I must say I am a big fan of Labour’s blog – Red Alert. It provides a great way of having some interaction with a number of MPs that normally just wouldn’t be possible. While I hope Labour don’t rely on it too much when putting together policy initiatives, it seems like the blog is a good way to get some feedback on ideas. Trevor Mallard has taken to it quite fondly, and seems to be the main person running the place. And he’s doing a pretty damn good job of it too.
Often the topics are about stuff that I can provide a reasonable opinion on, but not really ones that I consider myself to be a particular expert upon. Well, until today – when interestingly enough Trevor Mallard has done a post on Auckland’s integrated ticketing contract, which was awarded to Thales earlier this week. It reads as follows:
Transtasman reports that the Auckland Regional Transport Agency has rejected the Infratil led bid for their integrated ticketing system.They have chosen Thales a french company.Insiders (not Infratil) tell me that ARTA was conned by consultants into a highly overspeced solution which will be a fresh build rather than the alternative, an extension of the snapper solution currently in use in Wellington.Extra cost $30 – $50m. IT jobs exported. Potential for NZ wide solution gone.Just stupid.
Now it just so happens that I disagree with Trevor’s opinion on this completely, as I detailed in a post earlier this week.
So here’s my reply:
Sorry Trevor but Infratil have really misled you here.
Infratil and Thales were the two main parties tendering for ARTA’s smart-card integrated ticketing solution. As I imagine you know, Infratil owns NZ Bus, which operates about three quarters of all the buses in the Auckland area. They also operate Go Wellington buses and have rolled out their “Snapper Card” system over the past year or so. The Snapper Card was what Infratil wanted to extend to Auckland.
Maybe that would have been a bit cheaper for ARTA, but it would have been inferior to what Thales can offer. Thales have an internationally proven track record for installing and operating smart-card integrated ticketing systems. They even did an integrated system that covers every town and city in the Netherlands.
In my opinion, ARTA chose Thales for two excellent reasons:
1) Internationally proven company. The last thing we want is to see what has happened in Sydney happen here. I think Sydney has spent close to a billion dollars trying to get a smart-card integrated ticketing system but it still didn’t work.
2) The potential for a conflict of interest between Infratil operating the ticketing system and Infratil running 75% of Auckland’s buses. This means that in a system where it will be necessary for operators to reimburse each other according to some sort of formula (as not necessarily the same operator who gets paid for the ticket actually provides the ride) you would have had one of those operators owning and running the ticketing system. If I were Howick and Eastern buses for example, I would certainly not want NZ Bus (Infratil) to have all powers over collecting the money for me. Too much potential for it to go wrong.
ARTA have made and excellent choice here. This means we will end up with a world-class smart-card system – like London’s Oyster Card. I just hope that NZTA stumps up the required money so we can get this project going. National’s stupidity in getting rid of the regional fuel tax has already delayed this project by about a year and probably meant it won’t be ready for the World Cup. Which is unbelievably annoying.
I look forward to seeing what he comes back with.
Update: Trevor’s reply
Jarbury – it is not hard to design a system to avoid actual conflict of interest. Lots of lawyers have expertise and while we don’t see it often enough so does the Commerce Commission.I suppose we will have to absorb the cost and wait and see.
And then a couple of replies by me, firstly:
I think that it would incredibly messy though – to have part of Infratil delivering the ticketing system and another part running buses. However, I don’t think that was the main reason ARTA went with Thales, I think the main reason was simply that they could offer a far better service.Snapper has been derided by many as a pretty “dumb” Smart-card. Furthermore, it certainly hasn’t been rolled out to other bus companies or the trains in Wellington. While Auckland needs a smart-card, we need integrated ticketing MORE.
And then I really get the knives out:
While I usually post on this blog in favour of Labour, I have to say that this kind of post reminds me why I didn’t vote for them last year. What’s $30-50 million extra to spend on making Auckland’s ticketing system world-class and not just a half-ass job that will have problems for decades into the future due to Infratil’s conflict of interest?Surely if Labour were concerned about money being wasted on transport then they would be questioning why National is spending $10.7 billion on new state highways over the next decade even though petrol prices are likely to increase significantly over that time, even though we need to reduce our transport sector CO2 emissions and even though traffic on state highways has been falling for the last couple of years.
So why doesn’t Labour do that? Why does Labour focus on what’s really a tiny amount of money being spent on making Auckland’s ticketing system world class? It’s hard not to think that it’s because Labour’s transport policies are stuck in the 1960s almost as much as National’s.
While I have little hope of National “seeing the light” when it comes to public transport, I do expect Labour to be better in the future. Their transport policies over the past decade have been pretty rubbish, and are only just starting to improve. If public transport is to be the way forward for a city like Auckland in the future, which I believe it has to be, then Labour needs to have their transport policies join the 21st century.