This is a Guest Post by Louis Mayo and follows on from this previous post.

My previous post proposed a system which streamlined all the different fare products into a 2 hour and Daily pass with options over three zones. In addition to the cash fare system that I described in my previous post, there would also be a smart card system as well. The smart card option would be best for regular users of the public transport network. Cards would be available as follows:

  • Adult
  • Senior Citizen (concession fare during peak, free off peak)
  • Child (under 18)
  • Tertiary student
  • As proposed in the previous post there would also be a card for people on benefits, etc.

For concession smart cards, each card would require a photograph and the cards would be named and would purchase concession fares by default. As per the current Snapper- HOP system you could buy additional fares e.g a family on an adult card,etc and still get the discount but you would need to tell the bus driver (or use a ticket machine if your using a train) before tagging on.

Each card would hold a value that could be topped up at stores, train stations and by internet. I would also like to see automatic topping up from a credit card or bank account to allow even more convenience, i.e if your card approaches $0 than $20 would be automatically topped up onto your card, which saves the stress of worrying whether or not you will be able to pay for your trip.

The same zone system would be used (the zones system is the same as in the previous post although some have suggested adding additional zones. Paying with HOP would offer a fixed 20% discount on cash fares. As you would be paying electronically there would be no need for fares to be in 50 cent multiples. The discount is higher than the 10% or so that is currently offered for paying with HOP (only 5% on the Ritchies Fast Pass).

The system would rely “tagging on” and “tagging off.” While I understand the concerns that have been raised by tagging off, I think people will learn to tag off quicker and I don’t really see how this issue can be worked around. Failing to tag off would result in a default fare being charged (I prefer the term ‘default fare’ rather than ‘penalty fare’).

Having said that if we use the three zone that I have suggested in the previous post, and we rationalise most of our buses so that they operate within one zone only and leave the RTN (Rail) system to carry most of the longer distance trips. Then there would be no need to tag off on many routes as they would only be going one zone anyway.

To make this system even better value there would also be weekly and monthly ‘caps’ offered. Once these caps have been reached travel for the rest of the week or month would be free of charge, so you wouldn’t have to commit to paying a large amount of money for a weekly or monthly pass at the beginning of the week / month and then realise that they have wasted money because they didn’t use it as often as they were expecting to.

The system would work something like this (I am not a software programmer!)

  • Card tags on at station or onboard bus
  • System works out what zone the tag on was recorded
  • Cards tag off, system works out what zone tag off was recorded in
  • The amount that a 2 hour pass for the required amount of zones is then deducted from the account
  • Travel over these zones is then free until 2 hours after the initial tag on was recorded
  • If travel is made to a new zone then the difference between the amount paid and the amount of higher fare will be charged and the pass will be ‘upgraded’ to include the extra zone/s
  • If more travel is made after the 2 hour time period has finished then another fare is deducted from the card and travel is free for the rest of the day
  • Once the quota for the weekly cap (which would be daily pass x 4.5) then travel for the remainder of the calendar week is free (i.e until Midnight Sunday of that week)
  • When the monthly cap is reached (weekly x 3)

These tables show proposed fare prices.
2 hour and Daily fares are calculated from cash fare x 0.8.
Weekly fare = Daily x 4.5
Monthly fare = Weekly x 3
As the fares are deducted electronically there is no need for a 50 cent rounding system.

 The savings rack up quite significantly, for example a three zone monthly would cost $172.80 compared to paying 40 (based a trip to and from work every week day for 4 weeks) return 2 hour cash fares would cost $320. That’s a saving of around 46%, which would amount to over $1500 in a year, this should be a fairly compelling reason to switch to smart card.

Chris R will also be paying less (see comments of part I post) – only $129.60 for his trip compared to the $180 that he pays for a rail monthly currently. On top of that he’ll now get to use buses and ferries in addition to just trains.

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  1. I think it is too early to be talking prices before you agree on what the Zones should be. Currently your zones punish short trips (unless you return within 2 hours) but favour longer trips. Is that what is desired?

  2. Your pricing and decisions over how many zones you have need to finely balance many different things.

    1) The bigger the zones, the bigger the price hike will be for short trips.
    2) The lower the fares the bigger the subsidy that’s required (theoretically at least).
    3) The cheaper the fares and simpler the pricing system is, the more you will boost ridership.

    A five zone system that keeps single stage fares close to what we have now is likely to need a bigger subsidy, at least initially until it’d ridership boost kicks in

  3. Still much, much, much too expensive. We should be looking at an adult monthly all-zones pass costing no more than $150, which puts it in line with cities overseas that have integrated zonal fare structures.

