There are no flies on Wellington-based infrastructure investment company Infratil. It has just launched its Snapper debit card on the Auckland market on the back of a $1 million advertising campaign funded by local ratepayers.

Snapper is the contactless stored value swipe card introduced to Wellington in 2008 as the cashless way to travel on Infratil-owned NZ Buses and to make small retail purchases such as cups of coffee and taxi rides.

Last week, it was unveiled in Auckland, disguised as a Hop "smartcard for public transport", to be slowly rolled out across the NZ Bus commuter services, replacing the Super City's existing Go Rider card.

Snapper chief executive Miki Szikszai declared his excitement at bringing "the magic way to pay to a third of New Zealand's population".

"Today we're announcing the installation of a great footprint in the Auckland Super City. This includes 1000 taxis and over 150 points of presence. Snapper is focused on continuing to build out Auckland's 150 retail points of presence."

For Auckland bus passengers who have been bombarded with brochures and newspaper ads reading "Here Comes Hop" and "Ready Set Hop", decorated by a small Snapper logo in the top right-hand corner, it's all a little confusing.

The fact is, for now at least, the Hop card and the Snapper card are the same thing. That's until Auckland Transport or some other third party like Visa catches up and produces a Hop card of its own.

But if separating your Hop from your Snap is a little confusing, it's not half as mystifying as how Infratil has risen from the dead after its resounding defeat in the tender battle to provide Auckland's new integrated ticketing system.

In late 2009, French electronics giant Thales beat Snapper for the $87 million supply and operating contract. It is now working on its design and implementation. But instead of lying down, Infratil not only persuaded the Government, and Auckland Transport, to let it piggyback its Snapper card into Thales' system, but has now launched its card long before the full integrated system comes into operation.

By which time, the Hop Snapper card is likely to be king of the market.

In December 2009, Snapper chairman and Infratil director Paul Ridley-Smith was spitting tacks at losing out to Thales, defiantly declaring, "We're not going to plug into Thales." But in a confidential report earlier in the year he admitted that if Snapper couldn't move into Auckland "its business will be permanently sub-economic and it might have to withdraw from Wellington".

Snapper lobbied subsequently and successfully for a lifeline into the Auckland market, and has now climbed on board the predominant NZ Bus fleet in Auckland as the replacement for the existing travel card. As part of the deal, Auckland Transport has insisted the predominant brand is its own Hop label - but up in one corner is a little Snapper sign. On the demonstration card I've seen, the Snapper label is the same blue as the card, not Snapper's normal telltale red.

Depending on whether you read the Snapper advertising and website, or the Hop publicity, last week's launch was either for Hop or Snapper. Which explains why many travellers are a little confused about what is going on.

While Infratil has stolen the early running, Auckland Transport is confident it will win the endgame.

Once the Thales system is up and running this year, the game will be played by Auckland Transport's rules. That's when a zonal system comes into being covering all modes of public transport, and users will be able to switch from train to bus to ferry and have the combo fare calculated and deducted instantly from their Hop card. At that stage the all-important float - the prepaid fares for the coming month - will be in the hands of Auckland Transport, not Snapper, the interest from this substantial pot of money helping to fund the whole operation.

Just as important, information about each travel transaction will be transmitted back to the Auckland Transport clearing house, not to Snapper, for the purposes of reconciliation, transaction processing, reporting and apportionment.

Auckland Transport sources indicate Snapper is now arguing that when Auckland Transport takes over the float, it should be allowed to keep the portion stored on cards for cups of coffee and other non-public transport purchases.

Just how that piece of mind reading is resolved is for another day.