The Eye of the Fish

Maximus
August 19, 2008

Snip Snap: Sardines, Oysters, Snappers … and Tagging

It’s hard to imagine the joy I felt this morning catching the bus to work and finally seeing someone else actually using a Snapper Card.†

snapper.jpg

I had been quietly trying to convince myself that the seemingly slow uptake of this local version of London’s Oyster card was due to unspent currency of 10-ride bus tickets – but alas there always seemed to be too much hard cash being exchanged between driver and passenger to validate this one. But at least we haven’t (yet) got the problems that the Oyster has, where the encrypted security algorithm technology has just been cracked, and the cards can now be hacked: and London’s new Mayor has pulled the plug on the current system.

However: no reason to be smug. Wellington has not been the fastest in New Zealand to issue such a system. †Dunedin’s Go-card (offering a 10% discount) has been out since the end of last year, likewise with Christchurch’s Metrocard, and Auckland has its Go-rider, all three of which, it seems, can be loaded with $ by the bus driver, unlike our Snapper, which it seems requires visiting an “approved Snapper agent.”

oyster.jpgmetrocard.jpggorider.jpggo_card.jpg

Comparisons between these “smart-cards” is interesting. †The Go-card costs $5, the Go-rider $7.50, and the Metrocard is free. †The Snapper tops the lot with a grand price of $10 – going up to $15 by the end of October† The discounts also vary hugely from 0% (Auckland), 10% (Dunedin) to a grand 25% (Christchurch and Wellington).From my quick look at these it seems Christchurch’s Metrocard is not only the best dealt from the get-go – but the system of prices and use is more astute.† Wellington is still stuck with a fare-zone mentality, whereas Christchurch, like several other international cities (even Canberra), has a one price structure ($2.80; $2.10 on the Metrocard)†and†a two hours transfer, plus a maximum charge of $4.20 for a day. †

By comparison the Snapper, despite its better graphic design and snappier name, requires the tedium of “tagging” on and off with the constant threat of a maximum fare being charged for those of us who forget the second half of the fare-transaction.† The Metrocard appears also to be fully integrated, able to be used on the Red Bus, Leopard, Christchurch Bus Services, the Orbiter, the Metrostar and the Diamond Harbour Ferry, while anyone wanting to catch a Newlands bus has still to resort to searching for cash. Poneke has covered this further in his column, and thankfully reports that the Snapper system does not run on Windows Vista: its Linux of course, not Mac.

While I think the move to the Snapper is a good one, the system hasn’t really taken full advantage of this opportunity to make public transport truely appealing to the masses: instead crudely making the Snapper fit to an old system of fare thinking. †We need to move to the one fare, 2hr transfer, maximum daily limit system, and the ability to give drivers $ to top up the card. †”Tagging” on and off is cumbersome – a rethink is needed.

Michael
19 - 08 - 08

Hell, it’s worse than the existing Mana-Newlands smartcards that have been running for ten years. Infratil have a habit of cocking up everything they go near.

Maximus
20 - 08 - 08

Of course – Mana-Newlands – how could i leave that out? http://www.manacoach.co.nz/fares/smartcards/index.html

$10 for a card, gives you savings of 20% compared to cash, and you can top it up with the driver. Seeing as Infratil wanted to buy the whole Mana company, why didn’t they at least buy the technology?

Alan
20 - 08 - 08

You’re right about the graphics – yee gods, who in Auckland came up with that naff Go Rider graphic? Ugly ugly ugly – and Christchurch’s metrocard is just as boring as can be.

But more importantly – why the hell aren’t these things being done in unison? We’re such a small country – and most of the buses are all owned by the same company anyway – why on earth do we have 4 different systems anyway? What a mess!

paul p
20 - 08 - 08

Presumably they all have different systems so the money they receive goes back to the buses they run? Wouldn’t want the Aucklanders to get money paid for by those in Dunedin now, would you?

guy
20 - 08 - 08

No, it’s way bigger than that. These RFID cards are (potentially) the new form of money – completely independent of the eftpos system – and usable by shoppers in selected stores to pay for goods. In theory, potentially, cash could be eliminated if enough shoppers took this up as a system. You don’t need a PIN – just present it and go. Various articles in Time etc have addressed this in stories like: The End of Money?

