Snapper for trains?

Very interesting revelation in today’s Dom Post that the GWRC is missing out on about $9,000 in train fares every weekday because the trains are too crowded for ticket collectors to get to the patrons…

It was revealed today that Greater Wellington regional council has lost about $260,000 as overcrowding on trains prevents staff from collecting fares.

KiwiRail and the council have announced a spate of measures to try to combat overcrowding, after timetable changes last month saw passengers complaining of being crammed in like sardines, and it became so bad that guards couldn’t move through the carriages to clip tickets.

Greater Wellington public transport group general manager Wayne Hastie said the crowding meant up to $9000 a day Monday to Friday – or about $260,000 since the timetables changed – was being lost.

I have to say I’m pretty gob-smacked by that!

The regional council are hoping that this is a temporary problem that will be fixed by the introduction of the new Matangi trains, and they’re looking at some temporary measures to get around it…

In an effort to ease the crush – and recoup revenue – a number of measures are being taken, including checking tickets on station platforms, removing Wairarapa train surcharges for Upper Hutt station passengers, and using bus replacements during the morning peak on the Melling Line to free up extra carriages for the busiest trains.

The changes, which come into effect today, are expected to last at least two months.

Leaving to one side the casual point about how terribly over due the Matangi units are, the one thing that immediately came to my mind was why is the council not looking at longer term solutions to this problem.

The big one that comes to my mind would be Snapper cards for trains. Some big problems that will need to be overcome for them to be introduced – but certainly worth thinking about now.

Also, with the introduction of new trains for Auckland in a few years down the track, it would certainly be worthwhile looking for a smart ticketing solution for up there as well.

Do people think Snapper is a good solution to train ticketing woes? Are the implementation problems able to be overcome?


6 responses to “Snapper for trains?

  1. Snapper should work across all public transport. Perhaps this is why it was not chosen by Auckland public transport, they have launched the “Hop” card today that is owned by a French company. Pity a Kiwi company couldnt have got the contract.

  2. Thales, the French company, put in a superior bid in Auckland. Joshua Arbury has pointed out that in a fit of pique, Snapper then attempted to derail the process (pun intended):

    Snapper/Infratil decided to do their best to sabotage the entire process by deciding to roll-out Snapper on the buses in Auckland that Infratil (Snapper’s parent company) run through NZ Bus (Snapper’s ‘sister company’). While we haven’t heard anything about how the roll-out of Snapper is progressing, I have started to notice the installation of equipment on various NZ Bus operated services that sure look like they’re designed to take Snapper card readers.

    The problem here is that Snapper isn’t an integrated ticket, as nobody but NZ Bus is ever going to accept the Snapper Card. Yet if Snapper gets their system going before Auckland Transport/Thales, people will (either by choice of not if the current machines are replaced) replace their existing Go Rider cards with Snapper Cards. Who’s going to want to have to replace their Snapper Card with a Thales/whateveritscalled card just a few months later? That’s a recipe for absolute disaster – thanks Snapper.

  3. Does the $9000/day figure take into account that a lot of people in the morning peak probably already have pre-paid passes?

    After shifting from Wellington a few months back, I’m still settling into the public transport system over here in Melbourne, where they did away with conductors on trains and trams back in the 1990s, and I’m developing a few observations about ticketing on platforms rather than trains. All tickets (either the magnetic strip metcards or the RFID cards for Myki [similar to Snapper but integrated and capped]) are dealt with through machines on railway station platforms, or through machines aboard trams and buses. There’s usually no staff other than a driver on any given tram or bus or 6 carriage train with maybe 1000 people on-board. The only exception is if you’re un/fortunate enough to have a platoon of Public Transport Officers randomly swoop onto your train/tram and demand to check everyone’s tickets are validated. That might happen once a month from my experience so far.

    They put many more staff on station platforms than I remember seeing in Wellington, often within information/ticket booths but also to watch everyone as they enter to make sure people validate their tickets properly. My local station is little more than a platform, but there’s always a guy just standing there in the morning rush hour, watching people enter and validate their tickets. I think it’s of limited usefulness, because most such staff aren’t terribly interested in confrontation. On more than a few occasions within a couple of months in the big stations in the CBD, I’ve watched people leap barriers and climb fences to avoid paying. I’ve never seen a staff member confront them, but I’ve often seen them look the other way and ignore it. Once I thought I’d lost my Myki card which I’d need to validate to get out of a station — I told the woman watching the gates that I’d lost my card. She didn’t understand what I was telling her, so I simplified it to say that I just didn’t have a card at all, and she let me through straightaway asking no questions whatsoever about why I had no ticket.

