Sunday, February 13, 2011

Wabbit finds it hard to punch too many holes in Metro's magnificent Metrocard

Old style CTB concession card c1960?

Christchurch Transport blog provides a very good background piece about Environment Canterbury's decision to charge for new or replacement Metrocards from April 4th. I more or less agree with all said.

From my reading about chip cards used on other public transport systems I have come to believe the fair city of Christchurch, NZ  probably has the best value public transport "loyalty" system in the world.

The system works as follows, card can be loaded on the bus or at the central bus exchange on the bus for multiples of $10. It will be soon also be possible to load cards online or at public libraries.

The first time in the day it is used it saves 25% on the cash fare and gives UNLIMITED transfers in the next two hours. By comparison a cash fair allows only one transfer within two hours.  If used again after this two hour period has expired it again gives 25% discount and allows UNLIMITED bus travel for the remainder of that day, right through to last buses about midnight (even if it is still only 10.30am in the morning). By comparison a second cash fare, at the 100% cost, gives only a further two hours, one transfer. Further travel after this period requires further cash payment.

But wait there's more.....

If used any five days, Monday to Sunday, twice a day as above (two fare deductions made two hours or more apart) all subsequent travel is completely free. Essentially this means for most Monday-Friday commuters tofro work or school all evening and weekend travel is completely free. Or put another way for a full time bus user like myself the weekly fare top up needed is $23 for about 25 trips week on average, less than a dollar a trip including trips that can be 15-20km or more, if travelling right across the large single fare zone that incorporates most the city. (One of the things I love most about no longer owning a car is not only the absolute low cost of Metrocard but also the absolute pre-paid predictability of my weekly travel budget  for moving around town. At the same time this still leaves me free to choose to take an occasional cab if the cost/convenience ratio and my budget coincide, or accept rides from people already travelling in the same direction.

But wait there's more.....

If I have any money at all on my card (say I have been out of town and broken my normal pattern) - I mean even just 5 cents credit on my card I will still be accepted as a passenger and given the same rights and privileges applying to any passenger in my situation (unlimited transfers next two hours; unlimited transfers all the rest of the day; unlimited transfers all weekend etc). The system debits me and next time I reload it will deduct the outstanding amount, and show the remaining balance. An intelligent presumption has been made that whatever minor losses are made from this, by those leaving town will be more than off-set  by the interest garnered from credit on cards not used, in similar circumstances, gathering interest in the Metro bank account. There are moments it's a God-send  (oops forgot to get some money to top it up) and I would say will be so for many children, or at least their parents if stretching their last dollar too payday. Giving rides on any remaining credit, avoiding arguments,  is just another way Metrocard speeds up  the system and cuts down on the dwell time a bus spends loading at a stop.

But wait, there's NO more (for thieves etc)

If a Metrocard is lost or stolen, even if this is not realised for a day or two, the thief can usually gain very little. As soon as it is realised a quick call can assure that the card number registered against one's name becomes invalid. It is not possible to spend large amounts off the card because of the daily limit. The card can neither be bled nor hemorrhage large sums before cancellation, and the thief by trying to use it risks exposure (at very least the cards are retained by the driver).  For the previously registered owner a new card can be issued and existing balance of funds from the old card transferred, although it does cost a $10 replacement charge. This makes it safe to deposit large amounts on the card - for instance at the start of a holiday break or the Christmas period, or a big back pay etc one can "get travel costs out of the way" by depositing the equivalent of several weeks bus use in advance. On the other hand large deposits are NOT necessary, to get the benefits of loyalty discounts is the case with monthly passes in many parts of the world, sometimes costing $100-200 or even just the hefty up-front $60 of the CANRide cards formerly used in Christchurch, see below [who would have thought this old busspotter junk would come in use one day!! - the concession card at the top of the posting  I found fallen down behind the mantle piece in a derelict house about twenty years ago]. [note; it appears this security to load large sums without risking much if lost or stolen will be lost under new proposals; a particularly great loss for parents of older kids and teenagers who typically lose cards more often and whose parents it appears willno longer recourse to recovery or transfer to new cards of previously loaded larger amounts]

One of the last of the old monthly passes. CanRide was subsequently remarketed as the easier "Metro"

But wait there's less!!  yes...lesss

Yes 70% less time spent loading passengers according to Metro a few years back. And what an ABSOLUTE DIFFERENCE such a user-friendly chip card system has made to bus travel in Christchurch. Nowadays it is not uncommon for buses to swoop into the stop, two or three passengers board, almost without pausing or slowing their pace at times, just flashing their cards (often still in a clear face section of a purse or wallet) and away again. Likewise the single zonal fare covering most of the city has drastically reduced complicated arguments about zones with disgruntled cash passengers or lengthy calculations and long winded explanatory conversations with tourists.

But wait there is a huge amount more - yet to be realised (i.e. turned into reality) !!

The whole stop-start (and lengthy stops of 30 seconds to 2 minutes) of 20th century bus services is gone. Coupled with the Gold Card (nationwide free travel card for pensioners), low floor buses, better faster engines, bus lanes and traffic lights triggered to go green or stay green for approaching buses, and GPS logging of journeys (for both passenger "real time: signage and centralised "flight control" type systems) the faster and more reliable journeys now possible have the power to make revolutionary transformation. If we drop this ridiculous fussiness about every bus down to the exact minute (arrives 8.27, 9.26 etc) a legacy of old railway systems and Victorian era anal problems, and instead make every departure time "within five minutes of the time stated" (but absolutely 99% guaranteed) we can move towards integrated network systems, in which all buses flow to distinctive easy to remember core patterns, not only of departure but across the whole network. Like the circuits on a computer card chip itself all he routes interconnect making it possible to  passengers to access the whole city in any direction fast and frequently merely by knowing simple formulas. "Mosaic" network travel replaces clumsy route by route systems as the standard model. Much of this is inherent in that computer chip card with its inbuilt record of loadings, transfers and short dwell times. This radical transformation of how bus systems are planned and run, has yet to be realised in New Zealand (apart from a few long eared and long toothed profitless prophets like the mad wabbit and his NICERide concept). Tis indeed amazing how much, the whole future perhaps, can be read on those small cards!!

Getting back to the minutae there is one other aspect I like about Metrocard - this is  more a personal matter I suppose - I like the way Metrocards (unlike Snapper cards in Wellington) can ONLY be used for public transport. In the old days of it was possible to accidentally spend one's bus fare (can I buy you another drink, or on the spur of the moment buying a soft drink a pie or newspaper etc and only to remember later -"Oh  damn, I've spent my bus fare (or enough of it to render catching buses impossible). And of course kids constantly lost or deliberately spent money given to them for bus fare. I doubt the voice of an old duffer will be heard on this issue but I still prefer the simplicity of a bus fares only card. Multiple uses cancel the security of a guaranteed fare available.

All in all the existing Metrocard has to be the ace of transit chip cards! It offers one of the best discounts (relatively few systems offer 25% savings), is the easiest to use, most flexible in amounts loaded, best security against loss or theft, offers best transfer benefits and excellent "loyalty" rewards - commute with us to work or school and travel free at evenings and weekends!


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