Auckland Transport’s accounts indicate the city’s integrated ticketing system is $27 million over budget and behind schedule, but the council-owned agency refused to comment on or clarify its numbers last week.
The Sunday Star-Times has been requesting an update on the project for two weeks, but last week spokeswoman Sharon Hunter said no-one was available for an interview.
After saying the project was on schedule, Hunter said Auckland Transport would be holding a media briefing around the start of the AT HOP bus rollout programme “shortly”.
It is very hard to know how the AIFS project is tracking, with Auckland Transport being so circumspect about what the plan is for the bus rollout. We certainly don’t seem to be any closer to a decision on what the final zone fare structure will be and how transfers will work, let alone family and other types of monthly passes.
The obvious thing to do would be to make the fare for AT Hop card users the same as the 10 trip ticket price, and do away with 10 trip tickets altogether, but who knows what “Fare challenges to migrate to HOP” actually means.
As for the bus rollout, clearly we are running behind time with the Northern Express pilot still continuing. The chances of a June bus rollout seem remote.
The Auckland Integrated Fares programme has been dragging on now since the end of 2009. A brief summary:
Auckland Regional Transport Authority signs a $47m contract with Thales to provide integrated electronic ticketing for buses, trains and ferries. The initial contract was for the core system capable of being a nationwide clearing house, and the set up in Auckland of the rail and ferry hardware. Despite not being awarded the contract, Snapper announce they will be rolling out their ticketing solution on to Auckland NZ Bus services.
Auckland Transport announce that “Supplementing the contract already in place with Thales, a Participation Agreement has now been signed between Auckland Transport, NZ Bus and Snapper for the introduction of a single smartcard for use on NZ Bus services as part of the Auckland Integrated Ticketing program. Other bus operators were said to be at “different stages of understanding”.
It is later revealed in Parliament that Snapper met with Steven Joyce on 3rd March of 2010. Soon after the meeting Snapper confirmed in a letter to the NZTA that “NZBus should be free to proceed on its current plan to implement Snapper equipment … in Auckland.” Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee responds saying that ”it is incorrect to say that the New Zealand Transport Agency was instructed by the Minister to include Snapper.”
In a presentation to the newly formed Auckland Transport Committee, Auckland Transport project the following timeline for the AIFS programme:
Snapper vows “all necessary steps will be taken to recover losses arising from the wrongful termination”, warning that “Auckland ratepayers would be the casualties, saying the ultimate cost of the decision by the council transport organisation’s board … was likely to the significant”
Auckland Transport announces that non-NZ Bus operators will install Thales hardware on their bus fleets.
Andrew Ritchie, Chief Executive of Ritchie’s, says, “The bus consortium previously chose Parkeon as its hardware supplier and they have proven themselves to be professional and responsive in their approach to the project. However, in the interests of a seamless approach we have now elected to move to the AT Thales solution which will also be used on trains and ferries”.
AT Hop is rolled out on trains. The introduction of the AT Hop card causes confusion over branding that continues to exist, with “purple hop” continuing to be used on NZ Bus services, while AT Hop is used on ferries and trains.
AT Hop rolled out to ferry users. Greg Edmonds quoted as saying “AT HOP for ferries will begin with single ticket fares with at least a 10% discount off the equivalent single cash fare. Auckland Transport and ferry operators are working closely together to enable products such as ferry monthly and other passes, to be available on the AT HOP card in the near future”.
Auckland Transport say they are cracking down on fare evading in their most sternly worded statement to date, here is the press release:
Auckland Transport and Veolia crack down on train fare theft
Auckland Transport (AT) and its operator Veolia Transport are cracking down even further on fare evaders to make it fair on the majority of honest customers. Part of the programme will involve a rolling “blitz” at suburban train stations. The initiative has been trialled in recent weeks before being introduced across the network from today.
At one station 113 people were caught trying to evade paying in the first check; in a subsequent check the number had dropped to 17.
Auckland Transport’s Chief Operating Officer, Greg Edmonds says, “Those who steal travel on our trains make it unfair for those who pay their way which means potential increases in rates and taxes to compensate . You must pay to travel on Auckland’s trains. Not to do so is theft.
“Auckland Transport and Veolia have been trialling a rolling blitz on fare evaders at selected suburban train stations and from today we will introduce the programme across the whole train network. The focus of this exercise is to ensure that everyone who gets on a train service has a valid ticket or a tagged on AT HOP card”.
Mr Edmonds adds, “From time to time we do experience vandalism and technical issues with our Ticket and Top-Up machines just as any banking system machine does. If customers are unable to purchase a ticket for any reason, that can be discussed with Veolia’s ticket inspectors.
