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Hop Saga Continues

The long running saga of Auckland’s Integrated Ticketing project continues, with this story in the Sunday Star Times today:

 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”.

As well as the apparent budget blowout, the article also points out that the legal dispute with Snapper remains unresolved.

Earlier this week, Auckland Council approved only $2m of a $9m request for additional funding for the project from Auckland Transport. It isn’t clear what impact this will have on the rollout.

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 most recent official information we have is from the March Auckland Council Transport Committee meeting, with the following points highlighted for each mode.

Rail:

  • 49,000 plus users
  • Cash fares higher than forecast
  • System fully operational
  • On-line top-up behind forecast
  • VRD performance
  • Revenue management issues
  • Manukau gating

Ferry:

  • System fully operational
  • Very low number of users
  • Fare challenges to migrate to HOP
  • Downtown Ferry Terminal upgrade

Bus:

  • Thales programme of works on schedule
  • Bus cabling and installations commenced this month
  • Pilot for Northern Express scheduled to begin on 21 April
  • Bus rollout commences from June
  • Complex bus roll-out due to multiple fare products and individual operator cards

The low uptake for ferry users should not be surprising – using an AT Hop on the ferries is more expensive than a 10 trip ticket.

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.

Timeline

The Auckland Integrated Fares programme has been dragging on now since the end of 2009.  A brief summary:

December 2009

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.

December 2010

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”.

The decision is somewhat surprising as, at the time of the announcement, the Snapper card is not compatible with the Thales Desfire technology.

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:

2010AIFSTimeline

May 2011

The “purple” Hop card is rolled out on the NZ Bus fleet, starting with North Star services.

June 2012

It is alleged that Snapper cannot make its card compatible with the Thales solution by November 2012, claims refuted by Snapper at the time. Earlier, Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee says that Snapper would be “off the run” if they fail to meet the deadline.

August 2012

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”

September 2012

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”.

 October 2012

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.

November 2012

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”.

What really happened with Snapper/HOP – Part 2

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:

  1. The back-office “system” which handles all the transactions and keeps track of everyone’s balance plus the trips they take.
  2. The ticket machines on the bus, including the card readers
  3. 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.

What really happened with Snapper/HOP?

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.

The Snapper/HOP debacle finally resolved?

Well I chose a rather dramatic couple of weeks to be out of the country – I come back and it seems as long last we might have sorted out the integrated ticketing problem and finally given Snapper the boot. Good riddance I say! From next month we will start to see the “proper” HOP card rolled out on the rail network, with ferries following in November and the bus network – seemingly all in one go now with Thales providing the hardware, from April next year onwards. Here’s what the “real” HOP card is going to look like, compared to our current card:

The new one does look quite a bit “swisher”.

Unsurprisingly, Snapper hasn’t accepted responsibility for the mess this project has turned into and find themselves blaming Auckland Transport and NZTA:

As a result, Auckland Transport has announced that they will engage French multinational Thales to develop and roll out a bus solution for all Auckland bus operators by April 2013 at a cost of over $12 million.

Rhoda said “We are naturally disappointed by this decision, as we have invested significant capital and effort to develop the Snapper system, which is currently the only operational integrated ticketing and payments solution in New Zealand. We are frustrated that critical components for our integration work that we needed from Auckland Transport, NZTA and Thales have consistently not been made available to us. Snapper put forward a plan in April that would have delivered by 30 November, but Auckland Transport never took the decisions and steps it needed to take for that plan to be implemented.”

“Auckland Transport is being disingenuous with its attempt to position Snapper as the reason that the AIFS project is delayed. Delivery of the AIFS system was the responsibility of Auckland Transport, with their partner NZTA and their prime contractor Thales. Snapper’s role was limited to integrating with that system, and the reality is that the AIFS system has not yet been built. What Auckland Transport also fail to mention is that of their $100m spent to date on this project, Snapper has never received any compensation for its integration efforts. Auckland Transport are solely accountable for the design, systems integration and delivery of this project”.

“Snapper is ready to deliver a fully compliant and integrated system as soon as Auckland Transport address fundamental capability and project management gaps – something they are unlikely to do until they acknowledge they have a problem.”

