Hardly any money on your #Myki? You can still travel – but beware of the caveats

Just a little tip — because it seems a lot of people don’t know this:

For metropolitan services, you can touch-on a Myki and travel with any balance which is non-negative, that is, zero or above.

It doesn’t matter if the card balance is less than the fare.

This means if you find yourself needing to catch a tram, with only tiny amount on your card, and nowhere to top-up (thanks to the retrograde step of removing ticket machines from trams) or a long queue, then you can still take one trip and top-up later.

(I touched-off to show how it works. You don’t normally need to touch-off trams.)

Your next touch will send the balance into negative.

You can’t touch-on again (even if you didn’t touch-off) until the balance is brought back above zero.

With a negative balance, you can’t use the remainder of the fare that started when you touched-on, because you haven’t paid for it yet.

And the rules are a bit different for V/Line, where you do need to have funds to cover your trip.

Those gotchas aside, this is useful when you find yourself without the fare you need, and nowhere convenient to top-up — as long as the card balance is zero or above.

By the way, Auto Top-up is pretty neat. A lot about Myki is stuffed, but after some false starts (particularly the one about killing the card if the payment is rejected – WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?!) Auto Top-up is one of the things about it that actually works okay.

Update 7pm: The legalities

Following some feedback on this post, I checked back with the Fares and Ticketing Manual to confirm my recollection was correct — which it is:

Minimum requirements for travel

Travel in one or two zones

In order to touch on and commence travel, customers travelling in only one or two zones must have on their myki a myki money balance of at least $0.00.

If a customer’s myki has a valid myki pass or other valid product and a negative myki money balance, the myki is not valid for travel or entry to designated areas in zones for which the myki pass or other product is valid until the myki money balance has been topped up to at least $0.00.

Fares and Ticketing Manual, Page 55

The Manual is gazetted, so it is a legal document.

What’s interesting however is that the Transport (Ticketing) Regulations appear to contradict this:

A person who is travelling in a passenger vehicle must have in his or her possession a ticket that is valid for the whole of the person’s travel in that passenger vehicle.

Transport (Ticketing) Regulations 2006, Reg 6

and specifically that you’re meant to make sure your ticket is valid for travel, which includes:

to have recorded on the myki sufficient value to pay for the whole of the travel

Reg 12

Regulation 12 also lists defences to this include the usual taking all reasonable steps. So walking past a working ticket machine may not be defensible, but boarding at a tram stop with no top-up facility (and none nearby) presumably would be.

Still, consider yourself warned.

New fares – comparing cost per kilometre

While some are hailing the government’s plan (backed by Labor) to apply zone 1 fares (as a maximum) right across Melbourne, I thought it might be worth looking at the per kilometre cost for various trips — including some V/Line trips.

The table below shows a sample of trips, both with the current fares, and the proposed ones (assuming no overall rise on 1/1/2015).

Journey Distance Zone(s) Current From 2015
km Cost (peak) Cost/km Zone(s) Cost (peak) Cost/km
Richmond to City 1.5 2.6 1 $3.58 $2.39 $1.38 1 $3.58 $2.39 $1.38
Malvern to City 8.9 1 $3.58 $0.40 1 $3.58 $0.40
Oakleigh to City 15.3 1 $3.58 $0.23 1 $3.58 $0.23
Clayton to City 19.3 2 $6.06 $0.31 1 $3.58 $0.19
Dandenong to City 30 2 $6.06 $0.20 1 $3.58 $0.12
Pakenham to City 57 2 $6.06 $0.11 1 $3.58 $0.06
Werribee to City 32.4 2 $6.06 $0.19 1 $3.58 $0.11
Lara to City 57.5 2 $6.06 $0.11 1 $3.58 $0.06
Geelong to Melbourne City 72.5 4 $11.20 $0.15 4 $11.20 $0.15
North Geelong to Werribee 37.6 2 $3.60 $0.10 2 $3.60 $0.10
Geelong to Werribee 40.1 3 $2.94 $0.07 3 $2.94 $0.07

What I find interesting is that once the change takes effect, the cost per kilometre will vary by up to a factor of 40 23 — with passengers from Richmond to the City paying $2.39 $1.38 per kilometre, but Pakenham to City paying just 6 cents. Stations like Oakleigh and Malvern are somewhere in the middle.