“The measures we are introducing coupled with on-board checks has proved highly effective in the UK and Australia. We are losing revenue through people stealing our services. Every dollar lost to fare cheats is a dollar less to renew public transport infrastructure.
A recent report from the Ministry of Transport in Victoria says fare evasion cost the state approximately $90 million last year.
AT HOP cards can be purchased from ticket inspection staff on trains and at ticket offices at Britomart, Newmarket, New Lynn and Papakura train stations. Train tickets can be purchased from ticket machines at all stations.
Well I rode the trains a few times today and noticed a visibly larger staff presence, in fact it was almost like the old days with staff on trains permanently and checking tickets of everyone on board. On my way into town there were at least two people who didn’t have a ticket. One lady said the machine wasn’t working and another guy said he left his HOP card at home and refused to pay, both were left to continue their journey without paying anything (although I think the first one was told to buy a ticket at Newmarket). One guy who did have a paper ticket brought a hop card from the inspectors though so that is a small positive.
On my way home there were also two people without tickets, one lady who said the machine wasn’t accepting coins and was allowed to continue her journey and amazingly one guy who claimed to have never even have heard about the HOP system. I suspect he was putting it on but in both cases they were allowed to continue travelling without paying a cent. The thing that really annoys me in all of these situations is not even that they have been allowed to travel free but that Veolia staff made no attempt whatsoever to even tell these people about HOP cards, let alone sell them. To me these are the perfect opportunities for Veolia staff to be really telling people about the benefits of HOP cards, especially to those that say they were honestly trying to buy a ticket but that the machine wasn’t working.
Have you travelled on the trains today? Did you notice the increased staff presence and how did they deal with customers without tickets?
As we have mentioned before, Auckland is just at the start of some massive changes to PT. Change naturally causes concern for some people and can obviously be disruptive. That is why it is so important that those initiating the change communicate clearly why it is happening and take every opportunity to say why the change is positive. Sometimes I wonder what AT are really up to as they seemingly miss prime opportunities to do this. Take today’s article in the Herald.
Cleaner walking 40 mins to work with bad knee rather than deal with faulty machine and risk increased fine.
Darrell Preston would rather hobble 5km a day on a bad knee than take his chances with the new train ticketing machines.
That is because Auckland Transport has doubled the penalty fare for passengers without tickets to $20, and he says the machine, at his nearest railway station in Papatoetoe, tends to gobble up coins without offering anything in return.
The 60-year-old cleaner says he sets out at 4.55am each morning on a 40-minute walk to central Manukau, where he catches a bus to his job at the Foundation of the Blind’s Homai Campus workshops.
Ok so he, and likely many others, don’t like using the machines. That is fine, we have to accept that not everyone feels comfortable with them but that isn’t what prompted me to write this post, it is AT’s reply.
A spokeswoman for the council transport organisation, Sharon Hunter, said passengers unable to buy tickets from faulty machines could always ask rail inspectors for special permits to complete their trips without being penalised.
Inspectors were easily able to check with back-office staff on whether a particular machine had failed, and they had issued 1535 “permits to travel” since the new system of pre-boarding ticket sales were introduced in October.
That was also when electronic Hop cards were rolled out on rail, signalling an end to on-board cash sales.
Ms Hunter said 887 penalty tickets had been issued since early January to passengers who failed to make any attempt to pay a fare.
Auckland Transport had increased the penalty as a deterrent while waiting for legislative changes to provide for fines similar those in Australia, where fare dodgers are fined more than $200 if caught.
She was unable to provide failure rates for ticketing machines, which also serve to top up Hop cards, but said more machines were on order.
So more machines are coming and if the machine is faulty then the train staff can allow him to still travel which is good. The problem however is that there seems to be absolutely no mention of the benefits that this customer, or others in his situation, could receive by using a HOP card. Instead this could have been the perfect opportunity to remind people that a HOP card, especially one with automatic top ups loaded, could easily solve many of these problems. The article even mentions that an AT representative met Darrell on the platform, what better time to personally show him the benefits of using the card. Of course there is more benefit than just not having to use the machine as of course using the HOP card provides a discount on travel too yet none of this is mentioned.
Now to be fair it might be that Sharon had put this in the reply and that the Herald didn’t print it but I suspect that didn’t happen. Situations like this are prime opportunities to promote the benefits of the HOP system and AT need to be grabbing them when they arise.
From tomorrow the penalty fare for not having a ticket on trains increases from $10.30 to $20. It is part of Auckland Transports plans to reduce fare evasion. Here is their press release:
From this Sunday, 7 April, Auckland Transport’s Penalty Fare for anyone who boards a train without a valid ticket or a tagged on AT HOP card, will increase from $10.30 to $20.00. The Penalty Fare is managed by Auckland Transport’s train operator, Veolia Transport using on-board ticket inspection staff.