Not likely in the short term, i agree, but you can see therefore that having one system throughout the country would be far better for all than having 4 or 5 systems, all working separately. That’d be like having 4 different currencies, issued by 4 different banks, and you couldn’t spend Auckland dollars if you’d bought Dunedin euros etc…. Now that would be silly.

In fact, i think there’s a members bill or something working its way though parliament now, setting out whether or not, and how, the whole thing can be unified. Would have been simpler if they had all got together at the start of course…

Tony
20 - 08 - 08

While I think the move to the Snapper is a good one, the system hasnít really taken full advantage of this opportunity to make public transport truely appealing to the masses: instead crudely making the Snapper fit to an old system of fare thinking. We need to move to the one fare, 2hr transfer, maximum daily limit system, and the ability to give drivers $ to top up the card. ĒTaggingĒ on and off is cumbersome – a rethink is needed.

The fare zone system is required by the regional council and not the bus (or train) companies. It is too complicated (as well as being unfair to Wellington City bus users who pay a more per km travelled to travel to the CBD than rail users).

lgm
20 - 08 - 08

absolutely – a move to this card system is long overdue – but being a relative late-comer why can’t we get the best of all the systems? It’s a shame to hear that it’s the Regional Council dragging the chain re: a one-fare system. Why do they get to poke their fingers into this one?
You forgot to mention that fares are all going up on 1 Sept, so the 25% discount will no doubt be effectively obliterated then – and the extra charges every time you want to add more $ to the snapper – I don’t think that happens for systems where the drivers can add $ to the cards.

Tom
20 - 08 - 08

So I went into Wishbone, purchased lunch with my Snapper card, and asked if they could reload the card. “Oh no Wishbone don’t do that.. ”

What? So back at work I check on the Snapper website which ever-so-usefully states I can top-up at my “preferred Snapper Merchant”..

Ring the 0800 Snapper number and the nice lady informed me that any agent (i.e. someone who has a Snapper terminal) should be able to transfer money onto a snapper card and tells me the nearest merchants.

She also tells me that Wishbone probably didn’t support the method of payment I wanted to use.. umm they have an EFTPOS terminal?
“Oh well they should support topping up your card”

Any way the nice bloke at Cafe Mamba on Plimmer steps would. So I recommend you go there! (nicer food too)

This is just like that whole “$10 minimum purchase” you used to get back in the early days of EFTPOS from some tight-wad shop owners..

welly
20 - 08 - 08

Tom: If you read the snapper website section on “where can I snapper” it notes you can only “spend with snapper” at wishbone, not charge up,

Jason
20 - 08 - 08

Which is not how anyone should do business any more (or ever should have). I’m still trying to get people in my office out of the mentality that as consumers/workers we should just conform to the way things are instead of demanding that products and services are tailored to us. This is a pretty advanced day and age and I shouldn’t have to even THINK about whether I’m going to be able to top up my card if I’m in the wrong part of town. If you have had to go to the website to find out what the top up policy is then you’ve done too much work as a consumer.

The fact that I’ve seen three people so far have to resort to cash anyway as their card didn’t tag on correctly has prevented me from getting one, but I’ve been enthusiastically encouraging others (and more regular travellers) to get snapper. Small retailers don’t seem to like it, from my conversations, and by all accounts they don’t get a great deal out of it.

justine
20 - 08 - 08

Is it just me, or is there something weird about the way the Snapper thingy just has a number on display, which if you stare at it for long enough, becomes a date / time right down to the second? Yes, its mesmerising, but do i really need to know that the time is ticking by, when i’m stuck on a bus in traffic?

What i would like Mr Snapper thingy to say is: you have $3.30 left on your card. And nothing else.

Greg
20 - 08 - 08

The question we need to ask is how the bus companies are going to work toward an integrated ticketing scheme. I don’t mind Snapper in concept, but this seems to be another hurdle in the way of catching a bus to the train or ferry. So many companies and so little willingness to play nice with others.

