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Integrated ticketing: what’s going on?

Call me cynical, but if I don’t hear anything about a public transport project for quite some time I start to get suspicious. This generally is for good reason – with examples including the near screw-up of electrification last year and the consistent delays to the Onehunga Line’s opening almost passing under the radar without a ‘peep’ from the powers to be. My newest worry is about integrated ticketing – because we have heard absolutely stuff all from ARTA and now Auckland Transport about how the project is progressing. In fact, the only tidbit of information from ARTA/Auckland Transport was in the form of a media release in October that managed to contain next to no information of use whatsoever.

My concern about this project is that we know so little about what’s going on, yet there remain so many unanswered questions. What has happened in the year since ARTA signed the contract with Thales, for example? We heard some detail from Thales back in August on some aspects of how things were progressing – but that was mainly in terms of the technical “making it happen” side of things. There are also some huge unanswered questions relating to fares policy, how things will work with snapper, whether there will be free transfers, what part of the system will be up and running by the Rugby World Cup, how will the system as a whole be phased in, will we have zone-based ticketing and so forth. Plus, last but certainly not least, what will the card be called?

Integrated smart-card ticketing will make such a massive difference to the quality of Auckland’s public transport system if we do it right. By enabling easy transfers from buses onto rail we can reorganise our public transport system to be far more efficient and effective, by enabling free transfers we can achieve the “network effect” and not punish people for changing from one service to another: but rather simply charge them based on where their trip begins and ends – regardless of how it gets there. But we have to get it right, and there are some pretty big problems sitting out there that haven’t been resolved as far as I know.

Problem 1: Snapper

As people may remember, shortly after ARTA announced that Thales was getting the contract for supplying the integrated ticket for Auckland’s public transport, Snapper/Infratil decided to do their best to sabotage the entire process by deciding to roll-out Snapper on the buses in Auckland that Infrail (Snapper’s parent company) run through NZ Bus (Snapper’s ‘sister company’). While we haven’t heard anything about how the roll-out of Snapper is progressing, I have started to notice the installation of equipment on various NZ Bus operated services that sure look like they’re designed to take Snapper card readers.

The problem here is that Snapper isn’t an integrated ticket, as nobody but NZ Bus is ever going to accept the Snapper Card. Yet if Snapper gets their system going before Auckland Transport/Thales, people will (either by choice of not if the current machines are replaced) replace their existing Go Rider cards with Snapper Cards. Who’s going to want to have to replace their Snapper Card with a Thales/whateveritscalled card just a few months later? That’s a recipe for absolute disaster – thanks Snapper.

Problem 2: The Fare System:

Back at the start of this year I had a chat with some senior staff at ARTA about whether the fare system was going to be simplified into something of a “zone based system” in preparation for integrated ticketing. The advantage of a zone based system is that you could easily provide free transfers: in that it wouldn’t matter how people got from A to B – they would simply be charged for a trip from A to B. This means that if I’m travelling from Herne Bay to Newmarket I could have the choice of walking to Ponsonby and catching a very long Link Bus trip or I could have the choice of catching the 005 into town and then catching the train to Newmarket – both for the same price. This makes sense: as long as I stay within “zone 1” it shouldn’t matter how I got there.

Unfortunately, the response I got wasn’t particularly optimistic. It seems that we will be keeping our stupid stage based system – even though it hugely discourages transfers. Considering all ARTA’s transport strategies utterly depended upon making transfers more attractive, this would appear to be one of the stupidest decisions ever made. People will continue to be punished for transfering meaning that we will continue to have to try and provide “everywhere to everywhere” services, which means that we will continue to have bus maps that looks like spaghetti thrown at a wall – with all the routes operated at horrifically low frequencies.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that if integrated ticketing doesn’t include zone=based ticketing and the elimination of transfer penalties, it will be one of the biggest lost opportunities ever.

Problem 3: What’s going to be ready by the World Cup?

I was talking to someone the other day who said that there has been pressure to create integrated ticketing since the early 1990s. As long as I have had even a passing interest in public transport (about 10 years now) the “need for integrated ticketing” has been highlighted again and again. Yet up until recently nothing whatsoever had happened – aside from the Discovery Passes that were deliberately priced excessively by the bus companies to “prove” that there was no demand for integrated ticketing. So really, there’s little excuse for why we wouldn’t have implemented integrated ticketing years and years ago.

Added into that mix is that in September and October next year the eyes of the (rugby playing) world will be on New Zealand, and Auckland in particular – as we host the Rugby World Cup. There will be a big influx of visitors and there will be a big influx of media. Contrary to the government’s belief, all these people won’t be bringing cars with them on the plane from Australia, Europe and wherever else they come from – they will more than likely use the public transport system in vast numbers. While a lot of work has gone into ensuring that things are right for the whole “getting people to the game” issue, the nature of a Rugby World Cup – particularly in its latter stages – is that you play a few games on a weekend and then nothing happens for 5 days until the next weekend. So there will be a lot of people staying in Auckland, without a game to go to, looking for something to do – they will be people without cars (memo to Steven Joyce: cars don’t fit on aeroplanes) so they will use the public transport system: all parts of it.

