By Will Pollard
Auckland rail passengers will be able to use the new ‘AT HOP’ smartcard to pay for train travel from this Saturday.
The new version of the HOP card has been on sale since Monday, and has been trialled – by all reports successfully – with a group of 400 passengers in recent weeks.
Similar to the existing HOP/Snapper cards used on NZ Bus services in Auckland, the AT HOP card is re-usable and stores value which is used to pay for travel. Value is stored in the form of money or a monthly pass, and the cards can be topped up at a ticket office, self-service machine, or online.
To use the card, passengers ‘tag on’ at the start of a journey by presenting the card to an electronic reader or gate, and then ‘tag off’ by doing the same at the end of a trip.
The AT HOP card has a non-refundable purchase cost of $10, but use of the card also gives customers an automatic discount of at least 10 percent on full fares.
New card doesn’t extend to buses or ferries… yet
Eventually, the AT HOP card will become the sole smart card for all travel on public transport in Auckland. But to begin with, its use will be limited to the city’s trains.
This means bus travellers already using the existing HOP/Snapper cards will have to keep hold of them – while also purchasing a new AT HOP card – if they want to immediately start tagging on and tagging off on both branches of the transport network.
Auckland Transport chief operating officer Greg Edmonds said today the use of two cards will be an “inconvenience” for some people, but the issue will be solved within a few months.
The AT HOP cards will be introduced on ferries next month, and will be phased in to replace the HOP/Snapper card for buses from April next year.
But it wasn’t supposed to be like this.
Long journey to integration
The contract for creating a fully-integrated smartcard system for Auckland was awarded to French firm Thales back in 2009.
But in December 2010, an agreement was signed between Snapper Services, NZ Bus and Auckland Transport for the delivery of the HOP/Snapper card system – and this was introduced on NZ Bus services in May 2011. Snapper and NZ Bus are both owned by parent company Infratil, and Snapper cards have been in use in Wellington since July 2008.
While the HOP/Snapper card – the first travel smartcard in Auckland – was only used for buses, Snapper had agreed to work with Auckland Transport and Thales to facilitate the roll out of a wider system which would include trains and ferries.
However, in August this year Auckland Transport said it was forced to terminate its agreement with Snapper because of concerns the company would not be able to modify its existing equipment in time for integration.
Auckland Transport chief executive David Warburton called the decision to drop Snapper “regrettable”.
“Snapper had originally agreed to have its equipment compliant with the Thales system by the third quarter of  to enable bus services to be added to the integrated ticketing programme mix by 30 November,” he said.
Commuters must now wait until 2013 to see buses become part of the integrated network.
‘Snapper decision won’t add to the cost for the public’ – Edmonds
In August, Snapper chairwoman Rhoda Phillipo maintained that Snapper had been wrongly blamed for delays in the project.
“The fault lies with Auckland Transport, New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA), and the French multinational Thales for not providing the critical components for successful integration,” she said.
“The ultimate cost of this decision by Auckland Transport for Auckland ratepayers is likely to be significant when compared with the commercial investment that Snapper has made to date and were willing to continue to invest until the project completed”.
However, when asked today if problems with Snapper have added to the cost of the integrated ticketing project, Mr Edmonds said: “not the net cost in terms of overall, for the public of Auckland.”
“The bus operators were always going to pay for the implementation of equipment on their buses,” he said.
Mr Edmonds estimates the total cost of the project will end up being between $85 million and $90 million. But said ratepayers would see “no significant change” in terms of cost – as a result of Snapper being dropped.