National public transport officials share their Auckland counterparts’ dislike of the Snapper proposal. This I’d read before the Snapper man came to see me but I didn’t know why.
Nor, he claimed, did he know. But as he outlined the mechanics of his fare-paying system I had an “ah ha” moment, to borrow a mediator’s phrase.
He said his was the only bid offering more than a public transport ticket. Snapper’s card could be loaded to a value of $300 and used for small transactions of any kind in any place that had a card-reader.
It could be used on buses, at train station barriers, coffee kiosks, in taxis, at parking buildings … Ah ha.
Public transport planners do not want their ticket transferable to taxis and, heaven forbid, carparks. Their mission in life is to discourage private travel by any means they can and promote their fixed-route services.
This could explain a lot. Rather than go for a flexible multi-use electronic payment system, they want one you can only use on their buses and trains.
I’m a regular snapper user. Its great on Wellington buses, will be usable in taxis shortly I believe, and can also use it as various retailers.
Those suspicions were reinforced this week at the press conference to announce the terms on which the Auckland ticket can proceed. When the Transport Agency’s chief executive, Geoff Dangerfield, was open to the possibility that a transfer card could be used for other transactions, his officials were quick to step in.
“I think it’s really important that we keep to our business,” said one. “Our business is operating public transport and transit applications [by which he meant park-and-rides and cycle lockers].
“We want to think about our business first and the spin-off retail opportunities second. Fares are what it is all about. We’ve taken a particular interest in how a system will perform in the public transport real environment, not necessarily spin-off applications.”
Blah. Public transport is their business, public service is too wide a brief. For them a transfer ticket is a marketing device, giving their network a distinct image in shops, which would be fine if taxes didn’t have to pay for it.
And as taxpayers are paying for it, the wider public service angle should be taken into account.
The Snapper man said something else that accorded with my limited comprehension of computer programming. The more open a card’s applications can be the less expensive the system becomes. The cost lies, he explained, in setting up the exclusions.
It sounds expensive enough to programme a card for the buses, trains and ferries of Auckland; to make it applicable also to the routes, fare stages, discounts and subsidies of all municipalities nationwide sounds impossibly fraught unless the card has some of the convenience of cash.
I haven’t any shares in Infratil but I’m beginning to wish I did.