#Myki Monthly and Weekly Pass fares: more expensive than ever compared to daily fares

On many public transport systems, they go out of their way to encourage what we in Melbourne call Passes — sometimes called Season Passes, Periodicals, Monthly or Yearly tickets: a fixed price for unlimited travel for a period.

For the system, the benefits include reduced transaction costs, getting a bunch of money up front, and the promise of customer loyalty, at least for the Pass duration, but also beyond that if they like the discount and the service and renew.

For the passenger, they get a nice discount, and they don’t have to bother with queuing and buying more tickets for a while. In some places, they don’t even need to get their ticket out unless asked by an inspector.

Myki 2015 bus signage

Passengers can also use the Pass for any travel they like during that time, for instance weekday commuters might use it for social or recreational travel on weekends or evenings.

The key benefit of the Pass is the discount over everyday fares, but Melbourne’s used to have some other benefits which have been removed with the migration to Myki:

  • Pre-1990s Metcard, on weekends, a Weekly/Monthly/Yearly allowed travel not just for the cardholder, but also for another adult and kids, effectively becoming a weekend family ticket
  • Pre-Myki, on weekends the fare also allowed travel in any zone in Melbourne for no extra cost (the clumsy handling of this has led to the situation where some users actually get charged a negative fare for using extra zones now)

Personally I think the loss of these benefits is probably forgiveable. Bringing across every single fare oddity into a new system is part of what has made Myki so trouble prone. There’s a good argument that they should have simplified things further, such as scrapping the Weekly Pass and using an automatic Weekly Cap instead. But I digress.

The bigger effect of Myki, and in particular its compulsory use in Melbourne since the end of 2012, is that the Pass discount is now greatly diminished.

Melbourne Myki Pass costs vs daily fares

How many days does a Pass cost?

Weekly fares were about the cost 4.3 Dailies, from the 90s, right up to 2012. Since Daily fares were moved onto Myki Money, which is at a cheaper rate (since it was originally intended to sit alongside 2-hour and Daily short term/single use tickets), a Weekly fare is now equivalent to 5 weekdays.

In other words, the Weekly fare is no longer a great proposition, unless you know for sure that you’ll travel more than 5 days a week. If you’re not sure, or you never use public transport at weekends, you might as well use Myki Money.

A Monthly/30 Day Pass had been about the cost of 16.2 Dailies, making it a very attractive proposition for daily commuters. It’s now the cost of 18.4 weekdays, making it less compelling for 9-5 workers who might only have 20 days’ use in the month if they never use public transport on weekends.

A lot of people buy 33-day Passes, and have them start on a Monday, and end on the Friday five weeks later, avoiding paying for an intermediate weekend if they are unlikely to use it. With some planning ahead, you can also adjust the number of days (anywhere between 28 and 325) to fit in with public holidays or leave from work.

Yearlies used to be about the cost of 171 Dailies. They are now up at the cost of 199 weekdays.

For metropolitan passengers, there’s no reason to ever pay retail price for a Yearly. Get the Commuter Club discount via your workplace or PTUA instead.

Happily, the combination of the Yearly discount and the Commuter Club discount still makes it a pretty good deal for most everyday users, as long as they can afford the initial outlay (or their workplace can pay it via monthly deductions).

What about the weekend cap?

My calculations are perhaps a little shaky, but the figures come out significantly worse if you take into account that some days in a Pass would be subject to the $6 weekend/holiday daily cap, not the weekend price.

(While few would have welcomed the increase of the weekend daily cap from $3.50 to $6 in 2014, it did remove the anomaly whereby Myki Money users got weekend travel more cheaply than loyal Myki Pass users.)

Including the weekend cap in the calculation, a Weekly costs the same as 5.3 days (assuming no public holidays). A 30-day Pass is 23 days (also assuming no public holidays in the month). A Yearly is around 251 days (assuming 12 public holidays per year).

