Today’s factually incorrect Myki rant article in The Age didn’t help

I didn’t think I’d write two Myki blog posts in one day, but…

Let me briefly go through the mistakes in this opinion article from The Age today then I’ll get to the real point of this post.

Myki receipts, Flinders Street station

”If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, goes the old adage.

The claim in government circles is that Metcard is broke — at least almost — and needed significant investment to keep it running reliably. I don’t know if they’ve ever presented the evidence to that effect, but given regular cases of cards getting jammed in validators, there seems to be something in it.

The grounds for a new ticketing system were there, if it was likely to: (1) allow passengers to use $5, $10 and $20 notes on trams

Actually the original plan was for Myki to include ticket machines on trams which would accept notes.

It is unknown just how many people have been fined after boarding a tram holding a $10 note, only to discover that a $10 note – legal tender everywhere else in Australia – didn’t buy a tram ticket.

Legal tender does not mean every business selling something has to accept every form of Australian currency. See: No, the law doesn’t demand that Myki accept 5 cent coins, or that Metcard machines accept notes.

Picture this myki utopia: … so you simply whip out your phone, log on to the myki website and transfer credit on to the card, before touching on before the tram has even reached the next stop.

I wonder how he thinks the transaction gets from the Myki web site onto your card? Magic? Actually it gets transferred via wifi when trams (and buses) are in the depot… which is why they say it could take up to 24 hours.

(They should look at upgrading to mobile data of some kind if it’s possible given the load, and at the very least they should make sure updates to fixed readers are available within an hour or two.)

When you transfer funds into your card via the internet, you need to wait up to three days for those funds to be available.

Myki themselves say 24 hours (although they hedge their bets and sometimes say “at least 24 hours”), though I’ve seen it work in about two hours.

Until now, charities, community legal centres and other non-government organisations which provide services to people who are homeless or on extremely low incomes simply provided clients with daily Metcard tickets where the need arose. Now, they are faced with the prospect of providing a $6 myki card, plus fare, to each client for each journey.

I’m not sure why he assumes those people would need a full fare $6 card. Aren’t they more likely to need a $3 concession card (provided they have the relevant proof, such as a Health Care Card)?

In any case, as noted by The Age just last week, NGOs such as charities needing to pay for travel for their clients can use a paper Day Pass.

The bottom of the article notes Mr Marks is a solicitor with the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service — perhaps the Transport Ticketing Authority hasn’t approached them about this. I know the TTA has been talking to a lot of other NGOs on this topic — for over a year now.

Later in the article Mr Marks derides the Myki Fares & Ticketing Manual for its lack of brevity. If he had read it properly, he’d have found on page 43 it details the Day Pass.

As it happens, I’m a great supporter of the Manual. Every PT system in the world has a myriad of business rules behind it. The difference is in Victoria they’ve put it out in the open so anybody can read it. Kudos to the Victorian Government for this.
Myki Pass details

when they ”touch off”, users are not told the amount myki is taking out of their account. They are only given the balance remaining on their account.

This is completely wrong. All Myki devices (apart from the old Metcard gates which are fast vanishing) tell you the current balance as well as the fare just deducted.

On the bright side, at least he didn’t raise the 90 day myth.

(“TheMykiUser” also wrote a blog post about this article… the author of The Age’s piece responded here.)

My point: factually incorrect rants like this are not helping

Myki has problems — some of them, such as the lack of a short term ticket, are really serious.

Mr Marks raises this, but his point is lost in all the misinformation, which undermines the whole article.

The factual errors, which should have been avoidable with a little research (you know, the type of research someone should do when writing for a major newspaper), mean the government (and I mean both the TTA, which is responsible for implementing government policy, and the Minister’s Office, which is responsible for setting it) will probably have dismissed the entire piece out of hand. It gives them the chance to say “well, there’s lots of errors here, the whole thing is rubbish.”

Myki is costing $1.5 billion over ten years, and the level of debate on this should be better.

The real truth is bad enough.

OK… next post tomorrow totally non-PT-related.

Update Friday: Russell has posted a response to this blog post.

Walking etiquette

I hope my kids don’t feel offended when I point out good etiquette to them. I think they probably know it all by now, but sometimes I’ll point it out just to remind them, and sometimes I’ll point it out/affirm their actions a little louder than usual so that others in the vicinity can get the hint — for instance on the escalators at stations: “That’s it boys, stand on the left.”

Narrow footpath, and truck with amusing number plate

Little Lonsdale Street has busy but narrow footpaths. Something I’ve noticed is that some people haven’t figured out that when walking with someone else, it’s rude to take up the whole footpath when you encounter a person coming the other way.

Generally when faced with this, I’ll just stop dead on the left hand side of the path, rather than acquiesce and step aside onto the road. (Well why should I?) They usually take a hint then and grudgingly fall into single file.

(Not as bad: walking slowly 2+ abreast, filling up a footpath, oblivious of others in a hurry trying to overtake you. Still inconsiderate though.)

Health insurance

The Medicare levy surcharge is, in my opinion, an stupid tax designed to force some people into getting private health insurance, whether they want it or not, by taxing them more than the cost of the premium if they don’t, all in order to subsidise the otherwise unprofitable private health industry.