    I don’t know what Wellington trains are like these days, but without staff on trains in Melbourne, they tend to get really disgusting as the day progresses, and I think it’s because there aren’t any staff. People often bring alcoholic drinks on-board (food and drink are allowed but alcohol’s not), people leave crap and rubbish all over the trains — despite there being rubbish and recycling bins on every platform! They usually go through them when stopped one of the CBD platforms and pick up all the obvious easy-to-get rubbish at about 4pm or so, but before that a lot of the seats are only empty because people have left their junk behind.

    Catching trains late at night can be a random experience because they’re often full of disturbingly drunk people who’ll throw up or urinate or just act scary. Once at 4pm we had a guy running up and down the train shouting a conversation to himself and screaming he was ready to die… he probably needed his medication, but there was no staff on-board to do anything about it or call the cops or anything. I’m not an expert here, but I really do wish there were more staff on the trains. I’m not convinced by having staff on platforms because I’ve never yet felt unsafe on a platform at any time of day with or without staff, and they also don’t seem to be effective for the reasons they’re there anyway.

    A good thing is that platform ticketing seems far more efficient than train ticketing. People can sort out their ticket stuff in a bigger space that’s less constrained and awkward than a train might be (especially if standing, etc). I don’t know what they used to do, but I really can’t imagine a conductor possibly getting up and down most of the rush hour trains I’ve been on in the same way they did in Wellington when I used them in the ’90s. There’s no way they’d be able fit.

  4. Snapper crapper…
    Hopefully the current problem is a temporary one. The only people who would gain from the introduction of Snapper would be Infratil. I imagine that the daily “cut” Infratil would take from the introduction of Snapper on trains would be far in excess of $9000 per day and I suspect ticket costs would have rise to cover this. Customers will demand to have at least one guard on-board for assistance / security etc and the relatively tight curve of many suburban platforms means mothers with young children / buggies and the disabled often need help (I suspect this will continue even with the introduction of the low-floored Matangi units as everyone will still have to “mind the gap”). That’s a great review from MikeM on the Melbourne situation and my experiences in that city are similar (it is still a great train network though). Vandalism on Melbourne trains is also rife (on a recent trip to the city I noticed almost EVERY window of every train had been etch-tagged using glass cutters or sandpaper). Swipe machines and/or barriers at suburban stations are probably not an economic proposition in Wellington as the number of train users we have is miniscule compared to Melbourne (or actually most cities that a suburban train network). Validating swipe machines also require ticket vending machines and in our increasingly cashless society, this also means the ability for eftpos / credit card transactions yet many stations are not much more than a large bus shelter which at peak times might only deal with only a couple of dozen passengers per train.

  5. Is Simon “Swampy” Marsh, the first responder by any chance Councillor Marsh. If so, is he getting a payment from Infratil or does he perhaps get a cut the Deputy Mayor’s not insignificant WIAL directors fee to be an advocate for a private company while being paid to work on behalf of ratepayers?

    No doubt Infratil would be thrilled to see their Snapper card introduced on all Wellington transport services. The first advantage would be a larger captive fund of card fees and advance payments – the bank they can own without being a registered bank. Furthermore, while Infratil has control of the ticketing system on their buses, they are able to prevent the Regional Council from accessing the information that the system generates which would demonstrate their poor performance. This in turn means they receive subsidies for buses that run so late that commuters have to make alternative arrangements or don’t run at all – both being regular occurrences. If Snapper was imposed on non-Infratil service providers, they would have control of commercially sensitive information that their record as poor corporate citizens demonstrates they would assuredly use to compromise any competition. Infratil have already got their hands deeply enough into the pockets of commuters, ratepayers and airport users, they should not be gifted more avenues for screwing the general public.

  6. The Regional Council is purposefully awaiting the trial of the Auckland card system before embarking on any similar scheme in Wellington.

    The Wellington Region needs an integrated ticketing system. As Ethan points out the current Wellington Snapper card system is not an integrated ticeting system – it is simply an electronic ticketing system put in place by NZ Bus. There is currently no means of doing intermodal travel across the Wellington region on one card (e.g. train – bus; ferry – bus).

    This is not a matter to be rushed into lightly. Integrated electronic ticketing will cost millions of dollars if applied to rail, bus and ferry routes.

    A significant concern is to ensure that what ever integrated ticketing system is put in place it stands apart from the transport operators. It would be in no ones interest, other than transport operators, to have the region beholden to a particular operator or set of oeprators by dint of the fact that they have secured the rights to an integrated ticketing system.

    Daran Ponter
    Regional Councillor

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