Auckland Transport’s Board Chairman, Lester Levy says, “We make no apology for this increase. Travelling on Auckland’s train services with the intention of travelling without a valid ticket or a tagged on AT HOP card, is not only theft of a service but theft from Auckland’s taxpayers and ratepayers who subsidise the service.
“Internationally penalty fares are seen as a civil debt and are used to discourage casual fare evasion and disregard for ticketing rules, the same applies in Auckland”.
Dr Levy says, “To put it simply, you must pay to travel on trains. Auckland trains operate on a pre-pay system which requires everyone to pay their way to ensure we can continue to invest in improving trains, stations and services for the benefit of Aucklanders.
“The Penalty Fare is only one of a range of measures Auckland Transport will be putting in place to deter fare evaders.
“If you have been unable to purchase a ticket for any reason that can be discussed with Veolia’s on-board staff”.
Single train tickets can be purchased from ticket machines at all stations. The other option is to use an AT HOP card. The AT HOP card can be purchased for $10 from staff on trains and at ticket offices at Britomart, Newmarket, New Lynn and Papakura train stations and loaded online.
Now I do agree with the need to target fare evaders and penalise those that don’t pay but my biggest concern is that even with the $10.30 fare, the enforcement simply isn’t happening. Of the times I have seen ticket inspectors on trains, I have yet to see one issue a penalty when a fare evader gets found out. Most of the time the evader tends to be a school kid who claims that they either don’t have any money to pay for the fare or that the machine wasn’t working (even though it was) and so the ticket inspectors let them off with a warning. A lot of them treat it as a game and laugh to their mates afterwards about the number of times they have gotten away with it. The other common trick is simply to argue with the staff for a while then just get off at the next stop, obviously with the intention of just getting on the next train and doing the same thing again.
Increasing the penalty fare isn’t likely to help with address these particular problems unless the enforcement of it is also increased at the same time. Part of the problem lies in the fact that the staff are effectively powerless to do anything about it. That will change when the MoT finally get around to updating legislation to help deal with the problem but unfortunately it doesn’t seem to be a high priority for them.
Transport infrastructure is just one of small group of vital core systems that the entire edifice of the city depends upon. This group; the water, wastewater, electricity, telecommunications, and transport structures of a city are critical to its wellbeing and success. These allow all the other social systems of a city; commerce, education, health, social and living processes to function at all. Such is the success of the city model that we have become able to expect these services to be operating all the time and without interruption more or less invisibly: To always be able to drink the water, to have electricity at the flick of a switch, to be able to physically access all of the city efficiently.
Cities are so dependent on these networks that they may even face existential crisis if one or more of them fail for any length of time. But of course they all require expensive physical infrastructure and ongoing organisation to maintain them. And because of the enormous economies of scale in the whole city solving these practical problems together some sort of central planning structure and mechanism for funding their construction and operation is also need. There are always debates around the need or otherwise for investment in these systems. In particular there always seem to be those who never want to invest in anything at all, or at least resist changing the current way of doing things.
“New ideas pass through three periods: 1) It can’t be done. 2) It probably can be done, but it’s not worth doing. 3) I knew it was a good idea all along!” — Sir Arthur C. Clark
For a city of its size and wealth Auckland has a relatively poor record in a number these areas recently. It seems we are in the habit of skimping on vital spending in some areas, building a bare minimum and just hoping for the best. We got badly found out with our electricity supply systems in 1998 with a major outage caused by the failure of equipment for which we had no backup or alternative route.
And until recently almost every summer we ran into water supply problems as we gambled with the weather to cooperate with the growing demands of an expanding city. But not this year, despite a record lack of rain and a record population. And there’s a good reason why as outlined in this article from Fairfax:
The Waikato pipeline has saved Auckland from a full-blown water shortage, mayor Len Brown says.
The pipeline, developed in the mid-1990s, now provides 20 per cent of the city’s water supply.
“The lakes are presently sitting at 70 per cent. That’s really only because we’re able to tap into the Waikato supply,” Mr Brown says.
“We’ve had basically drought conditions for the last six weeks.”
A $48 million upgrade completed last year increased the amount of water the pipeline is able to be supply from 75 million litres to 125 million litres .
“Aucklanders’ reliance on other supplies is being hugely tested.
“But those people in urban Auckland wouldn’t know that at all. It’s an endless beautiful summer and they’re lapping it up.”
Mr Brown describes the pipeline as a “massive investment” which the former leaders of Auckland had the foresight to commission.
A further pipeline upgrade would be possible in the future as demand increases with population growth.
