CityLink buses to move to smart cards

7 Feb 2014

Whangarei’s CityLink public buses will move to contactless smart cards from early March in a bid to offer passengers a faster, more convenient service.

Snapper card.Transport Team member Anita Foss with a mock-up of the new CityLink/Snapper smart card and a card top up machine located at the Northland Regional Council's Water St offices.

While passengers will still be able to use cash on board the buses to pay for individual trips under the new regime, the CityLink/Snapper smart card system will replace the existing, paper-based 10-trip concession cards.

The Northland Regional Council (which provides the service through current operator Ritchies Transport Holdings Ltd) says the company which had previously owned the distinctive green bus fleet had fitted it with most of the necessary equipment but the smart cards themselves had never been rolled out.

Sharlene Selkirk, the regional council's Public Passenger Transport Officer, says the system had recently been updated and customised for Whangarei's needs at little additional cost to ratepayers, other than a $20,000 initial outlay to provide current users with a free smart card.

"Everything possible is being done to ensure a smooth transition, but the change – which will officially take effect Monday 03 March – will obviously require some adjustments, especially for the 1000 or so known regular concession ticket users."

Mrs Selkirk says advantages of the new prepaid smart cards include faster loading of buses and quicker, more accurate transfers between routes. (This is expected to be especially popular among school students who travel across multiple bus routes.)

Other benefits include administrative efficiencies and a clearer picture of demand to assist officials in future planning. There will also be less cash carried on board, reducing potential security risks.

Mrs Selkirk says SuperGold Card holders will not be affected by the changes and can still use their cards for free travel, while other passengers can still use cash aboard buses to pay for individual trips. Passengers with existing 10-trip concession cards can use them for travel up to and including Saturday 31 May.

However, one of the biggest changes for concession ticket users is that the smart cards will not be able to be purchased on board buses when the system comes on line. At the same time early next month, new sales of the current paper-based concession cards will cease.

Mrs Selkirk says the smart card company is currently finalising – and expects to release details shortly – of a network of several local retailers who will be able to sell and top up the new cards. This service will also be available from the regional council's Water St offices.

"Another top-up option is a Snapper 'feeder' which allows passengers to carry out their own credit card top-ups through their home computer. Normally sold for $25, these feeders are being offered at a special introductory price of just $10 during March. For those who have an Android smartphone with near field communication (NFC), you can download the free Snapper Mobile app from Google Play to check the real-time balance and top up any CityLink/Snapper card on the go."

Meanwhile, Mrs Selkirk says one of the other main differences for users from March will be the need to both 'tag on' when they climb on board a bus and 'tag off' again when they leave it by holding their Snapper card to the reader by the front or back door.

"This allows the correct fare and discount to be calculated and also provides an up-to-date balance," says Mrs Selkirk. "It's also important to remember that Snapper cards also need to be held still at the reader, rather than just waved or swiped."

Mrs Selkirk says while approximately 1000 free cards will be provided to regular concession users during the changeover period, any subsequent new or replacement cards will cost passengers $12 each.

She says holders of existing paper-based concession tickets are being asked to bring them to the Rose Street bus terminus on Thursday 27 and Friday 28 February to be issued with their own smart card.

"We estimate that we'll need to swap over more than 1000 cards and obviously it makes sense for all parties if we can get as many of these done as possible within those two days. We'll be on site at Rose St from 6am until 6pm both days but for those who can't make it, will make provision for some changeovers at the regional council during March."

She says a range of information on the change, including frequently-asked questions, is expected to be posted from Monday 17 February on the CityLink website via: www.citylinkwhangarei.co.nz It will include information on how users can register their cards to help protect their remaining prepaid balance in the event that the card is lost or stolen.