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'10 years too late': experts split on move to smartcard ticket system

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Asher Moses

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AS SYDNEY residents trial new transport smartcards, other cities are moving fast on ticket systems that won't need them.

But while one analyst says the Opal cards are ''10 years too late'' due to the rise of mobile phone and contactless credit/debit card payment systems, other experts say that after a long history of electronic ticketing debacles in NSW, the government is right to play it safe with a mature and tested technology first.

Guy Cranswick, an analyst with Australian firm Intelligent Business Research Services (IBRS), said the Opal smartcard was "old technology and already being replaced around the world".

Mr Cranswick published a report in October looking at mobile ticketing, focusing particularly on the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority in the US which earlier this year rolled out a smartphone app-based system.

He also pointed to Transport for London's decision to support "swipe and go" contactless credit/debit card payments from next year. Mr Cranswick believes that if electronic ticketing is to be rolled out for the whole network in 2015, the government must test new technologies beyond smartcards, which he says will be cheaper for the taxpayer and more mature by 2015.

Professor Corinne Mulley, the University of Sydney's chair in public transport, said the previous TCard fell over because of the complex fare system but now that the new MyZone fares had been introduced the government could move forward with "tried and tested" smartcard technology.

"I don't think I would agree [with Cranswick] … other countries and other cities are looking for additional ways of making it possible for people to pay their fares [but] I believe these are largely on top of a smart card system rather than to substitute for it," she said.

Professor Mulley said the real test for smart card technology in NSW would be when it is adopted across different operators and for multi-modal journeys.

Harold Dimpel, the chief executive officer of Australian mobile payments firm mHITs, said mobile phones were not yet ready for mass transit ticketing while smartcards were "ubiquitous and reliable".