Sixty per cent of Auckland’s water comes from dams in the Hunua Ranges, 17 per cent from dams in the Waitakere Ranges, 20 per cent from the pipeline and 3 per cent from a freshwater spring in Onehunga.
So Auckland is only able to still function because of this ‘“massive investment” which the former leaders of Auckland had the foresight to commission’. And it is expandable for future ‘demand increases with population growth.’
It is worth noting that the pipeline achieves this by only supplying 20% of our water needs. So it has been able to stabilise our existing water demand by meeting one fifth of the need. It has smoothed the peaks in the demand across the year.
But of course like all really successful infrastructure investments we tend to forget about it now it is working smoothly and just expect it to be there doing its job. What a great luxury. It’s only when things break down or show that they are becoming inadequate that we start to get really interested in them. In Auckland now there is really only one of these vital functions that is attracting that much interest: our transport systems. That the city comes to a total halt when there are problems on the motorway network shows that we are overly reliant on this one system, as we were when we only had local dams suppling our water.
Margritte, This is not a Pipe
It is not hard to see a metaphor here. It is very odd that some still claim that the best way to improve the quality of our transport systems in Auckland is to keep putting more eggs into one basket: To keep building more motorways. Yet as we had the wisdom to diversify our water supply it is clearly time to do the same in the transport sector. To be successful this diversification does not at all mean abandoning or downgrading our current assets, it is just a question of adding the option of a much more viable alternative to compliment them. And in the City Rail Link and associated work on the rail and bus networks we have a project that is analogous to the Waikato pipeline: it is the project to keep our current dominant asset running better.
And this is a matter of some urgency because of the time it will take construct this new high capacity ‘pipeline’ it is unwise to delay unless we are prepared to put up with increasingly frequent gridlock events. Not that any alternative to driving will ‘solve’ congestion or prevent accidents or all delays but a really high quality complimentary network will certainly provide that critical core percentage of movement that will remain untroubled by events elsewhere. And the CRL is the very core of the new bus/rail RTN backbone of that complimentary system.
But this is a new idea for Auckland [see Arthur C Clark above], and most people here have become used to the idea that you have to drive to get anywhere, so can it work, will people use it?
Well at every turn this century as we have improved the RTN network; Rail and the Northern Busway, these investments have been met with higher than projected patronage. And as the CRL and associated works will allow a frequency, capacity, and convenience that will make the entire network so much more attractive for so many people on so many occasions there is no reason to believe that this trend won’t just continue but accelerate. To contend otherwise cannot be supported by evidence. Or at least I have never seen any argument more advanced than simply the stating of an opinion as to why we shouldn’t confidently expect rapid growth in ridership after these investments.
We can also reasonably also look to the single most relevant example for a guide. Below is the Perth patronage data. Perth began a series of improvements to its rail network when its system was carrying around the same number as ours is now. The improvements are remarkably similar, electrification, an underground inner city connecting line, bus integration. Perth has a similar culture and population to Auckland, it is in fact a more spread out city, with fewer geographic constraints and a higher average income than Auckland. These facts make it an almost ideal, if conservative, model for Auckland’s plans.
Electrification with its every 10 minutes turn-up-and-go frequencies will certainly address our current capacity problems. But then once you add the more attractive and reliable trains, extension of services through the day and into weekends, coordination with the new bus network through fare integration as well as station and stop linking, it will also clearly grow demand beyond the constraints of the network. And, it is important to note, all of that at a considerably lower cost per service and per user.
So it is clear that well before the end of this decade the all-terminating-at-Britomart system is going to be groaning at the seams and a sorry waste of the potential carrying capacity of the wider network. While the coming improvements will wring more use out of what is the biggest waste of existing capacity in Auckland it will still be only lifting a fraction of the load it could be. What it could be with the CRL.
Several recent posts have extolled the merits of “better buses” for Auckland. These posts have generally focused on the following issues:
Corridor infrastructure - as discussed in this post, there are strong arguments in favour of expanding Auckland’s bus lane network so as to improve bus speeds/reliability.
Network structure – as discussed in this post, Auckland Transport’s draft RPTP has proposed a network of frequent bus lines which are designed to support the rail and busway networks.
Vehicle technology - as discussed in this post, bus operators in Auckland are just about to trial double-decker buses, while this earlier post discussed rapid developments in hybrid/electric bus technologies.
Improved corridor infrastructure, a better network, and newer/larger vehicles should all drive bus patronage higher. Complementing these bus improvements will be a vastly improved rail network – sporting fast, new trains that operate at high frequencies – and integrated ticketing/fares – enabling people to travel seamlessly across the network irrespective of mode or operator.