A whole pile of visitors and international media, with nothing to write about other than whether player X will recover from some injury in time for the next game, plus a public transport system where train tickets aren’t accepted on buses, bus tickets from one company (say MetroLink) are accepted on what appear to be three other companies (NorthStar, GoWest & Waka Pacific) but aren’t accepted on the trains or ferries or any other bus companies. Seriously, we’re going to be the laughing stock of the whole entire world.

If I were high up in Auckland Transport, I would be extremely worried about these issues. Extremely worried that Snapper appear like they’re going to sabotage the entire integrated ticketing project, extremely worried that all this effort to implement integrated ticketing is going to be undermined by not modernising the fare structure and, perhaps most particularly, extremely worried that Auckland’s public transport system – but most particularly its extraordinarily complicated fare system – will become the laughing stock of international media at next year’s world cup.

The Snapper issue is somewhat difficult to solve, but the others are most definitely fixable. Implementing a zone-based fare system with free transfers must be a core part of the integrated ticketing project: if that means base fares need to be raised a bit then I think it’s still worth it – but I actually think the fact that free transfers will enable the RTN/QTN/LCN hierarchy and the elimination of so many pointless duplicative routes, it’s likely to pay for itself. In terms of ensuring we have at least some sort of fully integrated ticketing system in place for the World Cup, the solution is simple:

  1. Make rail fares the same as bus fares
  2. Force all bus companies to accept and sell rail tickets

There, sorted. We could have integrated ticketing tomorrow if we really wanted it.

28 comments to Integrated ticketing: what’s going on?

  • If it doesn’t include zone-based ticketing or some other way to eliminate transfer penalties, then it won’t be integrated ticketing. At best is would just be a fare card that all operators accept.

    That’s no more “integrated ticketing” than we have now, after all all operators currently accept the same fare payment system (cash).

  • obi

    Is the project actually being run out of Auckland? I ask because about a year ago I ran in to an ex-colleague in Wellington and he said he was working on integrated ticketing for NZTA. I assumed it was the tender stage for the contract that Thales eventually won, but I was in a rush and didn’t get details. If it is being run by central government, then expect it to be a couple of years late, be massively over budget, and be canceled when everyone realises it doesn’t actually work. The culture in some agencies is that PMs run projects and the emphasis is on plans, processes, and business cases rather than actually delivering something that can be used.

    • Matt L

      The NZTA are funding most of it as the system being developed so that other cities can also piggyback off it if they want to provide integrated ticketing. In terms of what NZTA will get out of it, it means they will a feed of information about things like patronage stats so that they can do their own analysis on it.

    • It’s supposed to be a national standard, but I believe Auckland was to be the first rolled out.

  • Matt L

    Stage based fares, in themselves aren’t necessarily bad as it could be that you are simply charged for the number of stages from your first to last destination but it it means that you are penalised for transferring modes to get to your destination then that is utterly stupid.

    Having passes are great and I use a monthly pass all of the time on the train, I like the fact I don’t have to worry about when or where I want to go and the more trips I make the more value I get out of it, for me I only have to use it for about 30 trips for it to be cheaper than a using a 10 trip ticket.

    One thing I was thinking could be a good idea would be to have the card being able to be used for car parking buildings, that could make them faster and more efficient as you wouldn’t need to print tickets all the time but would also mean you put that card into more peoples hands so if they want to try using PT it isn’t so daunting to them.

  • Ross Clark

    Infratil’s other trick, even if Thales did get its system in place, would be to offer lower fares on Snapper than they would for the Thales card. This cynical approach to things has been seen in other jurisdictions which have tried to get an integrated ticketing system into place. There are some paper-based systems here in Scotland but they have very little take-up, for that reason.

    If the companies thought that an integrated card would be to their commercial advantage they would practically be gagging for it. Yet they aren’t. Why not? I think Infratil’s skepticism, not to mention that of the other companies, is that they think that they will lose out by having to carry passengers at a much lower average fare than they do at the moment. Fergus Gammie could help things a lot by making it clear to the operators that he was aiming for a no-net-loss-no-let-gain to them from widespread use of the card.

  • Matt L

    The impression I get is that ARTA and now AT are afraid of conflict with the bus operators which is why it is also taking them so long to implement changes to bus routes despite their own evidence of how much patronage improvement can be achieved by doing so. What they need to do is grow some balls and start making some tough decisions, at the end of the day the more people using the system the better all companies will perform financially. I kind of think of the AT approach to taking off a plaster, instead of doing it quick with a bit of pain they keep going for the slower option that prolongs that pain.

