Another Rudman piece today and more worrying news, this time in the form of integrated ticketing and the problems the projects is having due to in relation to Snapper. Snapper is what powers the current Hop system and is based on different technology to what will be rolled out when the real system goes live. They were hoping to be able to modify it enough to allow it to read the real Hop cards but it seems like things haven’t quite worked as they expected. Here is what Rudman says:
At a crunch meeting today, Snapper Services, the provider of these “validator” machines, face some tough questioning about its future in the integrated ticketing scheme.
One thing seems certain, Snapper will be very lucky to get off with a “please try again” message from their partners, Auckland Transport and New Zealand Transport Agency, the clients of the new ticketing system, and the designers, Thales, the French technology giant.
Snapper has already missed one deadline to prove its system could link into the Thales system and meet the technological performance standards outlined in NZTA specifications. Sources say the problem is not just the interface between the Snapper and Thales systems. Also of concern is that current Snapper card readers are not up to specifications, critics pointing to their being “slow and prone to error”
This is actually something I had heard a rumour about recently as well and its something I’m really concerned about. If Snapper can’t get their readers to work properly they might all need to be replaced with new ones that are compatible with the real Hop system. If this happens I fear that in the worst case scenario we might end up with a situation like happened last year where large numbers of buses need to be swapped over all on the same day, probably at the same time as the cards.
The biggest impact though could be with the Hop brand, is it now going to be forever associated with a giant stuff up which could permanently harm it and impact its adoption. If so that is likely to reduce the benefits we are meant to see from the project as people continue to hold up buses using cash.
Of course this isn’t the first time Snapper or its owner Infratil have tried to stuff up Auckland’s integrated ticketing project.
Within Auckland Transport, patience is running out with Snapper and its investment company owners, Infratil, who together have been delaying Auckland’s integrated ticketing project from day one.
Back in 2009, Snapper tendered for the lucrative overall contract and lost out to Thales. Snapper, a sister Infratil company to Auckland’s main bus operator, NZ Bus, queried the decision through the legal system and lost. At the time a furious Snapper chairman, Paul Ridley-Smith, defiantly told the Herald, “We’re not going to plug into Thales. We have a perfectly functional, 100 per cent effective, totally integrated ticketing system, so why would you build another one?”
In a confidential report to Infratil’s August 2009 board meeting, Mr Ridley-Smith admitted, “If Snapper can’t expand into Auckland then its business will be permanently sub-economic and it might have to withdraw from Wellington.”
Refusing to lie down, a year later, Snapper persuaded NZTA and Auckland Regional Transport, despite Thales’ objections, that if allowed to install their Snapper system in Auckland buses, they would ensure they were compatible with the Thales system.
Coming back to the current issue, a huge problem if they can’t get the existing readers to work is going to be quickly sourcing new ones that will work with the system. When the deal with Thales was originally signed off, the bus companies were allowed to select whoever they wanted to provide the equipment providing it would work with the core system. My understanding is that at that time Thales offered to sell all of the bus companies their readers which obviously would have worked out of the box and avoided all of these issues, but NZ Bus who is also owned by Infratil decided to use Snapper readers. As a result Thales withdrew its offer to the rest of the companies as the volume wouldn’t have been enough for them which meant that the other bus companies had to go looking elsewhere to source them.
What ever happens it ends up that we PT users are the ones that suffer and it seems more and more likely that the project will be delayed and therefore remain one of the mythical projects of Auckland transport.