The “take-away message”, as they say, is that many more people are likely to be using Auckland’s buses in 10 years time compared to now. And we’ll also be using buses in subtly different ways: Rather than staying on the bus for long trips, more people will be catching the bus for a short distance and then connecting to a faster rail or busway service. On the surface this all sounds like good news.
But hold on a second – all this seems to be overlooking something. More specifically, if we have more people using buses and they are using them for shorter trips, then does this not mean that the rate of passenger movements per bus-kilometre traveled will increase by a disproportionate amount? This in turn means, holding other factors constant, the time buses spend dwelling at stops will also increase. The irony here is that all of the aforementioned initiatives, which are designed to improve the attractiveness of the bus system, will – if they are successful at attracting passengers – tend to place inexorable downward pressure on bus operating speeds.
That’s the vicious cycle on which I think we should focus our collective attention.
In the last few years I’ve had the pleasure of residing in a number of cities. Two of these stand-out for the way they have treated their buses with dignity, namely Brisbane (pop ~2 million) and Edinburgh (pop ~600,000). Both of these cities have bus networks that carry over 110 million trips per year, i.e. twice as many bus passengers as Auckland. And for this reason both Brisbane and Edinburgh have had to grapple with gnarly issues that Auckland may need to confront in the future.
In Brisbane they’ve gone for what could charitably be described as “infrastructure intensive” solutions. This has seen them spend not considerable sums of money on extremely high quality grade-separated bus infrastructure in the city centre. One of the most recent shining (if spending money is to be applauded) examples of this infrastructure is King George Square Station, which is illustrated below. This underground bus station connects via a tunnel to Roma Street and Queen Street Stations to the north and south respectively. KGS apparently has a design capacity of about 300 buses per hour, or 20,000 passengers per hour, however achieving this through-put would require modifications to the approaches and platforms.
Edinburgh, for their part, have opted for slightly less infrastructure. Their main trick has been to develop a network of on-street bus lanes on major arterial roads leading into the city, which converge on Princes Street. The latter then becomes a bus/taxi only mall at peak periods, as illustrated below. Edinburgh has in turn developed a network structure that enables them to “through-route” almost all services (NB: It’s worth mentioning that this kind of network structure, which results in relatively long routes, is aided and abetted by Edinburgh’s relatively compact and symmetric urban form and not necessarily something that can be replicated in cities like Brisbane and Auckland).
In terms of what’s best for Auckland, my gut feeling is that our bus sweet spot lies somewhere between Brisbane and Edinburgh. That is, as a relatively large and rapidly growing city we will need some high-quality, possibly even underground, bus infrastructure in our city centre. It’s notable that the two major bus corridor initiatives implemented in Auckland in the last decade, namely the Northern Busway and the Central Connector have piked out completely as they approach the City Centre. Right where you need the priority treatment the most is where we have waved the white flag.
And unfortunately the consequence of failing to provide adequate bus infrastructure has not been pretty: It has exacerbated bus congestion in the core central city area which in turn further detracts from urban amenity. Ironically, the congestion arising from inadequate bus infrastructure in Auckland has prompted some people to (naively) call for banishing buses from the city centre altogether. While our historical reluctance to provide appropriate facilities for buses says a lot about our collective unwillingness to recognise the contribution buses make to the city centre, it now creates an opportunity for us to develop something better – something that can support our existing bus corridors while accommodating those that we expect to develop in the future, as per the new bus network.
But enough about infrastructure! The primary point of this post was actually to identify a range of “softer” initiatives that have been implemented in cities overseas, which Auckland could adopt to maintain bus speeds as patronage grows, namely:
Wider stop spacing - Brisbane’s high-frequency routes tend to follow a limited stopping pattern, which sees them stopping every 800m or so. Stop spacing is even longer on the the City Glider services, which provide an inner-city cross-town function. This typically means that you sometimes have to be prepared to walk a bit further, but when you do you have access to services that are frequent and fast. Moreover, these services are complemented by all-stop services operating underneath, which typically focus on providing local access and coverage. By way of comparison, light rail lines often tend to have stop spacings approaching 1km.
Managing cash payment - Many services in Brisbane are “pre-pay only”, which simply means you have to have a smart card in order to board. Edinburgh has taken a slightly different approach: Passengers can still pay with cash on all services, but if you do then you don’t get any change. Instead, passengers paying by cash simply have to throw the money in an automatic cash counter, which then automatically tells the bus driver whether they have paid enough for the fare that they have requested. Again, this drastically reduces dwell times (customers paying by cash board almost as fast as those using a smart card) and also increases revenues.
Vehicle configuration - This has multiple dimensions, but generally involves vehicle designs that enable much quicker loading and unloading. Key features include double-door entry/exit, so that passengers paying by cash do not block other passengers that are paying by smartcard. Similarly, double-door exit at the back enables quicker unloading of passengers, which is especially crucial when operating a tag-off system – as Auckland is doing. Another common aspect of buses in both Brisbane and Edinburgh is wider aisles, especially towards the front, which enables speedies loading – particularly for people with wheelchairs and prams.
