Brian Rudman writes in today’s Herald that

Auckland Transport board members gather in secret today to finalise a divorce settlement with smart card operator Snapper Services, and hopefully come up with a rescue plan for the stalled $98 million integrated ticketing project.

If the reports leaking out of the Auckland Council are correct, Snapper has turned the tables on AT’s attempt to sack it from the project and collect more than $1 million in damages for missing deadlines.

And again, Rudman raises the issue of Government interference:

The story then goes that Infratil’s founder, the late Lloyd Morrison, a friend and neighbour of Deputy Prime Minister Bill English, lobbied vigorously to get Snapper back into the picture.

Arms were twisted and AT, which relies on Government funding for rail electrification and the like, was persuaded that bringing the dead Snapper back to the table wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

How wrong they were.

If there really was central Government interference to get Snapper back into AIFS as Rudman is alleging, then this should be investigated immediately as it borders on corruption.  However, I would have expected that the Board of ARTA and AT would have had this covered and not simply have gone along with central Government. If they didn’t then they need to answer some pretty serious questions.

Without doubt the decision to include Snapper has contributed to additional delay and cost for the ratepayer.  Rudman points out that Thales is charging an eye-watering  “$627,000 a month for the expense of having to retain a reduced project team until a bus system is in place and fully interoperable and tested.”

I wrote a brief timeline over at the CBT website a while back:

2 December 2009: On the eve of the confirmation of an integrated ticketing system for Auckland public transport, unsuccessful tenderer Snapper announces the rollout of Snapper on NZ Bus services, to be completed by the end of 2010. A spokeswoman for ARTA said there would be no public funding for Snapper. Authority chief executive Fergus Gammie called Snapper’s announcement “premature”.

7 December 2009: Auckland Regional Transport Authority sign a contract with a capital component of $47m with  Thales to provide integrated electronic ticketing for buses, trains and ferries.

14 December 2009: Brian Rudman cites a confidential paper from Infratil director Paul Ridley-Smith, which states “if Snapper can’t expand into Auckland then its business will be permanently sub-economic and it may have to withdraw from Wellington, where it was introduced 12 months ago.”

16 December 2010: Auckland Transport announce that:

“Supplementing the contract already in place with Thales, a Participation Agreement has now been signed between Auckland Transport, NZ Bus and Snapper for the introduction of a single smartcard for use on NZ Bus services as part of the Auckland Integrated Ticketing program.

“Interoperable equipment will be deployed onto services run by NZ Bus early next year. Customers of North Star, Waka Pacific, Go West, Metrolink and LINK will use a contactless smartcard which will launch Auckland Transport’s Integrated Ticketing brand…”

Bruce Emson, NZ Bus CEO, announces the roll out of the card will commence in March 2011. Programme Director Greg Ellis maintains that the key objective is still to have one card across all modes, and that the new card won’t be called Snapper.

17 December 2010: Ritchies and Howick and Eastern Buses say they are still investigating options, and are unlikely to sign up in time for the Rugby World Cup.

24 December 2010: The Herald runs a story that there is a budget of $1m to publicise the “Hop Card”, which is a “a new electronic ticket for seamless travel on buses, trains and ferries. It refuses to confirm the name until launching an awareness campaign late next month for the $98 million card, although chief operating officer Fergus Gammie has assured Auckland Council’s transport committee that the region’s public transport brand would be prominent on it.”

More recent Snapper articles are here on Transport Blog.

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  1. “AT … worries that results are never guaranteed in a drawn-out court battle and seems ready to cave in.”
    If Rudman is correct, I hope we can congratulate AT for doing whatever needs to be done to get Integrated Ticketing going, even if that includes letting Snapper/NZBus win battles that they should never have won. Our goal is to win the war (integrated ticketing) not the battle (court case).

  2. Agreed although I think the NZ bus contract should be torn up at the same time. Get infratil out of Auckland as they have given the Auckland ratepayers the middle finger.

  3. Is it just me or is (borderline) corruption starting to become a common theme with the government? What with John Key and the pokies, and if Rudmans accusations are true english and snapper. (could also throw in the less defined issue about cronyism with joyce and the ‘holiday highway’)

  4. I picked that AT would be making a move soon – I think I actually predicted a week or two ago but as with all things AT related, they run late.