  • rtc

    Nice post, definitely some key issues that they need to sort out.

  • Ross Clark

    Further to earlier, there is a paper-based transfer ticket system on the North Shore, or so I gather, plus one which links the Northern Express to the Airbus. What do we know about the sort of take-up they have had?

    • The Northern Pass is a paper, zone-and-time based integrated pass usable anywhere on the Shore and the parts of the city. It effectively has three zones, outer, inner, and city. It is the perfect model for a region wide system, they simply need to roll it out to the west, south and east.

  • ingolfson

    “In fact, I would go so far as to say that if integrated ticketing doesn’t include zone=based ticketing and the elimination of transfer penalties, it will be one of the biggest lost opportunities ever.”

    Is there a silver lining in the fact that the system set up would likely be able to be switched over to a zone-based system relatively easily?

    “Infratil’s other trick, even if Thales did get its system in place, would be to offer lower fares on Snapper than they would for the Thales card.”

    Unless they push up the prices for the Thales card fares (which would likely get them sued / contracts discontinued for breach of contract) they are welcome to eat the difference by LOWERING the price for their Snapper fares – and thus give people the choice of paying less for PT! The Thales system is not going to fail that way, I’d say.

    Snapper may muddle up the issue, and slow uptake initially, if they roll out just before the roll-out of the Thales system (which NZ Bus WILL have to participate in, legally required to). But it won’t be able to block it in any way that I am aware of.

    • The fare card system and the fare structure are two pretty independent things really. They could roll out a integrated zone based fare system with paper ticket tomorrow (it already exists on the shore), and likewise they could very easily keep the same retarded multiple operator zone system while using the one fare card.

      • ingolfson

        That’s my point – yes, it is retarded to not do both in one go. But it isn’t as if we are closing doors here for years to come or worse.

    • Ross Clark

      If NZBus are pushed into the Thales card system, this will flow into the contract prices they put up at tender, the amount they are investing in the bus fleets (not-insignificant), or both. However, I can also imagine that they have been lobbying Joyce pretty heavily about this, which might explain the lack of action. Years ago it was explained to me by someone who at the time was in ARTNL, that another underlying issue was a sheer power play between the council and the operators over control of the money, and from the operators’ point of view their very real desire to engage directly with their customers, ie not via the intermediary of the Council.

      However, if we rescope the question by asking how much extra NZBus and the other operations would have to be paid to come into the new system – on a no-net-loss-no-net-gain model – then the sum might be quite substantial. And Fergus doesn’t have access to that sort of money.

  • greenwelly

    Which mode would have to rise/fall for bus and train fares to be equal? are trains cheaper or more expensive than buses?

    I tried to find out from the Maxx website, but the journey planner appears to be a bit broken, and the PDF timetables are a joke to work out fares on.

    • ingolfson

      Trains are much cheaper. Even though Steven Joyce made sure they recently increased the train prices higher than the bus prices.

      Why? Because his hairdresser told him he liked to ride the trains, they were so cheap – so SJ thought he’d better increase the fares. I am not making this up, Steven Joyce said so himself, as reported by a Herald article. What a jolly good fello, our Steven.

  • Sting

    any thoughts on a time based system instead of stage based or zones?
    I lived in Turin for a while, and a standard ticket would get you 70 mins..and in that time you could get on and off as many times as you wanted, encouraging people to stop at places on the way home. You simply validated your ticket as you got on board the tram/train/bus. this allowed mass boarding, avoiding the need for the driver to take money / check tickets one at a time.
    only problem is you needed a fleet of inspectors to check tickets randomly around the city, but i gather the benefits outweighed the number of fare dodgers and the cost of inspectors. fines were very tough.

    • ingolfson

      Must admit I don’t really like the idea! Where’s the incentive for buses and trains to be sped up, then? 😉 Also, what do you do if the trains are really late / stuck somewhere? – you’d be penalising people twice for the operator’s muckup… unless it’s a sliding scale: the quicker you get where you want, the more you pay 😉

    • Melbourne has a very similar system. You buy a two hour, daily, weekly, or any number of weeks up to a yearly pass, with increasing discounts the longer the period. IIRC a yearly pass is just over a thousand bucks, or about $19 a week for unlimited travel.

      Then you can take any number of buses, trams or trains anwhere anytime while the pass is valid. They have one full price, and one concession price for each pass. There are actually two zones, with zone 1, zone 2 or all zones pass options, however I would note that all of urban Auckland would easily fit within Zone 1.
      I use a zone 1 weekly myself, which means I pay $29 a week and can simply step on and off transport to my hearts content. As such I don’t need to drive and my total transport costs are $29 a week.