Remarkably similar lines to  those repeatedly trotted out by a few commenters on this blog who tend to only comment on posts related to Snapper. What a remarkable coincidence!

That said, I don’t think we can fully lay the blame with Snapper for the mess this project turned into. It would have been clear from a very long time ago that things were heading off-track, yet it has taken about two and a half years since the Thales contract was signed for the realisation that there’s a fundamental problem with the project to actually be flushed out and solved. That suggests really really bad project management by somebody. It might take a few LGOIMA requests for us to get to the bottom of the story, but we will certainly do our best on that count – with so much money at stake.

However, to be honest I almost don’t care whether it costs another few million to be rid of Snapper completely. Enjoying Vancouver’s fully integrated public transit system over the last couple of weeks – with integrated fares to match – has highlighted to me the importance of getting integrated ticketing right. At the end of the day Snapper’s equipment just wasn’t up to the job – something known right from the start actually – so they’ve been kicked out. Now let’s just bloody well get on with it!

Snapper/HOP fiasco continues

Some interesting developments today in the ongoing fiasco, with Auckland Transport now apparently denying they’ve kicked Snapper out of negotiations to provide the bus solution on NZ Bus services. Here’s the latest report:

Auckland Transport is denying speculation that Snapper been dumped from a project to unite the city’s public transport infrastructure under a single electronic billing system.

Several media reports this morning claimed the transport authority’s board met yesterday to drop the firm and rescue the $98 million Hop project after the Snapper technology used by NZ Bus, the city’s biggest bus operator, proved incompatible with the overall billing system.

Snapper Services, the sister company of NZ Bus, was given the opportunity for its cards to become compatible with those of Thales, the French company which won the contract to provide an integrated ticketing system for Auckland transport.

This compares with earlier reports that Auckland Transport will pay for replacement ticketing machines on all NZ Bus buses, which was reported on Morning Report this morning, and was in the print version of the NZ Herald (but isn’t online for some reason) today. A few more comments from Auckland Transport don’t shed much light either:

Sharon Hunter, a spokesperson for Auckland Transport, said it was still working with Snapper on the project.

But she did admit there was “still some discussion” around whether the project will meet its scheduled November 30 launch date.

Why on earth is it so difficult for AT to just tell us what’s happening?

Snapper Off the Menu?

Brian Rudman writes in today’s Herald that

Auckland Transport board members gather in secret today to finalise a divorce settlement with smart card operator Snapper Services, and hopefully come up with a rescue plan for the stalled $98 million integrated ticketing project.

If the reports leaking out of the Auckland Council are correct, Snapper has turned the tables on AT’s attempt to sack it from the project and collect more than $1 million in damages for missing deadlines.

And again, Rudman raises the issue of Government interference:

The story then goes that Infratil’s founder, the late Lloyd Morrison, a friend and neighbour of Deputy Prime Minister Bill English, lobbied vigorously to get Snapper back into the picture.

Arms were twisted and AT, which relies on Government funding for rail electrification and the like, was persuaded that bringing the dead Snapper back to the table wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

How wrong they were.

If there really was central Government interference to get Snapper back into AIFS as Rudman is alleging, then this should be investigated immediately as it borders on corruption.  However, I would have expected that the Board of ARTA and AT would have had this covered and not simply have gone along with central Government. If they didn’t then they need to answer some pretty serious questions.

Without doubt the decision to include Snapper has contributed to additional delay and cost for the ratepayer.  Rudman points out that Thales is charging an eye-watering  ”$627,000 a month for the expense of having to retain a reduced project team until a bus system is in place and fully interoperable and tested.”

I wrote a brief timeline over at the CBT website a while back:

2 December 2009: On the eve of the confirmation of an integrated ticketing system for Auckland public transport, unsuccessful tenderer Snapper announces the rollout of Snapper on NZ Bus services, to be completed by the end of 2010. A spokeswoman for ARTA said there would be no public funding for Snapper. Authority chief executive Fergus Gammie called Snapper’s announcement “premature”.

