Morning rush hour test for new ticket system

By Mathew Dearnaley

Extra staff have been assigned to help passengers through the gates in today's first big test of the Hop system. Photo / Steven McNicholl
Extra staff have been assigned to help passengers through the gates in today's first big test of the Hop system. Photo / Steven McNicholl

Auckland rail passengers should allow extra time to get to work this morning, in expectation of delays at new exit-entry barriers at Britomart and Newmarket stations.

Extra Veolia rail staff have been assigned there to shepherd passengers through electronically and manually operated gates in the first big test of the new $110 million Hop card ticketing system on trains.

Ferries will be added to the system late next month and buses from April.

The station gates, which began operating on Saturday, mean passengers have to use Hop cards to lift electronic barriers or buy paper tickets beforehand to be waved through by rail staff.

Although Veolia is roping in as many roaming "revenue protection" officers as possible to reinforce station staff, Auckland Transport acknowledges it may have to leave some electronic barriers open this morning if the queues get too long for commuters rushing to work.

Britomart and Newmarket are the only two stations to be gated for now. Train passengers elsewhere must swipe their cards above platform readers or buy tickets from new pre-boarding dispensing machines around the rail network.

Auckland Transport denies a suggestion from an industry source that it faces widespread revenue loss in the new system's early days because of Veolia staff being too busy at Britomart and Newmarket to travel with wand-like electronic ticket readers in pursuit of fare evaders.

"Revenue protection staff will be deployed on to the network as soon as it is possible," said spokeswoman Sharon Hunter.

She said 70 per cent of rail trips would begin or end at either of the two gated stations, leaving the council organisation confident of reducing network-wide revenue "leakage" amounting to at least 6 per cent of train travel.

The source had told the Herald of a "frantic scramble" to muster enough staff for station duties for the weekend let alone this morning, and all available revenue officers were being pulled in from checking remote platforms and trains.

Ms Hunter denied the source's suggestion that the original plan had been for the gates to be left open for the first week as passengers became accustomed to the new system but that Auckland Transport had caught Veolia by surprise on Thursday by saying it wanted the two main stations "sealed" from the outset.

She said Veolia was responsible for planning at the stations, and there was no last-minute change.

Although there are 15 electronic barriers at Britomart's main entrance, and just two sets of manual gates, Ms Hunter said some of the barriers could be left open if too many passengers turned up without Hop cards.

She said more than 11,000 new Hop cards had been sold for a half-price opening special of $5 each, well on the way to a target of 20,000 by the end of this week.

Passengers with Hop cards will have to remember to tag on at remote stations, or face penalty deductions of $5.04c a time when tagging off through the electronic barriers at Britomart or Newmarket.

The same penalty will apply to those who tag on but forget to tag off at stations not controlled by gates.

Although ticket sales are being removed from most trains, a new ticket office has been opened at Britomart so non-paying passengers can settle up before passing through the gates.

Hop card system provider Thales says up to 45 passengers a minute can pass through each electronic barrier but anyone trying to tail-gate behind someone else without tagging on or off will set off a loud alarm.

There are also six electronic barriers at the rear end of Britomart and eight at Newmarket, as well as manual gates.

- NZ Herald

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