    Big surprise that Snapper may sue AT for changing the rules.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the other Auckland Bus co’s also consider suing AT as they have no doubt incurred costs in relation to the project under the directive they must be ready by a set date that AT itself wont be ready for. One think stopping this from happening is that the route contracts are currently up for negotiation so no one is willing to piss AT off until the ink is dried on those.

  5. Brownlee did say that NZ Bus would be “off the run” if Snapper failed to meet the November deadline. I look forward to him acting on his promise.

  6. The Snapper deadline is still 3 months away, but there are two much more urgent questions that are crying out for answers:

    1. Where is the trial of the Thales solution across non-NZ Bus buses, Rail & Ferry? Thought it was supposed to be long underway by now.

    2. Where is the Auditor General’s report into the entire Auckland Transport Integrated Ticketing debacle?

    Regardless of what anyone thinks of Snapper, the clear trend over last 12 months is that the Snapper issue is stirred-up and re-argued with no new details to (effectively) take focus off the wider project. Someones’ PR team has done a pretty good job of this.

  7. Quite agree, Marija. I for one find it remarkable how so many involved with this blog bought, and continue to buy, the lines coming out of Auckland Transport on integrated ticketing. You gotta hand it to AT’s PR team.


    1. Mike, I think the people on this blog are just more pissed off with snapper than AT. Both are at fault, but with AT it’s incompetence that’s the issue, with snapper it’s morals and arrogance.

  8. In commemoration of the horrendous mutated mess this whole project has become, I propose AT name the final Thales/Snapper cross compatible solution the Blinky Card and brand it appropriately with everyone’s favourite orange three-eyed fish.

    (That it’ll please those who were desperate to have our integrated card named after a marine lifeform is just another happy accident)

  9. I don’t think that’s quite true Marija & Mike. I am most worried about Auckland Transport’s role in all of this – in short I think they’ve been gullible and hopeless. Snapper have acted disgracefully, but I never expected anything different so I’m not surprised.

    Ultimately the buck stops with Auckland Council and NZTA as co-funders of the project. I’d love to finally see some accountability.

    1. Agree – buck stops with AT. If they had issues with Snapper, they should have told them what they need to do, end of story.

  10. Snapper aside, where is the progress on the rest of the Auckand Bus fleet that is not NZ Bus, ie, Richies on the Northern Express and Howick+ Eastern.

    It cannot be a NZ bus/Snapper issue that AT have not rolled out Hop on these services,

    While are certainly issues with snapper and Thales compatibility, AT should be able to get the other bus companies on board, or is something else going on …..

    1. The other bus companies have formed a consortium for the purchase of the required terminals. Their supplier has not received the required information from AT to complete the project. They want this integrated ticket to go ahead far more than NZBus/Snapper do.

      AT will blame Snapper for this but as Trev states, the buck stops with AT. They were project manager and they are responsible for any delays. If Snapper was getting in the way, they should have outed the ages ago and kept moving. It is snapper that needs to integrate into AT, not the other way around.

      And if there was political interference from a national level, again this should have been outed ages ago.

  11. If memory serves me correctly, Thales were going to supply all of the readers for everything, but once the participation agreement with Snapper/NZ Bus/Infratil was signed, they no longer were willing to supply readers for the other bus companies.

    The problem it seems was the participation agreement. Snapper as unsucessful tenderer should not have been invited back in, appeasement history shows us does not always work as has turned out to be the case here with delays a plenty. Despite this it is easy to see why ARTA took the action they did hoping that all would work out once the 02 Dec 2009 pre-emptive strike against the soon to be inked Thales contract was made.

    Alas PT users and Auckland ratepayers are the loser in this..

  12. Here is an interesting article from 2009

    “A leaked report by Mr Ridley-Smith to his board in August outlined a strategy for Snapper to sign up transport operators in Auckland before presenting a fait accompli to the Transport Agency. ”

    They went all out to make sure Thales didn’t happen. Please don’t tell me they were doing it for Auckland’s good Mike because they were not. I’m not saying AT have not made mistakes but sure as hell Infratill are not innocent in this ratepayer funded mess.

