Integrated fares still don’t add up

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    In medialand, tis the season of lists and headlines starting with “Tis the season”.

    Among those lists are the obligatory “word of the year” rewritten press releases from purveyors of dictionaries and further education. 2019, for example, already has a number of “words of the year” including “climate emergency” from Oxford Languages (aka Oxford University Press), the gender non-specific “they” from Merriam Webster and Dictionary.com’s “existential”. It’s clearly been a serious year, has 2019.

    For what it’s worth, my word of 2019 is also somewhat serious – albeit with a slightly nicer way of rolling off the tongue: confusopoly.

    It may not have been coined over the past 12 months, but it was voiced (quite loudly and with some impact) by now Waiheke Local Board member Robin Tucker at June’s ferry hui in Morra Hall in relation to Fullers’ fares. And it struck a chord.

    The term “confusopoly” originated from the pen of satirical cartoonist Scott Adams, whose wry office tales of Dilbert have been tearing strips off corporate culture since the 1990s. It relates to the deliberate complication of pricing structures to ensure that consumers are left baffled as to what is the most efficient or cost-effective solution.

    Typical examples of confusopolies include mobile phone and internet packages. And as someone who struggles to care about fineprint all the way to the end and who uses an iPhone 4 on a plan old enough to make my neighbours’ teenagers guffaw, I completely understand why these businesses would prefer a convoluted consumer landscape.

    In a crowded landscape of multinationals, obfuscation actually helps all of them survive and contributes to keeping prices artificially high.

    But on an island with a single supplier of ferry services to downtown Auckland, there’s surely no reason for such a tangle of ticket prices. This came to a head for me this year as I tried to get my brain around the most efficient way to buy tickets for my weekly commute as I changed from working off-island from four days to three days, and latterly two days.

    Taking ticket prices as they are today, a 40-pass is $530 or $13.25 per trip. Excellent, I know where I am with that. I just have to find $530 and I know exactly how much each trip costs.

    If I can’t find all that money for one purchase, a 10-trip is $153 or $15.30 per trip.

    The complications started to come when I considered the monthly passes, which now cost $372. I used to commute Wednesday to Saturday, which, say, in October or November when I’d have 18 working days in the calendar month, would cost me only $10.33 per trip. In September when I’d only have 16 working days and the cost rose to $11.63. And, this month with stats for Christmas, it would be up to $13.29.

    When I went down to three days a week, those figures changed to $13.29 in October and November, $15.50 in September and $16.91 for December. In other words, it would be cheaper to try to save up and buy a 40-pass. Providing, of course, I didn’t want to go into Auckland on the days I didn’t work, because then I’d be better off sticking to the monthly pass.

    Last weekend’s announcement that, finally, we’re getting some inroads into integrated fares between buses and ferries ought to be a first step into solving some of these mathematical headaches. But somehow, it’s only muddying the waters further.

    For example, now I’m two days a week, I’m clearly best off shunning the monthly pass and going with a 10 or 40-trip multi-pass. But I also have to catch a bus, and that would be $1.95 each way using a HOP card on either side – or $7.80 each day.

    The integrated fare announcement would save me that $7.80 each day, however, only if I use a HOP card for my ferry trip and the cost of a single trip via HOP is $21. The bus ticket savings effectively reduce the ferry cost per trip to $17.10, which is still much more than the 10 or 40-trip tickets.

    Surely there can’t be a ferry journey anywhere in the world in which the passengers in each seat can be paying such disparate amounts for their journeys – and that’s not even considering the difference between tourists and commuters. And while integration goes a long way towards helping lower prices, I can’t help but think that simplicity and transparency would do the job faster.• James Belfield

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