#Myki. It’s as simple as Touch on (unless you don’t have to), and Touch off (only if you need to).

I noted this new Myki signage on trams, reflecting the free CBD tram zone from January:

Myki signage on trams, December 2014

Once it was a simple message: Top up, touch on, touch off.

Now it’s top up, touch on (unless you don’t need to) and touch off (only if you need to).

From the PTV FAQ, it’s clear that they haven’t reprogrammed Myki for the free zone. If you touch on and/or off within it, you will be charged for zone 1, as now. If you do touch on in the tram free zone and want a refund, they say you need to touch off (also in the free zone) then you can contact them for a refund. Bear in mind that if you’re making non-free trips elsewhere that day, it may not make any monetary difference.

Confused yet? Not surprised.

Touch off would never have become a problem if Myki response times were consistently fast, as they are on other public transport smartcard systems. Originally it was thought the system would be so fast that they were going to use the terminology “scan on, scan off“… but by mid-2010, they knew it was going to be so much of a problem clogging up tram exits that they extended zone 1 to the end of all tram routes and told people not to bother touching off.

The new gates they’re trialling at stations such as Richmond and Springvale are an improvement in terms of response times, though it’s unclear if these would work on trams.

Touch on won’t be needed either, from January 1st if you’re travelling entirely in the free CBD tram zone. There is of course no monetary difference if you travel in and out of the CBD by public transport (unless you use the free Early Bird train fare).

Tread carefully if you’re planning a free ride though. The free zone ends the stop before the Casino, Museum and the Arts Centre. One wit on Reddit noted the free zone looks quite like a yellow (green?) submarine.

PTV free tram zone from 1st January 2015

The change to free CBD trams and (almost) scrapping of zone 2 reflects something of a race to the bottom by the political parties in this year’s state election. It’s unclear if the patronage growth resulting from the fare cuts will be reflected in extra services or at least bigger trams to relieve crowding… but one can only hope that the next big fare change will be more equitable. Like taxes, fares should ultimately be both affordable (not a deterrent to patronage growth), and helping to grow revenue in a sustainable way that helps public transport services continue to expand.

Those who can, might like to check out options for traversing the CBD by bus… Lonsdale Street and Queen Street are well-served by frequent buses most of the time.

Public transport fares to rise about 5%

It hasn’t been announced yet, but I understand Myki fares are going up about 5% in January.

(Zone 1+2 fares will drop to zone 1 level of course, in line with the pledge made by the Coalition and matched by Labor.)

This is rise the Coalition government announced in December 2013, which I assume the new Labor government has approved: 2.3% CPI, plus a rise in real terms of 2.5%.

(Perhaps it’s not surprising Labor has okayed it; the Coalition went through with CPI+5% rises in 2012 and 2013 which had been planned by Labor back when it was in office.)

Myki zone changes

Leaving aside the enormous disparity in per kilometre fares, the combination of zone changes (including free tram rides in the city) plus a real terms rise means we get the terrific combination of:

  • Fare revenue dropping by about $100m per year
  • Those travelling short distances (eg those costing the network the least in terms of driver and vehicle hours, and fuel) getting fare rises
  • Those travelling long distances (eg most expensive to serve, especially if you consider things like the demand to build more express tracks, and fleets being unable to run more than a single round trip in peak) seeing a big fare cut (increasing their subsidy)
  • A price signal that it’s good to use PT for long trips, which is likely to add to crowding, particularly on trains

Plus of course those who currently have crap PT in the middle and outer-suburbs will continue to have crap PT because there’s less money available to pay for upgrades.

Sigh.

While I don’t think a per kilometre fare is really a great idea (especially with Myki’s currently hopelessly slow readers and even more hopeless GPS devices), nor do I think a trip from Flinders Street to the Shrine should cost the same as one to Pakenham.

Silver lining: If they’re smart, they’ll let people know that in most cases you no longer have to touch-off after metropolitan train/bus trips. Just as on most tram trips now, the default fare if you don’t touch-off will be the same fare you pay if you did.

Still unknown: The fate of the Earlybird fare, long rumoured to be on the verge of being removed.