Average days per Monthly ticket cost (2011)

Comparing Melbourne to other cities

A PTUA study in 2011 found that Melbourne had one of the most expensive Monthly fare prices in the world, at 20.3 days. (The calculation used an average of Zone 1, Z2, and Z1+2 prices. I’ve used just Z1 above.)

The average for the other cities in the study was 12.5 days, and the European cities in particular had deep discounts for Monthly fares.

The prices may have changed a bit since then, particularly as many cities have moved to smartcards in the mean time, and changed their fare structures. For instance in Vancouver it appears the Monthly has moved up from 12.67 then to about the price of 15.5 days now (based on two single fares with transfers).

But most of them still seem to price their Monthlies cheaper than Melbourne.

I’m certainly not arguing that Myki Money fares should go up. The discount from paper tickets is a reasonable one, given the inconvenience of having no paper tickets available.

Given Melbourne’s Weekly Pass discount is negligible for most users, it might be time to revisit whether an automatic Weekly Cap (once proposed, and partly implemented) can easily replace it. A Monthly cap was also once proposed, but seems to have been excised at an early stage.

But to encourage regular users, the Monthly/Yearly price should really come down, at least to reflect the cut in daily fares that occurred when everybody got forced from paper tickets onto Myki.

Now mostly no monetary benefit from touching-off your #Myki

As far as I can see, since the January zone changes, there is now no monetary benefit to touching-off your Myki for trips in zone 1, or zone 1+2.

This is because the Myki Money Default fare (the fare it assumes you should be charged if you touched-on, but never touched-off) is normally the same as the fare incurred for those trips anyway: $3.76 full fare, or $1.88 for concession.

This means you may be able to avoid the long queues to touch-off when exiting non-gated stations, as well as crowded buses (and trams).

I’ve tested this on Myki Money — it works correctly.

(It’s always been the case that Myki Pass had a default fare of zero if the trip started in a zone covered by an active Pass.)

Myki default fare on trains is now $3.76

There are a few exceptions

There are always complications with Myki. It’s consistently inconsistent. Here are some examples of where you may want to touch-off:

If you are intending on making another trip within two hours, you may wish to touch-off, otherwise your next touch on the same mode may be treated as a touch-off, potentially leaving you without a valid ticket if you don’t notice. This will happen if it’s the same station, and may also happen if you board the exact same bus or tram as your previous trip. If you didn’t touch-off, double-check your next touch when you board is on.

For Zone 2-only local trips, it’s still worth touching-off if you want the cheaper zone 2-only fare. If you were going into zone 1 anyway, it doesn’t matter.

(By the way, on Zone 2-only buses, the Default fare, if everything’s working correctly, would be the zone 2-only fare. Ditto, theoretically, on a tram in the zone 1+2 overlap heading towards its outer terminus. But Myki has enormous problems with GPS location detection, so don’t count on it.)

V/Line users need to be wary. The $3.76 fare applies from Melbourne out as far as Lara, Bacchus Marsh, Riddells Creek and Wandong, but if the conductor comes through and checks your ticket, they may also set the default fare to the end of the service, which could be a lot further away.

You may also wish to touch-off if you’re trying to take advantage of the Myki Pass payback glitch.

On the first trip on a new Myki Pass, I’m not sure if it’ll activate properly if you don’t touch-off. Anybody tested that?

It’s unclear what this will do to the stats if lots of people stop touching-off, but they basically threw away the prospect of comprehensive stats when they started recommending no touch-off on most tram trips (back in 2010). So perhaps it doesn’t greatly matter. They still use manual counting anyway.

And of course on suburban trains, the worst crowding is AM peak, and since most of those trips start with a touch-on, and end at a gated station with a touch-off, they’ll still have good stats for the busiest time on the rail network.

If default fares confuse you, it may be worth touching-off — remember, they get charged the next time you use the system, and that could be hours, days, weeks or months later. This can also result in some odd-looking online statements.

Queue exiting station to touch-off

Will they promote this?