      Revenue protection is pretty effective on buses and trains, on buses you validate/tag on in front of the driver as you board, on trains all the major stations have fare gates. There is a problem with validation on trams, as you can board and deboard by any door and the one driver is locked away in the cab up front so there is no surveillance. On any tram you can observe that very few people actually validate, however my opinion is the vast majority of these aren’t actually evading fares, I think they just already have a valid pass so don’t bother to revalidate unless they have to. Certainly with my valid weekly in my pocket I don’t tag on and off all the trams I use, as it is just a waste of time.
      The main problem in Melbourne is “Authorised Officers” on the trains that are supposed to be there to check tickets, but they have a bad reputation as bullies who spend most of their time fining people for minor transgressions like having feet on seats or drinking a bottle of coke on the train.

      • obi

        Nick… I like the cheap Sunday day tickets and enjoy heading off to St Kilda to round out the week when I’m working in Melbs. I understand validating the ticket first time I use it. But I’m told that you’re supposed to revalidate it every time you board a tram. Is that true? If so, why?

        • Yes it is technically the law, because of their retarded idea that they can make everyone validate for every trip and it will give them nice patronage data for planning purposes. Unfortunately people don’t care about patronage data, and only validate the bare minimum to avoid being fined, if at all. The data is shit and they do old fashioned head count studies anway, yet the still try to make people validate all the time… not that they do any planning anyway! It is a bit silly to make passengers do extra work for no benefit to themseleves, thats just makes using public transport unecessarily annoying.

          It’s even worse with Myki, now you are supposed to tag on and tag off every vehicle you use. For me that means I am supposed to tag my weekly pass on and off eight times a day for my commute by train and bus. Effectively they are asking me to prove my weekly pass is still valid 40 times a week just to get to work! Almost no one tags off the bus, which is great because it would take forever to tag 50 people off through the single rear door. I doubt they ever studied the time impacts of tagging on and off buses or trams, and I can imagine what will happen if they make it absolutely compulsory.

  • In Switzerland the national railways company offers an annual season ticket valid on all trains and local transport (buses and trams) in most cities and regions for the price of 3,100 Swiss Francs (NZ$4,140). 12 monthly passes on Fullers (integrated between Waiheke Bus, Waiheke Ferry, NZ Bus and H&E Bus only) costs NZ$3,960. And that’s not counting the fact the Swiss earn about twice our average wage.

    Time limited passes (day, week, month, year) should be capped to at least $10 a day, $50 a week, $200 a month and $2200 a year

  • kegan

    @Admin

    “nobody but NZ Bus is ever going to accept the Snapper Card”

    If Snapper complies with NZTA’s yet to written national standard they will – don’t believe they’ll have any choice in the matter.

  • Hi, I’m curious why you say “The problem here is that Snapper isn’t an integrated ticket, nobody but NZ Bus is ever going to accept the Snapper Card”. This doesn’t seem right to me: Snapper is already accepted on taxis and the ferry, with more projects down the pipeline. There’s also non-transport integration like roller derby, School ID, Out Games, various kiosks and the like, but I’m not sure if you would call transport + venue entry integrated ticketing.

    Quite simply, Snapper is an open card on an open platform that anybody who wants to can integrate with it (including Thales). If you want an example of how anybody can integrate, have a look at http://blog.summerofcode.co.nz/2010/11/26/ which provides the APIs for you to read the card, get a balance, do top-ups, etc.

    Corrin (not speaking for Snapper)

    • Snapper is a small value purchase card. Yes it can provide discounted travel on buses and provides a quick means of fare processing, and yes you can load passes on to it, but can you use it for an integrated single fare from, say, Wellington Airport to Johnsonville, using your preferred means of bus or train? Or a monthly that allows travel from Porirua by either bus or train to town then up the Cable Car to Vic Uni?

      When it can do that, then we can call it integrated. Until then it’s a cash card with selective cash discounts, with space for non-integrated, operator specific monthly passes to be loaded on it.

  • psilosopher

    “Make rail fares the same as bus fares
    Force all bus companies to accept and sell rail tickets”

    price fixing… what an utterly utterly brilliant solution

    utterly

  • Psilsopher, most people around here would call such a solution “planning”. The private sector obviously doesn’t provide particularly good solutions and an element of planning is essential to achieve efficiency on transport networks which be definition are public goods.

  • Yet if Snapper gets their system going before Auckland Transport/Thales, people will (either by choice of not if the current machines are replaced) replace their existing Go Rider cards with Snapper Cards. Who’s going to want to have to replace their Snapper Card with a Thales/whateveritscalled card just a few months later? That’s a recipe for absolute disaster – thanks Snapper.

    It’s called competition! Unfortunately it is not having a desirable effect.
    Q: How much would it cost to buy out NZ bus? That might solve the problem instantly.

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