The papers reported this week that the RPA has spent 9.5 million euros on the integrated ticketing system. There’s nothing to show for it. I’m not surprised (and I have been saying this privately for over 3 years).
Here are the problems I saw (three years ago).
– There are no clear requirements for the whole project. Basically this is a project which had no foundation. No one seems to be even able to remember why the system was required in the first place
– The technological basis for the solution (smart cards) seems to have been decided before the requirements and the problem were clearly defined.
– There has been no meaningful consultation about the requirements for this project. Neither the public nor the operators were asked (in a meaningful manner) what they wanted. Everybody involved just seemed to assume that a smartcard system would be the right solution to the problem, even though nobody knew what exactly the problem actually was.
– The transport system is a political football. There is a phony war going on between the government and the unions over the issue. The RPA is stuck in the middle.
As a result, the requirements of the transport system is a rapidly moving target. This makes it basically impossible for the RPA to even figure out even roughly how many companies will actually be involved in integrated ticketing. This makes a big difference to how it is implemented.
– The ‘business rules’ of the system are not clear. It is absolutely impossible to develop a ticketing system without knowing at least roughly what the business rules (which would describe how the funds will be collected and distributed) will be.
– There is too much business risk. No vendor can guarantee the success of the system, because the business issues (i.e., the future structure of the sector) would be completely outside its control. This would appear to be the reason that the tendering processes for the system have collapsed, when the vendors refused to bid and pulled out of the process. This has now happened twice.
– The RPA has almost no maturity as an IT organization and has absolutely no experience with developing major IT systems. I have seen similar situations in my work with another major rail agency (not in Ireland). It is not a pretty situation. You cannot procure IT systems in the same way that you procure railway lines and carriages. The parameters are completely different.
– The system required is technically far beyond anything that has been done before anywhere in the world. It is too complicated and too expensive. Certain implicit requirements (such as the requirement to be able to deal with tens of small bus operators after deregulation) have never been fulfilled by a transport smartcard system anywhere in the world before, and may well be impossible to fulfill.
– There has never been a trial or prototype of integrated ticketing, even though almost 10 million euros has been spent. (There have been trials of smartcards, but they have never been trialled as a means of providing integrated ticketing.)
– There are unrealistic timelines. Realistically, it will take at least 5 years to implement such a complex system (it took longer to implement a much simpler system in London). But the RPA keeps on saying that it will be able to deliver the system within three years. In 2003 it claimed the system would be delivered by 2005, in 2005 it claimed it would be ready for 2007. All of these claims are and were rubbish. There is no way that any of these timelines could possibly have been met.
This project now needs to be stopped, now. It should be frozen until it has meaningful requirements and achievable objectives.
People complain about using consultants, but the RPA needs to get some decent help in to sort this problem out. It simply doesn’t have the skills in-house.
At the same time the promise of a decent integrated ticketing system should not forgotten in all this mess. This type of system is definitely needed. However, we seem to have the wrong approach to the problem.
(I should say that I have no internal information whatsoever about the progress of the project, but I have read all the publicly available information.)