Having locked us poor suffering taxpayers into spending $1.5 billion over ten years for the complicated, bespoke Myki system (and also a small fortune on adding station exits), now they’ve basically switched Melbourne to a flat fare for most users, will they officially promote the fact that it mostly makes no difference if you don’t touch-off?

I don’t know. They never did so for Pass users, even though it would help clear the exits at busy suburban stations in the evenings (and in turn, help trains run on time, as sometimes the crowds block the driver’s view, delaying departure).

PS: Additional reasons to touch-off:

  • If inspectors are standing there, obviously you might as well to avoid any questions
  • If using Early Bird, to ensure you get the free fare (thanks Roger)

Related: TheMykiUser also blogged about this same issue.

PS. If you haven’t heard: PTV is finally getting its timetable data ready for release for Google Transit (and other apps) in March: Age report.

Another glitch with #Myki: It pays you $1.52 to travel further

Over the years there have been various problems with the Myki ticketing system. Some have been self-inflicted, such as the lack of a single use ticket, which was the result of a Coalition decision in 2011. Others are down to poor implementation, such as the slow and inconsistent read times for cards, or the difficulty that trams and buses have in detecting which of Melbourne’s two gigantic zones they are in.

Perhaps the most alarming issues are those that involve incorrect charging. There was a doozy found in 2013 where a Pass would activate early. And a few years ago a glitch emerged where if someone with a Zone 1 Myki Pass went travelling into zone 2 on the weekend, the system would pay them 2 cents for doing so. At the time, the Transport Ticketing Authority tried to claim it was a result of the system working as it should to calculate the correct fare, but admitted it may appear to be a quirky outcome.

A new issue has emerged since the zone changes on 1st of January. Uncovered by dedicated Myki user “TheMykiUser“, under some circumstances, the system will credit you $1.52 in Myki Money.

Myki bug

I replicated it myself on Sunday. It would seem the circumstances are:

  • You need to have a zone 1-only Myki Pass
  • It needs to be a public holiday or weekend — this doesn’t happen on a regular weekday when the $6 cap doesn’t apply
  • You need to travel in zone 2 on two separate occasions (eg in two separate 2-hour blocks) on the same day — this could be for instance travelling into zone 2, then travelling back, provided you touch-on to come back more than 2-hours after you first touched-on

Somehow the combination of a day’s travel in zone 2, but having already paid for zone 1, with the weekend/public holiday $6 cap applying means the system will decide that rather than charge you an additional amount it will credit you for $1.52.

Why does it do it?

Note that $1.52 is the same amount of the weekday zone 1+2 daily fare $7.52, minus the weekend/public holiday $6 cap, so it’s assumed these are factors.

Those who have bigger brains than I may like to try and interpret this text in the 2015 Fares And Ticketing Manual, which documents Myki’s business rules:

Where a product already exists on a customer’s myki (a 2 hour product, Daily product or a myki pass) that is valid for a zone(s) and the customer makes a journey that consists of, or includes, travel in a zone(s) for which the existing product is not valid, the fare for the journey is the 2 hour fare for all zones for which the existing product is valid combined with the zone(s) for which the existing product is not valid minus the 2 hour fare for all zones for which the existing product is valid.

I’m recognising the individual words, but translating it into an equation where it pays you $1.52 is a bit beyond me at present.

And what’s staggering is that nowhere in the fare calculation logic did they include a sanity check that says: Is the final fare less than zero? If so, set it to zero, because it doesn’t make sense to have a negative fare.

Myki 2015 bus signage

If they want Myki to work smoothly, they should stop messing with the fare structure

This issue has occurred since the zone changes on 1st of January.

After all the problems Myki has had, the politicians should know better than to mess with the ticketing system like this, but having come up with the clumsy plan to cut prices by removing two-zone fares[1], the boffins at PTV and their contractors had to find a way to implement it.

