New bus ticketing service comes with hefty price

A new ticketing service proposed for Palmerston North buses could make boarding and paying for fares easier for passengers.

But the system, which would also be rolled out on regional services throughout Manawatu/Whanganui, comes with a predicted price tag of more than $400,000 for Horizons Regional Council.

The council's public transport committee was briefed on the proposed upgrade at a meeting in Palmerston North yesterday.

"We're replacing the current system with something a little bit flasher, something customers actually want," Horizons senior transport planner Wayne Wallace said.

Wallace said the new system, if it goes ahead, would allow bus users to top up the balance on their Go Cards online. They would also be available for purchase from more locations than under the present system.

The new system would feature "tag on, tag off" technology where passengers wave their card past a scanner, Wallace said. This meant they did not need to interact directly with the driver when boarding and it would speed up the time it took to board.

Cash fares would still also be accepted under the new regime.

A report prepared for yesterday's meeting showed the estimated capital cost for Horizons to implement the new technology would be $440,927.

Operating costs each year would be about $60,000, a slight increase on costs of running the current ticketing system.

Wallace said the Auckland firm that provided that technology was contracted to do so until January 2016. However, he said the machines themselves were aged and became unreliable, so a new system could be implemented before then.

The capital costs of the new system could potentially be funded from cash reserves held by the council, transport services manager Phillip Hindrup said.

"It's a substantial amount; the question is how to fund it."

That question would be tackled during consultation on Horizons Regional Council's Long Term Plan next year, Hindrup said.

The risk of lost patronage and revenue from the current machines on board buses breaking was too great not to do something. About half of the more than $1 million in fares collected on Palmerston North buses in the year to June 30, 2014, were paid for with Go Cards.

Committee members were largely in favour of the new system, though Horowhenua District councillor Michael Feyen did raise one concern.

Hehad security concerns if bus drivers were not interacting with every passenger that boarded a bus. It would potentially be easy for a drunk or aggressive passenger to board without the driver noticing.

"There's a lot of people that get on buses, there's got to be some way that somebody's got to be checking them out a bit," Feyen said.

Horizons was working with eight other regional councils and the NZ Transport Agency to procure the new technology.

This would not necessarily mean one bus pass could be used in more than one region.

Manawatu Standard