Should parking at Melbourne railway stations be free?

Here’s something I didn’t know: Perth’s Transperth transport system has some paid parking, and you can pay for it with a Smartrider card.

Pay ‘n’ Display car parks are also fenced, but are patrolled by car park attendants between 7.00am and 9.00pm Monday to Friday excluding public holidays. A flat fee of $2.00 per day, or part thereof, applies. — Transperth web site

Car park, Laverton station

Bear in mind that provision of new parking spaces costs on average over $15,000 per space.

For multi-level parking, it can cost 3-4 times that amount. For the recent WA election, there was a promise by the Liberals of $47 million for a new multi-storey carpark at Edgewater station, providing 560 spaces. That’s about $84,000 per space. If every space was filled 365 days a year, paying $2 per day, it would take 115 years of for them to make the money back (and that doesn’t count the interest bill for borrowing the capital cost).

It appears that many Perth stations have between 30% and 60% of their parking with a $2 fee attached. I guess having at least some paid is to increase the likelihood of people arriving after rush hour being able to still find a spot. It may also be that the paid spots are those that have been added more recently, so the fees have helped pay for them. Bear in mind that because many Perth stations are in the middle of freeways, walk-up patronage is much lower than in Melbourne.

Another interesting one in Perth is they have some parking spaces which are locked-up between 9am and 3:30pm each weekday. Perhaps car theft is a big problem there.

It raises an obvious (but probably controversial) question: should they charge for parking spaces in Melbourne?

Options

You could have a charge for all station car parks, probably on weekdays only (as in Perth) when demand is high.

Or you could charge more in zone 1. Or have a charge in zone 1 but none in zone 2. That would help reduce the current zone fare difference, discouraging people from driving to zone 1. Plus typically (but not always) at zone 1 stations there are more and better feeder services available, which people should be encouraged to use.

Or you could only apply it to specific stations where there is very heavy demand, particularly around zone boundaries (hello Laverton!)

Or some free, some paid parking at each station like in Perth.

You might be talking boom gates (more infrastructure required), or you might use pay-and-display tickets (more staff required).

Given the government decision that every traveller is expected to have a Myki, I would think you’d want it possible to be paid using that, to avoid having to have cash collection and so on, though also allowing payment with coins might help for occasional users.

Pros

Given tight budgets at the moment, it could fund extra services, particularly feeder buses so more people can get to the station without driving at all. (After all, you shouldn’t have to own a car to be able to use public transport.)

It could help defray the huge cost of providing parking (though at $2 a day it would take at least 20 years to do so). And given that huge cost, user-pays is not inappropriate — remember, despite how it seems, most train passengers don’t drive to the station — and land around stations is some of the most valuable in Melbourne.

It would discourage non-passengers from using those spaces. At some stations such as Camberwell, local office and building workers are known to fill up commuter parking. (What might be practical to solve this, without actually charging, is to make entering and/or exiting a carpark dependent on a touch from a Myki, with the system treating it the same as a fare for that zone… thus actual PT users would be charged no more, but non-PT users would be charged.)

It might help reduce demand so that people who genuinely need a park at the station are able to get one, even if travelling after 8am or so (earlier at some stations) when they currently fill up.

Cons

It means an additional cost for people who may not have any practical choice but to drive to the station… which might encourage some to simply drive all the way to their destination. (When this has come up in the past has been the PTUA position.)

The cost of collecting the fees would need to be taken into account… apart from things like boom gates, it might also require re-modelling of car park layouts, and even a mechanism for ensuring people don’t enter a car park when it’s already full (or perhaps just allow free exit within 15 minutes, like with Myki at stations — also useful for “kiss and ride” drop-offs).

Can Myki handle this type of transaction if it’s not considered part of the zone system, but an additional charge? If not, it might result in additional costs.

Thoughts?

Railway lines down freeways: good idea? Only if there’s no viable alternative

Some people will tell you that rail lines down freeways are a great idea, because “the train overtaking cars is a great advertisement for public transport.”

Perth has done this, primarily because it’s been the easiest way of extending the train network. So the Clarkson/Joondalup and Mandurah lines both run down the middle of freeways.

And it’s long been proposed to build Melbourne’s Doncaster line this way, which I think makes a lot of sense.

But having seen the Perth examples up close recently just re-inforces my view that it’s only a good idea if there is no viable alternative — for a number of reasons…

On the Clarkson/Joondalup line, Perth

Stations on freeways are very pedestrian un-friendly

As I’ve noted in the past, you are pretty much killing off any pedestrian use into the stations… and this is actually how the bulk of people reach railway stations in Melbourne at present.

You either end up having to put in lots of car-parking (which on level ground can cost tens of thousands of dollars per space, let alone the astronomical cost of multi-storey — and severely limits your patronage, as well as denying access to those who don’t/can’t drive) or you have to bring in people by feeder bus — which needs a lot of effort/cost to make it work well.

Perth has actually made the effort to put in reasonable connecting buses at some of its stations, and (from what I saw waiting around at Murdoch in the evening peak) these are pretty well used, though the adjacent car parks were busy too.

Stations in freeway reservations are also unlikely to be destinations, because shops, universities, businesses and so on — all the things that have grown around most of Melbourne’s suburban railway stations — won’t develop. These are important to make stations and trains well-used at times other than peak, and make the whole thing more viable, by catering for more than just CBD 9-5 commuters.

It’s worth noting that the Mandurah line diverges away from the Kwinana Freeway at both ends — the CBD (at a cost as it included tunnels and two underground stations) to ensure people hopping off could walk to work, and the Mandurah end, presumably because (some) land was available and cheap, so they didn’t feel constrained to just the freeway. (That said, the Mandurah line doesn’t actually reach central Mandurah; you have to catch a bus the last little bit of the way.)

Near Murdoch station, Perth

Trains only overtake cars in peak hour

Let me tell you, it was great being in a train overtaking all the peak hour traffic on the Mandurah line. The trains were fast, frequent, and very popular.

Frankly, it was equally great being in a car in peak hour traffic being overtaken by trains.

But this only happens when the traffic is heavy. At all other times, including the peak-shoulder, trains don’t overtake cars because the traffic is moving faster.

Trains are at a particular disadvantage in off-peak hours, when the cars zoom along, and trains are less frequent. The result is — especially if you’re sitting at a station — the disheartening sight of waiting for 10, 20, 30 minutes while the traffic whizzes past you. That’s not a great advertisement for public transport; it’s a great advertisement for driving.

And if you’re driving and the average speed of the train is about the same (eg car at 100 kmh versus train at 130 kmh but with regular stops) you might not see any trains in the direction you’re travelling (only in the opposite direction). Again, that’s not a great advertisement for public transport.

Last resort

Don’t get me wrong — a railway line down a freeway is better than no railway line. For instance in the case of Melbourne’s Doncaster line, a very obvious easy affordable project would be a “phase 1″ from Victoria Park to Bulleen, with a bus interchange at Bulleen. That would get thousands of passengers on scores of at-capacity buses out of inner-city traffic on the freeway and Hoddle Street, and encourage thousands more to get out of their cars.

But overall, down freeways is not the first choice for where you should build railways.

Perth day 7: Heading home

All good things come to an end, and so it was with our Perth trip.

We had a sleep-in, then packed up our stuff into the car and headed out.

The flight wasn’t until lunchtime, but we had one more place to go before heading home: the boys have a strong interest in retro video gaming. (I can’t imagine where they got THAT from.) There are two retailers you can buy this kind of stuff from: Cash Converters, and a small chain called Gametraders.

So we arranged for my aunt to drive us to the only Gametraders in Western Australia, which is in a shopping centre called Centro Galleria, in the suburb of Morley, fortunately not too far from the airport. “Kate” (the name my aunt has given to her GPS unit) guided us there, and the boys had a happy time looking through the range, and buying a few ancient cartridges to play at home when they got back.

(I should note at this point that my cousin Justin also has an interest in video games, and in fact at my aunt’s house is his enviable collection, most or all of it still in boxes, in various cupboards. Very impressive.)

Perth airport

From there we headed back to the airport. I’d checked-in on my mobile phone earlier, but this time we were able to check-in our suitcase (arguably it’s quicker at your destination to leave it as hand luggage, but it’s less hassle wheeling it around the airport while you wait if it’s checked-in), and we also elected to get printed boarding passes, since on the mobile it had been a bit laborious calling up the three of them onto the screen when boarding.

While we waited we got a snack: some wedges (a reasonable-sized tray; enough for the three of us) and a drink.

Brigands! Pirates! Buccaneers! Gyroscopes! $13.70 for a bottle of water and some wedges?! #PerthAirport

I got a copy of The West Australian to read on the plane, and Qantas were giving away The Australian as well, so I had plenty to read. The flight itself was fine; no delays.

Flying home

The in-flight movie was Game Change, about the 2008 US Presidential Campaign, and Sarah Palin in particular. I found it interesting, though the kids were completely bored by it. Fair enough.

After landing, we did our usual thing: luggage, Skybus, then train home. The two-hour time-difference resulted in a little jetlag, but it certainly didn’t detract from a great holiday — thanks in no small way to the extraordinary hospitality of my aunt. Thanks Aunty!

Perth/WA trip day 6: caves, wineries, and back to the big smoke

Tuesday 10th July

We’d be heading from Margaret River back to Perth today, so we packed up the serviced apartment and loaded everything into the car, then headed to cave number two of our tour: Lake Cave.

Lake Cave, Western Australia

Lake Cave has guided tours, and while we waited for it to begin, we pondered the displays and the new-fangled terminology used. Their “Caveworks” display is not a museum exhibit — it’s an “eco interpretive centre”. And these are not just caves inside national parks that you can look around — no, they’re “living windows”.

The cave itself, like Jewel Cave the day before, is quite spectacular, particularly the steps down to the entrance mouth, which is itself a collapsed cave. Inside there were some amazing formations, and the guide noted that in the early days of cave exploration and tourism some damage had been done as there wasn’t much care taken by visitors.

Lake Cave, Western Australia

Lake Cave, Western Australia

On to Mammoth Cave, which includes no mammoths. It’s self-guided, using an industrial-strength iPod, and again, was spectacular in quite a different way, with vast caverns to explore. The way out reminded me a little of the Mines of Moria in the Lord Of The Rings film.

Mammoth Cave, Western Australia

Mammoth Cave, Western Australia

Mammoth Cave, Western Australia

Mammoth Cave, Western Australia

After all those caves, we craved lunch, and after a quick look at the Leeuwin winery (where I took a photo of some very wary cows), we ended up stopping off at the very impressive Voyager winery for food. It was so amazingly pristine that it gave me the impression of being a product of the slave trade, and they had the most massive Australian flag you’ve ever seen. We had a very nice, very posh lunch there, then headed north.

Cows at Leeuwin winery, Western Australia

Voyager winery, Western Australia

Some winery I can't remember the name of, near Margaret River, Western Australia

Our next stop was the amazing Canal Rocks formation, near Yallingup. We clambered all over them to have a look. My aunt reckons the same rock formations can be found in Madagascar, showing that we were all once part of Gondwanaland. It’s hard to describe them, so I’ll just post a few pictures.

Canal Rocks, Western Australia

Canal Rocks, Western Australia

Canal Rocks, Western Australia

Canal Rocks, Western Australia

North again, and another brief snack and toilet stop at Dunsborough, with each of us devouring something tasty from the bakery there. The boys, despite their unfavourable review of Spearmint milk a few days before, were rather impressed with the wide variety of flavoured milks in the bakery fridge.

In a fridge in Dunsborough, Western Australia

Then it was the drive back to Perth, happily against the peak hour traffic, which was pretty busy at that time of day.

After arriving back at my aunt’s house and unpacking and having a rest, we headed out for dinner: at Sizzler.

Sizzler is something that used to be common in Melbourne but has disappeared now… according to the Sizzler web site, they’re only now in WA, Queensland and NSW.

It’s all-you-can-eat buffet, surely words of joy to two hungry teenagers. The pricing is such that you basically order a main meal and get bottomless salads, pasta, soup, desserts and other yummy stuff all included.

My recollection is that Pizza Hut restaurants in Melbourne used to do a similar deal (but more pizza-oriented, obviously)… but Pizza Hut seems to have got out of the restaurant business; they only really do takeaway now.

Sizzler was pretty busy, even on a Tuesday night. Cunningly, they feed you “free” cheese-on-toast while you wait for your meal to arrive, surely a strategy to get you to fill up on the cheap stuff and eat less from the buffet.

The food itself is reasonably tasty. We all know that the deal is it’s not going to be fine cuisine, but neither is it horrible greasy euchy fast food.

I lost count of the number of times we went for refills of everything, but by the time we finished we were thoroughly stuffed full of food, and waddled out, very satisfied after a long day of travel.

Perth’s CAT buses: lessons for Melbourne?

Another in a series of posts about Perth PT and how it relates back to Melbourne.

Perth’s city centre (and town centres of Fremantle and Joondalup) have CAT buses — Central Area Transit — free services running (reasonably) frequently in loops that people can hop on, hop off to get around.

They are very popular; those I saw in Perth and Fremantle were often busy, and one Red CAT we caught in Perth got close to capacity at one point.

Perth Red CAT bus

Perth CAT bus

Alongside the CAT buses, central Perth also has the Free Travel Zone, which gives you free travel on any train or bus within the central area using a SmartRider card.

Those who rave about CAT buses reckon they’d be terrific in Melbourne may have missed some vital points about why Perth has them (and the FTZ):

Firstly, they are used for high-volume hop-on, hop-off trips. If the drivers had to check or sell tickets, they’d be too slow. In Melbourne this isn’t a problem, because almost all CBD travel of this kind is performed by trams, where drivers don’t have to attend to tickets.

In fact, many of Melbourne’s trams are much higher capacity than Perth’s CAT buses, the main CBD routes run more frequently (about every minute in some cases, compared to every 5 minutes for the best CAT buses), and are consistently busier.

Melbourne tram in Bourke Street on route 95

Secondly, Perth has no daily fares like Melbourne. In Melbourne a suburbs to CBD commuter or visitor pays no more than two journeys thanks to the Myki daily cap (the same applied with Metcard 10×2 hour tickets) or you use a Weekly/Monthly/Yearly Pass which includes travel all day.

So if you’re paying for your trip to and from work, then travel around the CBD at lunchtime costs no more. In Perth this doesn’t apply, unless you hit the DayRider cap — but this only applies for travel after 9am. So Perth commuters would pay extra to travel around the CBD during the day if they had no free services such as the CAT and the Free Travel Zone.

Perth Red CAT bus stop

Thirdly, if as in Melbourne you can provide CBD travel which gets around the above problems, then who would benefit from providing free services? I’ll tell you who: motorists who have driven to the CBD. (Tourists benefit too, admittedly.)

Indeed, I suspect that one reason Perth retains CAT buses is because of a long tradition of welcoming motorists into the central city — the slogan at one stage was “Your car is as welcome as you are“. I think we know Melbourne’s public transport system has its faults, but frankly, motorists who have driven to the CBD don’t deserve a free ride.

Of course, Melbourne has the City Circle tram, and the Tourist Shuttle (which isn’t actually a shuttle). Doesn’t mean we need more free services though.

I’d rather see that money go towards the outer-suburban areas where most PT services are unusable.

We have a lot to learn from Perth — some ideas would work brilliantly; free CBD services aren’t one of them.

Perth day 4: Heading south… Bunbury, Busselton, Margaret River, Cape Leeuwin

Sunday 8th July

We packed up the car and headed south along the Kwinana Freeway out of Perth. Heading towards Mandurah, my aunt gave me a pronunciation lesson: it’s not pronounced “Mandurah”, it’s pronounced “man-drah”.

Eventually we left Perth’s suburbia behind us. Farmland and forest predominated, with the occasional huge billboard, including for something you don’t see advertised so much in the eastern states: the mining industry.

Billboard on the road south

Billboard on the road south

Kangaroo sign on the freeway heading south from Perth

Accident near Myalup, WA

We had to slow down for an accident scene at Myalup. Lots of emergency vehicles on the scene – checking online news a little later, we found it had occurred an hour or two earlier. It didn’t look too good on the road — thankfully not fatal.

Otherwise of note when driving: I noticed plenty of stretches of 110 kmh limits, even on two-lane non-divided roads, which as far as I know is not something we see in Victoria. Also notable was that most Western Australians indicate left when leaving a roundabout — even small suburban ones. Interesting. My aunt said that there have been extensive publicity campaigns to encourage it, so most people do.

110 on the road to Margaret River

Bunbury lighthouse

We made a pit stop at Bunbury, noting the striking checked lighthouse, then continued on to Busselton, which sounds like it should be a twin to Richard Scarry’s Busytown.

Busselton has an extra long jetty which goes almost 2km out from the foreshore. It’s another one of those biggest/longest/tallest in the southern hemisphere things — in case, the longest timber-piled jetty in the southern hemisphere. It’s long enough that there’s a (rubber-tyred) train you can ride out there, if you can’t be bothered walking. We walked.

Near the end of the jetty is an underwater observatory, which we’d intended on visiting, but it was closed for the day due to the water being too murky to see anything. While this was disappointing, at least they said so up-front, rather than taking our money and then having us stare at cloudy water.

Busselton jetty

A crab on jetty a Busselton

After the jetty we found a fish and chips place in the town to chow down some lunch, before jumping back in the car.

As we headed south and neared Margaret River, there were more and more wineries; practically every turn-off had a sign pointing to several.

Cow

We passed initially through Margaret River, and on through Augusta to Cape Leeuwin, which is the south-western most point of Australia, in the Cape Naturaliste national park (which, let’s be honest, sounds like a nudist colony, but isn’t).

At Cape Leeuwin there’s a lighthouse dating back to 1895, and we did the tour of it, which involves climbing up all 176 steps to the top. Our tour guide, Bruce, must have been used to the cold and/or made of stronger stuff, as he was in short sleeves — the rest of us were wrapped up as warmly as possible, but still found it exceptionally cold in the strong winds at the top.

Cape Leeuwin lighthouse

Cape Leeuwin lighthouse

Cape Leeuwin lighthouse

Cape Leeuwin lighthouse

There was a great view from the top of the lighthouse, and it was a fascinating sight. The two oceans — the Indian and the Southern — meet there, and Bruce noted that you can actually see the currents of each splashing against each other.

Nearby we found an old water wheel, also built in 1895, once used to bring water to the lighthouse, but has since become encrusted in limestone.

Daniel at Cape Leeuwin

Cape Leeuwin

We headed back to Margaret River to find our accommodation. It was now dark, and the pitch-black roads out towards Prevelly Beach where we were staying didn’t make it too easy. On the way we did notice a sign pointing to Isaac’s Ridge — in passing it a few times the next day, Isaac didn’t seem interested in exploring it, but apparently it leads to a resort which sadly burnt down last November — in fact there was a fair bit of obvious fire damage to trees in the local area.

Eventually we got to our serviced apartment near the beach, having (by my rough calculations, with help from Professor Google) covered 348km in the drive from Perth.

After a rest we headed back to Margaret River for dinner in the Settlers Tavern, where (once we’d solved some issues with the password) we availed ourselves of the free wifi, and had a delicious dinner to boot — a good ending to a long way.

Perth day 3: CBD, Whiteman Park, stargazing

Saturday 7/7/2012

After running some errands, we were dropped at Cannington Station, which unlike some of the others we’d used, is unstaffed. A small group of smoking teenagers was hanging around the station, but they didn’t get in the way of the actual passengers. I bought tickets for the kids, and pretty soon the train arrived, and zoomed us into town.

Happily the weather was much nicer than the previous evening, allowing us to explore the mall and surrounding streets a bit. Then we wandered back towards the station and caught a CAT bus for a bit of a tour of central Perth.

Commonwealth Building, Perth

Perth

After a ride around on the CAT bus (which went from relatively empty to very very full quite rapidly) we jumped off and looked through some of the streets and arcades. It was getting on for lunchtime so we stopped in a food court and after the customary walk around the perimeter, opted for burritos from a Mexican outlet — very tasty.

Masters flavoured milk, Perth

Heading vaguely towards the river, we dropped into a Woolworths supermarket. The boys were intrigued by advertising for Masters (apparently a cousin of Big M, also sporting the M logo), and in particular a flavour which I don’t believe has graced Victoria: Spearmint milk. We picked up a couple of cartons for them to glug down, and the did so. Their reaction? It’s like toothpaste… but milky. And not in a good way.

We walked via Esplanade station to the Bell tower, an odd-looking modern landmark by the river, where we’d agreed to meet my aunt.

While waiting, two cars full of oddly dressed people with wigs and make-up pulled up and asked to have their photos taken in front of the Bell Tower. Evidently they were on some kind of scavenger hunt… or they were the strangest-looking tourists ever to frequent the Perth waterfront.

The Bell Tower, Perth

The Bell Tower, Perth

University of Western Australia

My aunt arrived in her car and we jumped in. First she took us to look around the University of Western Australia main campus. Some very impressive buildings which make it look like it was built earlier than 1911 when it was actually founded.

After that we headed north towards Whiteman Park, which is in Perth’s outer suburbs. Its distinguishing feature is that it has a narrow gauge railway (with a diesel train) and an old Melbourne tram. Both were running, and while my aunt settled down for a read of a newspaper, myself and the boys took a joyride on each.

Inside tram 441, Whiteman Park, Perth

Inside tram 441, Whiteman Park, Perth

Ducks crossing in front of the tram, Whiteman Park, Perth

The old W-class tram got up to a fair speed — probably faster than Melbourne’s ones do these days — and amusingly had to stop at one stage and ding at a family of ducks crossing the track.

Elsewhere in the park were amusement rides, a playground, and a small transport museum called “Revolutions” (which we elected not to look inside, as we needed to move on). I had actually thought there might be a tram museum, but it looks like the workshop is not open for tours. Perhaps there were some on display in Revolutions.

Given that WA’s trams all operated on narrow gauge (like most of the trains still do) and Melbourne’s were standard gauge, I assume there’s nowhere to see actual Western Australian trams in service, which seems a shame from a heritage point of view.

After the park, we headed back to the car and headed west towards the beach for a quick stop off at the Joondalup campus of Edith Cowan University. My aunt wanted to show us the spectacular architecture — and indeed it was, in quite a different way to the UWA campus we’d seen earlier.

Edith Cowan University, Joondalup, Perth

Then we headed north… well out of Perth itself, and via a road which my aunt told us is not on any GPS (Military Road; it wasn’t in Google Maps on my mobile either, though I can see it in the main web version) to the Gingin Observatory for the 6pm stargazing session. They started with a presentation, which was cut short when it was flagged that cloud was starting to come across. At that point we headed out to the observation area to look through the various telescopes they had set up.

With the lights off, it was pitch black, and only after a few minutes of becoming accustomed to the dark could we fumble our way around. Some of the views through the telescopes were very interesting — obviously it was possible to see things simply not visible to the naked eye. Perhaps most inspiring was Saturn; its rings visible through the telescope.

They also showed us Alpha Centauri — our nearest neighbour, and one of the Southern Cross pointers. Through the telescope we could see that it was in fact not one star: you can see two (though there are actually three.)

The observatory session ended about 7:30, and we drove through the dark back into Perth. Perhaps we’d underestimated the time it would take to get back — by the time we got to our intended dinner location it had shut for the night. Instead we found a Japanese restaurant to sit and eat and ponder the stars we’d seen.

Then back to base camp for a good night’s rest — in the morning we’d be heading south towards Margaret River.

Perth’s SmartRider vs Melbourne’s Myki

So I thought I’d compare Perth’s SmartRider against Melbourne’s Myki card.

Perth paper ticket and SmartRider

Short term ticket options

This issue is critical for tourists and other occasional users of the system, who may have no wish to buy a reusable card. Judging from the initial response to Myki’s withdrawal of short term ticket options, I suspect there’s something of a pyschological barrier to buying a Smartcard for a small amount of travel — even if it costs as little as $3 (for a concession).

Perth: No problems here; paper tickets (printed by vending machines which appear to be the same hardware as Myki’s vending machines) are widely available. They are more expensive than travelling on SmartRider, and at gated stations require you to line up for visual inspection — thus another encouragement for regular users to switch to smartcards.

Melbourne: Once Myki is completely rolled-out, there’ll be no paper/short term ticket option. This is already a reality at all unstaffed railway stations, and is already causing complaints, particularly for concession users who don’t yet have a Myki, because you can only buy a concession Myki from a human (eg at a staffed station or retail outlet).

Perth wins on this point.

Perth paper ticket vending machine - looks to be the same basic hardware as Melbourne's Myki vending machines

Availability

Perth: Before our trip, I’d checked up in advance. The web site implied I could get a full fare one for me, and that the kids, as interstate students, would be eligible for a concession fares via a tertiary Smartrider. This is because only WA students are eligible for the extra-discounted 50 cent fare available to primary/secondary SmartRider holders:

Interstate primary or secondary students may purchase a Tertiary SmartRider. Interstate students are not entitled to the 50 cent student fare.

TransPerth web site

The weakness of Smartrider is the availability. You can’t buy them from machines; you buy them over-the-counter from a relatively small number of stations, or from retail outlets. In the case of Fremantle, it’s a retailer in the station, who reckoned we couldn’t get any kind of non-full-fare card at all without paperwork stamped by the kids’ school.

I wasn’t going to get into a debate with the lady, so we just got paper tickets for the kids — fortunately they are easily available from the station vending machines in Perth.

Melbourne: adult cards are available from any station vending machine, plus hundreds of retailers, and station booking offices. Concessions are only available from retailers or station booking offices (which is causing problems for some people, given the lack of a short term ticket option). Buying a concession doesn’t require paperwork, though if you encounter inspectors, you may have to prove your eligibility.

Myki cards are cheaper than SmartRider cards; $6 for an adult Myki vs $10 for a SmartRider.

Even leaving aside the confusion over concession SmartRiders, Myki wins the points here for much wider availability.

Perth SmartRider and paper ticket vending machines

Loading credit

Both systems allow “set and forget” auto load — in SmartRider’s case this gets you an additional discount on your fares.

Both systems also let you load credit via BPay. Myki also has options for credit card top-up online, which SmartRider doesn’t appear to have.

Perth: you can add value to your card on any bus or ferry, but at railway stations it’s a lot more restrictive — in fact you can only add value onto your card at 18 stations. There are also 4 “TransPerth Info Centres”, and about 60 retail outlets.

SmartRider is somewhat restrictive in the topup amounts. There’s a minimum of $10 on buses and ferries (which makes sense to prevent delays, especially on buses), but this also applies at station topup machines and retail outlets.

Melbourne: eventually it’s expected you’ll be able to top-up a Myki on a bus, but not on a tram. You can top-up at any railway station, and at about 800 retail outlets.

Myki retail outlets do impose some limits on top-ups (generally $1 according to the web site), and it’s not clear what rules will apply on buses (regional buses have the same lower limit, but this results in delays as some people top-up their Myki with their fare amount every day). For station machines it needs to be at least $1 — I know of some people who when passing, if there’s no queue, simply dump all their coins in. A good way to get rid of change.