I had assumed they would expand zone 1 to cover all of zone 2 as well (thus making a huge overlap area, but reflecting how they changed the tram zones in 2010), but they seem to have implemented it in a different way, which probably explains why they no longer sell a Zone 1 Pass — instead they sell a Zone 1+2 Pass (at the price of a zone 1-only Pass), or a slightly cheaper Zone 2-only Pass.[2] I suspect this bug won’t appear using one of the new Zone 1+2 Passes.

Who knows how many thousands of people have those existing Zone 1 Passes which have this quirk. (On weekdays these correctly give free travel in zone 2.) That said, it’s probably not the kind of issue that’ll see lots of people trying to gain a $1.52 credit.

Myki check, showing $1.52 credit

It’s not the first time a political decision has caused headaches with Myki. The removal of zone 3 in 2007 (well after Myki had started being built, but before the public rollout started) meant problems for the higher numbered regional zones, and eventually left Lara station in three zones: 2, 3 and 4. As with the latest change, they would have done better to reduce all fares rather than remove zones.

The result is, I suspect, a bug which will affect existing Zone 1-only Passes, until these have all expired, and been replaced by Zone 1+2 Passes over the next year or so.

  • [1] All that money — $1.5 billion over ten years — paid to build and run the Myki system, and now most trips all cost the same price. Terrific.
  • [2] Of course they also sell Passes for other regional zones. This article concentrates on Melbourne zones 1 and 2.
  • TheMykiUser has also written a blog post on this issue

Update Tuesday: The Age — Myki: now it’s paying you to travel

Comparing public transport smartcards around Australia

Brisbane and Perth had got their smartcard systems before the Myki system started in Melbourne (just on 5 years ago). Other cities have followed, and now all Australian capital cities have public transport smartcards.

Every single one of those other cities has a paper or single use ticket alongside the smartcards.

And every single one of these other systems has been provided by a supplier with a track record of installing smartcards on other public transport systems — in fact many of them tendered for the Myki project — but our government ended up with a system to be built from the ground up.

My view is this was the biggest factor in the delays to implementation, all the technical problems along the way, and the end result of a system that to this day is still lacklustre.

However I don’t think it was necessarily the biggest factor in the total cost of the system — believe me, software developers don’t get paid that much. No, I suspect the costs are largely down to the size of the rollout. Sydney’s Opal system is based on pre-existing Cubic technology, and is in the same ballpark for cost… however as we shall see, Brisbane appears to have got away with a bargain.

Here’s my comparison table of the different systems around the country:

