15 August 2009

A snapper-up of unconsidered trifles

another snapper card
Originally uploaded by dubh
The character Autolycus, a common thief in Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale, boasts that he is named after the more famous son of Hermes and Chione, who once stole the helmet of the great Greek hero Odysseus. Shakespeare’s Autolycus claims that he is ‘a snapper-up of unconsidered trifles’. And while the link to the Wellington public transport Snapper card is tenuous at best, I have never been one to neglect an opportunity to deploy a pretentious blog title with scant justification. I suppose it fits though, what with bus fares generally costing only a few dollars.

Getting to the point, albeit rather tortuously, I can reveal that yesterday I bought my first Snapper card to use on Wellington’s buses. Certainly, I’ve had an Oyster card in London for several years now, but Wellington’s move into the heady world of (relatively) integrated RFID-based public transport cards is a welcome step. Anything that makes public transport easier, more affordable and more popular is a good thing in my book.

I doubt I’ll use the Snapper in its much-touted alternative role as a petty cash substitute in coffee-shops and newsagents: its main role in my wallet will be for bus travel, to ensure I get the 20 percent fare discount Snapper users obtain. It’s great that a modern system has been introduced, and there’s certainly potential to do a lot more with the system to ensure a more comprehensive range of electronic payment options exist for public transport users in greater Wellington.

Despite this general enthusiasm, there are several issues with Snapper that detract from its overall positive impact. I have no doubt that getting the system up and running was a major challenge, so the fact that it works at all is a boon, even if it’s not perfect. The Snapper card is certainly well ahead of anything on offer in the chaotic Auckland public transport environment, where plans for integrated ticketing are running way behind schedule and act as a major impediment to the growth of public transport use in a city that could really benefit from it.

Here’s my list of quibbles, for what it’s worth. Many of these have been raised in online forums, so there’s probably nothing new here. But it would be interesting to hear if Snapper intends to resolve any of them in the near future.

1. Why is there a separate top-up fee, both for transactions over the counter and for online credit card top-ups? Surely the cost of maintaining the sales network could’ve been negotiated into the overall revenue structure so as not to inconvenience customers? It also means that if you use Snapper solely for $1 rides on the city section from the railway station to Courtenay Place, you’re actually paying more than the cash fare.

2. Why do you have to tag off when exiting the bus? Could the RFID technology not be programmed to simply tag the fare as completed once the Snapper card is more than 20 metres from the driver’s Snapper reader?

3. Why is the fee for not tagging off the full cash fare rather than the full 20 percent discounted fare? Using Snapper means you’re entitled to the 20 percent discount, surely?

4. Why can’t the handy Daytripper and Gold Pass tickets be purchased on Snapper?

5. Similarly, why doesn’t Snapper cap the off-peak travel expenses of users so their maximum expenditure is limited to the price of a Daytripper ticket? Surely the current approach discourages casual travellers from making multiple trips?

6. How long is it going to take to integrate Snapper into the train, ferry and cable car network? Okay, so Wellington trains have got a lot on their plate at the moment, what with the rail refurbishments and the new rolling stock soon to enter service. But being able to use Snapper on the trains would be really convenient, particularly if the price structures were aligned so the two services complemented each other. One would’ve thought that the Kelburn cable car would be an easy one to add to the Snapper network too, given its single-price tickets.
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