As you can see, there are some other interesting things to note:

  • Geelong to Werribee is cheaper than North Geelong to Werribee, both currently and under the proposed change. This is because the former is a 3-zone fare, which automatically attracts an off-peak discount at all times, because the trip doesn’t go into zone 1.
  • Currently the Clayton to City cost is 31 cents/km, almost 50% higher than the Oakleigh figure, and three times the Pakenham to City figure. It’ll still be much higher than the Pakenham figure.
  • I’m told V/Line Zone 2 stations are included in the change — which I think is unwise. It’s not hard to see how stations like Lara are about to suffer a LOT of car park pressure. Once the change comes in, the per-km and monetary cost from Lara to Melbourne will be about a third that of Geelong.
  • Thanks to the zone 3 removal in 2007, Lara is already in zones 2, 3 and 4. It would seem it’s also going to be in zone 1 from January!
  • Train arrives at Geelong station

    Regional town buses

    While I was looking, I had a snoop around the regional town bus maps, to see if any of them were stuck with two-zone bus trips where Melbourne will only pay a maximum of one zone.

    When the Myki zones were devised, they were wise enough to put just about the entirety of each town within a single zone (with some areas in overlaps of other zones).

    Geelong is in zone 4, Seymour zone 6/7 overlap, Traralgon zone 12/13 overlap, Bendigo zone 14, and so on. So almost every local bus trip in Victorian cities (at least those covered by Myki) is a single zone trip, $2.20.

    One exception is at Ballarat: its bus route 9 to Creswick crosses from zone 8 (Ballarat) into zone 9. This means the 14 minute, 18 km trip from Ballarat Station to Creswick town centre is a two-zone trip, costing $3.60 — about the same cost as Melbourne zone 1. All other Ballarat bus routes are within zone 8.

    Point to point charging?

    I should note that comparing the per kilometre costs are not an attempt to implicitly say that point-to-point fares would work better or more fairly, though I know some people support them.

    The poor implementation of Myki also means it’s unlikely we’ll ever see point-to-point charging while it’s around. Slow touch times mean re-introducing touch-off to trams would play havoc with loading times, even in the suburbs. And Myki’s GPS units seem to be hopeless when it comes to accuracy. (Curiously, Smartbus GPS units are excellent.)

    Point-to-point also isn’t necessarily good policy. It needs to be very carefully implemented not to penalise people who go from A to B via C because the network is designed so that they have to — interchanging between services is already a necessary pain for many trips — you shouldn’t charge people more money for it.

    And the bottom line is politically we’re probably stuck with the mostly-flat-fares in Melbourne for a few years at least.

    So if we’re stuck with it, let’s embrace it: Rejoice that Zone 1 types can explore Zone 2 for no extra cost! Embrace that you won’t need to get your Myki out for tram rides in the CBD! Celebrate the removal of the need to touch-off for most people!

    Update: Tom pointed out in a comment that my distance from Richmond to Flinders Street was wrong. Whoops. Corrected.

The curse of dead running – enemy of the passenger

One of the issues in public transport is “dead running“. This blog post cites a local example, but it’s a widespread issue.

At various times of day, trams trains and buses move out of service between their runs and their depots or stabling. This is dead running.

This is dead running.

Out of service bus

Sometimes this is taken to extremes. Most route 600/922/923 buses run out of a depot in Sandringham, but apparently because of lack of space, some buses run Out Of Service right across town to/from another depot in Footscray! (At least they did when the route was run by Melbourne Bus Link. It’s recently been taken over by TransDev, who may have changed it.)