Main city Melbourne Sydney Brisbane Perth Hobart Canberra Adelaide Darwin
Other areas covered [1] “Commuter belt” area of regional Victoria Newcastle, Blue Mountains, Illawara, Central Coast, Hunter Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast Various regional cities Launceston, Burnie     Alice Springs
System Myki Opal Go Card Smartrider Greencard MyWay Metrocard Tap and Ride card
Web site PTV: Myki Opal TransLink: Go Card Transperth: Smartrider Metro Tasmania: Greencard ACT: MyWay Adelaide: Metrocard North Territory: Tap and Go
Used on Trains, trams, buses Trains, trams, buses, ferries Trains, trams, buses, ferries Trains, buses, ferries Buses Buses Trains, trams, buses Buses
Vendor Kamco Cubic Cubic Wayfarer / Parkeon iNit Parkeon / Downer EDI ACS  
Introduced [2] 2009 (regional buses, suburban trains), 2010 (trams/buses), 2013 (regional trains) 2013 (ferries), 2014 (other modes) 2008 2007 2009 2011 2012 2014
System cost [3] $1.5b over ten years $1.2b over 15 years $134m for ten years plus share of secondary revenues $35m $4m $8m $42m  
Buy / top up: Online [4] Y Y Y N / Y N / Y Y N / Y N
Buy / top up: Retail/Info Centres Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y
Buy / top up: Stations Y N “Many” N / Some NA NA N / Y (on trains) NA
Buy / top up: Buses Y N N / Y N / Y N / Y N N N / Y
Buy / top up: Trams N N N NA NA NA N / Y NA
Buy / top up: Tram stops Some N Some NA NA NA N NA
Buy / top up: Ferries NA N Y N / Y NA NA NA NA
Buy / top up: Other     Some bus stations         Bus interchanges
Railway stations 218 (Melb metro) + 50 (V/Line Myki) 308 149 70 (19 have top up machines) 0 0 (108 trains) 0
Tram fleet 487 13 16 stations 0 0 0 21 0
Bus fleet 1753 (Melb metro only) About 5000 2078 1354 218 417 1080 312
Retail outlets 800 1765 625 (including stations) 61 17 33 289 3
Card cost [5] $6 Free $10 (refundable) $10 Free? $5 $5 $0
Minimum topup [6] $1 $10 (Online: $40) $5 $10 ($20 for BPay/Auto) $5 $5 $5 $20 weekly / FlexiTrip
Single use alternative ticket [7] No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Peak discount compared to single use ticket [8] NA None, but caps apply 30% 15% 20% 35% 35% 33%
Off-peak discount compared to single use ticket 30% for trips of over 2 zones only 30% on trains only 45% 15% 20% 50% 35% 33%
Smartcard fare: inner suburbs to CBD peak [9] $3.58 $3.30 $3.35 $2.47 $2.40 $2.84 $3.39 $2.00
Daily cap [10] Yes – 2 x 2-hour fares $15 No (except Seniors) $11.80 (after 9am) $9.60, or $4.80 after 9am $8.60 No No
Daily cap: weekends/public holidays $6 Sat $15, Sun $2.50   $11.80 $4.80 $5.19 No No
Weekly cap [11] No, but can pre-load a Pass 8 journeys, or $60 9 journeys No No No, but has monthly cap (40 journeys) No No
Weekly/monthly pass fare [12] Yes: week, or 28-365 days No No No No No 28 day pass Weekly $20
Free transfers [13] Yes, 2 hours (longer for regional) 1 hour, same mode only 1 hour Yes, 2-3 hours ? Yes, 90 minutes Yes, 2 hours Yes, 3 hours
Phone/Online topup speed [14] Up to 24 hours Up to 60 mins Up to 48 hours BPay only. 3-5 days Up to 48 hours 1-2 days Overnight NA
Auto topup [15] Yes Yes Yes Yes. 10% extra discount Yes Yes. 5% discount Yes No
Card read speed [16] Slow to medium Fast Fast Fast        
Gate paddle speed Medium Medium Slow Fast NA NA   NA

Got any corrections for me? Please, send me an email or leave a comment below!

Copious footnotes!

[1] Most of the systems cover more than just the main metropolitan area. Myki covers regional rail out to Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo, Seymour and Gippsland, and the local bus routes in those areas. Sydney’s Opal similarly covers the entire area of the Sydney urban and intercity rail network, which includes Newcastle (the area, but not the central station, which has now closed), Bathurst and other regional centres. Perth’s Smartrider covers local buses in places like Bunbury and Geraldton, but not the regional services that will get you there.

[2] Prize for the most prolonged rollout goes to Myki: early 2009 for regional town buses, but not active on V/Line until mid-2013, and in that time, the scope was reduced to remove short term tickets, purchase/top-up on trams, and long distance V/Line trains and coaches.

Myki rollout

[3] I had a lot of trouble finding comparable figures for system cost. Some only include the initial rollout, but not running costs. Some such as Brisbane had a provision for the system supplier sharing “secondary revenues” if/when the system was able to be used for other purchases, though this document says the cost was $99 million to establish, and $53 million in running costs to 2016.

[4] I think the biggest factor in the system cost is the size of it — the number of devices — thus I’ve tried to compare them via the places you can buy and top-up/recharge cards, and the fleet and system sizes.

They are quite different, for instance in Perth you can use the card on all services, but there are only a few railway stations where you can top up, and also far fewer retailers than in Melbourne or Sydney. (I found figures indicating Smartrider has a total of about 4,000 smartcard devices, where Myki has about 20,000.)

