On Friday the government, alongside representatives from Waka Kotahi and public transport authorities from our three biggest cities, announced a new single nationwide ticketing system to replace all existing public transport payment systems such as HOP, Snapper and Bee.
Whether it’s on the bus, train or ferry, New Zealanders will soon be able to use a single payment system across Aotearoa, with today’s signing of the National Ticketing Solution contract with supplier Cubic, Transport Minister Michael Wood has announced.
“This is a key milestone in the journey to grow public transport use by providing a single payment system and a range of easy-to-use payment methods, no matter where you are in the country,” Michael Wood said.
“Our government is committed to making it more affordable, easier and attractive for Kiwis to use public transport. Through our investments we are delivering linked up public transport networks across the country that help people get to where they want to go.
“When implemented, the NTS will offer a wide range of benefits to public transport users. The payment system will be convenient, easy to use, and offer a consistent customer experience.
“Customers will be able to choose what payment method works best for them. They will be able to pay for public transport using contactless debit or credit cards, as well as digital payment methods like Apple Pay or Google Pay, while still offering the option of using a pre-paid transit card.
“This new technology will allow daily weekly and monthly fare caps to be applied to travel automatically, meaning customers will be charged the best possible fare at the end of each day. It will also mean that when travelling to a new town, people will be able to pay using what’s already in their pocket, rather than having to buy a transit card specific to that region or fumble for cash.
“The NTS will be an enabler for change. To encourage public transport as the preferred travel choice for more people, more often, we must invest in modern technologies to improve the customer experience.
“Cubic have the proven experience of delivering this solution, meaning New Zealanders can have confidence that they are getting a platform that works,” Michael Wood said.
As well as the contract between Waka Kotahi and Cubic, a participation agreement has also been finalised between Public Transport Authorities, Auckland Transport, Greater Wellington Regional Council, Environment Canterbury, and a Regional Consortium of ten smaller councils, to deliver the solution.
“The local authorities saw the benefits that the NTS can provide to the decarbonisation and economic development of their regions.
“Through improved access and increased patronage of public transport, roads will become less congested, safer and we will reduce our emissions,” Michael Wood said.
The National Ticketing Solution will be rolled out in a stage process across the different public transport authorities, starting with Environment Canterbury in 2024.
The system is expected to cost nearly $1.4 billion to build and operate over the next 15 years. That might sound like a lot, and I’m sure some people will say it should be just used to make fares free, but it’s worth noting that pre-COVID, total fares collected across New Zealand were about $340 million annually. That $1.4 billion would only cover a few years in that scenario.
The build part includes having to replace all existing card readers and ticket gates. As noted in the press release, the roll out will start with Canterbury in 2024 but they expect it to be rolled out to all parts of the country by 2026. Incidentally that’s when the current contract for the HOP system runs out.
Having a single nationwide ticketing system that includes more ways to pay is something that is very much needed and long overdue. It was the original intention of HOP and why Waka Kotahi invested in the system back at the start of the last decade, but the goal of a single system was dashed in 2016 when Wellington refused to adopt HOP, wanting their own system instead. Systems like the current roll out of Snapper of Wellington’s trains and the Bee card that is now used in nine regions were introduced as a interim solutions.
A project was formed to create a new national ticketing system – called Project NEXT but has been plagued by issues, which is likely why it’s taken six years just to get to this point.
In 2018 Auckland Transport agreed to join it and as part of that they stopped work on the delivery of many of the new features announced on Friday, such as credit card and mobile payments, which were due to roll out in 2018 or 2019. It wouldn’t surprise me if the features were ready or nearly ready to roll out because I understand AT will now look to implement them before the national system rolls out – likely to try ease the transition that will be needed.
While the system was announced on Friday, there’s still a lot we don’t know. For example:
- Will the tag-on/tag-off process be as fast or faster than HOP is.
- How will the change be rolled out in Auckland, all at once or over a period of weeks or months?
- Will we get easier to use top-up/paper ticket machines.
- Will there be more places people can top up their account?
- At train stations and ferry terminals, will there be more tag posts so we don’t have people queuing just to leave a station?
- For those that want/need a physical card, will they be easier to get, and will there be a cost to buy them?
- Will there be a single nationwide branding for the system or will each region have different names?
Given the history of integrated ticketing, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a few more twists and turns yet.