Given that buses have a lifetime of 12-15 years Auckland Transport and the bus operators would ideally be thinking about these issues now, so that they can be incorporated into vehicle procurement and contracting policies from at an early stage. Some of this is happening already – as per the double-decker bus trial noted above. But on the other hand I do wonder if Auckland Transport should develop some form of operational plan (i.e. non-infrastructure) that analyses our current bus system, identifies where time is being lost, and identifies/prioritises some the issues that will need to be tackled to accommodate up to 120 million bus trips per year. Of course, there may be things that Auckland can implement now in anticipation of higher patronage.
As an aside, Auckland really needs to take a leaf out of Brisbane and Edinburgh’s bus book. As these cities have shown, appropriately sized and designed bus infrastructure will reduce the impact of buses on the city centre. Sure, some negative impacts remain, but that’s more the result of the eternal tension that exists in urban environments between mobility and accessibility, between movement and exchange, than something that is intrinsic to buses per se.
Be interested to hear what other initiatives people think could be used to make Auckland’s buses better …
Next year will have a lot of really important milestones for Auckland’s public transport system. Let’s take a look at the biggies:
The first electric trains are scheduled to arrive in the second half of 2013, although they’re not likely to be put into revenue service until early 2014.
Integrated ticketing will finally be implemented across all buses, trains and ferries in the first half of 2013.
The notice of requirement to secure route protection for the City Rail Link project should progress significantly throughout 2013, which will mean the project advances further than it has before in its many iterations over the past 90 years.
We should start to see the first steps of implementing the exciting new bus network across Auckland.
My main hopes are that all of these momentous events are able to take place in a timely and successful manner. The history of integrated ticketing means that this is the one I’m most sceptical of seeing further delays over (has the Hop Card equipment even been ordered yet for the buses I wonder?) so I think we’ll need to keep an eye on that. Most things seem on track with construction of the EMUs, the CRL is likely to go through the standard consenting process which – unlike many projects where this is a scary hurdle – actually almost seems like it can be an opportunity to highlight and reinforce the benefits of the project. There will necessarily be a lot of information about things like station design that will need to be released as part of the consenting process so it’ll be interesting to comment on things like the location of station entrances and the like.
As well as these big headline projects, I also hope that Auckland Transport can do a better job at some of the small things – like actually getting in place a bus lane or two, sorting out the Outer Link bus, ensuring that the Fanshawe Street bus lane is reopened by early February, not putting up public transport fares for a while yet and having better real-time information available.
The other really interesting thing to come out in 2013 will be the Council’s Draft Unitary Plan. As the document with the statutory powers to regulate pretty much every bit of land-use development, the Unitary Plan will be critical in deciding whether the vision of the Auckland Plan can be achieved or not. Things like what the Plan’s approach to parking minimums will be and the extent to which clever intensification is enabled and encouraged will be something to keep a really close eye on – and I’m hoping the Council has the guts to be bold in changing the planning rulebook where it’s painfully obvious the old approaches simply don’t work.
People seem to love to compare us to Sydney, it is after all the closest international to Auckland and one of the things that is frequently commented on is the their public transport system, in particular their train system. But there is one area where Sydney has been behind us and that is in integrated ticketing (and I’m not suggesting that we are the model system). Like Auckland, Sydney has had a number of false starts but they are now starting to roll a system out. But this post isn’t about Sydney’s integrated ticketing but about the cartoon below which accompanied an article in the Sydney Morning Herald and which seems eerily accurate for Auckland.
Following on from my post yesterday on the Snapper/HOP mess, I felt that a lot of further questions remained unanswered. Phil Twyford attempted to get some answers out of the Minister of Transport in parliament:
While questions around why Auckland Transport decided to allow Snapper to become involved in the HOP scheme remain frustratingly unanswered (perhaps until I read a bit further into the mountain of information I have), a question that I want to look at in this post relates a bit more closely to the title of this post – why did things go wrong?
A useful starting point for looking at the answer to that question is the presentation to NZTA’s board I linked to yesterday. This covers the vexed issue of what’s called “treatment of third-party systems, kits or cards”. Before we get into the details it’s useful to remind everyone that an integrated smartcard ticketing system has three components:
The back-office “system” which handles all the transactions and keeps track of everyone’s balance plus the trips they take.