The number of railway stations and the size of the tram and bus fleets is also significantly different.

Note that in Adelaide, the readers are on the trains, not the stations (except for Adelaide station). Perth’s rail network has 70 stations, but only 19 have top up machines. In Brisbane (Gold Coast), the trams have their readers on the stations, not on the vehicles.

Of course, Myki has to have more devices: touch-on and off is so slow that extra readers have had to be installed at railway stations to minimise queuing and crowds (some have been added as recently as last month), and the lack of a short term ticket or any way of buying a ticket on a tram means a wider retail network is important.

Sydney’s system still appears to be in flux, so it wouldn’t surprise me if card purchase and top-up becomes more widely available in future.

(See also: my conclusion at the bottom of the post.)

Perth SmartRider and paper ticket vending machines - Esplanade station

[5] The cost to a passenger of just getting a card varies widely, with Brisbane and Perth cards costing $10 a pop.

[6] In most cities, the smartcards are very much geared at regular users, who don’t mind having more money on their card than a departing tourist would. Perth and Sydney in particular are quite restrictive in their topups amounts.

[7] As has been noted before, Melbourne is one of the only big cities anywhere in the world which doesn’t have some kind of paper/single use ticket available for use.

[8] In most cities using the smartcard instead of buying paper tickets gains you a discount; as much as 35% in some cases less than the paper fare cost in peak hour, and 50% off-peak. In Melbourne the discount was originally intended to be the difference between the old single tickets and the 10 x 2 hour fares, which in the last year of single fares was about 15%. Scrapping single use tickets meant everybody moved to the discounted fare. (Melbourne now has no off-peak discounts, though previously there was a hard-to-obtain 2-zone off-peak ticket, which was much the same price as the 10 x 2 hour discount.)

[9] I’ve also compared the base level fare for a peak-hour adult inner-suburban trip. I’ve excluded very short trip fares to try and make it reasonable comparable, but it’s very difficult to do this properly without digging around and ensuring you’re comparing trips of a similar distance.

Of course, fare prices are not a direct product of the Smartcard system, but the fare policies in place. But the two are closely linked.

[10] Daily caps help people who use public transport for lots of their travel, not just to and from work. Thus they help encourage non-commute trips, and is good for tourists. Some of the systems have no daily cap, but note most of those that do apply a simple dollar amount — apart from Myki, which is more complicated, though to an extent this will be wasted from tomorrow when Melbourne trips are capped at the zone 1 amount.

Brisbane’s Go Card has a 2 journey daily cap only for Seniors, which indicates it could be implemented for more users if they wanted to. Most systems will also string together multiple trips into a single paid journey if you travel continually, so you don’t end up paying for lots and lots of fares in a single day — though in Sydney you may, if you keep changing modes.

[11] As noted yesterday, Myki was originally intended to have a weekly cap. The other systems largely don’t, though Sydney and Brisbane have a X journeys then free policy, which can be rorted by taking short lunchtime trips early in the week to reach your quota by about Wednesday. It’s reflective of the simplistic capping in those systems, and arguably starves the system of funds from long distance commuters who would use the system anyway if the cap was less generous. A more intelligent weekly cap would be better.

[12] Only Myki and Adelaide’s MetroCard offer a pre-loaded Pass system. In Myki’s case, this reflecting the old Metcard structure, which in turn goes back to the paper tickets of the 80s and earlier. This is a double-edged sword: many people find the difference between Myki Money and Pass confusing, but fare policy-wise there’s probably no better way to encourage people to use public transport more.

Adelaide offers a 28 day pass only, but interestingly offers a system called Commuter Club, which similar to Melbourne’s Commuter Club, offers discounted fares if issued via employers/organisations.

[13] Sydney’s system falls down on free transfers: if you want to change modes, you get stung for another fare (as well as the time penalty of the transfer). There are rumours this will change in the future, but who knows.

