Promised upgrades and improvements to ATs HOP card due to roll out this year have been dropped due to a new national ticketing system that may take six to eight years to introduce.
Of all the improvements to public transport in the last few decades, one of the most important and successful was the introduction of HOP. Important because it finally allowed users to board any bus, train or ferry without needing a wallet full of cards specific to each operator. Successful because now over 86% of all trips across the network are made with using a HOP card and May set a monthly record with 89.7% usage (93.4% Bus, 87.4% train and 48.2% ferry). More people use HOP in Auckland than board a bus, train or ferry in the rest of New Zealand combined.
This isn’t to say that HOP is perfect. It’s had (and still has) a few features and policies that are customer unfriendly and probably make it one the most complained about aspects of PT. It also had an incredibly tortured introduction with the debacle surrounding Snapper. There now appears to be a risk of that being repeated.
A national ticketing saga
As a result of the debacle mentioned above, HOP was intended as the Auckland implementation of a national ticketing system. As part of this, the NZTA not only funded just over half of HOPs development costs but also fully owned a $30 million central hub through a subsidiary company. At the time, they said other regions wanting integrated ticketing would need to join the national system if they wanted funding support.
Wellington too has long wanted integrated ticketing, but they don’t want HOP and in late 2015 were resisting the NZTA who wanted HOP adopted. The system was meant to be introduced this year. A few months later and the NZTA backed down, eventually deciding to create a new national ticketing system. That could leave NZ with two national ticketing systems, HOP in Auckland and whatever new system was developed everywhere else. That would be farcical and so in the NZTA want AT to be part of the scheme too.
A previously confidential paper to ATs board in December last year, gives a bit of background to this new system, with the project at the time known as GRETS, although it now seems to be called Project NEXT. They say:
- Recently, the Transport Agency Board has queried why the GRETS system is not being treated as the forerunner for a national system. A teleconference was held on 15 November between the Transport Agency (Fergus Gammie, their head of IT and their national ticketing lead), AT (Mark lambert, Roger Jones, Richard Morris and Denise Verrall) and GRETS with a view to Auckland re-engaging over the development of the GRETS solution. The intent is to ensure a single system is developed which will meet all needs.
- AT is strongly supportive of this initiative. GRETS has some concern that this will delay their current project. In reality there should not be delays but AT will need to reengage with the GRETS procurement project to ensure, for example, that MRT is included in user requirements.
- It will be necessary for any new system to be operationally stable before Auckland is integrated. Aside from Auckland representing around half of all public transport journeys in New Zealand, simpler fares means a big-bang integration will be required. This means it is likely to be 2024 before Auckland joins the new system.
- The Thales contract will need to be extended from 2021
However they also say:
- It is fair to say that Greater Wellington Regional Council has been strongly independent. We have not seen the business case or RFP for the GRETS system.
Because of how long it’s going to take for a proper integrated ticketing solution for Wellington, Snapper is being rolled out on all buses.
HOP with a credit card or phone
Being able to pay for PT directly with credit cards and mobile payments is one of the missing features of HOP that some similar systems overseas have had for a while now. Last year in response to the issue of top-ups disappearing, it was announced that feature was coming to HOP too.
AT have begun a process, expected to take 18 months, to implement a full open loop system which means mobile phones and credit cards can be used for payment of trips by casual public transport users.
And in the December paper they said
The upgrade path laid out in the Board “Future of HOP” strategy will still see Open Loop rolled out next year
The new national system
A long-awaited nationwide programme to introduce a universal non-cash payment method is set to be rolled out in Wellington in 2021, with the rest of the country jumping on board by 2026.
The new technology will allow commuters across New Zealand to use either mobile devices, credit or debit cards, or a national “transit” card to access all forms of public transport in most places up and down the country.
Under the new accounts-based system, money will be charged from a bank account rather than through a provider.
The physical transit card will not store money, but can be linked to a bank account and used to swipe on and off public transport.
As mentioned, that’s been the plan for HOP too. So I asked AT what it meant for their implementation.
AT looked at implementation of Open Loop last year however have decided not to progress, pending the implementation of the National Ticketing System.
This is disappointing and I get the impression AT have been told not to introduce open loop as it would remove the one key feature the new system would have over HOP. Otherwise the public might rightfully question why they’re bothering to reinvent the wheel. It means that instead of having improved payment options this year, Aucklanders will now be waiting 6-8 years for these improvements, quite possibly.
So, HOP was meant to be the national system but because Wellington refused it, the NZTA have done a 180° and now Auckland has had to stop improvements and now has to wait years for a new system. Another bizarre chapter in PT ticketing.
Changes to paper tickets
While the Open Loop technology has now been put off for some time in the future, AT did say they’re planning on making changes to paper tickets this year, saying:
AT will still look at replacing paper tickets with Bar codes, both paper and device enabled this year.
It will be interesting to see just how this barcode system works and if it means people will be able to transfer services on a cash ticket. I guess it also means AT will need to upgrade station gates to be able to read them, which makes me wonder why AT don’t go for the paper smartcard, like these from Vancouver.