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that sinking tcard feeling --- by suzanne tin

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    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.

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