7 December 2009: Auckland Regional Transport Authority sign a contract with a capital component of $47m with  Thales to provide integrated electronic ticketing for buses, trains and ferries.

14 December 2009: Brian Rudman cites a confidential paper from Infratil director Paul Ridley-Smith, which states “if Snapper can’t expand into Auckland then its business will be permanently sub-economic and it may have to withdraw from Wellington, where it was introduced 12 months ago.”

16 December 2010: 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.

“Interoperable equipment will be deployed onto services run by NZ Bus early next year. Customers of North Star, Waka Pacific, Go West, Metrolink and LINK will use a contactless smartcard which will launch Auckland Transport’s Integrated Ticketing brand…”

Bruce Emson, NZ Bus CEO, announces the roll out of the card will commence in March 2011. Programme Director Greg Ellis maintains that the key objective is still to have one card across all modes, and that the new card won’t be called Snapper.

17 December 2010: Ritchies and Howick and Eastern Buses say they are still investigating options, and are unlikely to sign up in time for the Rugby World Cup.

24 December 2010: The Herald runs a story that there is a budget of $1m to publicise the “Hop Card”, which is a “a new electronic ticket for seamless travel on buses, trains and ferries. It refuses to confirm the name until launching an awareness campaign late next month for the $98 million card, although chief operating officer Fergus Gammie has assured Auckland Council’s transport committee that the region’s public transport brand would be prominent on it.”

More recent Snapper articles are here on Transport Blog.

 

Integrated Ticketing in Parliament

The HOP Card fiasco has continued in the last couple of days, with articles in the NZ Herald, on the news, on the radio and now in parliament – with Phil Twyford asking some questions yesterday around whether Auckland Transport were pressured by the government to allow Snapper to launch its product as a rebranded HOP card back in the first half of 2011. Here’s the video:

The transcript can be read here.

At first glance there’s nothing particularly interesting about the answers – except perhaps to the very last question:

Phil Twyford: Did his predecessor intervene on behalf of Infratil to pressure the Auckland Regional Transport Authority, and, subsequently, Auckland Transport, and the Land Transport New Zealand boards to allow the Snapper card to be rolled out in advance of the integrated ticketing system?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: No, that is not my understanding. The member may want to take that up with Auckland Transport.

I may be reading a bit too much into this, but it seems a bit odd that Brownlee has effectively asked Phil Twyford to take the issue up with Auckland Transport. Does that mean there might have been? Does that mean Brownlee’s just sick of answering questions about something which is largely a local issue (although the fairly significant NZTA funding contribution to integrated ticketing should make it a matter of concern for the government). I guess time will tell.

Time will also tell in regards to whether Snapper can meet the November 30 deadline. They say they can, so perhaps all we can do is take their word with some whopping great penalties if they don’t meet the deadline. It might also be wise for Auckland Transport to start looking for a Plan B if Brownlee holds true to his promise and NZ Bus are “off the run” come November 30 if Snapper can’t deliver. After all around half of all PT trips in Auckland are taken on NZ Bus services.

NZTA’s updates on Integrated Ticketing

If there is one issue we have noticed gets people more wound up than anything else on this site it is Integrated Ticketing and understandingly so.  The CRL, Electrification and other projects are great but for most day to day users but the one thing that directly effects every single PT user (or potential user) is the ticketing and fares system. As part of my recent OIA request I have had copies of the papers that have gone to the NZTA board meeting giving updates on the project which sheds some interesting information on the subject. Each of the papers are below (the update was in the middle of some of them hence the other stuff in them)

September, November, December, February, March

The first thing I noticed when I took a skim through the reports was this comment in the summary of the key risks in every single report which suggests that both the NZTA and AT are pretty concerned NZ Bus/Snapper are not going to do what they agreed to. Hopefully the recent media attention including Gerry Brownlee’s comments will help to ensure they stay on track.

Novembers update gives an indication on some of the pressures being placed on the project and despite assurances by AT  that Snapper would not delay things, it seems that it wasn’t the case.