Justine: there’s a plus side to that clock. It means that the drivers now have an actual clock that they can use to start their route. There will hopefully be less occurances of missing a bus because it left early.

Kerryn
20 - 08 - 08

I’m try to be charitable and give snapper a chance, but…..

Can any of the other cards be used in shops like snapper? I find this quite annoying. It seems to complicate matters. I just want a nice & simple bus ticket, not a rival to eftpos.

What happens if too few merchants take up snapper? Presumably it’s supposed to make Infratil money but if it doesn’t will it be withdrawn from the buses? It’s not going to be very convenient putting money on the card unless there’s lots around town and the suburbs, and right now it’s looking pretty sparse.

I also wonder whether it’s much quicker than the current system. It’s not replacing cash fares which are slowest to process, and if you ask me, tagging on and off takes as much time as having your 10 trip clipped by the driver, especially if you cock it up and have to try again. I’ve just purchased one, and am nervously awaiting my first tag on…. I guess users will become more proficient and thus quicker with practice.

Justine: the website says the scanner thing tells you how much money is on the card if you have less than $12.

Tom
21 - 08 - 08

Welly Said: “Tom: If you read the snapper website section on ‘where can I snapper’ it notes you can only ‘spend with snapper’ at wishbone, not charge up,”

Yes indeed it does! I mean I stupidly just clicked the obvious link that says “Buy/Feed your snapper” and scrolled to where it says “feeding a snapper card”.. But it would also be nice if the lady on other end of the 0800 snapper number knew that too. She assured me that Wishbone should be able to top up my card.
I wonder why they donít? Seems like an easy 25c to me..

Anyway no biggie! I like the Snapper concept and I reckon there are about 50% of the punters on my bus using one now, which means I feel like less of a freak when the Snapper voice tells me to remember to tag off..

Having the current time on the Snapper reader seems a little redundant? It always seems to disagree with the time up the front of the bus.. and doesn’t seem to the make the bus run any closer to it’s timetable either! (No change there then)

erentz
21 - 08 - 08

Hearing things like this “The fact that Iíve seen three people so far have to resort to cash anyway as their card didnít tag on correctly has prevented me”

It seems to me that the big problem here is Snapper tries to be too much and isn’t really run in the public interest (it’s there to make money), it would be better if the WRC had implemented a smart ticketing system _first_ that did just that well. Which is what most people want. For example, when there is a failure, I’m sorry but that means a free ride, just as it does here in Perth.

As for the rest, e.g. refunds when you lose it etc, no, it’s a cash replacement system, if you lose a $50 note, you don’t get a refund from RBNZ.

kegan
21 - 08 - 08

The only time I’ve travelled on a bus with a stuffed Snapper reader, the driver just said “It’s broken, get on”. I wasn’t even asked to pay cash (which I would have refused to do anyway – I foolishly believed the snapper advertising which said you did not need to carry cash).

Philip
21 - 08 - 08

On the point of smart ticketing and the like – surely snapper is a first step towards that? I’m sure the current billing model can be changed into the future – I believe moving towards integrated ticketing was vaguely on the council’s agenda

Greg
21 - 08 - 08

Philip: While I will agree with you in principle, I expect that we’ll see another level of arguing. As it stands, the companies can’t agree on a division of payment for tickets that cross companies. With infrastructure in place for smart-card services in each of the bus companies, which is going to agree to dump their investment and buy into another?

I find it incredibly depressing that the time-frame for integrated ticketing is still 3 years away. This is the downside of mandatory competition between bus providers: there is a severe lack of central planning. There is no cost-incentive for the operators to cooperate, even if it would make the whole system more effective. So they don’t.

