How Much For A Smart Card?


How much should it cost to buy the new Auckland integrated ticketing card?

In another sign of the new landscape, NZTA’s requirement that 50% of the cost of public passenger transport be recovered from users has forced Christchurch’s regional council to start charging for its Metrocards.

Environment Canterbury commissioners have approved the introduction of a $10 charge for new Metrocards issued in Greater Christchurch and Timaru from April 4 this year. Its integrated ticketing was introduced way back in 2001, which makes Auckland look very tardy!

80% of Christchurch commuters use the card instead of paying cash.

Much smaller Metrocards called ‘stickkis’ are also now available as an alternative. They stick firmly to a mobile phone or wallet but will now cost $15.

A number of pricing options were considered for the Metrocard including $5.00, $7.50, $15, and $20. It was considered $20 was too high and would definitely discourage commuters.

The conclusion of staff was that $10 was “an appropriate value as it is  consistent with charges used by banks for replacement cards and would be easily explainable given that replacement cards have been the same value since inception.”

It was also noted banks and others often charge for the cost of the card. Wellington’s Snapper costs between $10 and $40 (for a USB stick). You can see the pricing here

The use of a Metrocard provides the passenger with a discount on the cash fare of at least 25%, i.e. Zone 1 cash fare is $2.80, Metrocard fare is $2.30.

The council will argue that a regular commuter using a Metrocard would recover the $10 purchase price within about two weeks. And even though it is forced on them by the NZTA costing change, the council will also argue that many customers don’t value their cards presently because there is no cost attached to them.

Although Christchurch is obviously smaller than Auckland and with fewer competing transport operators, the Metrocard success gives some insights into how integrated ticketing works.

More than 320,000 cards have been issued since they were introduced, yet just 75,000 are regularly used.

A report to yesterday’s council meeting says that  last year, a new ticketing system has been introduced with a number of features which are state of the art including GPRS data communication for immediacy of transaction, web reload and registration, service centre issue and reload of cards, vending machine reload, and significantly increased functionality. The ability to register a Metrocard online allows the ability to give customers a choice in whether they register a card or not for the first time.

“Registration of a Metrocard has been a key requirement of the ticketing system since its introduction. Registration is the process of imputing a customer’s details into the ticketing system database. It has been considered that mandatory registration provides the best security for customers as it allows them to hotlist their card and to transfer the existing balance on the card at time of hotlisting to a new card.
“Hotlisting a card is simply a method of tagging the card in such a way as to render it inoperative should it be stolen or  lost.
“Registration of Metrocards has been a success from the perspective that it has provided certainty and security to many people since 2003 however it also has disadvantages such as many people not wanting to give their personal details, higher administrative workload at the bus exchange, and a high number of unused Metrocards registered to customers who are no longer contactable.
“Likewise providing Metrocards free to customers has also been successful to the extent that it has contributed to the uptake of Metrocards across the network (approximately 80% of public transport users now use the Metrocard as opposed to cash).
“Providing Metrocards to customers for free has also had its disadvantages, the most significant of which is the ability of customers to provide different details to secure a free new Metrocard rather than a $10 replacement Metrocard.”




  1. mark says:

    $10 would be okay, I think. Simplicity in getting one would be key. I hope they can be anonymous (because a) I am not too keen on having somebody build up a database of my travel patterns and b) because that cuts down on the hassle or getting one).

    Higher prices could be okay if they come with an initial stored value, but we don’t want it to be too pricey, or we might lose too much of the “casuals” market.

  2. Matt says:

    uh, $2.30 is not 25% cheaper than $2.80. It’s more like 18%. Did you mean at least 15% cheaper? Or are they lying in their marketing?

  3. Matt L says:

    Mark - Thales said the card could be both, if you register the card you get benefits like the abilty to transfer balances if a card is lost/stolen, be able to set up automatic topups, check your own travel patterns (could be useful for parents) etc.

  4. James B says:

    Quite frankly a small charge is probably a good thing. Stops people from being careless with them. Also I don’t give a damn who looks at my travel patterns. Quite frankly if you want to monitor when I leave for work in the morning or go shopping you’ve got bigger problems than I do.

  5. Matt says:

    James, governments do not have a good history of respecting the privacy of citizens. It’s entirely conceivable that a future government may want to take rather more interest in your activities than makes you comfortable.
    One thing I particularly like about any discussion NZ has on tolling roads or whatever is the legal requirement for there to be a way of paying with cash so that there’s no positive identification of the payer with the vehicle that incurred the toll.

  6. Matt says:

    I’m not going to fret using a smartcard with my personal information on it, but it’s an old chestnut that gets paraded out all the time.

    Legislatively having smartcard usage records being treated about exactly the same as phone records is probably the way to go.

    Mobile phone companies know your movements more than a smart card operating company is ever going to, and nobody gives much of a damn about that anymore.

    Another vitally important feature for me is browser based recharge. I want to be able to put money on it within a web-app, or even within my electronic banking web-app. It doesn’t even require a smart card reader at home, as the money can be uploaded next time I swipe my card on a bus.

    Also I want to be able to have a truly national smartcard, without these little pockets of self-interested companies dictating their idea of how it all should work. There are existing open standards (see so we don’t need to bother with tinpot operators like Snapper. Hopefully the NZTA national smartcard scheme ends up not locking us into some crap proprietary standard.

  7. mark says:

    “Mobile phone companies know your movements more than a smart card operating company is ever going to, and nobody gives much of a damn about that anymore. ”

    You are wrong, some people do still care very much. But because of the general “what can we do attitude” and the importance of mobile phones, there’s little that CAN be done right now.

    We live in a free and democratic society, so our problems with real risks of privacy problems aren’t very big at this stage. But just ask an Egyptian activist (or a protest organiser in the UK!) whether he’s happy for the government to know where he takes the bus to, as well as being able to list and listen to his phone calls.

  8. Nigel says:

    Ten dollars is nothing compared with how much money will be transferred on and of the card in fares over it’s lifetime. Also, only the first metrocard is free, if I remember the “induction lecture” correctly.

  9. Carl says:

    for whats its worth, a smart rider ( as we call them in Perth) is $10, it has been from day dot.

    students / elderly (penisions ect) and those with ill health that get the health care card, get it for $5.

    $10 seems reasonable, anything above that is just plain theft.

    like the vodafone sim cards for example, $2 in australia, $35 in new zealand, explain to me how that works?

    I know different techs to a bus / train card, but that pricing is bullshit!

    $10 or no deal

  10. Gerard says:

    is the metrocard going to meet the requirements of the NZTA specification for integrated ticketing. It would be nice to go from christchurch to wellington and jump on the airport bus to town, or from christchurch to auckland and know that you have the bus money to get to the city already loaded on your card rather than purchasing a new card to get the discounts.


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