Auckland Transport admits buses are lagging behind trains and ferries in preparations for an integrated public transport ticket, but insists it is still working to a November deadline.
Its acknowledgement of the lag in a paper to its board opened Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee to a grilling from Labour at a parliamentary select committee hearing yesterday, given the hefty Government investment in the $98 million Hop card project.
The paper said rail and ferry services were confirmed as going live with the ticketing system before the deadline of November 30, and that buses "will follow".
Labour transport spokesman Phil Twyford took that as an admission that the dominant NZ Bus fleet would miss the deadline because of difficulties making ticket-reading machines on its 650 buses compliant with the wider scheme.
The company introduced an early version of the Hop ticket to its buses last year, as cards supplied by its sister Infratil-owned firm Snapper Services, which missed out to French technology giant Thales on the scheme's main supply contract.
Mr Brownlee is standing by comments he made to the Herald last month indicating NZ Bus could lose at least $70 million in annual subsidies from Auckland Transport and the Government if it fails to have compliant machines installed by November 30.
Asked then what the consequences would be if the company and Snapper missed the deadline, he said: "They're off the run."
The minister told Mr Twyford at yesterday's select committee hearing that he had received no formal advice that the deadline would not be met, but said if that possibility emerged, Auckland Transport should start making alternative arrangements.
"The taxpayer is not about to be held up to ransom by a bus company," he said.
NZ Bus chief executive Zane Fulljames said the company was committed to working with Auckland Transport to improve the region with integrated ticketing.
Auckland Transport spokesman Wally Thomas said the board report should not be read as an acknowledgement that buses would miss the deadline, only that they would follow trains and ferries in the scheme's roll-out.