The ticket machines on the bus, including the card readers
The cards themselves
There’s also a further layer sitting between the machines and the system but my understanding is that’s a relatively simple part of the system which just collects information from the vehicles/stations and then passes it onto the ‘proper’ system. It was clearly ARTA/AT’s preference for all elements of the system to be controlled by one party and this has been in the request for tender for the system. The presentation deals with this below:
As noted, there are different extents to which third party elements can be introduced, but each step leads to increased risk, complexity and therefore potentially cost. The first option is obviously to have everything provided by the one party – ironically what ARTA originally wanted and what we’re going to end up getting:
The most basic way of introducing 3rd party elements is the “device” or card reader. In early 2009, when the Regional Fuel Tax was cancelled and funding for the integrated ticketing system was put in jeopardy and then reduced, there was an acceptance that third-party devices may be required for buses – although Thales equipment would still be used on trains and ferries as part of the funded system. So the second option looks something like this:
Essentially the bus operators being able to decide what devices to use left the door open for NZ Bus to “choose” its sister company Snapper. But Snapper wasn’t interested in just providing the card reading devices, they wanted (at the very least) to also be able to use their card – so we shift along to option 3, with increased risk, complexity and therefore potentially cost:
I never liked the idea of this system because it would effectively undermine the whole concept of an integrated ticketing system where operators become irrelevant in terms of paying your fare. Instead you might end up with the an equivalent debacle to our mobile phone industry where you can pay different rates depending on the network of the person you’re calling or texting. I can imagine NZ Bus and Snapper also doing deals so that there were cheaper fares available on the exclusive Snapper Card rather than the Thales card, further undermining integrated ticketing.
Finally, the fourth option creates something like our current EFTPOS system with a whole pile of different ‘clearing houses’ and cards and devices. While this option is probably great for retail purchases and other uses for contactless “e-money”, the complexity and messiness would not be well suited to public transport:
The different options, as well as more detail on the system (such as which bits of it are centrally controlled and which bits are controlled by Auckland) is outlined in the NZTA board paper that sought funding approval for integrated ticketing (nearly $100 million of funding including operating costs).
It seems like NZTA preferred option 1 due to its lower cost, but was mindful that some operators (presumably this means NZ Bus and their close connections with Snapper) would not like this option. It’s a pity that some of this slide is blanked out – wonder what it says? Some reference of the Minister?
Interestingly, there’s then some discussion about a pre-emptive Snapper rollout – exactly what did end up happening. The presentation notes that while it’s not possible to show that the Thales system is better value for money than Snapper without “starting again”, it was possible to show that Thales was “better” and “internationally competitive” and that Snapper would not be free – rather around $75 million over 10 years (compared to around $135m for the Thales system).
To summarise what is quite a lot of detail it seems to me as though NZTA warned against making the system overly complex through Snapper’s involvement – because that would add risk and add cost. Yet because Snapper went ahead and launched and somehow talked ARTA/Auckland Transport into involving them, we ended up with the messy mixed system that NZTA had always feared. Of course then things started to unravel, rather like NZTA had predicted:
The Snapper/HOP (SNOP) Cards struggled to connect with the Thales “system”, meaning that they would need to be “swapped out” for normal AT HOP cards once the Thales system was up and running.
Even using a Thales card and the Thales system, the Snapper readers weren’t up to scratch, leading Auckland Transport to eventually bite the bullet and go back to the original plan of having Thales supply all the equipment: cards, readers and the system itself.
Perhaps what all this really highlights is the mystery of why ARTA allowed Snapper to join the HOP scheme. This is where the issue of political interference from Steven Joyce sounds like it comes in – as referenced in yesterday’s post. ARTA and NZTA had both wanted to keep the system as simple as possible because they were worried adding in third-party elements would add cost and delay. Ironically they were both absolutely proven right in the long run with Snapper – as a third-party – struggling with exactly the issues that had been foreseen.
It seems simply staggering for ARTA to go against the very thing they had been fighting for – a single system, or “Option 1″ as described above – unless they were under considerable pressure to do so. Furthermore, it seems like ARTA went against their previous position even though they had both NZTA and the Ministry of Transport (I’ll get into their documents in future posts) supporting “Option 1″ as the most cost-effective and low-risk approach. If ARTA’s change in position wasn’t due to political pressure from the Minister, I’d love to know what it actually was caused by.
Back in August Auckland Transport kicked Snapper out of helping to deliver integrated ticketing in Auckland. Subject to any legal battles over whether compensation is due or not, this was the final line in a very sad and sorry tale about Snapper’s involvement in Auckland’s integrated ticketing system. A tale that goes back quite a few years.