  13. Just had a quick look through here after listening up on the Morning Report’s (Radio NZ) piece on Snapper this morning. As we await the outcome of that AT Board Meeting today I see our usual person Mike W is peddling along here – again and by the looks of it with an assistant too 😐

    Yawn to both of you.

    In the mean time I am having a trawl through my facebook feeds, I see Councillors are jumping up and down.

    Should I be err bothered reposting what Cllr Brewer had to say for himself this evening? (and hey don’t shoot the messenger here 😛 – I did not write it)

      1. What did he say? That if they just made Remuera Road a T1 lane again, nobody would have problems with some HOPping card, because all they needed was their fuel card?

    1. I just read it on your blog (thanks). Why is everyone trying to blame Len Brown? He wasn’t even mayor of Auckland or had a lot of control over ARTA when the contracts were signed. Yes, he made the project one of his priority goals when he became mayor of the super city but in my mind the playing field had already been set up. Heck, Cameron Brewer was probably a lot closer to the action when the initial fiasco happened.

      1. The contract was signed under the new council, AT, ARTA had left it to them. This council is run by Len brown and AT answer to him. His words when he took governance of Auckland…he promised a lot and has delivered little, but it’s easy to get suckered in by promises.

        1. I understood that the contract was signed between ARTA and Thales on December 7th, 2009 (before the super city). I’m happy to be proven incorrect.

          1. No your right as far as I’m aware sorry, but this was the Thales contract, at this stage Thales readers were to be installed on all buses as part of the contract. Then on the 16th December 2010 Auckland Transport formed a Participation Agreement as an alteration of the initial agreement which entered snapper into the mix. It was the Participation Agreement or Alteration of the agreement I was referring to.

            This Agreement was in response to NZ Bus announcing they were going ahead with the roll out of snapper despite ARTA’s Decision, ARTA left the conflict up to Auckland Transport which gave into Snapper. Now here we are.

        2. Quit the attacks on Len Brown please. He’s achieved a lot over the past eighteen months, more than any other mayor Auckland has had for a long time.

    2. Haha, sorry to keep you up, voakladmin01. It’s probably best you leave this one to the adults to sort out, anyway. 🙂

  14. Another article in today’s Hearld (cant find the online link yet) saying that AT ill now have to pay to refit NZBus’s 650 machines. Expected cost to Auckland Transport – $10m.

    The other bus companies wont be happy.

    1. This is a balls up of monumental proportions with taxpayers and ratepayers picking up the tab – once again. I would love a journo to get in there and pick the whole sordid mess to pieces and name those to blame – including council staff and contracting staff.

    2. My understanding was that AT originally would’ve had to pay for/contribute a significant amount of money to pay for the bus readers had Infratil/Snapper not come in with the tempting offer that they would bear the costs and install their own equipment with the ‘promise’ of making it compliant.

      So really 10m dollars shouldn’t really be ‘extra’ cost. Correct me if I’m wrong.

      Either way, Snapper needs to get booted out of Auckland so we can get on with this darn thing.

      1. I dont think you are right. All the bus companies are responsible for installing their own compliant readers.

        The issue seems to be that NZBus installed Snapper readers based on undertakings from AT that they would be compliant. Now that they aren’t complaint, NZ Bus is calling AT on that undertaking. Big stuff on on AT part if correct, if the NZ Bus and Snapper weren’t related. An even bigger stuff up since NZBus and snapper are related.

    3. What AT should now do is say to Parkeon and all Bus operators inc. NZ Bus that Thales will now be the sole provider of on bus card readers for the entire bus fleet in Auckland.
      Then AT can get the Thales equipment onto all the buses using the power of bulk buying to get a decent price and expedite the installation..
      NZ Bus can obviously use Snapper in the meantime but should then be required to cease using the Snapper system the moment that the Thales readers are installed and working with the Thales backend on the NZ Bus buses. Otherwise we will never get an integrated card system in place on the buses.

      Then if there are issues, AT can lay the blame solely at Thales’s feet and say “fix it”.

