Integrated ticketing for public transport: eavesdropping on nerds

At long (looooooong) last, Wellington’s getting integrated electronic ticketing for our PT. And soon a nationwide system will replace it! Is it all worth it?

We had a great time nerdily eavesdropping on an even nerdier Twitter debate, with some interesting takes on nationwide integrated ticketing, public transport operating costs, and government procurement. (For a potted summary of this saga from a few years ago see Further Reading.)
Here’s a few highlights…

In response to this RNZ article about the announcement for nationwide ticketing, Ōtautahi open-source IT guru Dave Lane responded pessimistically about the government’s sense in (incl/esp Waka Kotahi) going with proprietary IT solutions that create “lock-in”. His piece is a really interesting read, here.

{Sidebar: open standards for nationwide (and global) things is a really fascinating area, and New Zealand has (at various points) been doing OK. See Further Reading below.}

But back in the Twitter, local economist Dr Eric Crampton weighed in with classic free-market élan: “this is daft, just give individual people the money!”

At face value (and if you don’t look at the public subsidies for private car driving and roads), it does sound silly to spend all that money… especially if you’re inclined to market-centred solutions…

But then equally well-known urban economist Dr Stu Donovan (familiar to TW readers from the Car Parking webinars we ran during COVID) came back. He asked if, with a bit of context, this was actually a reasonable setup and running cost – compared with other cities’ arrangements.

On it went, with some interesting branch lines.

So what?

Besides enjoying watching nerdy white lads having a go at each other, what’s a regular person to take from all this?

Is integrated ticketing a situation where NZ is so used to essential things being exorbitantly expensive that we (including our government) think “that’s just the way it is” and accept crazily inefficient services with associated costs?

And/or is it a case of Waka Kotahi, with its occasionally chequered history of picking winners and cosyism around digital innovation, being happy for profits to being reaped from a public-service system by someone/s who shouldn’t be making them?

Is there something else going on that we need to worry about?

Or is it actually fine? And …. whoa…. is this all diving down a hair-splitting rabbit-hole anyway, and we just need to be focussing on how to get us all driving less?

Someone who can point us to something helpful… please jump in the comments and help us out!

Further reading:

Image credit: Rob Kitchin | Stuff

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