Sydney’s public transport has been promising integrated ticketing since before the Sydney Olympics. In a quick google search, I found this summary of where the project was up to three years ago – basically promising that it would be finished by the end of 2006. Here’s an article from the SMH a year ago, saying that it’s been delayed, and here’s the page from the company that won the tender, saying that in 2006, most of Sydney’s public transport commuter services would be converted.
To me, the failure seems to have been of political will (as well as a hopeless performance by private enterprise). When I lived in London nearly 15 years ago, there was integrated ticketing. It worked, because the fare structure was integrated between all modes of public transport (buses, tube, trains and even ferries).
But in Sydney, nobody seems to have seriously considered that option. Instead, we have to have an integrated ticketing approach which takes, as given, the current horrendously complex fare structure (completely different structures on trains, buses and ferries, no integration at all of the tram or monorail or private bus network) and try and create a smartcard that can cope with the complexity.
Another option would have been to sit down and try and figure out one integrated fare structure for the whole of Sydney – for example – a zone system like London, in which you would pay for the zones you travelled in, whether you travelled on a train, bus or ferry. Is it sensible that in my trip home from work I can spend between $1.40 and $5.00 for the same trip depending on my choice of transport method and fare structure?
The technology exists for that to work today – I own a yearly travelpass that will let me travel within one zone for buses, trains and ferries – the technology of all three will work with it. It would be simple to change the way the dates work on that pass, if you set up a fare structure that worked.
There would be winners and losers. Buses are cheaper than trains, are cheaper than ferries. The subsidy per trip is lowest for buses and highest for trains (different by kilometre, I expect). But if we had spent the $339m we spent on the ticketing system, it would probably be more useful in smoothing issues out than wasting it on a ticketing system designed to perpetuate the complexity that stops public transport working well together.