Tuesday, March 15, 2011

"Snapper" cards on Auckland buses

I'm sorry to see NZ Bus and Auckland Transport wasting money on these smart card systems. They are a complete waste of money, imposed by a market ideology that has clearly failed to deliver the public transport services Auckland needs.

If anything they completely undermine any argument that private operators are more efficient or offer better value than a monopoly public transport provider. If we didn't have many private companies with diverse fares and ticketing systems, there would be nothing to "integrate". One transport system (like Toronto's TTC)  would allow a more rational way of composing fares across the system, completely eliminating the 'need' to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on systems to "integrate" anything. There would also be no need for profit.

Even worse for Auckland, Auckland Transport have mandated one expensive smart card system while one of the service providers, NZ Bus (Infratil on wheels) is insisting on providing its own, parallel smart card ("Snapper") system. NZ Bus should be told to get with the programme or get lost.

What could be done instead? Toronto use small metal tokens that last literally decades. Dirt cheap. Or you buy a daily "scratch" pass ($10 - for the entire system) or a weekly ($30 - for the entire system) or monthly ($120 for the entire system) plastic pass on a dumb card. It's transferable, so a friend can borrow it for lunch if they are going out and you're not. The full fare schedule is here. Compare this simple, clear list to the impossibly complex dog's breakfast of fares Aucklanders face when working out their bus fares (never mind trains and ferries).  To be fair, Auckland also sells weekly and monthly passes......from a very small number of places with very limited hours of operation...and Birkenhead Transport refuse to sell them at all. Again, private operators opting out and imposing inconvenience, waste and cost on users. For example:  my daughter has to take a bus ride into Britomart and back on the weekend as it isn't possible for her to buy a bus pass on the North Shore during the week. They aren't sold on the buses she rides and the handful of Northern Busway ticket offices aren't open at times, or on days, when she can get to one.

The ticketing system Toronto use is FAR cheaper than the vast sums mandated for Auckland...and certainly much better than having duplicate systems because one private operator - NZBus / Infratil - want to do it their own way and impose even more cost on the final result.....which users will have to pay for whether via taxes or fares or both. Even better, the TTC ticketing system can't break down as there is no machinery required to eyeball a pass with the day, week or month printed on it.

It's also worth noting that Canadians who buy transport passes are entitled to a tax credit from the Canadian federal government. Their government WANTS them to use public transport. They know it us much cheaper to subsidise a bus or train than to build and maintain a new road.

The state of Auckland's public transport is yet another example of a failed market ideology imposing cost and waste on both users and tax payers. But  like any religion or belief system, the market religion ignores all evidence it isn't actually delivering the goods. But for system users, walking 500 metres or a kilometre (often in the rain) between bus stops of various companies, paying princely sums for the privilege, that stands out like dog's balls.

Local politicians may be proud of the mess they have cobbled together, but travellers from around the world attending the Rugby World Cup this year will be shocked by how poor Auckland's public transport system is compared to those they are used to. Kiwis who have travelled overseas will know exactly what I mean.


  1. Actually Snapper is used across the Wellington region very successfully.
    Why does Auckland insist on a separate and different (and incompatible) system.

  2. skiwi: "Snapper" is owned by Infratil / NZBus, not Wellington Regional Council. I can easily understand a publicly accountable transport authority not wanting a payment system controlled by one of the companies tendering to provide transport services. It would be impossible to get rid of them if you were not happy with their performance. Bad enough that Auckland has been so soft they allowed NZBus to operate Snapper alongside the HOP system mandated for Auckland almost 2 years ago.


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