The why of the Bee Card

Buzz off with your bee-hind the times bus card

October 18, 2020 - MOUNTAIN SCENE article.

This article has caused quite a ruckus and lots of activity in my inbox and news feeds. In response, here's why we are where we are as best I understand it.


Bee Card technology is old in terms of the large population centers of the world. But hey, it’s new to us! We would love to be rolling out a tap on tap off that works straight from your phone, bank or credit card as the author of the Buzz off article would like. Here’s why we aren’t and why the Bee Card is the compromise, 5 year solution that will be upgraded when a nationwide system based on lower PayWave charges can be rolled out.

As a background and part of the problem, the open loop system allowing us to wave our phones or bank card at the tag on/off stations needs PayWave to work. PayWave is really expensive in NZ, up to four times more than in Britain and two times more expensive than in Australia. Our central government says it is looking into the fees and charges and why it is so expensive here. Newsroom says ‘New Zealand has fallen behind Australia and Britain in using contactless payments because our light-handed regulation means bank fees are two to three times higher...’

The waving system of payment is underpinned by another massive cost. These are purpose built systems that are simple to use but complex to build. They are supplied by international companies (INIT is based in Germany and THALES that supplies the AT system looks to be based in the Netherlands) with the costs spread among much greater population bases. New Zealand’s market is very small with few people to share the huge costs of these purpose built systems. It’s worth checking out the links to these companies to see the scale and complexity of the systems they build.

Otago and nine other regional councils all had old systems (like the GoCard) that desperately needed upgrading. Among other functionality issues, ORC had no way under the GoCard of tracking where people get on and off the bus. That data is essential to use to optimise and improve the system. Better buses rely on good data.

So, in deciding on an interim replacement system, NZTA and those councils were constrained by: the cost of PayWave, an aging system that was in desperate need of replacement, and the unaffordability pressures of a purpose built system like those enjoyed in places where that cost can be spread across millions, not thousands, of people.

Bee Card emerged as that interim system to tide us over until work is done nationally to implement a national card that will work in the simple (to the bus rider) but complicated and currently expensive way that is just a quick swipe of phone or card you have handy.

So, pick up your Bee Card before the end of October if you want it free, it’ll cost $5 from 1 November, and enjoy the view from the bus window here and in nine other regions of New Zealand, knowing that we will catch up when some of the larger, systemic issues are sorted out.


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