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    Linton Besser Transport Reporter
    February 19, 2008


    IT HAS come to this: the State Government will buy the relics of Brisbane's obsolete ticketing system after ending an eight-year dream of a transport smartcard.

    As Brisbane joins Perth and moves to its own Tcard, Translink, Brisbane's transport authority, has confirmed the NSW Government is trying to obtain 300 of Brisbane's 15-year-old magnetic stripe machines to bolster Sydney's ageing system.

    The purchase - a month after the Transport Minister, John Watkins, terminated the Government's contract with the Tcard developer, ERG Limited - shows the Government is trying to patch together a ticketing system that is in tatters.

    Thousands of public and private buses are using obsolete ticket machines which need to be replaced.

    And rail commuters continue to face long queues at CityRail stations partly because its ticket machines often break down.

    In the month to last Wednesday, there were 691 recorded breakdowns of the 460 ticket machines across the network.

    CityRail says it is trying to reduce ticket queues, including using roving ticket sellers, but an overhaul of magnetic stripe ticketing systems has been put off for almost a decade in the hope the Tcard would make it redundant.

    The decision to axe ERG sent its share price down. ERG remains in a trading halt with shares at 4.5 cents.

    But now the State Government has to renegotiate with the Perth company an expired maintenance contract for about 4000 ageing bus ticket machines, which use ERG technology from 1993.

    ERG's director of operations, Steve Gallagher, said they had a steadily worsening failure rate. "[That] ticketing equipment is well past its design life," he said. "It is two generations old."

    State Transit may need to contract ERG staff to integrate the 300 Brisbane machines so that they fit Sydney's buses.

    Taxpayers could be forced to subsidise private buses if old ticketing machines fail to properly record fares.

    A Ministry of Transport spokeswoman, Chrissy Flanagan, said the bus operators' contracts with the ministry would allow them to claim losses from revenue leakage.

    She added that this was because ERG failed to deliver the new ticketing system on time, but a some of the delay was the Government's fault.

    The Bus and Coach Association estimates that a third of the 2500 private buses that service Sydney use ticket machines that are obsolete and that have been cannibalised to keep them going.

    Half the fleet report difficulties servicing ageing but not yet obsolete equipment, and the association says the entire industry will need a replacement system within 18 months.


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