Saturday, November 21, 2009

System Review: Hobart Metro - Part 2

Hobart's bus routes and services were discussed in Part 1. This time we look at the Greencard smartcard ticketing system, which has recently started in Hobart after earlier commencement in regional cities. This is particuarly topical for Melbourne as we are introducing our own smartcard ticketing, due to start later this year.

I ordered a Greencard through the Metro website last month. Like Perth (but unlike Victoria which currently has a seperate website for myki), smartcard ticketing is an integral part of the main operator or transport agency website.

This went smoothly except for the question which asked the customer to nominate a default trip, which is the travel they most regularly make. As a visitor, I had no regular travel patterns so couldn't easily answer that question. I can't remember whether I ended up leaving that section blank or nominated the shortest trip as a default. Greencard's FAQ states that passengers making other than the default trip must tell the bus driver before touching on so he can adjust the fare accordingly.

The requirement to nominate a default trip (and advise the driver if different) is the single biggest difference between Hobart's Greencard and other systems such as Perth's SmartRider and Victoria's Myki. The latter two are genuine smartcard systems that require the passenger to tag off so that they can automatically calculate the fare. Instead of being a genuine smartcard, Greencard is more like an 'electronic purse' that relies on passengers to tell the driver if their fare will vary from the default. However this means that unlike SmartRider or Myki, Greencard passengers do not need to tag off at the end of each trip. One wonders about the potential for fraud - ie passengers making longer trips boarding with a Greencard set up for a shorter fare and not telling the driver.

Greencard arrived in the post a couple of weeks later. Its covering letter explained how to add credit (on the bus, at agents or online - allow 2 days for the latter) and create an online account (similar to registering a SmartRider or Myki). It also stated that the nominated default trip had been programmed. The card was free but had no credit loaded.

On arrival in Hobart the first job was to top up the card. I did this at the Metro Shop inside the GPO. Unlike Melbourne's Myki, with a $1 minimum top-up, Greencard requires $5 minimum. Happily this was not too much more than the off-peak daily fare ((4.50) as I didn't need use for more than a day. As stressed to me at the shop, those staying longer can top up with a larger amount for an extra 25% credit (eg $20 buys $25 worth of credit).

The first boarding was not successful. Although the driver could see I had $5.00 on the card (added about five minutes before), the fare could not be deducted so he waved me on. This had been his third case whe he'd seen this happen.

This brings us to another difference between Greencard and SmartRider/Myki. Buses in Perth and Melbourne have multiple touch points near both front and rear doors. With Greencard buses only have a single touch point on the driver's console (see below).

The consequence of this is that boarding passengers must form a single file past the driver, and those with a ticket must queue behind cash passengers. The result is slower boarding than with other systems, that as a minimum have a validator or reader on the right of the front door, and often readers elsewhere in the bus as well.

Greencard operated successfully on all subsequent bus trips. I saw the remaining balance on the validator's display fall as my fare changed from a single to a daily.

How many passengers use Greencard? My guess is that a quarter or less used it. However all my travel was during off-peak times, where most passengers were youth or pensioners. Greencard penetration may well be higher during peak school and work commute times.

How is Greencard promoted? Some buses carry all-over Greencard advertising, as pictured. There is also prominent mention on the Metro website and the Metro shop has a brochure explaining Greencard.

To conclude, Greencard is as bare-bones as a contactless RFID-based ticketing system can get. The manual 'tell driver' method of fare calculation means that it is not a genuine automated smartcard. The lack of card readers away from the driver is another short-cut that cannot deliver the full reduction in bus boarding times that automated ticketing can bring. However my experience is that Greencard (mostly) works, and it may be adequate for a small city's bus network.

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