PR a strong incentive in Tcard cancellation?

Summary:I would hope that any government, even one with as troublesome a reputation as the late NSW Labor government, wouldn't shrink from working technology just because it was a big pile of PR doo doo.

I would hope that any government, even one with as troublesome a reputation as the late NSW Labor government, wouldn't shrink from working technology just because it was a big pile of PR doo doo.

However, it seems that ERG, the company that had been contracted by the state government to implement the now-defunct Tcard, is accusing the NSW government of doing just that.

The NSW government cancelled the project in 2008, with then-Transport Minister John Watkins citing: "ongoing delays, failures and the company's appalling project management" as the reason for the end of the contract.

The government then got on its high horse and initiated legal action, hoping to recoup the $95 million worth of public money thrown into the project. This spawned legal action on behalf of ERG. The company reciprocated, announcing its intention to file a counter-claim for $250 million for what it considered "unlawful" contract termination.

Now, ERG Limited has amended its statement of claim to allege that the Labor Cabinet of the time had forced the end of the contract based on reports that the project was a "possible public relations nightmare", according the Sydney Morning Herald.

Apparently, the nightmare would have come from the requirement that passengers tag off when alighting from trains or buses. If a passenger failed to do so, they would have to pay the maximum fare. Since cards were charged with block sums of money, consumers wouldn't notice that they'd been charged more until their funds ran out earlier than they expected.

According to the SMH report, ERG's statement of claim now says that the project was stopped to bolster the chances of Labor being re-elected in 2011, and not because of delays or project management or technical issues.

I can believe this without much difficulty at all. After all, this is the government that loves to announce transport initiatives and then renege on them. (Perouse this Wikipedia link and then pick your jaw off the ground and start planning to move to another state.)

ERG even said, back when the project was cancelled, that its quick death was "all politics".

Why does the stupidity of the public — in this case on not being able to grasp the concept of tagging off — mean that a whole project needs to be canned? There could be numerous solutions to such a problem, one being a period of grace where users pay a nominal amount per trip, but were told to tag off. Or the ticketing system could have been changed to something more workable that didn't require tagging off. NSW's complex ticketing system has often been blamed for the delays in the delivery of the system.

If you believe ERG, the government just wasn't interested in making things work.

"Except for some very brief and perfunctory questioning in relation to the company's plans, the government chose not to engage with ERG at all in looking at how Tcard could be delivered in a co-operative manner," ERG Group chairman Colin Henson said in a statement after the project cancellation.

Instead, the government axed the contract and started from square one with a new tender, one that was won by Cubic and is set to be rolled out by the end of 2012.

Of course, the court still has to look into ERG's claims. The Department of Transport told the SMH that the contract was terminated because ERG failed to deliver the project on time. I hope that the department's right, because ERG reportedly obtained a court order that allows it to inspect 2007 and 2008 Cabinet minutes for the trial. I also hope it's right, because it would annoy me as a commuter if a system on the cusp of being ready was canned because the government was afraid of its citizens.

Topics: Government, Emerging Tech, Government : AU, Travel Tech

About

Suzanne Tindal cut her teeth at ZDNet.com.au as the site's telecommunications reporter, a role that saw her break some of the biggest stories associated with the National Broadband Network process. She then turned her attention to all matters in government and corporate ICT circles. Now she's taking on the whole gamut as news editor for t... Full Bio

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