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.

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    1. Yeah I agree. HOP is really showing its age, it was built at an unfortunate time where a lot of new tech wasn’t quite invented, so it isn’t really much better than what most places had 20+ years ago. Starting from scratch seems like the better option to me compared to trying to squeeze new features into HOP when almost all of HOP is outdated. Even the web interface is clunky and seems to need to go down for maintenance a lot.
      But 1.4 billion does seem like a lot for some card readers, the odd gate, and a bit of simple software.

      1. It’s fine, it’s taken so long that countries that are forward looking like Denmark are looking at hands free ticketing rather than spending millions and millions on hardware.

  1. How is it possible to introduce an integrated ticketing system without 20 years of studies, time wasting and argument like they had in Auckland?

    1. Probably the same way 9 other regions are using the same system, by being willing to compromise a little to move forward and deciding things only once.

      I’m sure the consultants bin fire of public cash is in there somewhere, just waiting to be unleashed, but that’s why we have governance structures in order to avert some agencies natural tendencies.

      1. Decide things only once? They were the same regions that broke away and refused to be part of a national solution that was put on the table 6 years ago, but most had to go with it because Otago and BoP were pushing the move and were shutting down the old platform. Don’t worry, NZTA and all it’s little club of ex-employees who have been on the books as consultants for over 6 years have spent plenty of money, and seem to evade the level of scrutiny they should when spending our money.

  2. This shows that Labour is partly aware of the urgency to address climate change. Given the likely continuing stalemate in Auckland Council without any charismatic mayor to attempt to find positive solutions to community and environmental problems; this is good. And as much as I believe in free public transport, being able to use a singular public transport pass and trains to travel much of the motu would be marvellous!

      1. Different regions have different rules around the free transport available to Gold Card holders.
        I can see how this can be administered with a physical transport card (HOP, Bee, Metrocard, whatever), but how will this work using an app or debit/credit card?

  3. Cubic has a defense division,military,and is apparently on the banned list for ethical investing,so yes,a few more twists and turns.

  4. I hope they are looking at building something completely new using all the new tech possible (particularly cloud services) rather than buying some kind of “product” that was probably written years ago.
    Would you even bother having a proprietary card these days, just force debit/credit only? Or team up with mastercard or visa and offer a PT themed debit card that is somehow locked to PT transactions? Or mobile phone payments only? In fact do you even need card readers now almost everyone has a smart phone, tag on/off via a QR code or similar?
    They could probably save almost all of 1.4 billion by just using standard pay wave terminals, placing a hold transaction each time they tag on, and then having a bit of fairly simple software to calculate the amount at the end of the day and charge it.

    1. I’ve got no plans for my kids to have a visa card any time soon and I’m pretty keen for them to stay away from having a phone for as long as possible.

      I suspect we would be world first if we were to go without any form of card reader, I’m also guessing it would mean we would have to get rid of gates at Britomart etc if QR codes were used instead.

      1. Make kids free?
        I guess my point is that it is a good time to think outside the box, not spend $1.4 billion on an old fashioned solution. If the old fashioned solution is still the best solution then that is fine. But it is hard to see why paying for PT needs to be so different to paying for anything else these days.

        1. It doesn’t but paying for most things still involves a terminal. I can’t see anyway of having a virtual payment system if the respective councils still want to have the ability to enforce compliance in terms of passengers paying.

        2. If they wanted to go virtual then you can scan a QR code using the AT app as you go past the bus driver. The app will do the transaction and make a beep. Sure you could fake the app/sound, if so a ticket inspector may ask to see your scanned app and if you don’t have one issue you with a big fine. On trains they can have a different QR code per gate, when you scan it your app does the transaction and instructs that gate to open.
          I’m sure there are better solutions than these, I am not being paid to come up with them (QR code scanning isn’t fantastic for example). I reckon that app could be built for less than $10 million and would have a bigger user base than HOP cards do (more people have a mobile phone than a HOP card). Just make kids free, and kids and seniors just hold a plastic card that they can show inspectors if needed.

      2. jezza – Kids under the age of 18 legally cannot have a credit card .
        And the likes of Me do not have/want a smart Phone , and there are a number of older people I know don’t won’t one either and other find just an normal mobile to complicated .

        At least with a proprietary card they an have a child’s fare or students discount added and when you tag on/tag off you can see the cost and balance of you card . as I have both Hop and Bee , the Hop shows the balance and the Bee doesn’t until you go online .

    2. No no no it’s got to have a card half the population has no idea on how to budget. All the money coming out of one pot is completely the wrong for them. Keep the travel money separate. There is quite enough people getting on to buses now and begging not to pay or just walking on and not paying because of their status they think they shouldn’t have to and are probably the same ones who think paying at the supermarket is optional as well. Next thing they think its okay to steal cars and ram raid

      1. I assumed that drivers are under instruction not to challenge people who don’t have a card for several reasons:
        * Avoid confrontational situations
        * Avoid delaying innocent passengers
        * Avoid negative media publicity about kicking poor/elderly/whatever passengers off the bus.

        Either way, I support the “do nothing” approach in the interests of a smoothly-functioning boarding process – to try to kick people off the bus would be chaotic and dangerous. Best to bite the bullet and accept there will be defaulters.

        I’ve often wondered how I would get home if I lost my HOP card in the depths of bus-only areas. Few options other than begging from other pax or hoping the driver is sympathetic.