[14] Many people have complained about Myki’s slow online top-up speed of up to 24 hours, but in fact Myki faster than most of the other systems. Only Sydney, with a time of up to 60 minutes, seems to have got this right.

[15] All the systems except Darwin’s (which isn’t really a Smartcard) offer an automatic top-up system, automatically adding value to your card when it reaches a pre-determined level, then taking those funds from your linked bank account.

Myki’s auto top-up started off flawed (it would block your card if the payment didn’t work, forcing you to send the card in for unblocking — this has now been fixed) but in my experience works fine now, and is very handy — I never have to worry about topping-up my kids’ cards. Some of the other cities encourage auto top-up by providing you bigger fare discounts.

[16] My non-scientific evaluation of the speeds of some of the systems. Myki is hopelessly inconsistent, except for the new gates recently installed at a handful of locations. From limited use of the other systems, they all seem much more responsive, though in Brisbane the card read was fast, while the gates seemed to open up quite slowly, which could be problematic at peak times.

Some other notes

  • Sydney — still in flux. Limited card purchase opportunities at the moment, but seems to be changing. Hopefully intermodal transfers will become free in the future.
  • Perth — Very limited card purchase or on-system top-up opportunities, which helps explain the cheap cost of implementation.
  • Tasmania — Card is set to a “Default” trip (eg home to work and vice-versa). Anything else requires resetting by bus driver. Arguably it’s more of an electronic purse system than a Smartcard. Ditto Darwin.

Why is there no combined system?

The tollways of Australia have got their act together: an eTag used on Melbourne’s tollways can be used in Sydney and Brisbane, for example, and vice versa. Why not public transport smartcards?

Turned out there was a working party trying to get this to happen: the National Ticketing and Tolling Working Group. It seems to have all been too hard to get the cooperation of the various state bodies:

In Australia, while Perth, Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne have each selected the same card interface, there is no immediate prospect of achieving smartcard data, reader or back-end interissuer interoperability. Efforts by the National Ticketing and Tolling Working Group (NTTWG) and Standards Australia are effectively on hold while each city rolls out its own vendor-specific implementation.

National Smartcard Framework – case studies (December 2008) – page 10

It’s like the 21st century version of the break of gauge.

Myki, Smartrider, Go card, Opal public transport smartcards

Which system is best?

Would Victoria embark on Myki again now, knowing the outcomes in terms of costs, delays, reliability and speed? I doubt it.

At one stage they tried to claim we had to have a system built from the ground up, because none of the others could cater to the state’s requirements in terms of our public transport system being large and including multiple modes. I always found that very difficult to believe — plenty of other systems handle big multi-modal systems with ease. I suspect there is some truth in that pre-existing systems may not have handled our structure of unlimited use Passes so well, though Adelaide seem to have managed.

So which system is best? I’m not sure there’s an easy answer.

Ideally you’d want the ubiquity of Myki, the single ticket alternative and speed of (any of the others), and the cheap system establishment costs of Brisbane or Perth.

In fact Brisbane is probably the closest thing to being a extensive big multimodal smartcard system that was relatively cheap to implement. Even if it were doubled in size and cost, it would still come out at about a fifth of the Melbourne system cost, though it’s unclear if that reflects the real cost or if it was just a great deal for the government, and Cubic was betting on that extra revenue to come through.

Taking on an existing system also requires any city to change its fare structure somewhat to suit the ticket system — but Melbourne ended up making compromises in that department anyway.

Today marks five years of #Myki in Melbourne

Five years ago today, the government unexpectedly announced that Myki was valid for travel in Melbourne, from 3pm that day.

It followed the rollout in regional centres earlier that year, and the installation of numerous card vending machines and reader devices around Melbourne.

The government had foolishly promised it would be switched-on in Melbourne by the end of 2009, and just about met that promise… except they only felt it was ready for use on trains only, and many of the devices at railway stations weren’t working properly, and the web site had big problems (including compatibility with Google Chrome and some other browsers).

