A simple example - each public transit system needs a way of letting people purchase long-term tickets/passes. And currently each city develops its own scheme: London has the Oyster card, Manchester has the "get me there" card, Scotland has the Saltire card, etc. Taxpayers are effectively paying duplicate costs on a system that works pretty much the same in all cities and could have been reused without investing into R&D all over again. And I'm not even mentioning the hundreds of equivalent systems throughout the EU, which were also effectively reinventing the wheel again.

So why don't governments license their existing technical solutions to each other? Surely it would save a lot of money and headache?

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    You're striking onto a much deeper question which I will explain thusly: If the government owns everything than we all own nothing. – easymoden00b Jun 5 '17 at 21:09
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    @easymoden00b I don't think I see how it applies here? – JonathanReez Jun 5 '17 at 21:11
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    This is known as "Not Invented Here" (although there may be other factors as well). – user11249 Jun 5 '17 at 21:17
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    @easymoden00b I don't understand how that's relevant. The government already owns the ticketing systems, he's just asking why they don't license them to each other. – JonK Jun 5 '17 at 21:23
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    Re "Taxpayers are effectively paying duplicate costs...", I think that's pretty much the answer. Each local authority now has a lucrative contract that it can hand out, with possibilities of either lining their pockets directly, or obtaining indirect political influence to help ensure their re-election. Saving money for taxpayers is WAY down the list of government priorities. – jamesqf Jun 6 '17 at 18:33

You are mistaken about revenue collection systems for public transport (and many other technologies or indeed public services themselves). The Oyster card was one of the very first of these electronic pays-as-you-go systems (after Hong Kong's Octopus) and might have required significant R&D (I don't know) but most middle-size cities buy the technology (or key parts of it) off-the-shelf not from other cities but from large companies who specialise in serving the governmental sector (including my employer).

Each local transport authority or agency will have many specific requirements about everything from accessibility and fare structure to means of payment based on local geography and sociology, politics and even rules defined decades ago. That's why it's a little more complicated than just installing consumer software but it's certainly not like rolling out a completely new solution with bespoke technology every time. The relevant transport authority might also contract out the maintenance or back-office (things like a call centre to handle complaints), possibly to the same company.

Cities and local authorities also routinely receive visits from local politicians and experts facing similar problems at the other end of the world (e.g. going to Hong Kong to see how the Octopus system works on the ground) and are typically quite open about innovations like this one (certainly compared to your average technology company) so there is a lot of knowledge sharing going on at this level. But since the technology often belongs to the contractor, the city or government typically isn't allowed to share it.

Now, if your question is why there is a distinct brand in each city and no nationwide inter-operability, that's an entirely different question. I know only one system offering this (the Dutch OV-chipkaart system, which was developed to replace an older nationwide paper ticket system) but it is very very complicated to pull this off, not from a technology point-of-view but from a policy and funding point-of-view.

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    Also there are different requirements all over the place. Using just one technology for them all, might just fail. It would have to be a super-flexbile technology, more like a framework. – Trilarion Jun 6 '17 at 11:42
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    @Trilarion That's usually what it is anyway, and often with components from different providers. – Relaxed Jun 6 '17 at 13:16

So why don't governments license their existing technical solutions to each other? Surely it would save a lot of money and headache?

The assumption in this question that governments own the technical solutions that they use is the exception rather than the rule. Mostly, governments buy technological solutions from private businesses that are in the business of selling solutions to governments (ideally, as many as possible). The governments license the technologies from the businesses so that the technologies are not the governments' to sell.

In fact, it is frequently the case that homegrown in house technological solutions (e.g. election software developed in house by Larimer County, Colorado which is home to Fort Collins, Colorado) is profoundly cheaper and better suited to the needs of that government than comparable technologies purchased from third party vendors. The same is frequently true of in house v. outside contracted technologies used by the military.

But, most governments simply do not have the in house R&D resources to handle technology projects that are not very straight forward. The more sophisticated the technology, the less likely it is that a government will be capable of developing it in house and thus, the less likely it is that a government will own a technology that it can license.


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