    Public transport needs to be cheap, or really, really good. We don’t have really, really good, but we still charge far more for the crap that we do have than cities overseas that do have “really, really good”. We also have lower wages, which makes the prices charged for our public transport that much less reasonable.
    Comparison point for me is Vienna which has a non-discounted price for an all-zones monthly pass of ERU49.50, or currently NZD80. Berlin, bigger area, prices closer to what we get charged in Auckland but the service quality is out of sight better than the dross we have.
    I’ve struggled to find fare details for Melbourne, which surprised me, but from what’s been said their prices are also a lot lower than ours.

    We need to stop treating current prices as the benchmark, because they’re not reasonable for the incomes of users or vaguely related to the quality of service offered. A new fare structure needs to be precisely that: new. Benchmark it to cities overseas, allow for our lower incomes and the poor-quality service, and then figure out what’s reasonable and will encourage uptake. Right now, prices can only be called a disincentive to use public transport.

    1. That either means lots more subsidies or a vastly cheaper to run network Matt. Though I guess cheaper prices could boost patronage enough to make up for the lower revenue per ride could make up for it. I wonder if any analysis of the revenue maximizing fare point has ever been done.

      1. Would a lower fare really mean lower takings? A $2.80 charge to set foot on a bus for even the shortest trip is a huge barrier to transport uptake. People who live in transport rich areas will resent being charged for a useless return journey if they fail to return within 2 hours. Failing to complete your journey within 2 hours and you get charged $5.60 for a trip that would have cost you just over $3 under the old system.

        Under $2 for a basic short trip is a sweet spot and will result in many more journeys being taken than under a system that is designed to force daily or monthly passes. Distance fares are the way forward, and as a fringe benefit, the distance fare technology gives you all sorts of fascinating audit information that i am sure will be of great use to a city with multiple bus, train and ferry contractors.

      2. I agree Nic – and that’s the problem with a system which has so few zones. You generally end up making short trips really expensive.

    2. I would disagree. I think for most people its a significant discount. Many are unlikely to need an all zones pass and a Zone A & B pass coves most of metropolitan Auckland and a Zone A pass covers all of the Isthmus area.

      1. $130-ish for an A/B monthly pass is still very steep relative to prices overseas. It’s not a very big area at all, and doesn’t get you to any of the Gulf islands.

        I don’t care what we pay now, I care what the prices are overseas. We know that we’re over-charged and under-served at present, so why would we use current prices as any kind of starting point? We want to be a world city, right? So public transport fares need to be reasonable to the market’s wages and they need to be reflective of what the people we’re trying to attract would be paying in our competitor markets.

        Maybe I’m being unreasonable in thinking we need to treat this as an opportunity to break completely with the current fare structure, throw the entire thing away and start from scratch, but I also firmly believe that we will not attract people out of their cars if prices don’t drop a lot. I have friends who would like to use public transport, but cannot justify the cost when they get a parking space at their job and the services to to their homes on Te Atatu Peninsula are worse than useless; take at least 50% longer by time, and cost a lot more than they pay for petrol, even allowing for wear-and-tear.

  4. There is also a big disincentive for families to use PT on weekends because of the high individual based pricing. For instance the Outer Link from Westmere to St Lukes costs around $12 return for a family. Consequently I believe most families stick to their cars on weekends, which is a waste of the off peak PT capacity.

    Perhaps as a starting point kids could travel free with a pass holder on weekends.

    1. Berlin’s adult transport pass allows up to three children to accompany the pass-holder for free between 20:00 and 03:00 on week nights, and all day on weekends and public holidays. I thought that was particularly brilliant.

  5. I really do think it’s better to base it on distance rather than stages, which would mean that you don’t get penalised for taking long trips. At a glance, for an adult cash fare, about 50c a kilometre looks about right for all modes.

    1. 50c a kilometre – yikes that seems really expensive for long trips. Maybe the more sensible approach is to have a base fare and then a per kilometre charge on top of that to reward longer trips that have a greater congestion busting effect.

  6. That would be a more than 50% increase on the current one stage fare — we should be lowering prices for public transport, not increasing them.

  7. Matt, Melbourne fare information can be found here: and here:

    A standard zone 1 (covering from the CBD to the middle-ring suburbs) daily costs A$6.56 (NZ$8.53), a weekly A$32.80 (NZ$42.64) and a monthly A$112.56 (NZ$146.60).

