliant however at the moment they just read Snapper cards. The snapper cards themselves cannot be read by standards compliant hardware which is why they need to change. I believe the issue was that NZ Bus really needed to get Go Rider out as it was well past its use by date, AT had the opportunity to a large portion of the bus fleet on to the Hop brand however the Thales backend wasn’t ready at that time (it is still being tested) so as an interim they agreed to let the uncompliant Snapper system in providing it could be upgraded with minimal effort in the future. You could say AT probably just wanted to get some runs on the board even if it meant more work later.

  7. I tend to be more suspicious over anything that Infratil touches. I think that when it comes to trying to switch from Snapper card to Thales card that Snapper will find a way to drag its feet. After all why would they even care about Thales, they already have a working system with the Snapper/Hop card and I imagine they can continue using it as long as they like. Sure it wont work on Trains or other bus companies but why would that worry them. As long as it works with NZ Bus that is all they care about. By the time Auckland Transport get their act together a large percentage of Auckland Bus users will be using Snapper. If you never use trains or other bus companies where is the problem. the next round of tenders for transport is due in 2013 and I bet Infratil do not get blind sided by Ritchies as they did last time. Wonder who is going to win the next Auckland City Diesel contract. Wonder if it will be ‘Z’

  8. I think that NZ Bus has all the reasons for not trying to hard. If a common clearing house is introduced AT can see very well the actual boarding figures (will the monthly pass holders have to tag on/off as well?), which might mean lower subsidies.

  9. 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.

    What does yours look like? I’m looking at mine right now, and “light shade of purple” describes the back of it exactly.

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