The AIFS programme is progressing steadily and to plan. There are some cost and time pressures, as a result of unanticipated changes in the scope of the implementation work,and NZTA is working through funding options with AT:

  • The AIFS programme needs additional people to keep the programme on schedule. This is as a result of the extra workload incurred in supporting the Snapper implementation and integration earlier this year. This effort has absorbed greater resource than originally scoped and may continue to exert upward cost pressure in the later stages of the AIFS programme.
  • There is a need to upgrade some of the rail platform vending machines due to safety and customer service level issues, which result from platform configuration changes associated with the rail electrification work.

We are supporting AT in resolving the resource and funding issues and note these changes are circumstantial, and not the result of mismanagement by AT or Thales.

In December you get the feeling that the NZTA and AT were getting more comfortable following on from the confirmation that Parkeon had signed up to supply the other bus companies with equipment. The issues raised above in November appear to have been resolved but there is then this interesting bit of info. That might also explain why Infratil have gone so quiet on Snapper in their monthly updates.

February’s report is where we first start getting the news that the wheels are starting to fall of the Snapper piece of work as well as what some of those issues are. Having issues with data use and commercial sensitivity seems like a pretty serious problem to me but not one that I am going to suggest it was intentional. It does highlight one of the key reasons why AT and then the NZTA went with Thales in the first place, to have the system independent from the operators.

The other really interesting thing from Feb is news that the Office of the Auditor General are looking into integrated ticketing with a report due mid 2012. I will definitely be looking out for that.

The Office of the Auditor General have advised that they will be conducting a “special study” on the AIFS programme and related matters, starting in early 2012. This is part of a new pro-active approach by the OAG in areas of considerable public interest. The study is due to report to Parliament in mid 2012

March has similar information on the project and the only only really new bit is in regard to rail operations post integrated ticketing, it has this to say:

This post isn’t intended to be an attack on Snapper but it just so happens that they seem to be the key issue that keeps cropping up that could prevent the project from being successful. I do really hope that Snapper, AT and the NZTA are able to resolve these issues for the good of the city.

Snapper ruining integrated ticketing – surprise, surprise

Wow another surprise, surprise this morning – Snapper are ruining integrated ticketing by being too useless to get their machines up to spec. Here’s the NZ Herald story:

A $98 million integrated ticketing system for Auckland is ready to go, but is being held up by Snapper and NZ Bus not installing the technology on more than 650 buses.

This has left Aucklanders – who have paid $42 million towards the system – waiting until November at the earliest to use a single card on buses, trains and ferries.

French technology giant Thales has completed a contract to install the new ticketing system and its New Zealand country director, Peter Beggs, has taken a swipe at Snapper, a sister company to NZ Bus, for delays.

On May 3, Mr Beggs told staff in an email – obtained by the Herald – that the “failure of Snapper to deliver a functional bus system that meets the ratified standard has caused delays to project go-live”.

The Thales contract was signed in late 2009 while the HOP card was officially launched more than a year ago now. If Snapper haven’t been able to get their act together in that time I have little hope that they’re doing anything more than running interference on the whole process and it seems unlikely they’ll be able to sort themselves out by November.

Auckland Transport are also running out of patience:

Within Auckland Transport, patience is running out with Snapper, NZ Bus and its investment company owners, Infratil, who together have been delaying Auckland’s integrated ticketing project from day one.

In March last year, the Snapper card was launched under the guise of being Auckland Transport’s Hop integrated ticket, but Snapper has failed to integrate its system to the Thales system on its 650 buses – and already missed one deadline to prove its system could link into the Thales system.

Last night, Auckland Transport chief executive David Warburton said that after sitting down with Snapper and making changes to the transition, he had no reason to doubt the Wellington company would be ready to go live with the integrated ticketing system on November 30.

“We have no intention of having multiple systems. There will be one system that will be the NZTA New Zealand standard,” Mr Warburton said.

So what happens if Snapper can’t meet the deadline? It would be pretty amusing – although annoying in a sense as it would delay the project – if all the Snapper machines had to be ripped out of NZ Bus buses and replaced with machines that can actually do the job properly.

Snapper snaps Integrated Ticketing once again

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.