The NZ Herald, and ourselves, have recently received a huge amount of information on the whole Snapper/HOP debacle – released under the Official Information Act. It may take a while to dig through the details of this all, but we shall give this task a go – because a huge amount of public money has gone into integrated ticketing plus a huge amount of time seems to have passed while we debate the whole issue. The Auditor General’s investigation into this whole shemozzle, which should provide us with some final answers around the whole sorry saga, is apparently on hold until Snapper’s legal battles with Auckland Transport have been resolved. So for now let’s just take a look through what we have – in particular looking at these two questions:
What were the reasons for Snapper originally not being chosen as the preferred tenderer for Auckland’s integrated ticketing solution?
What pressure, if any, did the government end up putting on Auckland Transport to allow Snapper to launch the Snapper/HOP (from now on referred to as SNOP) card early last year?
We’ll see what other interesting stuff we come across on the way.
A useful place to start is an NZTA Ministerial Briefing from September last year which provides some background information on integrated ticketing generally, but in particular the issue of branding and the inter-relationship between the SNOP card and other, future (at that point) HOP cards. Helpfully, the briefing summarises some of the technical details of the Thales system and how it differs from the Snapper system – so from the start we can begin to get an understanding of the potential difficulties in integrating the two:
From reading a bit more detail in other documents it seems that DESfire is what’s typically used for public transport based smart-cards. It does what is a reasonably simple job really really well and really really quickly. The Java JCOP is more commonly used for contactless cards purchasing small items. Like what Snapper does in terms of micro-retail payments.
Looking at another, more detailed, document – a presentation to the NZTA board – this distinction is highlighted further. The Thales system is designed around providing a really good solution for public transport and provides very fast read times by not complicating things too much. The presentation, from 2009 and as part of the process of informing and educating the board about integrated ticketing before NZTA signed off on their pretty significant financial contribution towards the project, noted that the Thales system was of excellent quality and didn’t raise any concerns about ARTA’s choice of them as the preferred supplier:
The presentation has quite a lot of discussion around the extent to which third party equipment should be allowed in the system. There are a range of ways in which third-party equipment can form part of the integrated ticketing system – from different machines, different cards right through to separate systems and ‘clearing houses’. NZTA’s preference was to have as little third party equipment as possible, because this made the system a lot cheaper and a lot simpler.
So to answer our first question, it seems like Thales was probably chosen as the preferred supplier because their technology delivered better on the core goal of the integrated ticketing project: a smartcard for public transport purposes. Snapper’s different technology was more based around micro-retail. My experience with my SNOP card is certainly that it feels really really slow in using the card to have it register properly. I can put the card in front of the reader while still walking and find that it only registers when I’m just about to get beyond easy arm’s reach. With public transport efficiency so intertwined with reducing dwell times, slow readers are something you want to avoid.
The second question is perhaps the most politically sensitive, as touched upon in an NZ Herald article yesterday – the question of how much involvement central government might have had in persuading Auckland Transport to allow Snapper to become involved in the system even after they had lost the tender to Thales for being the preferred supplier. Here are the key points from yesterday’s article:
Labour transport spokesman Phil Twyford says correspondence between Wellington smart-card supplier Snapper and the Beehive shows the Government forced the former Auckland Regional Transport Authority to let the company join the Hop ticketing scheme after awarding the main contract to its rival, Thales.
Auckland Transport has since dumped Snapper for allegedly missing performance deadlines, a claim which the company denies.
Mr Twyford says Government denials of political interference are contradicted by a letter from Snapper chief executive Miki Szikszai to former Transport Minister Steven Joyce after a meeting in 2010.
Mr Szikszai wrote that he understood Mr Joyce’s “expectations are that … NZ Bus should be free … to implement Snapper equipment and join the Snapper scheme in Auckland.”
Here’s the letter that Mr Twyford is referring to. With the key extracts below: Perhaps reinforcing the likelihood of Steven Joyce wanting to get Snapper involved (perhaps hoping that the Thales solution would fail and Snapper would be able to take over the whole thing?) are a series of questions Joyce asked back in late 2008, when he had first become Minister of Transport and was obviously just coming to grips with the project for the first time. His questions were:
Why do we need a nationally transferable integrated ticketing system?
Why do we need to spend $100 million on an integrated ticket system for Auckland when Snapper has been provided for free and privately?
Can this project be stopped?
I think we obviously need to give Ministers a bit of leniency in their first couple of months – as without knowing the details these seem like reasonable questions to ask. But they certainly do give us the impression that Joyce was favourable towards Snapper and unfavourable towards the ARTA preferred Thales solution right at the start of his time as Minister. Fortunately the Ministry of Transport recommended strongly against stopping the project – and obviously that never happened.
I’m still working my way through the documents, which are in chronological order, and I imagine there might be quite a lot of more interesting stuff in recent times when it became clear that Snapper was failing to get things working with the Thales system – leading to them being cut from the project. But that will have to be the subject of another blog post.