    A standard zone 1 and 2 (covering the whole Melbourne region) daily costs A$11.08 (NZ$14.40), a weekly A$55.40 (NZ$72.02) and a monthly A$189.71 (NZ$246.62).

    Of course we cannot make a direct comparison, but generally you can say that Melbourne’s prices are not actually lower than Auckland’s. In fact the price of Auckland’s Monthly Discovery Pass is almost identical to that of an all-zones monthly in Melbourne (admittedly both are about triple the price of the equivalent in Vienna).I will note however that all of urban Auckland would fit within zone 1 of Melbourne. The longest radial PT route is the Pakenham line which reaches 64km out of downtown (the equivalent of Wellsford or Meremere), all on a zone 1 and 2 ticket. That puts things in perspective for those that think we should have a large number of zones in Auckland.

    The key thing that many people seem to miss here is that the zonal system isn’t just an expensive ticket for a simple back and forth peak commute on the one service each way, it provides the user with unlimited travel (including unlimited transfers) on any service within the zone and time period. So $2.80 might be expensive to make one single trip, sure, but it is quite cheap for unlimited travel for two hours. In many cases that will cover both the trip out and back, or you can make a more complex trip like catching a local bus to the local train station, then catching a train to an interchange and transferring to another line to get to your final destination.
    In other situations you can make a trip, stop, then carry on again. For example stopping off to get some groceries on your way home from work, dropping in to pick up a friend then carrying on to your favourite cafe, or stopping at several shopping centres in search of that perfect pair of shoes. The sort of thing people can do with a car.

    In effect zonal systems are more about facilitating the use of public transport as the main (or sole) mode of travel and making it easy to just go on any service anywhere anytime… any number of times. Yes people who commute to town on a single bus each day may find themselves paying a bit more for that basic service with a weekly pass, but they would also find themselves holding a transit pass that also gives them unlimited ‘free’ travel at any other time they like.

    One of the things I liked best about living in Melbourne is that I simply bought a $30 weekly pass each Monday and that covered my entire transport needs, I didn’t have to think about what would cost what were or how many trams it would take, I could just walk out the door (any door) and hop on the next service that came along, transferring to my hearts content, using whatever was needed to get where I was going. At the end of the day it was all the same cost whether I used just my one daily train to get to work, or if I spent the whole day zipping all over town going shopping, having lunch and visiting friends. That’s the sort of change a zonal fare system can make to public transport.

    On a related note Melbourne used to have a very simple structure under Metcard, but has made things more difficult under the new Myki. For example you can no longer just buy a weekly, monthly or yearly ticket, you have to buy 7 days, 28 to 31 days, or 365 day (each with a different discount applied). Plus for some ridiculous reason you cannot buy between 8 and 27 days, it has to be a week or less, or four weeks or more. That’s probably all fine for the seasoned commuter to manage, but not for the occasional traveller, newbie, tourist, child or freshman tertiary student.
    I once ask a guy who worked on the fare team why this was, and his answer was basically that it was to ‘facilitate migration from the client’s perspective’, i.e. they made it harder and more confusing for passengers to make it easier on the government during the change over period. Let’s hope Auckland takes more a passenger-led approach.

    1. Yes, I completely understand that it’s unlimited travel and transfers, but we already have something similar in the Discovery and Northern passes and they’re both (especially Discovery, given its limitations on acceptance and reach) horrendously over-priced. I don’t consider the proposal here to be sufficiently cheaper given the crappy quality of services that exist, and will continue to exist for at least several more years.

      If the prices weren’t going to be increased for the next decade, no matter what happens to improve the quality of service, they might end up being reasonable. But we all know that that’s not going to happen, so we need to factor in both inflation and also the inevitable “It’s better now, so you should be paying more for the privilege” factor that will accompany better services. On that basis, the starting point needs to be steeply discounted.

      We’re also not Melbourne. We have crap service quality at nights and weekends, crap service quality if you live outside the favoured suburbs, and crap service quality if you want to do a trip that’s not centred on the CBD or happens to lie on the handful of cross-town routes. Their prices seem pretty steep compared to Europe, but the metropolitan area also covers dramatically more area than Auckland, Berlin and Vienna combined which means that, as you point out, their zone 1 is a huge area; Auckland urban is larger than Berlin.

  8. try telling that to the business analysts of HOP project. be ready to listen to their shocker attitude. the analysis show is run by a bunch of idiots.

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