My local route the 703 is run out of Ventura Buses’ South Oakleigh depot. The route runs from Brighton to Blackburn. In the 703′s case, Dead Running to and from Brighton is along the most direct road, which also happens to be along the route: Centre Road. I would think this is a pretty common scenario.

Thus we get sights like this: people in the morning peak waiting at Bentleigh station for a bus to Brighton… perhaps their bus is delayed thanks to the long run from Blackburn (troubleprone despite the theoretical traffic priority Smartbuses are meant to have). Often when a bus turns up, it’s going to Brighton all right, but it’s not in service — yes, they do dead running in peak hour.

703 bus stop, Bentleigh

Likewise eastbound in the evenings there’s a big gap in the service between 7:33pm and 8:41pm… there’s a bus in between (at about 7:51) which runs out of service back to the depot.

The most obvious solution is to run more of these buses in service.

Stopping to pick up and drop off passengers would add to the run times of course, so you wouldn’t want to do it across the board — there will be times when it’s necessary to get vehicles to and from their runs as quickly as possible.

But if there are known gaps in the schedule, due to the timetable or regular delays, then it’d help those passengers a lot, even if it meant extending the run time slightly. Big benefit for little cost.

I was told some years ago by a senior bus planner that in regional cities, Myki had reduced the number of cash transactions on buses, and sped up run times — and that was before sales of individual tickets were scrapped. The silver lining in the cloud that is Myki is that we now have vastly reduced numbers of transactions on buses.

Theoretically bus run times should be faster now than in the Metcard days. And making Out Of Service buses run in service may make little difference to running times in many cases, thus almost no extra cost for those extra services.

It’s time those waiting passengers saw some benefit from that.

Good news – they quietly fixed a #Myki problem. Touch-on with zero balance now possible.

Happy new year.

A few months ago I wrote that allowing a Myki touch-on with a zero balance would bring numerous benefits.

Myki reader, Mckinnon stationWell in the brand shiny new 2014 PTV Fares And Ticketing Manual appears a small but important change. Unlike the doom and gloom of fare rises, this is a positive.

Yep, you guessed it.

In order to touch on and commence travel, customers travelling in only one or two zones must have on their myki a myki money balance of at least $0.00.

– PTV Fares and Ticketing Manual, page 55

Previously the minimum balance needed was 1 cent.

Benefits from allowing touch-on with zero balance

While there is a risk that now more cards will be thrown away after use, this change is a win, for all the reasons I flagged in October:

  • Myki can be used as a defacto single use ticket (for $6 $7 full fare/$3 $4 concession*, with no transfers possible except between trains where you don’t have to exit the station). Of course, if you’re making another trip, it’ll be cheaper to top-up and reuse the card.
    It remains to be seen if PTV want to promote this. They might consider too much revenue would be lost.
    Update: *note that buying at a machine or station booking office, you do have to top up with at least a dollar, so the cost is effectively $7 or $4, a dollar higher than the cost of just the card.
  • You can now load your card with the exact fare required, rather than as previously, the fare plus a little bit to ensure the balance stayed at 1 cent or above. This is now much more intuitive
  • It resolves the problems of no free travel without an above zero balance

Hopefully it works as described from today.

See also: Update 12/1/2014.

Continue reading

Public transport fare changes next year – will they have unintended consequences?

Most years there’s a public transport price rise. This year it’s a little more complicated – a number of other changes have been announced. The Budget Update delivered on Friday included some tweaks to the fare system.

But they may have an unintended effect on patronage.

New Myki advertising on stations

Fare increases

A number of changes will be made to public transport fares to ensure continued improvements in service delivery. These include the following.

Public transport fares will increase by CPI plus 2.5 per cent from 2015 to 2018, contributing to ongoing investment in the network.

The rise for 2014 is just CPI, which ABS figures show is 2.2%.

