Snapper card faces uncertain future as NZTA pushes to have Auckland's Hop card in Wellington
The days of Wellingtonians swiping their Snapper cards on the capital's buses could be numbered.
The Government is pushing to have Auckland's Hop card system in the capital instead and Wellington's political leaders are worried about the potential impact of that on ratepayers, as well as the future of Snapper.
In 2018, the entire Wellington region will shift to having one electronic smartcard that people can use to pay for all bus, train and ferry travel, in much the same way Aucklanders use their Hop card.
Snapper, which is already on more than 300 Wellington and Hutt Valley buses, is expected to be among those bidding to provide the smartcard technology when Greater Wellington Regional Council opens the contract up to tender.
But their chances of success look slim after the New Zealand Transport Agency wrote to the regional council stating its preference that Auckland's system be extended to the capital.
The agency also proposed that its wholly-owned subsidiary company, New Zealand Transport Ticketing Limited, be directly appointed to provide the $50 million Wellington network, as it does in Auckland.
The door was left open for the regional council to chose a different technology provider, but the agency said that company would have to represent better value and less risk than simply bringing the Auckland system south.
It is expected Wellingtonians will be able to use their new cards in Auckland, and vice versa.
Paul Swain, the regional council's transport portfolio leader, said while the agency was leaving the decision in council's hands, the message was that it should be buying into the Government's system rather than Snapper.
But for a project as costly and as complicated as this, he believed a tender process was needed to make sure Wellington was getting the best technology on offer.
"We want the best deal possible for the ratepayer, for the taxpayer and for the passenger," Swain said.
"But our concern here is that the bar is going to be set so high that it will be difficult for us to get funding for any system we get a tender for."
The Transport Agency and regional council are planning to split the $50m cost of the new system between them. But the agency can opt to contribute less if it is unhappy with the technology provider.
Swain also had reservations about whether the Hop card had the potential to be developed into something more, such as a smartphone app – something Snapper already offers on some devices.
Andy Foster, Wellington City Council's transport spokesman, agreed the market should be tested, because if the regional council did not get the best deal then public transport fares could rise.
"And our feeling is that they're already at the upper level of what Wellingtonians are prepared to pay."
Snapper CEO Miki Szikszai said the matter was an issue for the Transport Agency and regional council to sort out and he did not want to comment ahead of any potential tender process.
Dave Brash, the Transport Agency's group manager of planning and investment, said it was working through a range of options for Wellington transport smartcard, including an open tender and direct appointment.
"Whilst open tender is normally the best approach, we sometimes prefer direct appointment where it makes sense."
But the agency was committed to getting an effective system in place for Wellington that had modern features and could be future-proofed for potential advances in technology, he said.
Available in: Card form
Accepted by: All trains, ferries and buses across Auckland.
Available in: Card and USB form, also as an app on compatible Android smartphones.
Accepted by: Go Wellington, Valley Flyer, Airport Flyer and Runcimans buses in Wellington and Hutt Valley, Eight taxi companies across the Wellington region, more than 3000 parking meters, hundreds of retailers, school offices and tuckshops at nine Wellington schools.