      1. Agree. The real shame about this is that every bus operator could have been using the genuine Thales validators by now had NZ Bus not chosen the Snapper solution. But now the other operators have chosen Parkeon as their preferred supplier so I guess contracts are in place and Parkeon has incurred costs already, so it is too late.

        The other aspect of this is that clearly the Participation Agreement had no real teeth to it or was poorly drafted if lawyers have been called in.

        Whatever happens there is no hope that NZ Bus will be ready by November I’m guessing. It’s my understanding that the other operators were always going to be later anyhow, but who knows when that will be.

        In the meantime just get on with the rail and ferry roll-out please.

        1. Not just contracts in place but also non refundable deposits paid and no doubt further amounts owning based on Parkeons work to date – Parkeon shouldn’t miss out because of AT mismanagement.

  15. What they (arta / at) should have done is tell everyone from the start that the Thales readers would be the only option. Oh, wait a minute, they tried that. They even went to court over it.

    1. You can thank the National government for removing their ability to do that. This whole mess* comes from the Nats ideology that the private sector must be untouched and left to run riot with the public good.

      *Well actually there are two messes here, the Snapper debacle, and AT’s AIFIS project.

  16. Does anyone know why this has come to a head now, when the deadline for the NZ Bus readers to be compatible with the Thales cards is end-November?

    And does anyone know the status of the closed-user trial that was supposed to be underway on non-NZ Bus buses, Ferry and Trains? There shouldn’t be any delay to this trial from whatever shenanigans are going on around Snapper.

    1. NZ Media have always been behind on Transport Issues, It doesn’t help that Auckland Transport is not sharing any information with the public on the progress at any stage of Integrated Ticketing. However on Auckland Transport Forums like this blog, or the old AKT, and the better transport forum, rumours of snapper’s troubles have been circulating for some time.

  17. In the Radio NZ report this morning, AT have apparently admitted that Parkeon are also having troubles so not 100% Snapper’s fault to be fair on them. Why does everything in New Zealand have to fail so terribly. What was it, 2003 that integrated ticketing was first proposed?

    1. As was first intended, Thales should have had control over the whole system roll out including supplying care readers, which was where it was heading until everyone else decided to put their fingers in the pie. You want a contract to supply public transport in Auckland, this is what you will use. End of story, Exactly what Hong Kong did from what I have read. No mucking around with 3rd or 4th parties.

    2. Parkeon is having issues but are they having the same issues as Snapper or issues because of Snapper – dont know the answer to that one.

      The fault ultimately has to be with AT!

      1. Though they are undoubtedly responsible in some measure, AT and its predecessors did not have full control of the programme’s commercial/political environment – ask the government about their role in that.

      2. But Parkeon shouldn’t even have been there at all if memory serves me correctly. How did they get involved in a Thales system? Was it that once NZ Bus was allowed to bring in Snapper, the other bus companies wanted an alternative to Thales?

        1. I dont think the scale was big enough for Thales without NZBus so they pulled out of the reader side. Happy to be correct on this point.

          1. That’s what I thought. NZ Bus should never have been allowed to go their own way. (buries head in hands). Oh well, the ratepayers will just cover it (sarcasm). I suspect the mooted $10m for the replacement readers is just the tip of the iceberg.

        2. Because NZ Bus was going ahead with snapper it was left to the bus companies to get their own suppliers, I assume that Harvey is right in the fact without NZBus the market would not have been big enough for Thales to bother.

    3. I don’t see why the problem is so difficult. I have a payments card in my wallet that allows me to purchase goods from just about anywhere. It operates in a federated manner so that there are multiple competing card issuers, and retailers have a choice about who they bank with and who they purchase card readers from. I can use the same card to buy things over the internet, and I can even use it when I’m traveling overseas. This all works without being centrally managed by a government agency. I never have an issue walking in to a shop and finding that the retailer’s reader is incompatible with my card, or the retailer’s bank won’t talk to my bank.

      I’m not suggesting that you should be able to use a Visa card to ride on buses. But I’m convinced a federated model with competition would have been a better idea than a monolithic system run by a government agency. This is especially the case if the Auckland transport cards evolve in to a next generation multi-purpose payments card. Why would you implement that as a government monopoly, and why would you implement that as an (unintended?) consequence of a regional ticketing system?