Four CPI plus 2.5 per cent rises in a row means an overall increase of (if my maths is correct) 10.4% in real terms, following CPI plus five per cent rises in 2012 and 2013, originally planned by Labor, but kept by the Coalition.

These new rises will chip away about half of the discount everybody got when forced off single Metcard tickets onto the (bulk price) Myki fares, and will put a zone 1 two-hour full fare (the standard fare for most tram trips, of any distance, even just a couple of stops) up at over $4.

The full price list for 2014 is here. Notable is that the zone 1+2 two hour fare (the “default fare” for metropolitan trains) in 2014 will be $6.06, which is slightly over the $6 cost of a Myki card — assuming this doesn’t rise (it hasn’t been mentioned). This means that for the first time, if you have under 6 cents on your card, it’s cheaper to make a two-zone trip, throw the card away and buy a new one. Not that that’s using the system as intended. Few people would regularly get a balance of such a small amount, and one would hope not many would go through that inconvenience for the sake of a few cents.

Weekend cap increase

The public transport weekend daily fare cap will be adjusted to $6 from 1 January 2014. The current weekend daily cap on all metropolitan public transport travel provides a significant discount to weekend travel compared to the daily weekday fare. An increase to the daily weekend cap to $6 for Zone 1 and 2 travel will better align weekend and weekday fares while still providing value for weekend travellers.

This is a big jump from $3.50 to $6.

There is no separate concession cap; it’s the same $6. That means there’s almost no discount at all for concession travellers who are not using Seniors fares, as the maximum normal fare for them is $6.06. Ditto for zone 1-only full fare travellers, about a dollar’s discount if they travel all day.

The Weekend Saver daily cap (which also applies on public holidays), originally introduced at $2.50 on Sundays only, has been cited as a big factor in increasing weekend patronage.

It will have an interesting effect on event crowds.

For those going to big events (for instance the Showgrounds, football or cricket) on the weekend, the current $3.50 weekend cap effectively means you get a full day’s travel for the price of one trip. Thus currently the price of a trip to the game pays for the trip home as well. This means that if due to crowds you can’t touch-off on the way to the game, or can’t touch-on again on the way home, you’ve paid your way (though the legalities are unclear), and you also are prevented inadvertently paying more than you should.

With a higher cap, a zone 1 traveller arriving at the game who touches-off will be charged the $3.58 one way fare. If they can’t touch-on travelling home, they’ve inadvertently fare evaded.

A Zone 1 concession traveller will want to make sure they touch-off and on correctly, or they may end up paying more than necessary.

Will the authorities try harder (eg install more gates and readers) to get passengers to touch-on and off at major events? It remains to be seen. The Richmond station exit to AAMI Park and the tennis centre, for instance, has very few Myki readers, and last time we were at the Showgrounds (for PAX), barely any were available.

Here's the New #PTV #Myki tram stop signage

Bye bye to the zone 2 weekend free rides for Passes

It’s only thanks to the low weekend cap fare and a quirk of how Myki calculates fares that Zone 1 Pass holders currently get free rides in Zone 2 on weekends. (Some may recall that at one stage, it was actually giving you money back for travelling further.)

With the weekend cap rising, it’s expected that Zone 1 Pass holders will pay $2.42 extra to travel in zone 2. (The $6 weekend cap minus the $3.58 zone 1 fare.)

This is a removal of a benefit going back to the pre-Metcard paper ticket days, when paper periodical tickets were valid in any zone on weekends (and you could bring your family along for free as well), as a way of encouraging use of the system when spare capacity was available, and rewarding the public transport system’s most loyal customers. Note that due to the pricing, this zone benefit has already disappeared for concession and zone 2-only users.

For all-week travellers, it makes Passes more cost-competitive

Removing most of the discount for weekend/public holiday zone 1 and concession users has the effect of making Passes (which are for consecutive days, and thus include weekends) more cost-effective for passengers who regularly travel more than four days a week.