        1. Yes, I guess the shaming in front of other paying passengers is enough punishment. If you have a valid reason, then no problem.

    3. You would bother having a dedicated card because huge chunks of the population really need one, especially children! Your idea of a visa/Mastercard locked to PT only is, in fact a dedicated PT card

      1. Correct, it is a dedicated card, but it means they don’t need to write an entire payment management system for proprietary cards, the HOP card is in fact a debit card that can only be used by the one merchant and is branded as a HOP card. Now this may not be possible, Visa and Mastercard may not be interested, I don’t know.

        1. I’m sure there is more to it than just reading a certain type of card like for a payment at the local shop. There is a lot of ins and outs to figuring out the charge, record the journey etc going on I’m sure.

    4. Not sure if London really represents the cutting edge but here’s what you can do with contactless or Oyster:

      * pay for your fare
      * take advantage of the daily and weekly fare caps

      Here’s what you need an Oyster card for:

      * any kind of concession
      * weekly/monthly/annual passes

      n.b. the weekly cap is set at the same level as the weekly pass

      If we assume London is at the cutting edge, contactless simply isn’t good enough.

      1. I am sure they could do concessions against debit/credit cards.
        Get rid of weekly/monthly/annual passes completely, why are they any better than a fare cap?
        Ideally you can use PT with your credit card without in any way being disadvantaged over a proprietary card.

        1. >I am sure they could do concessions against debit/credit cards.

          If they could, why haven’t they?

          >Get rid of weekly/monthly/annual passes completely, why are they any better than a fare cap?

          If you don’t have a monthly or annual cap (and London doesn’t), because they are cheaper. I am not sure why London has a weekly pass, admittedly.

          >Ideally you can use PT with your credit card without in any way being disadvantaged over a proprietary card.

          Ideally, you don’t have a credit card AND they’re illegal.

      2. Your observations about Oyster are correct, but in London (and Sydney) you can use your debit or credit card to tap into and out of the system. The tricky bit was to ensure that the back end systems were able to recognise multiple use of the same card and apply the appropriate daily and weekly caps. This has now been delivered.

      3. I get weekly discounts on my debit card commuting from Heathrow to Sheboo daily. Oystercard is rarely seen nowadays.

        You just record your debit card details on the TfL website like you do with the Oystercard and it records your or trips and let’s you get refunds easily if a mistake is made.

  5. Delivery in 2026? It can still get cancelled 5 times by this government… We will see how far we are from the goal in 4 years.

  6. I think this is good move by the government, maybe something they actually will deliver well. Anyway at the full public press release the American guy said having a system like this is shown to lift ridership by 10-15%

  7. Its great news, but it is incredibly expensive news. $1.4 billion is staggering. I’m sure that it would be possible to adapt the gates, rather than wholly replace them…

    It does however rather piss me off Matt, that you continue to trot out the line that it is Wellington’s fault for not adopting the Auckland Hop system. You seem to continually forget that the Wellington Snapper system was in place first, and so it would have been far more logical for Auckland to adopt the Snapper system, and this whole thing could have been in place years ago.

    Still – onwards !! Joined up thinking at last !

  8. Yes a single system would be great. But how can it possibly cost $1.4B? or 27% of all PT revenue for the next 15 years! (based on Matt’s numbers). Sounds like some people in Wellington will be getting good gifts this Christmas.
    Surely they can just replicate another system. Sydney has the same capability. You can use a trasnport card or paywave, with same fare structure as long as you use the same card across the period.

    1. Did you record that yourself? Anyway, pardon my ignorance, she looks familiar, but who is that woman that also talks with Michael Wood in the video, don’t think she was introduced?

  9. 1.4 billion sounds like corruption.

    It is enough to buy every household an electric bike.

    This Labour government spending is just out of control.

    1. wow
      cancel busses and trains and save $1.4B
      free ebikes for 700,000 families.

      i see we have already started cancelling busses and trains….

    2. $1.4 billion over 15 years, so less than the $125 million per year being paid for Transmission Gully over 20 years?

  10. You may also want to take a look at NZTTL which Geoff Dangerfield originally set-up to manage the national ticketing system using the Thales core for a national system. However, the in-fighting between all the regions prevented it actually being set-up, when it was set-up as the only ever crown owned limited company, both the regions and the beige brigade of civil servants (many of whom still exist today) set about trying to kill it. This is what Fergus Gammie went about doing on his arrival and caused many more years of delays and authorising more money to be spent on a parallel system for the smaller region known as RITS.

    These smaller regions get very little in revenue from public transport with 80% or more of the PT journeys in the country happening in the AT patch, they could barely afford the RITS system which was pushed for by Otago and Bay of Plenty regional councils. How they will be able to afford to change that equipment out on the buses and elsewhere, not withstanding the substantial integration costs I cannot see after such a few years.

    In fact it is my understanding that there may be nothing formally tying the regions to this new system in years to come, allowing them to not join or even go their own way again.

    Understanding the way in which this new system will be run and managed including customer services etc, will be interesting. It could be time to break out the popcorn!

  11. Well it’s good to have multiple modern payment options to select : especially credit card/apple pay etc. But please coordinate properly ahead of spending billions, otherwise it would be another big joke!

    1. Don’t fret, as I understand it there is no compulsion for the 9 regional councils to join in the future, so let’s see how that plays out!

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