I earn enough to be stung by it, but with the insurers bumping up premiums, it’s getting close to the point where the costs are comparable. My Medibank Private policy (covering myself and the kids, for hospital) jumps about 10% this month to $99.60 per month. By my rough calculations that’s now quite a bit more than the surcharge would cost me.

At the same time the premium jumps, the brochure says a bunch of services that were previously “Restricted” will no longer be covered at all — including major eye surgery, assisted reproductive services, renal dialysis, and hip and knee joint replacement surgery.

Not that I expect to need any of these anyway (in fact, I never, ever, claim anything). But they’ve got some cheek marketing it as giving me “more certainty about the benefits you can receive”.

Dental cover

Meanwhile, we’ve found that Jeremy’s going to need braces. Not that he’s delighted, but he understands that now is the best time to do it, while he’s growing.

I don’t know how much it may end up costing at this stage, but the Australian Society of Orthodontists says fees involved can vary between $4500 and $8000. Ouch. I should find out in a few weeks what I’m looking at, but even if I wanted to join a health fund, there’s a 12 month waiting period for orthodontic benefits.

How much would I get back if I did have major dental cover? Comparing a few of the policies on the government’s private health insurance comparison web site, it would seem that as is typical in this game, the benefits from the fund for orthodontic work are far, far out-weighed by the premiums.

If I wanted that cover, I’d be paying more than $1000 per year more to Medibank, for a maximum benefit of $300 per year (though it may rise a bit each year).

Now, I’m not expecting them to hand out so much money that they go broke. But surely for something for which there is a waiting period, which is a major dental expense, for which you pay a huge extra premium to be covered, and is likely to be once per lifetime for people (if it’s done properly), they could do better than a measly $300 per year? Surely that’s the sort of case where (in that year), the insurance company should pay out more than you’ve been paying in.

Even looking around at other companies’ plans, I could have been paying $2000 per year more than at present, and only be getting 75% of the cost back, which is also not a winning proposition given the cost of the braces is likely to be spread over several years.

Insurance is a little like gambling, but it seems incredibly unlikely that anything will happen other than the private health insurers making money hand over fist.

Perhaps I’m misreading all this information I’m looking at (it’s amazingly complicated; looking through iSelect as well helped a bit), but I come away with the impression that even if you make some claims, private health insurance in Australia is a ripoff, unless you’re chronically unwell and repeatedly claim for a wide range of different services (eg not too much of anything so you hit any annual limits).

And of course these premiums are after the 30% private health insurance rebate has been applied. The rebate is a massive subsidy of the private insurance companies, costing around $4 billion a year — apparently up from $2.6 billion back in 2003-04.

Jeez; I can think of better ways of spending that amount of dosh in the health sector without propping-up inherently unprofitable enterprises, but for all the talk of reform in health, that seems to be one Howard government policy Mr Rudd apparently doesn’t want to roll back.

When the rain comes

You know, there’s a reason they’re called golf umbrellas.

It doesn’t make them suited for crowded CBD footpaths.

And why is it that smaller people seem to like them so much? You’d think they had less body mass that needed rain protection.

Fair enough if multiple people are cowering under them I suppose. But more often than not, it’s just one person.

By the way, I reckon parking inspectors could write loads of tickets if they just turned up to schools at drop-off time (especially when it’s raining) and fined those clueless/selfish people who treat the drop-off zones as regular parking spots.

Smoking rant

One of the funniest things I’ve ever read on the blogosphere was Kathryn, who smokes, ranting about non-smokers. Others must have found it amusing too, as it was nominated for the Best Post on an Australian Blog for that year.

But… I hate smoking.

I know the chemicals in tobacco make smoking incredibly addictive for many people. Having seen people I know try (and fail in some cases) to quit, it can obviously be very difficult.

And I know that most people who smoke are genuinely considerate of others when they do so, and try and avoid getting their smoke everywhere.

But it’s still a disgusting smelly filthy dangerous habit.

Inevitably the God damn smoke gets everywhere, fouling up the air on the footpaths. I don’t want the bloody stuff in my lungs.

And omigod the stink. Do smokers have any idea how feckin’ bad their breath smells? No wonder smokers don’t usually date non-smokers. It’s gross, and it’s not just in the vicinity — the smell from a heavy smoker is like an aura. They get into a lift and the whole thing stinks. Everybody within metres gets the whiff.

Even a quick drink in the pub means your clothes and your hair all have to be washed. And al fresco dining is inevitably accompanied by a smoky haze.

It wouldn’t be so bad if it could be contained. How about the smokers put bags over their heads or something, to stop it going everywhere, and spraying air freshener to cover up the smell? (Heath Robinson drew a cartoon portraying this, but I can’t find a copy of it right now.)

But even if they were just giving themselves lung cancer, why should the huge majority (around 77%) of non-smokers subsidise the humungous cost of lung cancer? Pushing smokers down the surgery priority list? Absolutely! Tax the crap out of them? Yes! Taxes on cigarettes don’t come close to paying the costs. (Old figures: revenue A$3.5b, costs A$6b/year; newer figures show up to A$21b/year costs.) Private health insurance charges higher premiums for smokers — maybe the Medicare levy should be higher too.

I know that most smokers do so because their parents smoked. I suppose I’m lucky mine didn’t.

For anybody who’s trying to quit, I honestly wish you the best of luck.