Posted by: senjmito | December 1, 2010

Fares and Fare Packages: Making transfers fast, easy and cost-less

A number of the comments to our think-piece on network design rightly pointed out that fares and fare systems are critical to making a transfer system work.

The fare system for Wellington needs to ensure that there is no fare penalty for transfers, and transfers do not require time-consuming additional transactions.

The Wellington system currently fails to achieve that. Not only do changes from one service to another require a new fare to be paid, and a new transaction to be undertaken, but the poor passenger needing to use more than one operator has to understand multiple fare systems and have multiple cards or ten-trip tickets or passes to take advantage of any concessions. We are probably further from integrated ticketing now than we were when Greater Wellington first created a position dedicated to achieving that.

There are several ways that the first issue has been tackled in other cities and overseas:

  • Issuing transfer tickets when the user gets on the first service. Not an ideal system, as it involves yet another boarding delay. But might be a useful addition to the system for those paying a cash fare.
  • Charging for the time the person spends in the system, rather than how far they go. I’ve used buses in places like Vancouver and Florence where you get a ticket that is time stamped, and can be used for a set period after that time (90 minutes in Vancouver I seem to remember).
  • Charging for access to the system, regardless of how far you go. Most underground metro systems run this way – you can spend all day on the train if you want to, as long as you don’t leave the system.
  • Charging for the use of the system for a week, month or year. This may be for any part of the system, or for a limited part of the system (as with Wellington train monthly passes).
  • Having a capped fare system, where you pay for a specific number of trips in a day or month, and then all trips after that are free. The Christchurch system has a daily cap. Some overseas systems have a monthly cap.
  • Making the system free, either generally or for off-peak use (as with the supergold card). In Mexico City retired public servants have free use of public transport.

The way the fare is collected should also ensure that boarding is fast and easy. Even having to “tag on” and “tag off” requires a passenger to queue for the machine, get their card out, and undertake the process. But that is far faster than cash fare systems, and would be faster still if passengers were permitted to enter at the back door as well as the front.

As Joshua has said, people should be able to use all the doors. I’ve used buses in Florence where there were four doors, and passengers could board at all of them. This just requires the use of inspectors to enforce payment, which would also reduce the number of jobs the driver has to focus on. Relatively infrequent inspection is possible if the fine for non-compliance is high, and the fine could help pay for inspection.

Don has pointed out that changing from the gold pass to snapper requires him to get his card out twice in a journey, and have the card where he can reach the machine, rather than just where the driver can see it – more difficult if you are carrying a lot of groceries. Overseas, many systems allow passengers to either buy a daily or weekly pass, or clip their own ticket after boarding. Compliance is enforced through frequent inspectors, and large fines. So the passenger doesn’t need to be grappling with their ticket or card as they enter the vehicle. With a pass system, they only need to find their pass if an inspector boards. With self-clipping, they can find a seat, put their bags down, and then get their ticket out and clip it (Slovakian bendy buses I used had many places to do this scattered through the bus).

– Paula Warren



  1. Thanks Paula brilliant article and for those of us who have been overseas we know all to well how it could work. Unfortunatly Snapper was never designed to do that in fact it has done the opposite, thousands of New Zealanders have invested in Infratill when purchasing their $ 10- $15 Snapper Card, buying shares in Infratil may help off-set the cost of public transport having risen on the 1st of October 2010. Snapper, a brainchild of Infratill with a background in banking, has successfully monopolized public services like the Total Mobilty Scheme and GoWellington to gain entry into the retail industry in order to compete with banks at point of sale. Question: Is joining Snapper a step closer to a cashless society?

  2. The point about seamless ticketing in Wellington that still drives crazy…

    Melbourne had seamless multi-mode time based ticketing in 1987 using paper tickets with two zones (inner & outer), and time to last boarding (not completion) of 2 hours for inner & 3 hours for outer, with the added bonus of tickets purchased after 5pm weekdays being valid until midnight. All this in 1987!! 28 YEARS ago!!

    I believe Melbourne has now gone electronic and made a pigs ear of the transition, with each board and alight being passed through a central computer system that is often overloaded, with subsequent hassles, and $80 fines for not having a valid ticket (even if the machine on the bus/tram/train is broken!!)

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