That sinking Tcard feeling

That sinking Tcard feeling

Summary: There's something terribly unsettling about realising that the NSW Government is considering hiring a company to build a new electronic ticketing system which has already put it through the legal wringer for the system's predecessor.


There's something terribly unsettling about realising that the NSW Government is considering hiring a company to build a new electronic ticketing system which has already put it through the legal wringer for the system's predecessor.

Currently, there are two bidders vying for the contract to build an electronic ticketing system now that the Tcard project has been terminated: Germany's Scheidt & Bachmann and the Pearl Consortium (which consists of the Commonwealth Bank, Downer EDI Engineering Power and Cubic Transportation Systems Australia). The latter has been on the sparring grounds with the NSW Government over electronic ticketing before.

When ERG Group subsidiary Integrated Transit Solutions (ITSL) won the Tcard tender back in 2001 to roll out the Tcard, losing bidder Smartpos was not happy. Smartpos was a consortium which consisted of Cubic Transportation Systems and the Commonwealth Bank.

Cubic was so unhappy that it decided to launch legal action against the state of NSW, looking to restrain the government from entering into a contract with ITSL for the ticketing system and to force a reconsideration of the tenders.

Cubic alleged that the process which led to ITSL's selection wasn't fair. The problems included its belief that high levels of government had reached in and improperly involved itself in the decision process, that there were conflicts of interest, that it didn't get enough information on legacy systems and that ITSL received preferential treatment.

However, the case didn't end happily for Cubic, with Justice Adams not only ruling for ITSL and removing the ban on signing the contract, but also launching a scathing attack on the company's conduct. ITSL had presented evidence to support its case that Cubic had wanted to stall the project until it could overturn the government's preference for ITSL or if all else failed, to "kill the Sydney [ticketing project] completely to ensure that the plaintiffs maintained and extended their existing incumbent status with the state rail authority".

The judge wasn't impressed. "It is difficult indeed to see how the court would be justified in directing [the government] to reconsider [Cubic's] tender when its lack of good faith and positive dishonesty have been so devastatingly exposed," he said.

Now Cubic is in the running to again have a go at building a ticketing system for greater Sydney. Cubic has had success building a similar system in Queensland, so I wouldn't say it's unqualified. In addition, its fellow consortium member Downer EDI has a good reputation for building the Perth system and recently winning a contract for the ACT. Yet there's still something that makes me shudder about a competitor which would be such a bad loser as to want to "kill" a project just because it thought it was losing.

I'd also like to know, in light of that older court case, what made Thales (heading up the Glide Consortium which had been the third shortlisted party) pull itself out of the running earlier this year.

Whatever the case is, the one thing I'm certain of is that NSW doesn't need any more litigation over the electronic ticketing system. It's already $5 million down in its current case which seeks to pin down ITSL for failing to deliver on its ticketing promise. So let's hope that whoever is chosen delivers.

Topics: Government, Emerging Tech, Government AU, Legal

Suzanne Tindal

About Suzanne Tindal

Suzanne Tindal cut her teeth at 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 the site.

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  • ERG and the T-card

    I don't understand how anyone could defend ERG. The presumption that drove the court case - that the decision was fundamentally flawed and that ERG couldn't possibly deliver - has been shown to be correct and the whole sorry exercise cost taxpayers $100 million.

    For someone whose blog uses the title 'Going Public' don't you think it ironic that Scheidt and Bachmann is privately-owned and their affairs are far from public? Their biggest claim to fame is they're big in carparks in Europe - and NSW seems to have enough of them already, disguised as tollways.

    I do know that Cubic is behind the Oyster Card in London and having used that, I'd be more than happy to see it replicated here.
  • it's not what it seems ...

    Unless if you worked in ITSL, you would not understand the real cause of the project failing.
    The technology is already difficult enough to implement based on the existing Sydney fare structure - Sydney is much much more complex than other countries (try searching for the numerous fare review reports on the net). But the lack of support from government and politics ultimately caused the demise of the project. Hopefully some of these will be revealed in the court case.

    Cubic might be behind Oyster card in London, but ERG has put in Octopus card in Hong Kong which is by far the most successful in the world.
  • NSW govt the problem

    ERG had a good product. It was the NSW govt that broke the back of the project with their strict guidelines to support legacy ticket systems in what must be the most complicated fare structure in the southern hemisphere. Every other city that has successfully implemented an e-ticket system has made the fare structure straight forward, fair and simple. NSW does not have and never will have a simple system because of it's vote buying in outlying poorer suburbs combined with a transport system managed by too many different agencies.
  • It's out of date anyway.

    The current electronic ticketing system used by State Rail NSW was out of date BEFORE it was even introduced. I know--I typed up the report back in the 80s.

    The vending machines are ridiculously unreliable at reading bank notes. A single crease in a note can lead to rejection. If your fare is only $5, but all you have is a $20 note that the machine keeps rejecting, your are not legally allowed to board a train! The number of "unmanned" rail stations is growing making rail travel less and less of an attractive proposition. They can't afford to put a Station Master on to manually sell tickets, but they can fork out a fortune on Security Guards to protect the vending machine!

    The number of tickets swallowed by the 'gates' is totally unacceptable--and again there's no one available to retrieve and verify that the ticket was valid.
  • NSW government is playing politics

    I agree!

    But NSW government is arguing "there is no term in the contract to require the fare system to be simplifed"...
    Hopefully ERG can provide some solid evidence to support its case.
  • DON'T DO IT!!

    Look at Victoria's Myki system. Doesn't the NSW government have enough dogsh*t on its shoes already?
  • Bring Back Edmondson Tickets

    Edmondson tickets don't need a special reader and has been in use since 1842.
  • Absurdly costly

    Such tickets basically made the cost of fares barely cover the cost of providing the tickets, let alone contribute to the cost of actually running the transport system.

    The Vic pre-Myki system has been around for over a decade, with its multi-mode zones with credit card purchasing, yet NSW is only just getting to it. Why didn't they just buy the Vic system after some of the idiosychrasies had been ironed out?

    I was involved in the implementation of the Vic system, and despite some cheap tricks (not-Y2K and poor management information integration) pulled by the building consortium (Fujitsu, ERG and Mayne), it is far better for travellers than the mess that is operating in Sydney.