Update: Beat the rise?: Hoping to beat the price rise by splashing out on a Commuter Club yearly? No chance. The news of the rise came through in a CC bulletin yesterday showing the rise for Yearly fares, and declaring the ordering deadline to be 5pm the same day — way too fast for any CC organisations to scramble to let employees/members know. Usually there’s at least a few days’ warning. Not this time, though it’s still cheaper to buy a CC Yearly Pass than a retail Yearly.

If you use other Myki Passes, you can still beat the rise by buying them before the end of December. (But don’t buy a zone 1+2 pass; you’ll just need to get a partial refund once the zone changes happen). You can’t beat the price rise with Myki Money — it’s charged as you use it, not when you load it.

Update 6:30pm Tuesday: The rise has been confirmed by PTV in The Age: Myki fare rise for commuters travelling in a single zone.

Of course, those travelling in three or more zones will also see a rise, though I don’t think it’s been clarified if a zone 1 to 4 trip (eg Melbourne to Geelong) would still pay the zone 2 portion of the fare as part of that.

It’s also worth noting that this is not the only recent above-CPI rise: there were CPI+5% rises in 2012 and 2013 (the ones planned by Labor).

I also note that while this 2014 rise was been planned by the Coalition, in 2011 then-Public Transport Minister Terry Mulder said in the Ballarat Courier: “The Coalition Government wants to keep changes in ticket prices to no more than CPI (Consumer Price Index).”

Update 17/12/2014: The rise has finally been confirmed by PTV. Early Bird is staying, and the weekend daily cap will remain at $6 (though it’s not much cheaper than the new zone 1+2 daily cap anyway).

My smartcard collection – I’ll report on Opal soon!

Here is my collection of Australian public transport smartcards.

The ones I’m missing are Adelaide, Canberra and Tasmania — all of which have been introduced since my last visits there.

Smartcards: Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Sydney

Notably Perth’s SmartRider is the only card that is blank on the back, which is why the card number (which I’ve blacked-out) is on the front.

Some friends and family have also given me cards from overseas, though what I find most interesting is not the card designs themselves, but how the systems work for users — the response times in particular, but also the opportunities to top them up, the availability and pricing of single tickets, and so on — and to judge those, you really need to use the systems.

Expect a report on Opal soon!

#Myki: touch-on, touch-off, touch-on, touch-off

Here’s an interesting issue with Myki which has always been around to an extent, but which has got worse with the switch to exact two-hour fares.

The problem

"Keep Calm And Catch Public Transport" Myki card holder from Travellers AidThe Myki software uses the two hour expiry of a fare as the time after which it assumes the next touch of your card is also a new fare.

This implementation is in contrast to the fare rules, which say your fare lasts for as long as the trip, as long as you started it (touched-on) before the expiry date.

Here’s an example: Board a 903 bus at Mordialloc (zone 2) at and touch-on at 9am. Ride to Northland (which is in the zone 1/2 overlap) and touch and alight at 11:10am.

What should happen is you get charged a 2-hour zone 2 fare.

But because it’s more than 2-hours since you touched-on, the touch as you alight will be treated as another touch-on.

You’ll end up paying a default fare (zone 1+2 because that bus route eventually terminates in zone 1) for the original touch.

Plus if you don’t notice as you exit the bus that it’s touched you back on again, you’ll pay another zone 1 fare on top of that, because it will have assumed you travelled from Northland (zone 1/2 overlap) to Altona (zone 1), $3.58.

So a total of $9.64 for what should be a $2.48 fare.

The silver lining is it’s not a very common scenario.

But it can happen, on some bus routes (such as the very long Smartbus routes), and on trains as well, where cross-town trips may take over two hours.

Solutions?

For trains, as you exit the station and touch, as long as you notice it’s touched you back on and charged a default two-zone fare, perhaps the easiest thing to do would be to wait 30 seconds, then touch-off again — invoking the “Change of mind” feature. The 30 seconds is so the reader doesn’t think you accidentally touched twice. You’re still charged the initial two zone fare, but that’s okay, because any conceivable trip of more than two hours would be a two zone fare — except perhaps if there was a long delay en route.