Having used Myki in the regional cities, I was one of few Melburnians to already have a card, and that evening I attempted to use it. The short trip I took was charged correctly, but attempting to top-up at two separate machines failed — contradicting the government’s claims that it was ready for use on the rail system.

All in all it led me to the conclusion that it made sense to order a free card while they were offered, but not to start using it:

Progress in the last five years

A change of government in November 2010 put the project into stasis for a while.

Eventually in June 2011 the Baillieu government announced that they’d keep Myki, but scale it back — though the total project cost actually went up by about 10%.

The old Metcard system eventually got switched off at the end of 2012, meaning you can no longer buy a single ticket for travel in Melbourne or in the biggest regional cities where Myki operates.

Myki tram machineMyki tram vending machine trial

Functionality that didn’t make it into the system

Both before and during the Coalition’s reign, numerous design decisions were made to reduce or hobble the functionality, either deliberately or because things didn’t go to plan.

While trying to precisely copy the Metcard fare structure, some features were deliberately removed:

  • The periodical zone benefit allowed a single zone fare to be used anywhere in Melbourne on weekends. This was removed, though the Weekend cap made up for it somewhat, even on occasion paying you back for travelling in an extra zone
  • Under Metcard the fare used to be still valid if your tram/bus was delayed/cancelled and the travel started after the expiry time

Myki card content reportOther features that were intended to happen under Myki, but scaled back, or never achieved, included:

  • Myki originally had a weekly cap system planned, which presumably would have made a Weekly Pass unnecessary, and made the balancing act of trying to get the best weekly fare much easier. You can see it still on the “Myki card content report” issued at railway station booking offices when things go wrong. I still think they should implement this.
  • In fact, early information indicated it would also include a monthly cap. As this 2004 press release says: “With Smartcard, there will be no need for customers to plan their travel for the day or week before purchasing tickets, because the new system will be programmed to read the number of trips over a period of up to a month to work out the cheapest possible fare
  • The claim back in 2004 was “It only needs to be scanned for less than half a second”. It’s not unfair to say it’s never consistently reached that speed, though the deployment of new readers at some stations is promising.
  • In 2010 the then Labor government changed the zones to include the outer parts of the tram system into zone 1, to avoid touch-off issues for tram users, particularly in the CBD. This also scrapped the City Saver fare on Myki, though up to that point it had been working. They also made changes to some bus zoning, which made sense to make them more consistent.
  • The Coalition government made the decision to scrap the short term ticket option, which had been working in regional cities since 2009. This included scrapping of any form of ticket purchase on trams, which had been originally intended via card vending machines offering Myki and short term ticket sales. Tram ticket machines and short term tickets were subsequently scrapped.
  • The system was planned to include most public transport services in Victoria, including the entirety of the V/Line train and coach network, even including those coach services going to Adelaide and Canberra. Again, it was the Coalition that reduced the scope. It seems unlikely it will ever happen, as it would depend on them expanding the system functionality to include things like booked seats.

(Marcus Wong has a good article on this: Broken promises from Myki)

Five years on

Five years later, where are we?

Overall reliability seems to have improved, but the system is still as inconsistently slow as ever, apart from the new readers installed at a handful of stations. These are engineered by Vix-ERG, which I guess shows that things work better when you get an experienced mob in to do the job.

A number of other problems remain: the big ones being reader response times and incorrect zone detection on buses and trams, but even simple improvements like changing the beeps to be more meaningful (for instance to distinguish between touch on and touch off) and showing the 2-hour fare expiry time haven’t been done.

People put up with Myki, but I think it’s fair to say many of them don’t like it — particularly if they’ve seen faster systems elsewhere.

But we’re stuck with it now. The ten year contract expires in 2016, the system will keep running — which honestly is a relief given the cost of installing all the equipment.

I’m still of the view that the government should review and simplify the fare policies, then re-write the reader software for speed.

Next up I’ll have a post which compares public transport smartcard systems around Australia.