This article talks a bit about the privatisation problem, but from Auckland’s point of view: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/author/story.cfm?a_id=1&objectid=10519879

Philip
22 - 08 - 08

Greg: Things may be progressing quicker than though – at least on the train front:
http://poneke.wordpress.com/2008/07/29/snap-8/

Greg
22 - 08 - 08

Philip: Yes, but you’d still be paying an additional full fare to transfer modes. The payment sharing problem is avoided and, in the case of trains, there isn’t already a smart-card payment system in place. The closest that we’re seeing to advancing integrated ticketing is a trial for Kapiti Coast commuters to pay a single fare between buses and trains: http://gw.govt.nz/story28488.cfm

Robyn
23 - 08 - 08

The Auckland card’s ugliness is in part due to its age. The design features the very first Link bus paint job, which back to 1996. I’m guessing they’re waiting for an upgrade to Snapper-like technology before they redesign.

Alex
25 - 08 - 08

My route (Newtown) has had snapper since the start and has had quick uptake IMO. Personally I have only just joined the way of the future and while I won’t be totally convince of it’s convenience until I can top it up anywhere, I must say I felt smug today as about 3 of us snapper holders just breezed up the right hand side of the queue at the bus door and ‘alighted’ while about 10 people queued to either pay the driver or get their cards clipped. I felt even smugger when I got the last seat on the bus even though I was the last person to arrive at the bus stop. Nice.

justine
25 - 08 - 08

Yeah, i was doing the same thing the other day, but the machine wouldn’t accept my card. I pressed it, re-pressed it, and it just kept on not accepting my card. So, not so smug.

Finally, i just slapped my snapper really hard across the face of … ..the machine, and it glowed a big green circle at me. ie, it worked. Not sure if that is official policy, but my new policy is “Slap your Snapper”!

Josh
26 - 08 - 08

Doesn’t it slow down getting off the bus? I catch school buses most often, and there isn’t many students that I’ve seen who use these cards yet – but I would just assume that it would slow down the queue to get off the sometimes-tight back exit door of the bus, especially if your card can’t be read first time.

I’ll have to keep an eye out for them being used.

Greg
26 - 08 - 08

So far, it doesn’t appear to be slowing down alighting. Certainly not any more than trying to squeeze past half a bus of people to get to a door.

Here’s some other Snapper stuff from today. Someone got on our #84 (Eastbourne Connector) expecting to use his Snapper to get through the city section. Not going to work there, so he just paid cash. It’s nice to see that uptake is growing habits/expectations. A little while later, I was on another bus checking out the Snapper terminal. It appeared to be tracking the next stop, but was wrong. While on Courtenay Place, waiting to turn onto Taranaki (#21), it was displaying Taranaki at Vivian, rather than Taranaki at Courtenay (by Cubita). I’d be curious to know just how accurate the GPS tracking has been proving to be.

erentz
27 - 08 - 08

Does the snapper allow you to tag off before the bus has stopped?
I didn’t get to see many people using it, but it looked like people waited for the bus to stop and doors to open to tag off, which I can see would slow things down.

lgm
1 - 09 - 08

sadly no – have tried to snip off just as the bus is slowing down for the stop but no luck.

Maximus
10 - 09 - 08

DomPost today (10 Sept 2008) has an article that backs up most of what has been noted here – the system is buggy, should have been fixed before release, and is generally not amused.

Springy
9 - 05 - 09

ok, joining THIS conversation pretty late but this is what Snapper’s CEO had to say to us recently (video) + some updates to how the Snapper technology is going (approx)a year on from its release in the wild:
Snapper CEO talks about glitches and improving snapper, the new USB snapper and snapper embedded in existing cards:
video link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kUiFadLgFKg

&rew
14 - 07 - 09

I’m late to this discussion too, having only recently got my Snapper USB. I’m using it for bus fares, the odd Wishbone lunch and a coffee here and there. I like the format and convenience, and hope it grows.
Having used card systems in Singapore and Sydney, I’d love to be able to use Snapper on WLG trains. Unfortunately that would require serious work redesigning the city/suburban platforms, funnelling passengers through a turnstile system to force them to swipe on/off. Considering all the other problems the train network has, I can’t see anyone spending money on that any time soon.

Maximus
14 - 07 - 09

i believe its on the menu – just not in the short term. 5 year plan or some such…