Let's be thankful for small mercies. We could be living in Melbourne where the cock-up in introducing a universal public transport smartcard is of truly monumental dimensions.

Compared with their calamity, the year's delay in implementing Auckland's $98 million HOP card, and the cost over-runs of around $10 million - give or take a prolonged court battle or two - seem, well, considerably less. Then again, for those of a pessimistic outlook, Auckland Transport did only sign up for our system in 2009, so it does have plenty of years to catch up with its incompetent Melbourne rivals.

In 2005, the Victoria state government signed a $640 million contract to have the myki smart card ticketing system up and running by March 2007 in Melbourne, and then rolled out across the state in coming years. It's still to be completed.

Last week, a parliamentary inquiry into the system heard the budget had ballooned out to $1.73 billion. The local newspaper the Age archly calculated that the cost of the myki ticketing system had blown out to "more than half the cost of Nasa's recent Mars mission".


A week ago I rather jumped the gun predicting Auckland Transport would finalise its divorce with smartcard operator Snapper last Monday. It wasn't until Friday afternoon that the AT board finally rejected Snapper's pleas for compensation and dumped Snapper from any further role in the HOP project.

Stunned as the proverbial mullet, Snapper's chairwoman, Rhoda Phillippo, finally released a statement timed at 10.59 that night claiming all the blame was AT's and "all necessary legal steps will be taken to recover losses arising from the wrongful termination".

For its part, AT chief executive David Warburton noted that Snapper had agreed to have its equipment compliant with the integrated ticketing system being developed by French firm Thales to enable its sister company New Zealand Bus' vehicles to be added to the integrated ticketing programme mix by November 30.

AT's conclusion that Snapper was unable to meet the November 30 deadline followed earlier failures to be ready to take part in trials.

In addition, it appears that Parkeon, the independent provider of ticketing equipment for the consortium of Auckland's smaller bus operators, has also been dropped from the project. To rescue the scheme, Auckland Transport has signed a last-minute contract with Thales to provide 1100 ticket machines to be installed in all Auckland public buses. This will mean all buses will have machines produced by the main contractor, which was the original expectation, dropped in 2009, after Snapper and New Zealand Bus lobbied vigorously to be allowed a part in the scheme.

It is understood the first Thales machines will not be available until next April and will be fitted into the smaller operators' buses.

New Zealand Bus, which provides the majority of Auckland buses, is refusing to install the Thales readers until they've been proven in other buses for six to eight weeks.

Insiders suggest that it could be September before all buses are linked into the system.

Meanwhile AT's marketing team are trying to pretend all is well, launching a major advertising campaign declaring "Auckland Transport HOP card is coming", to be available to use on trains from October 28 and ferries from November 30.

Yet in April last year, they spent $1 million launching AT's new HOP card - "The name symbolises seamless transport and the ability of customers to literally 'hop-on and hop-off' public transport," said Dr Warburton at the time.

That HOP card is the one used on NZ Bus vehicles. It's already here. But it looks different from the new AT HOP card.

The existing card tells me in large type it is "Your ticket to Auckland", but it isn't, and never will be. It's not compatible with the new HOP card, as anyone who tries to hop off a bus and on to a train will soon discover.

For the minority of us who have followed the Byzantine twists and turns of this saga, this comes as little surprise. But for the ordinary commuter about to be battered by another marketing campaign to get a HOP card, I can see nothing but confusion.

I've already got one. No you haven't. Get off the bus, that HOP card doesn't work ... Do you take cash?