Stations Funded, Integrated Ticketing Questionable

There’s an interesting article in yesterday’s Herald about the progress of sorting out the mess Steven Joyce left Auckland’s public transport in when he cancelled the Regional Fuel Tax a couple of months back. There’s some good news, some frustrating news and some potentially good news.

On the positive side, “Money has been assured for new Auckland railway stations.” These include Newmarket, New Lynn, Manukau, Onehunga, Grafton and Avondale – some of which are already under construction (thereby making the need to sort out funding for their completion rather urgent.) The money looks like it will come from a variety of places, including higher ARC rates, an increased subsidy from NZTA and – here’s the killer – cutting back on the costs of Auckland’s integrated ticketing project.

I really don’t know why the government is so against integrated ticketing for Auckland’s public transport. Maybe they realise that simplifying the ticketing in Auckland, and creating something as up-to-date as the smart-card systems we see in London (Oyster Card) and Hong Kong (Octopus Card) will lead to a surge in patronage on Auckland’s public transport system, thereby undermining their view of public transport as something only for the poor and carless. Or maybe they’re being pressurised by Infratil (the owners of most of Auckland’s bus service providers) into delaying a project that Infratil doesn’t like. Either way, it’s pretty depressing to hear that funding has been cut to Auckland’s public transport to the extent that the ARC has had: “to try to scale back the integrated ticketing project, which previously carried a capital cost of about $80 million, including a 60 per cent Government subsidy. Mr Lee said the council would try to find ways of halving that cost.”

These most recent developments mean that the best Auckland can really hope for is to get our version of Wellington’s Snapper Card. Now this is a great outcome for Infratil – as they own Snapper Card – but is no guarantee that this smart-card system will be equally available for all public transport operators in the Auckland Region. Therefore, there seems to be no guarantee that the ticketing system will, in fact, be integrated. When this lack of money for integrated ticketing is coupled with the Ministry of Transport’s decision to review the Public Transport Management Act (the very piece of legislation that gives ARTA the power to impose integrated ticketing), it’s hard not to be suspicious that this critical step in the future of Auckland’s public transport is going to be delayed at best, or possibly even cancelled.

There is a light on the horizon about Auckland’s electric trains though – with Steven Joyce saying “he would report to the cabinet next month on options for buying an electric fleet and that, despite Mr Lee’s nervousness, “we remain committed to electrification”. I can understand Mike Lee (head of the ARC) being nervous though, and I’ll believe that we’re getting electric trains when I see the contract signed.

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