If you live in Wellington and travel by bus you probably own a Snapper card and use it to pay your fare. You may also use it to pay for coffees, snacks and other small items.
A Snapper card looks just like a credit card, but without the magnetic strip or raised type. It is the same size, shape and thickness, and is also made of plastic.
Inside though is some very high-powered technology. Really it works like a tiny computer.
A proximity chip
Inside the card is a tiny computer chip and an aerial. It works in conjunction with a reader. When you touch your card against the reader, the reader supplies power to the chip and exchanges a lot of information with the card.
Among other things the reader tells your Snapper card where you got on or off the bus, and deducts the amount of the fare from the balance stored on your card.
You can read the full details about what it is and how it works at the Snapper website.
Now this isn’t actually an advertisement for Snapper. Instead I want to point out a new technology that is becoming part of our daily lives.
The Total Mobility Scheme
The Total Mobility Scheme subsidises taxi travel for certain people who are unable to use public transport. In the Wellington Region thousands of eligible people have been issued with a modified version of the Snapper card.
This special card also includes a Photo ID, and can be used in taxis. The travel information from those users is sent directly from the card reader to a central database which is easily able to track the spending on the subsidy scheme.
Many community organisations help administer the Total Mobility Scheme. They liaise with individuals who are entitled to the special cards and update their details in the database.
Thousands of vouchers are gone
The new system replaces thousands of paper vouchers that used to be required, and all the handling and delays that went with them.
The Wellington Regional Council, who administer the funding on behalf of the Government, will now be able to more easily and more quickly track how the subsidy is being used.
Participating community organisations will be able to easily identify anomalies in travel patterns.
They may for example see that Mrs Smith has not used the travel card for a couple of weeks. This may trigger a visit to check that Mrs Smith is okay.
A model for others
It’s early days for the new electronic scheme. It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out, and whether this system will be picked up in other parts of the country too.
Note: I was involved in training the community organisations to work with the database.
Written by Miraz Jordan for, and reproduced from CommunityNet Aotearoa Panui, September 2010. This article has been modified for publication here.