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It’s not our business: the latest in the saga of integrated ticketing in Wellington

As the Airport Flyer starts refusing Snapper (and RTI), we read today the textual embodiment of a shrug from the responsible organisation. Why is it so hard for us do one ticket to ride?

A sorry saga

Way back in 2008 Snapper launched for buses only. (Over the subsequent few years in Wellington they would expand and withdraw and expand the accessibility and coverage of their services. (Enjoy this third-person self-released media on one of the withdrawals).)

In 2009 the NZ Transport Agency (who funds all the big transport things) were declaring they’re into integrated public transport ticketing and would help towns do it.

Three years later, Daran Ponter was asking “when are we getting it?”

Meanwhile, Snapper was being kicked out of the Auckland integrated ticketing arena and improvements to the Auckland Transport Hop card paused, in what Greater Auckland thoroughly investigated and described as a débacle.

A year after that, Greater Wellington was “investigating”.

Last year, Wellington’s integrated ticketing was going out for tender, with Snapper as the “interim”.

Last year, AT’s Hop card improvements were paused to align with a new national ticketing system.

Tickets for #bustastrophe

Notwithstanding any national developments (?!), integrated Wellington ticketing across public transport modes (bus, train, ferry) was supposed to be part of the suite of improvements rolled out at the end of last year. Now affectionately known as #bustastrophe.
Some of the Snapper card issues were unfortunate coincidences, but on top of all that the latest antics from NZ Bus with the Airport Flyer seem, to us the public, to be yet another balls-up making it harder to take good transport choices.

Owning responsibility

Chair of the Greater Wellington Regional Council, Councillor Chris Laidlaw, wrote to the Dominion Post today in response to a Norman W. who is irate about the Airport Flyer changes. Laidlaw’s response was in essence that since the Airport Flyer is fully commercial, any decisions about it are taken independently by NZ Bus.

Some left-of-centre commentators see this as a failure of government’s contracting out: “bring public services back in-house!” they say. But it’s not that simple. Both the Airport Flyer and the SkyBus in Auckland are fully commercial, and hence “exempt services” under the Public Transport Operating Model.
The key is that Auckland Transport and GWRC treat exempt services differently: to AT they’re an integral part of the network (they include ferries, e.g. to Devonport), to GWRC they are separate from the network, supplementing it.

In Auckland, Auckland Transport requires such commercial services to be treated equitably with contracted ones and to take the AT Hop card (its Snapper equivalent). Magically (sarcasm), the fully commercial Auckland SkyBus takes AT Hop card and is tracked by AT’s real-time information boards – and will continue to be.

While Auckland has had their own débacles, it’s hard not to think that the rather different frameworkestablished by GWRC has led directly to NZ Bus removing Snapper and RTI tracking.

What’s the fix?

We don’t know, but we do know that it’s a really bad look for the guy in charge of the client organisation (Cllr Chris “we wouldn’t do bustastrophe differently” Laidlaw) to shrug off responsibility for this latest as “great pity”.

Image credit:

Note: article corrected (thanks to commenters!) that GWRC is not in fact NZ Bus’s client!

Robert Kitchin – Stuff