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 framework established 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 much differently” Laidlaw) to shrug off responsibility for this latest as “great pity”.

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

Image credit:

Robert Kitchin – Stuff

8 comments on “It’s not our business: the latest in the saga of integrated ticketing in Wellington”

  • Paul Bruce says:

    No. GWRC does not contract NZBus to run the Airport flier, but it should!
    The direct service to the airport must be a premium service that is sufficiently attractive to persuade people to leave their cars at home and catch it instead. Instead, parking facilities have been expanded, and bus fares raised.

  • luke says:

    The airport flyer is basically competing with metlinks services, and propped up by goldcard subsidies. Is a pity t
    more people dont think to use the number 2 bus

    • Isabella Cawthorn says:

      In Ak a savvy native advised me the visitor to take a local bus-train combo that left the Skybus in its wake. and yeah the one card experience was great.

  • Cr Daran Ponter says:

    ahhh the Airport Flyer.

    Some observations:

    a) As Paul Bruce says, it is not a Metlink service – this means that it is not part of a PTOM Unit and has never been tendered for by Metlink. It is a fully commercial service (though ironically the Government provides for the Gold Card subsidy on the Flyer). In fact there are a range of commercial services operated by NCS (e.g Route 80 – white and blue buses) through the Hutt Valley to the Wellington CBD which are also fully commercial, don’t use Snapper and therefore don’t track on RTI.

    b) As long as it is a commercial service it can’t be tendered by Metlink (i.e. NZTA would not provide their portion of the subsidy). Why? The PTOM rationale is why subsidise a service when a commercial operator is willing to provide it without any subsidy.

    c) I doubt whether the Flyer is making NZ Bus much, if any, money, but they have probably calculated that it is better to bundle the Flyer into the sale of NZ Bus than separate it out for sale.

    d) The Airport Company (majority owned by Infratil) grants concessions for access to the airport. NZ Bus (owned by Infratil) has the concession for the Airport bus (until 2020 I understand). In my opinion they will squat on this concession until the very end, rather than allow another commercial operator (such as Sky Bus) to come in.

    e) The decision by NZ Bus (100% owned by Infratil) not to upgrade their Snapper (100% owned by Infratil) equipment is a purely commercial decision on the part of NZ Bus, and comes with the downside that the buses can no longer be tracked on the RTI system – fortunately they are reasonably frequent.

    f) The No 2 is a very good option for the Airport – it is much cheaper, though slower than the more limited stops Airport Flayer.

    If we are going to get light rail onto the Airport premise then we are going to have to sort out access, probably via a statutory route.

    Integrated Ticketing

    What was promised when the new bus network was rolled out was an “Interim ticketing solution”. Effectively this meant Snapper on all bus services across the region. With a few glitches the rollover from the Mana Card and a few other operator cards went well.

    In the background planning for full integrated ticketing is now (after many years of delays) quite advanced. GWRC and other Councils have rejected the HOP card solution used in Auckland, which unfortunately was obsolete even before it was implemented. Instead of a stored value card solution the focus is on an account based ticketing system – this means that you could use your Visa Card, Kiwibank card etc, and the fare is directly debited from your account. There will still be stroed value cards for those that need them.

    The Greater Wellington Regional Council is leading the full integrated ticketing programme (call Project Next) on behalf of almost all New Zealand Public Transport Authorities (PTAs) listed below and the New Zealand Transport Agency. The participating PTAs are:
    • Greater Wellington Regional Council
    • Auckland Transport
    • Environment Canterbury
    • Regional Consortium – comprising nine other PTAs.

    So this is a national project. In June 2018 Registrations of Interest were called for via the Government Electronic Tender Service as a means of identifying potential providers of an integrated ticketing solution.

    The procurement process started in June 2018 is one part of two separate procurements that together will represent the National Ticketing Solution. The first – for the ticketing solution. The second is the procurement of financial services to support the Ticketing Solution.

    The ROI process advertised in June has resulted in significant global interest and a short-list of companies are going through to the next stage.

    Full integrated ticketing is now much more of a reality than at anytime in the past – we should be using the system by approx. 2022. (I hear your scepticism – believe me I have been there in the past).

    • Colin Bloomfield says:

      The No 2 is not a good option for travellers with sizeable luggage – there is little if any space for luggage on those buses, so it’s not practical, particularly at peak times.

      As for the Airport Flyer being an exempt service and the GWRC’s messaging that there is nothing it can do, am I missing something? Under the Land Transport Management Act 2003, the GWRC can at any time vary the Regional Public Transport Plan to identify the service as ‘integral to the public transport network’, triggering a process of deregistration as an exempt service in concert with NZTA. The airport’s location is a significant driver of traffic volumes across the city to the Eastern suburbs, and such a designation would complement identification in the Regional Land Transport Plan of the Ngauranga to Airport corridor as a priority – some joined-up transport planning!

      In its Q & A document about the Land Transport Management Amendment Act 2013, the Ministry of Transport seems to contemplate use of this mechanism where an exempt service operator abuses its market position. It identifies one of the principles of the Public Transport Operating Model as: “There should be access to public transport markets for competitors in order to increase confidence that public transport services are priced efficiently.” It further says: “Exempt services [such as the Airport Flyer] are fully commercial and, in contrast to the contracted services, are open to competition from other exempt operators. The Act includes a mechanism that allows regional councils to seek to bring an exempt service under contract, should there be issues with competition.”

      NZ Bus is the only provider of direct mass transit to the airport. The concession to provide this service to the airport site is in the gift of its parent company, Infratil. Since August 2018 the fare from Courtenay Place to the airport has increased from $7.20 (the then Snapper fare) to $12.00 – an increase of 67%. It has abandoned Snapper and can no longer be tracked on RTI. This is classic high-handed, monopolistic behaviour. Surely it’s time for the GWRC and NZTA to act.

  • BM says:

    eye opening. Useful to know who owns what, gives a peak into whats driving decisions.

    2022! Better late than never

  • luke says:

    the flyer is also useless for early morning and late night arrivals. I cant see why public transport starts so late and finishes so early.

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