This isn’t possible for buses, because they have no “Change of mind feature”, and even if they did you might still be overcharged.

It’s also a bit tricky if an epic train trip ended at fare gates, perhaps at the end of the line at Frankston for example. Staff on the gates should be able to figure it out for you.

The official solution

Squirrelled away in the bible, the Fares And Ticketing Manual, in a revision posted a couple of weeks ago, they suggest a solution to passengers affected by this:

If a customer using myki money does not touch off the myki within 2 hours after it was touched on, a default fare may be charged when the myki is next touched to a myki reader. Such a touch will also be treated as a touch on

To prevent this happening, a customer may touch off the myki prior to the end of a journey, but must then touch the myki on –

(a) in the case of a journey on a tram or a bus, immediately after the myki was touched off; or

(b) in the case of a journey on a train, before resuming the journey.

In other words, you should touch-on as you board the bus. Then along the way, you should touch-off, then touch-on again. And finally at the end of your epic trip, touch-off again.

Presumably this advice is intended for staff to pass onto affected passengers — few Myki users would be aware of this, nor should they be expected to read the manual (but it’s good the manual exists, so that interested people can get this info).

If they’d thought about how the software might be used in the real world, then (at least on buses) they should be able to figure out that as you exit the bus after a long trip, you didn’t really magically travel to the end of the route (before the bus itself got there) and then board it again.

It’s a reminder that the implementation of Myki leaves a lot to be desired.

PS. For longer V/Line trips, the fare extends to 3 hours for 6 or more zones, and to 4 hours for 12 or more zones. See: PTV: Myki on V/Line.

New Myki gates – about twice as fast as the old ones

I finally got around to going to look at the new Myki gates at Springvale station the other day. They’ve also been installed at Mitcham, and will be put in at Richmond soon.

From what I’d heard, they are faster than the existing older Myki gates installed in 2012-13.

The stories were true. They are faster.

Looking at the video frame-by-frame, my totally unscientific comparison shows that the new gate is about twice as fast as the old one.

Timing (seconds) New Old
Card touches to reader 0.00 0.00
Reader acknowledges success 0.33 0.73
Gate starts to open 0.53 1.06
Gate fully open 0.83 1.47

The older Myki gates are notorious for inconsistent speeds, with just the reader response sometimes taking several seconds — the video above shows the gate on a “good day”. Response times are arguably the Myki system’s biggest single problem (of many), affecting hundreds of thousands of users every day, causing long queues at many stations.

Hopefully these new gates will be consistently fast. At present they’re showing the kinds of speeds the system should have had all along, and more in line with other smartcard fare systems such as Brisbane’s Go Card and Perth’s Smartrider.

The new design omits displaying the balance and fare, I assume to discourage people from lingering. They can instead check their balance at a vending machine or Myki Check (blue reader), as well as online of course.

The new gates seem to have been provided by Vix (ERG), who ran the Metcard system, and also developed much of the Hong Kong Octopus smartcard system. Perhaps, just perhaps, they know more about designing and implementing public transport ticketing smartcards than Kamco, who implemented most of Myki.

Vix also seem to have taken over maintenance of the system in recent weeks, though a full re-tender of the operating contract is expected to go ahead in coming years.

It might also be that this is the first example of the Victorian government’s (under Labor) insistence on “open architecture” — that is, that the various components of the Myki system had to have documented interfaces, so that other vendors could come along later and build on it incrementally. But it’s not clear how this came about — did the Coalition approach Vix, or did Vix come up with a proposal?

What’s unknown is if more new faster equipment will replace the thousands of existing slow devices around the network. While it’d be nice to see consistently faster response times, it would cost a small fortune — on top of an already extremely expensive system.

What might be better, as I’ve raised before, is for someone (Vix?) to re-write the software that runs on the existing hardware.

Bonus video: 30 seconds of the gates in use at Springvale, so you can see my fast touch wasn’t a fluke. Note the curious occurrence, about 20 seconds in, of the lady who touches both left and right — apparently to let her friend through, presumably with a different card, as you’d expect the gates to reject the one card being used twice. Also note the double-width gate has been left open, in the absence of a staff member.

Further reading: