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:

#Myki: Agonisingly slow compared to other systems (but may improve soon, hopefully)

I’ve remarked upon this before in comparisons with Perth and Brisbane, but of all the flaws of Myki, the top one must be the inconsistent and slow response times.

Marcus Wong has captured this superbly in a video:

Note that many of the people in the queue know that you can touch before the gate has fully closed… but it doesn’t help because the readers respond slowly.

Contrast this to the near-instant response shown for a Pasmo gate in Japan:

All is not lost! New fare gates got installed at Mitcham last week, and the early reports indicate they are much more responsive than existing Myki gates. In part this seems to be because they don’t display the card balance on the way through (preventing people slowing down to look at it as they pass through), but it also seems the implementation is just much better:


(Video: Kenneth Webb)

The new gates will also be installed at Springvale and Richmond soon. Hopefully they’re not too expensive and are successful enough to be rolled out to the busiest stations on the network soon.

It appears the new gates have been provided by Vix-ERG, who ran the Metcard system. Perhaps, unlike Kamco, which implemented Myki but didn’t have experience in such things previously, perhaps they… well, know that they’re doing have more experience with ticket systems.

Last night I caught a bus, and noted how many stops were longer than necessary as people touched-off. Even without equipment upgrade/replacement, hopefully that problem (and a similar one at suburban railway stations in the evening peak) will largely disappear from January, when single zone fares take over in Melbourne… if PTV play it right and educate people.

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.