25 August 2009

You shall not (Gold) Pass?

In light of my earlier comments about the challenges posed by the niggling aspects of Wellington's Snapper public transport cards, it was interesting to note the reports at the weekend that Go Wellington is phasing out the use of printed Gold Pass tickets that provide a month's unlimited bus travel in zones 1 to 3, i.e. most of Wellington City.  I used Gold Passes when I lived in Karori and Newtown; they're convenient and offer good value if, like me, you journey into the city every weekday and in the weekend. 

The report noted that:

A Snapper spokesman said that the company would launch a monthly Snapper pass on bus routes in the Hutt Valley and Whitby through bus company Runcimans from August 31 and, if successful, would offer the scheme to Go Wellington.

This begs the question: how will the success or otherwise of the trial be determined?  Presumably the existing paper-based monthly Gold Passes offered to Wellington bus users must be successful, because they have been offered for years at relatively stable prices.  They provide a valuable incentive for city dwellers to make good use of Wellington's public transport networks.  So why does Snapper need to test the viability of an established product with strong consumer loyalty?

Perhaps there is concern that monthly pass users might be reluctant to adopt the Snapper card, given it requires a $10 up front purchase price and requires an irritating 25-cent transaction fee whenever value is added to the card at a retail outlet.  Or perhaps there are plans to increase the fees charged for the passes, to accommodate the profit margin of the Snapper company.  Either way, it would be a shame if support for a popular public transport institution is jeopardised.

In a comment on the Dominion Post article quoted above, Snapper boss Miki Szikszai said, ‘We are reviewing the entire tag-off experience with the operators. Runcimans will give us a good chance to do that’.  Given the relative lack of information available about the company's plans, Snapper and Go Wellington would be better to reveal their intentions about the shift of monthly passes to the Snapper system. 

Certainly, it would be a great pity if Gold Passes were replaced by a system that is less convenient, and if the shift to Snapper is bungled, that is a very real possibility.  If the monthly passes offered by Snapper are more expensive than the current Gold Passes, require the 25-cent transaction cost to be added to the monthly fee, and/or require passengers to engage in tedious and unnecessary tagging-off when exiting the bus, then the shift to Snapper will result in a product that is actually less user-friendly than the present paper-based arrangements, and that would surely be counter-productive in an environment in which the growth of an efficient, effective and well-patronised public transport system is paramount. 

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