      1. I beleive that is because the card companies came together to create a common standard.

        They have diverged again in relation to NFC payments (ie touch and go) with both Mastercard and Visa operating different systems. For example at last years world cup you had to have a Mastercard touch card to be able to buy drinks at a stadium (or use cash). Likewise, some machines dont support the new chip and pin cards.

        What is required is a common standard that everyone can work to. That is why AT is to blame as they were the ones that were meant to create the common standard.

        1. The detail has been addressed extensively in posts over the last few years, but you may recall Auckland’s project was re-shaped by the government to deliver a platform – and standards – for the whole country.

      2. Obi,
        25+ years ago, NZ was like AT Integrated ticket system is now – a mess – you needed a different card for each bank (bus operator in todays terms), so if you went into a shop (caught a bus) and they only took Bank A (say Snapper) cards for payment, you couldn’t use your bank B (Ritchies or whatever payment) card to buy.

        I nthe 80’s you could also always use your VISA card, – that was via the paper based ZIPZAP imprint machines not electronic swipe and sign/put PIN in like now (or pay by cheque)

        It took the banks a few years in the 80s to sort that mess out and the electronic payments industry nearly died as a result – thats why Cheques were going so string here in the 90s still.

        So, fast forward 25 years and we’re in the same mess now.

        For a more up to date comparison:
        Consider if AT had bought the original quantity of EMUs from CAF, then later bought some others from say Bombardier (with a different traction motor voltage) and contracted someone else to do the maintenance and the like from a third party.

        This is akin to what we now have with HOP.

        So if AT can manage to get the correct purchasing decision made on buying EMUs (even with Government menddling in that one too) then how come they can’t manage it with a simpler/cheaper contract for integrated ticketing? Is it that Snapper (via NZ Bus) really have AT by the balls?

        1. “Consider if AT had bought the original quantity of EMUs from CAF, then later bought some others from say Bombardier (with a different traction motor voltage) and contracted someone else to do the maintenance and the like from a third party.”

          Thanks for the background on the finance system. I was certainly using cheques and cards in those days but the details are fading. I do recall being surprised at just how backward the UK’s system was compared to NZ’s when I arrived there in 1990.

          I don’t understand why rail needs to be run by a single supplier. My motor vehicle is made by Suzuki. The tyres aren’t new and I don’t remember which competing tyre brand or retailer I bought them from. My operator training was provided by my dad. The vehicle is checked every six months by VTNZ and serviced by a local garage. I live in an apartment and park it in a shared multi-story park down the road. If I crashed I’d have a choice of repairers and they’d have a choice of replacement parts vendors, mostly. I have a choice of competing petrol brands and retailers. The roads are provided by a number of local councils and NZTA. I don’t know who operates the road “signaling”, but the signs might still be provided on contract by the AA. Who will, just coincidentally, rescue me if I break down. All these vendors and service providers work pretty much seamlessly, but apparently rail turns in to complete chaos if it isn’t delivered by a single monolithic government monopoly. Surely that indicates that rail is inherently non-resilient? Which is surprising in a technology that is 150 years old and should be mature by now.

          1. Basically, no. Trains don’t need the same supplier either, they just need the spec to be compatible, as with your car. The rails have to be the same gauge and size, just like how your tires need to be the right size for your wheels and your car. The voltage needs to be the same and the current sufficient, just like we have a standard for petrol, the difference is that because it’s delivered automatically, having multiple standards for the electric supply (ala diesel) would be extremely expensive(overhead lines AND 3rd rail?).
            As for parts for the vehicle itself, like a car, any manufacturer can make a part and if it fits the spec, fine, however I’m sure you will understand that the one that was designed for it is always going to be the most efficient replacement!
            Given how much trouble AT has had trying to get compatability between ticketing suppliers, I’m not in the least surprised they want a single company to deal with the whole thing.

            If someone charged you lots of money to install a fish brand compressor in your Thule fridge by next month only for them to charge you more and then not be able to make it work, causing you to have to go back to Thule, I expect you would send your car back to the dealer for servicing to be fitted with OEM parts.

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