Snapping at ARTA

A couple of times recently I have posted about Snapper. In the main I have found it useful and convenient.

Over the past several days there has been quite a lot of media coverage regarding the fact that Auckland Regional Transport Authority have supposedly selected Thales, a French company, to implement an integrated ticketing system rather than Snapper.

Today I became aware that Trevor Mallard has commented about the issue at the Red Alert blog, suggesting that this might be INCIS II. Heaven forbid that we have another one of those.

Trevor’s post has engendered some debate. Two posters in particular have had quite a lot to say – Jarbury, from Auckland and who seems to know quite a lot about public transport issues and Tim Brown who is with Infratil, owners of Snapper. The thread, especially the comments by Jarbury and Tim Brown is worth reading.

My reason for posting is that the situation raises some questions well worth pondering:-

1  Should we as taxpayers/ ratepayers be shouldering the risk of putting in a system in Auckland, which some seem to think may be a re-invention of the wheel or at least a very specifically customized wheel, given major expenditures in for example Melbourne and Sydney with no viable outcome as yet – when Snapper could apparently be an option, at lesser risk /cost to the NZ taxpayer/ratepayer

2 Apparently Snapper, based on South Korean technology, could be in place for the Rugby World Cup – the French solution will not be. Yet a functional, operational system at RWC  would be very useful. Apparently Snapper may have greater facility for ancillary use than the Thales system.

3 Is ARTA in danger of over specifying and looking for a gold plated solution. This is, I have heard, a charge often cited in respect of Sydney and Melbourne. Trevor raises a similar concern in his blog post. I think it is a question that should be not only asked, but answered.

4 Why are the rumoured costs of the ARTA solution so high as compared to press comment re Snapper costs.

5 What if any value for money analysis has been done to compare the solutions in order to justify the level of spend contemplated?

6 Given that the rumoured cost of getting to this stage in regard to ARTA’s preferred solution is, it is said, some $11 million; why is that the case? Given that ARTA’s requirements cannot surely have been so unique that they could not have perhaps used input and specifcations from other major cities that have been down this route. After all the concept of re-use of designs and IP is commonly used in other circumstances.

Patrick Smellie in the Scoop piece noted:-

Infratil’s interest in this is naturally profit-driven – it owns the bus companies in Auckland and Wellington and it wants to capture as big a slice as it can of the spending on transport, coffee, buns, and newspapers that go with the working day while automating its cash handling. No doubt it earns interest on funds deposited on the thousands of cards in circulation.

But if the alternative -public ownership – requires far longer, potentially greater execution risk, lost opportunity for a showcase world sporting event, and unnecessarily large costs to taxpayers and ratepayers, what are we gaining from all this? Why does it matter who owns it as long as it works and doesn’t cost us all more than it needs to?

I tend to the view that we need to be satisfied on these counts as well as the questions raised above.

The situation does seem to raise some interesting governance issues as well.

Disclosure: Other than as a taxpayer/ratepayer I have no business connection with any of the parties involved. I own and use 2 Snapper cards. I provided no services to ARTA, Infratil or Snapper. My comments are made purely from the perspective of an external observer.


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