Australian state government revives Tcard project

SYDNEY – New South Wales’ failed Tcard smartcard transit ticketing system has been resuscitated only six months after the project was scrapped in a A$90 million (US$86.4 million) fall out.

Cabinet this week gave the go-ahead to reinstate the Tcard project, which was previously sacked after a failed 10-year $367 million contract with smart card vendor ERG limited.

The government launched a $90 million suit against the company to recoup project costs, and faced a $200 million counter-suit for terminating the contract.

A spokesperson from NSW Minister for Transport John Watkins said the government has agreed in principle to issue Expressions of Interest (EOI) within months for building the Tcard.

“[The EOI] will help the government refine the scope and the timeframe for the project. Once the EOI is complete, the government will invite the selected companies to continue to the next stage of the procurement process,” the spokesperson said.

The transport department was mum on whether the revived project will be modelled off successful smart card ticketing systems such as Western Australia’s SmartRider system, and could not confirm whether Tcard users can expect reduced public transport fares, as is the case in Queensland which gives some customers half price travel.

“The government will look at the fare structure for the new electronic ticket, and that’s appropriate,” the spokesperson said. Shadow minister for transport Gladys Berejiklian said the government is using the Tcard relaunch to divert attention away from an expected 30 per cent increase in public transport fares.

“Morris Iemma and John Watkins can hide behind small-time, band-aid solutions but the truth is they are asking commuters to pay more for services that are getting worse,” Berejiklian said in a statement.

Responsibility for the failed project has been a hot potato between ERG and the government, however, media and industry speculation has attributed much fault to a lack of cooperation between RailCorp and the contractor.

Former SmartRider project director for the WA Public Transport Authority, Michael Somerville-Brown, said NSW’s disparate public transport systems caused “significant problems” for the failed Tcard project, but was reluctant to lay blame squarely on specific departments or technologies.

“It is extremely important to ‘own the timetable’ for [smart] ticketing systems. It draws all the elements together,” Somerville-Brown said.

“It can’t be just looked at like another computer application; it should be seen as involving all departments [of public transport]. It is more about people than computers.”

WA’s SmartRider project allows for seamless electronic payment for the state’s train, buses and ferries using an EFTPOS-like smartcard. More than 600,000 cards are in use throughout the state, almost six years after the $35 million project was inked, operating in some 1100 buses and on 70 train stations.

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