Posted by: Gregory | March 20, 2015

Know Your Network: Snapper

I recently had a couple of interesting questions pop up that deserved answers regarding how Snapper processes problems. We haven’t talked much about Snapper directly, but it’s the largest volume of fare payments in the Wellington Region and it’s set roots deep enough that at least one councillor is playing political cards around the future.

Snapper has been around since 2006 and handling fares in Wellington since 2008, according to the website. They’re not the only smartcard in the network, but the number of routes covered by Snapper easily dwarfs the card system used by the Mana/Newlands buses. Add to that taxi fares, ferry fares and the ability to buy train tickets or pay for parking. Snapper covers a significant proportion of the transport payments around here. So what happens if something goes wrong?

I was speaking to a lady who catches the same bus as I do. It’s a pretty social bus route and we’ve gotten to know each other over years. She’d asked if I’d heard that bus pass prices had gone up, which sent me checking Metlink for information on that. As it turned out, prices hadn’t increased – she’d been sold the wrong bus pass and told that the price must have gone up. It’s easy to see how these sorts of accidents happen. There are two passes that cover buses through the Hutt Valley: GetAbout and Hutt Commuter. The question that I took to Snapper was whether retail agents are able to process the refund. I’d expect that any retailer selling a product to a customer must be able to offer a refund. According to Snapper, retailers aren’t able to remove the bus pass that was incorrectly loaded. Customers would have to find the time to contact a Snapper office to get the problem sorted out.

Within the same week, we had another situation pop up. Our bus driver was subjected to a spot inspection and wasn’t carrying his license. Passengers were told that the service was cancelled and to catch the next bus. That seems easy and straightforward, unless you’ve tagged onto the bus. There’s a quirk of Snapper’s system that doesn’t allow a passenger to tag on and tag off again if the bus hasn’t moved. As each person tagged off, as instructed, they heard a message about fare already being paid. Then boarding the next bus, each person was charged a penalty fare for not tagging off the previous journey and then charged the first fare for the next journey. In the case of an Eastbourne-bound bus, that’s a significant amount of money. The same problem can easily occur if a passenger tags on and realises that they’ve boarded the wrong bus before it departs. When asked, Snapper told me that the driver should collect the ID numbers on the Snapper cards, so that the refund can be applied quickly and automatically. I have never heard of a driver doing this and I really doubt that drivers would go out of their way to take details at the expense of keeping to their schedule, assuming the service hasn’t actually been cancelled. There’s definitely some work to be done here to be more customer-focused.

There are a few issues with Snapper that come up from time to time. I’m aware of a couple other issues that I’ll try to write up when I have more complete information. If you’ve run into anything really curious, especially if you’ve noticed an interesting pattern, leave a comment below. Snapper isn’t a perfect system, but it’s gotten better over the years and I’m pretty convinced that they’re interested in solving problems as they’re found. That’s been my experience.

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Responses

  1. Thanks Greg for opening up a dialogue on snapper, the least of them is
    clipping of the ticket each time by snapper.

    A question I have, is what happens when leaving the bus via the rear door, when you swipe your card twice, believing the first time didn’t register properly. Will the system initiate another trip and then charge you a penalty fee for not logging off? Or will it just confirm that you have completed your trip?

    • To the best of me knowledge, you can’t start a new trip from the rear door, so you shouldn’t see any penalty fare in that case.

      I have seen a disproportionate number of penalty fares on the Eastbourne routes, which is predominately serviced by buses with only front doors. Your description may be the source of errors for those passengers.

  2. Paul – if you’ve already tagged off and try to tag off again, it says “Fare already paid” and takes no action.

    Greg – I don’t agree that Snapper has got better over the years, at least for bus passengers. At best it’s stagnated, with no recent initiatives that I can recall (apart from extension to the Cable Car – in contrast, acceptance by the harbour ferries seems to have been stillborn); at worst, performance is declining. I notice this particularly in the worsening performance when tagging on or off, often taking two (or more) goes, and saying “more than one card detected” when clearly there’s just one card in the vicinity. It wasn’t like this when it started, and I’m very surprised that Snapper seem to find a high read failure rate acceptable.