Despite no tram top-up option, Myki wins on this.

Touch on/off speed

SmartRider wins this hands down. I found it consistently lightning fast.

In contrast Myki is patchy — sometimes fast (but I’ve never seen it as fast as SmartRider) and sometimes painfully slow.

With SmartRider I was able to walk through the gate without breaking step. Try that with Myki, even with the new gates, and you’d collide with the paddles.

SmartRider continues to use the terminology “tag on, tag off” — Myki originally used “scan on, scan off”, but moved to “touch on, touch off” in part due to slow response times.

I dare say if Myki was as fast as SmartRider, there’d have been less need to remove touch-off from trams… which would mean City Saver fares could have been kept (and indeed more flexibility with regard to future fare structures could have been maintained).

I suspect it’s in part because Myki devices are built on top of a general-purpose operating system (Windows CE)… I get the sense that many Smartcard devices in other cities are pretty much custom designs, without the overhead of that same kind of general-purpose operating system slowing them down.

SmartRider wins.

Fare structure and discounts

The fare structure is somewhat independent of the ticketing system, but of course do influence each other.

Melbourne is two zones with overlaps, though some outer-suburban areas such as the farthest reaches of the Mornington Peninsula will become the new Zone 3 and zone 4. More zones will cover most of the rest of Victoria.

The old 2-hour and daily fares (“Myki Money”) still apply, with Weekend/public holiday discounts/caps. To get the further discounted weekly, monthly to yearly (28-365) “Pass” options, you have to buy these in advance.

Perth has nine zones, but this also covers some surrounding areas, for instance Mandurah which is about 70 km from the CBD (a bit further than Pakenham is from Melbourne’s CBD, is zone 7. Zones they don’t seem to have overlaps, which probably doesn’t matter given the larger number of them, and makes the system a bit easier to understand. With more zones, the cost increment for crossing a zone is much smaller — as little as 80 cents (cash fare) — which probably reduces the issues with Melbourne’s zone 1 — lots of people drive to the zone boundary to get a much cheaper fare.

A fare is 2 hours if it covers up to 4 zones; for more zones it’s 3 hours. A daily cap of $11 applies. There are no weekly or monthly discounts or caps, and there appear to be no off-peak or weekend/holiday discounts.

When buying a cash/paper ticket from a ticket machine, you tell it how many zones you want. The resultant ticket has the originating station and the number of zones. It’s not crystal clear to me how you are prevented travelling in both directions from there — I guess not many people take advantage of it.

SmartRider gives you a 15% discount on the cash fare, but switching to auto top-up makes it a 25% discount.

Other factors

Melbourne: Many would know that Myki has been troubleprone, and is still not fully rolled out. The cost is huge ($1.5 billion over ten years, including running costs — about two-thirds of it is the start up and installation).

Perth: SmartRider is also not without its problems. The system was cheaper to rollout (apparently $35 million, presumably excluding running costs), but the public transport network is smaller, and there are much fewer vending/top-up machines around the system, as well as a much smaller network of retail agents. With a little research, one might be able to come up with a “per device” figure comparing the two systems.

I got the impression that fewer Perth railway stations are staffed, and even at those that were, the staff won’t sell you tickets — though they did offer to help me with the machines.

I also noticed that on a SmartRider add value machine, the card is inserted into the machine, which avoids the Myki problem of it sitting in a cradle on the front of the machine, and the possibility of it being removed before the transaction is complete — and also the issue of transactions not being cancelled properly.

Overall

Myki is actually better in a number of ways. It’s significantly cheaper and easier to get a card, and to top it up once you’ve got it, and these factors are undoubtedly important.

But SmartRider is better on a couple of really critical areas: on speed of touching/tagging and on the availability of short term paper tickets for those who don’t have a card.

An ideal system, I suppose, would have the wider availability of Myki, but the high-speed response times and short term ticket options of SmartRider.