Auckland bus operators have their hands out for millions of dollars in public money for technology to let passengers roam across the region with a single electronic ticket.

But Aucklanders face waiting until 2008 for a so-called integrated ticket, the lack of which has long been blamed for discouraging commuters from leaving their cars at home.

The new Auckland Regional Transport Authority also has serious reservations about whether a scheme proposed by a consortium of four bus companies led by Stagecoach would give commuters cheap enough fares.

It has yet to respond formally to a request to pay for "smart-card" ticket-reading machines for the bus and ferry fleets, expected to exceed $3 million.

Although Stagecoach has an urgent need to replace outdated machines throughout its fleet, the other companies have much newer models, so the consortium claims the only way to achieve commonality is for the authority to cover the initial refit costs of all parties.

But authority chief executive Alan Thompson says his organisation would prefer a common fare across the region, and believes the consortium's proposal would still leave passengers paying too much to move between rival operators and modes of transport.

Although the scheme would ultimately let passengers hop on any form of public transport with just one card, the authority fears each operator would retain its own fare structure.

"We would much prefer the model of both common technology and a common fare system," Mr Thompson told the Auckland Regional Land Transport Committee last week.

A presentation by the consortium to the Auckland Regional Council's transport policy committee, which decides how much money to grant the authority from rates, also left a question-mark over how long it would take to add rail operator Connex to the mix.

The authority's concern at slow progress towards an integrated ticket has been magnified by this month's boost to North Shore bus services, which now have three operators with separate systems, except for a limited offer for bus and ferry travel from Takapuna to Auckland.

Even Transport Minister Pete Hodgson came under fire at a public meeting in Northcote on Thursday night from residents upset at having to present or buy a separate ticket each time they changed buses.

As the conduit for $58 million of annual bus subsidies, paid equally from rates and Government money, the transport authority is considering whether simply to impose a scheme of its own.

A rival equipment supplier to that chosen by Stagecoach is meanwhile preparing to offer the authority a common system, which it says would take just six months to provide, at far less cost than that proposed by the consortium.

Glenfield-based Electronic Ticketing Systems, agent for British-made Wayfarer machines used by most Auckland bus companies and by an integrated scheme throughout the Waikato, says it hopes to provide the authority with a proof of concept in about two weeks.

Stagecoach commercial director Ian Turner said his company would start introducing smart-cards from European supplier ERG to its Wellington buses next year, at its own cost, and ensure these were working properly before bringing them to Auckland early in 2007.

Other bus fleets and Fullers ferries would be added to the scheme later that year, but it would take until early 2008 to integrate travel across land and sea, and a date had yet to be decided for rail.

Ticket to ride


* Christchurch bus passengers pay just $3 a day to travel throughout the city, says Auckland Regional Transport Authority head Alan Thompson.

* In Australian urban areas similar in size to Auckland, passengers pay $5 to $6.

* The Auckland bus consortium introduced an integrated ticket two years ago costing $12 a day.