    And Snapper doesn’t seem interested in features that are now common worth smartcards such as AT Hop and Oyster, such as auto topups (how often do you hear “please check your balance”?) and easy online topups – having to pay for a feeder is an antiquated nonsense.

    Other features such as daily capping could easily replace the day passes, but there seems to be no interest in looking at this from the passenger’s point of view. That may be up to Snapper, or up to NZ Bus – but I would hope different bits of Infratil talk to each other.

    So I don’t share your optimism, I’m afraid. Snapper used to be a good product, but it’s been left behind: replacement with a national fully-featured smartcard can’t come soon enough.

  3. I prefer the Metro-card the one owned and operated by Environmental Canterbury Regional Council and how it should be. http://www.stuff.co.nz/business/money/68788966/snapper-will-no-longer-be-accepted-in-shops-and-cafes

    • It’s not been entirely rosy for MetroCard. Quite a lesson in rolling your own technology. http://www.3news.co.nz/nznews/hacker-loads-167k-onto-bus-card-2013111115#axzz3aj6c2qxR

      • Once registered Snapper happily shares customer information with third parties for advertising purposes; and the antenna allows them to track commuters while they travel the network. I advise people not to register the Snapper card if they value their privacy.

      • The antenna isn’t that nefarious. It’s much shorter range than you imply. The tracking capability is entirely based on transactions with location information provided by the bus.

      • According to Snapper’s Privacy Policy it shares your information with third parties only with your consent, so it does not “happily” share that info unless it asks you first, and you agree.

        The privacy risk for Snapper is no worse than it is for any other smartcard, or your mobile phone. If you’re not going to register your Snapper on those grounds, you’ll also need to not have any credit/debit/smart cards or a mobile.

  4. ttp://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=10785850

  5. Apologies for some reason the above link does not work; take 2……..

    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=10785850

    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11158431

    • Those links certainly show the breakdown of the relationship between Snapper and Auckland Transport, but I can’t see what specific relevance they have to any earlier comments.

      It was AT that disclosed information to a third party, not Snapper (Snapper was communicating direct with the people who had supplied that information), and AT’s terms are worse than Snapper’s, in that you have to opt out of AT giving your details to third parties, but opt in with Snapper, on request (and I’ve never received such a request).

      In this respect Metrocard’s conditions are best, in that they will not give your information to third parties, and you can opt out of receiving communications from Metrocard.

      • Metro card is preferred and stands a better chance at extending nation wide for a truly publicly owned integrated ticketing system.

      • While it might be preferable to have publicly owned ticketing infrastructure, I doubt that the Ministry of Transport is interested in pushing for it to happen, given the sequence of events around Auckland Transport and tendering for a ticketing provider. In fact, looking through the PTOM papers, MoT seems interested in privatising as much of the implementation as possible.

      • As I understand it Metro card is not a very smart card, incompatible with AT Hop, and therefore with zero chance of being extended nationwide.

  6. The Snapper app update, is not compatible with payments on the small Snapper Sprat card. Something to do with their tie up with Semble. Very disappointed. Had to go back to a big red Snapper card.

  7. Some more reasons for replacing Snapper with a national smart card:
    a) it seems to me that Snapper is getting less reliable, with far more “please try again”, “more than one card detected” etc messages than their used to be;
    b) Snapper is hard to top up online, and with no auto topup facility (bizarre – I would have thought that they’d want to make it easy to give them money);
    c) Snapper is slower than AT Hop because of all the messages that Wellingtonians seem to need and the time that these take, whereas Aucklanders seem to need none of them, just beeps;
    d) Snapper is buggy: twice recently I’ve tried to tag off and the system has failed to do so, so I’ve been charged a penalty fare – and then, to add insult to injury, it has tagged me on for a phantom journey that I’ve never made, plus another penalty for not tagging off (how could I?) – $10 for a supposedly $3.97 fare. No explanation from Snapper, and I have to make a special trip to get a refund. How customer unfriendly is that?


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