Previously the Pass price per day for full fare passengers was more than the Weekend Cap, so many would buy 33-day passes to try and avoid paying for weekends (whether or not they intended to travel). I expect many who don’t use public transport on weekends will continue to do that. (More on this from TheMykiUser.)

Two hour fares exactly two hours

Two hour fares will expire exactly two hours after touch on from 1 July 2014. Currently, two hour public transport fares expire two hours from the start of the next full hour. The fare change reduces complexity and is easier to administer than rounding to the start of the next full hour.

“easier to administer”? This sounds highly unlikely given the software has handled it fine since 2009, possibly earlier. Will it mean touch times are a millisecond or two faster?

Given the expiry time was originally whole hours because of limitations with paper tickets, it’s not entirely surprising that they’d do this. Arguably it’s easier to understand.

Will it mean some people wait at the station outside the paid area and all rush to touch-on just as the train arrives? Who knows.

Can you remember that your fare expires at 3:41pm exactly? Since no useful information is provided on the card itself, it’d be nice if the reader software was modified to display it, but I wouldn’t count on it.

Expiry applies to touch-on. It’s important to note that if a fare expires while you’re travelling, you don’t incur another fare if you touch-off at the end of your trip after the expiry time. It’s only the touch-on that needs to be before the expiry to avoid paying another fare.

It also won’t effect you’re trying to finish your trip and your train is late, as long as you touched-on before the expiry time.

But it will have an effect on people who want to watch their pennies and do short two-way trips, perhaps down to the shops or doctor and so on.

It’s worth noting that once upon a time, all zones had three hour fares, in other words between 3:00 hours and 3:59. This was switched back to two hours in 1993.

The after 6pm benefit?. At present fares that start after 6pm last until 3am. At this stage it’s not clear if this is staying. The PTV web site mentions it only in the context of paper tickets used in regional towns.


Rumours flying around suggested the Earlybird fare (free train rides before 7am on weekdays) was to have been scrapped from January 2014.

This did not eventuate, but other rumours suggest it would happen in 2015 instead. It might explain why the fare changes are expected to increase revenue by just $21.1 million in 2014-15, but $46.4 million in 2015-16. (Budget Update page 130)

That’ll be one to watch, as if it happens, it could have a big effect on peak hour train demand.


It’s difficult to see where they’re coming from with the changes for 2014, other than they seem to be aiming to try to increase revenue and improve cost recovery.

But is increasing prices the only way to do that? And does it risk reducing patronage, and end up not actually increasing revenue?

In recent years with very cheap weekend caps and other initiatives, there was clearly an aim to increase patronage, particularly at times when there was spare capacity on the system. Perhaps it was “too successful”, with weekend train crowding triggering ten minute services on the busiest lines.

But isn’t that a good situation to be in? More people travelling more efficiently on public transport instead of driving, leading to more services (read: better use of our substantial infrastructure), leading to more passengers?

Perhaps $3.50 was too cheap, but it did mean that taking a family group out on the weekend (another benefit previously given to periodical holders) was cost-competitive with driving. A more saleable plan would have been to bump it to say $4.50, then have it creep up, accompanied by well-publicised service upgrades, for instance more lines going to every ten minutes.

And the two hour thing? Well that’ll have little effect on 9-5 commuters, but may hit the less well-off hardest.

Overall it remains to be seen what effect this package of changes will have on patronage, particularly on weekends.

And it’ll be interesting to see what Labor says about all this. Will they reverse any of this? So far they seem to be non-committal.

Some phones can read #Myki cards. Could you one day check your expiry/balance on a phone?

For anybody with an NFC (Near Field Contact)-compatible phone (such as my new Google Nexus 5), you can use the this little app — Tag Info Lite to read Myki cards.

Not that it’ll tell you very much — see below. All the actual useful information appears to be encrypted.

