Waka Kotahi pays PWC to meld together technologies, then pull them apart

The New Zealand Transport Agency hoped it would save money.
The New Zealand Transport Agency hoped it would save money. Photo credit: RNZ

Story by Phil Pennington of RNZ

Waka Kotahi paid consultant PWC to try to meld together its two new vehicle-spotting technologies, only to have to pull them back apart, documents show.

The Transport Agency wanted to see if it could use the same tech platform for both highway safety speed cameras and tolls, and save money, on a total spend worth over $130 million.

But it found out it couldn't - and the uncertainty has only grown since around the tolling system's design, which has had to be added to multiple times since Waka Kotahi was awarded the tender two years ago.

"The requirements and New Zealand specific customisation were more detailed than originally anticipated," its chief digital officer Liz Maguire said in an OIA response.

"Moving to an agile iterative implementation approach requires a new Statement of Work agreeing the full scope" with the vendor, Spanish firm SICE.

"The ... project team are undertaking commercial negotiations to finalise this with them."

Public agencies were increasingly being encouraged, even ordered, to buy standardised, non-customised IT systems to save money.

SICE was signed up in a 10-year install-and-run deal for $39m in 2022.

At that point, the new toll back-office tech had been expected to be in place within a year.

Without it, the government cannot realise its intent to introduce more tolls to help cover big gaps in road funding.

"The project has moved to an agile iterative delivery model, allowing NZTA to deliver faster and reduce delivery risk.

"This revised implementation approach is expected to start in October 2025," Maguire said.

A dictionary definition of "iterative" was "doing something again and again, usually to improve it".

The government this week announced more powers for Waka Kotahi to take over decisions around the scope and delivery of major road building projects from ministers, to try to cut delays and scope creep

Last year, PWC got paid $112,000 at a rate of $2850 a day for a "programme director" to try to combine the toll and camera back-office systems, a fraction of the $4.2m NZTA paid PWC in 2022-23 for detailed design of six variations for the camera system, the NZTA annual review shows.

Waka Kotahi's total spend with PWC has risen from $4.4m in 2021, to $11.5m last year. This included $3.1m for mostly "customer engagement and change-related activities" on the $1.3 billion national ticketing project.

"NZTA takes a platform approach to digital solutions, with a view to consolidate and re-use platform capability where feasible," the agency told RNZ.

However, that platform approach came late in trying to piggyback the cameras on a toll system that had already had its specifications agreed in mid-2022

"The intent was to realise efficiencies and cost savings by having a singular back-office platform (ie spend a little to save a lot)," the transport agency said in a statement on Tuesday.

It explained that this did not work out because tolls were a revenue platform, and cameras were for processing infringements - like speeding.

One upshot was that this has left the toll system "picking up responsibilities and tasks previously shared with the SCS [camera} programme", the annual review said.

On top of that, SICE had requested "additional requirements" and, changes to digital architecture".

Extra work was going on, to comply with New Zealand data security requirements. The project was "building for additional capability beyond the original scope of the business case".

These requirements were all extra to the specifications for the tolling tech back in 2022, the agency said.

Oddly, the annual review puts the forecast final cost of the toll system replacement at $21m, triple original expectations of less than $7m, but a lot less than the $39m SICE contract. It is not clear, but the higher figure may include operating costs not in the lower figure.

It was envisaged early on that the toll tech could also be used for congestion charging.

That design was now taking place, "to add additional capability, such as facilitating other road pricing schemes", Maguire said.

Auckland expects to introduce congestion charging - or "time-of-use" charges - next year.

As for the speed-safety camera system, the agency refused to release the contract for that to RNZ, on the grounds of "confidentiality provisions" with Arizona company Verra Mobility.

The annual review put the forecast final cost of the system by 2025 at $116m, actually $17m under budget.

The agency last year awarded global consultancy EY a contract worth $1.8m-$2m to be its safety camera system delivery partner.

It also paid an agency, Momentum, $164,000 for "communications support" for the safety camera programme, part of $1.7m spending on communications with contractors in 2022-23.

Analysts and managers went to Australia seven times last year to talk to the vendors about either the toll or camera systems.

The first "smart" cameras that will run on the platform, were installed on a dangerous stretch of Northland highway a few months ago. For now, these are only being used to ping speedsters - but the tech due for nationwide rollout in coming months can do much more than that, such as see inside a car to whether a driver was on the phone or not wearing a seatbelt.