Myki card seen on an NFC mobile phone, using NXP TagInfo Android App

Apparently in some parts of the world an unencrypted copy of the card balance/status is also stored, allowing apps that will let you check your balance. For instance Farebot works with cards from Seattle, San Francisco, Singapore, the Netherlands and parts of Japan, and Travel Card Reader looks similar.

Shame Myki doesn’t appear to have this option, not even in PTV’s own apps — though I guess in theory they and/or Keane could do it, given they issue devices to Authorised Officers to do card checks.

With the old Metcards, you could easily see the expiry date(s) as it was printed on the card itself.

This is an opportunity, of course. As more phones include this technology, perhaps a future (hopefully minor) upgrade could allow people to check their card balance or fare expiry in this way.

(Some apps claim to do this with Myki, but what they’re really doing is checking your online account, which is not necessarily up to date — the card is the point of truth.)

Myki card seen on an NFC mobile phone, using NXP TagInfo Android App

Myki card seen on an NFC mobile phone, using NXP TagInfo Android App

Oh, and here’s what I get from a Brisbane Go Card:


Keep Calm And Catch Public Transport – #Myki holders from Travellers Aid

Travellers Aid do good work helping those who need a little extra assistance getting around.

They have a fundraiser on at the moment: Myki card holders, for $2.50 postage and handling, and they invite you to add a donation (which I did).

My sister loves the Keep Calm meme, so I got this one for her birthday:

"Keep Calm And Use Public Transport" Myki card holder from Travellers Aid

I didn’t even notice before seeing the photograph — check the crown!

The beauty of it is you can keep your Myki card in the holder, and touch on and off from there.

Alas you can only order one of each type… I’m tempted to place some more orders for this specific one.

Order yours here

Allowing #Myki touch-on with zero balance could mostly solve the no single use ticket problem

From the (hopefully) easy to change, but quite beneficial department:

What if they ditched the rule that to touch-on a Myki (without an active Pass on it) you need at least 1 cent, and made it zero instead?

Here's the New #PTV #Myki tram stop signage

Why would they allow touch-on with $0.00? Well…


Myki cards would become a de facto single use ticket: You could touch-on, make a single trip, then touch-off, sending the balance into negative. You’d have to top-up if you wanted to use it again. So a single trip becomes $6 for full fare, $3 concession — in other words, a premium from the typical Z1 2-hour full-fare of $3.50.

(It wouldn’t resolve the problems of no single trip ticket on trams, given no sales on-board, and only a minority of tram stops having vending machines, but would help passengers on trains, and buses — assuming they’re still selling cards on buses; this was done at the start of the year but isn’t mentioned on the official info now.)

It gets around the exact fare top-up problem. It’s incredibly confusing that when buying a new card, you have to top-up with a little bit more than the fare. For instance if you have $3.50 on your card, you can’t use the weekend daily $3.50 fare all day, because it stops working when the card balance falls to zero, which might be as soon as straight after one trip.

It would resolve the free travel on no balance problem which famously resulted in thousands of Seniors Myki cards (valid for free weekend travel in Melbourne) being withdrawn and re-issued with 1 cent of balance. This issue also affects others, for instance those with a full fare Zone 1 Myki Pass trying to travel into zone 2 on weekends (which should be free) have problems if their balance is zero.


People might throw the cards away after one trip. That means wasted cards/lost revenue. How much do cards cost? Not clear, though this web site quotes numerous manufacturers in China supplying MiFare DESFire EV1 cards at under US$1 each if bought in bulk. (Is that legit? Are these unauthorised clone products based on that from the NXP/Mifare people, or do NXP just supply a reference design which anybody can manufacture?)

Cards thrown away may not be too much of a problem though, if people are aware that their subsequent trips are cheaper if they hold onto it.

The card cost will need to stay above the cost of a two zone 2-hour fare (currently $5.92), which probably means a price rise this coming January. But I’d expect it to go up anyway, as currently you can run down the balance to as little as one cent and still make one trip.

Am I missing anything?