Queensland’s Go Card vs Myki

I’ll get to writing up our Brisbane trip in full excruiciating detail in due course, but first what everyone wants to know: How is Go Card compared to Myki?

First impressions

Go Card seems faster; more responsive. On buses, ferries and railway stations we consistently seemed to get sub-second response times when touching the card — clearly faster than Myki. This might reflect that the Go Card, provided by Cubic (which built London’s Oyster card system), is a more mature technology. It also doesn’t have Windows CE on all the devices, which may help to slow down Myki further.

The caveat however, is that major station fare gates open a good deal slower than Melbourne’s — both the older Metcard gates fitted with Myki readers, and the new Myki-only gates seen at Melbourne Central and Parliament stations. Quieter Brisbane stations had no fare gates, only standalone readers, like in Melbourne.

I didn’t notice any Go Card readers or machines that weren’t working, though on the bus between Nerang and Surfers Paradise, I did see a nearby reader go to “Please wait…” status for an extended period on the trip to and from the beach. Perhaps it does that when crossing zone boundaries or something.

Judge for yourself:

Go card:

Myki:

Given the fast response times, peak hour buses didn’t seem to be a major problem for Go Card, with hordes of people able to enter and exit, touching their cards as necessary. However I didn’t see any crowds or conditions that were comparable to crowded Melbourne trams (with wide doors used for both entry and exit at the same time).

It appears that if you fail to touch-off a Go Card, you get charged a “fixed” (default) fare which is often more than the cost of simply travelling to the zone at the end of the line as on Myki.

Costs and refunds

Our Go Cards cost a refundable deposit of $5 each, half the cost of getting a Myki card — however this is because there is also a Go Card issue fee of $5 which is currently waived.

As tourists into South-East Queensland, we can return the Go Cards by mail, and get full refunds on unused balances, plus (I assume) the $5 deposit.

This is a feature that Myki does not yet have (unless you are willing to pay a $9.80 administration fee). This is particularly important given the Myki plan to have no short-term/paper tickets available.

Top up

Like Myki, Go Cards can be topped-up can be done online or at the machines, or via bus drivers in $5 increments. (Top-up via bus drivers is currently possible with Myki in regional cities, for any amount, but it’s not clear if this will ever be available in Melbourne). You can also register for auto top-up, as with Myki.

We used station machines to top-up. They had touch screens which perhaps weren’t as sensitive as they should have been (nor as responsive as the Myki machines), and sometimes took a few more presses than necessary to get to the right options.

One top-up via a credit card didn’t work, just moments after I’d used the same credit card to top-up another Go Card. But it didn’t seem to be an issue with doing two transactions on the same credit card, as that worked on another day. Using cash worked fine.

One problem we had is that it’s hard to work out how much your trip will cost. The fares are on the web site (if a little difficult to find, as they are not linked from the Go Card pages), but the (excellent) mobile web Journey Planner didn’t mention the zones or costs. Printed timetables and maps did show zones.

This made it difficult as we didn’t want to put too much money on the cards since we were only staying for five days. In the end we had about $8 left on our cards when we flew home, though this can be refunded (see above).

Go card machines

Fares

South East Queensland’s Translink system has 23 zones, much smaller than Melbourne’s two zones (though bear in mind the comparable area would include places like Geelong, which is slated to be zone 4 under Myki). Suburban Brisbane, as far as I can make out, stretches up to about 8-9 zones from the CBD.

This is both good and bad. Lots of smaller zones means travel across zone boundaries isn’t such a big jump, though the cost of a short trip is not that much cheaper (a single zone trip on Go Card: $2.65; on Myki $3.02 or $2.02).

I wonder if the smaller zones encourage more people to drive to zone boundaries to get a cheaper fare, or if the smaller increments prevent this problem. In Melbourne this happens, but because there’s only one zone boundary, it limits how many locations get swamped by park and riders.

Go Card offers off-peak fares at 15% off, including all weekend, which is quite good, though not as bargain-basement as Myki’s $3 all-day weekend fares.

Go Card does not have a daily cap system, so if you happened to be making lots of trips all day, it could add up, though you do get up to five hours and three transfers onto other services, with a maximum of an hour between transfers.

There are no weekly/monthly/yearly passes on Go Card. All they offer is a “frequent user discount“, which is a 50% discount on any trips after your tenth journey in any Monday to Sunday period. Robert Dow from the Queensland lobby group Rail Back On Track (the PTUA-equivalent) tells me it’s a weakness of the current implementation, so there may be not a lot they can do about it, though he says they could adjust the discount amount, and when it kicks in.

Go Card can be used on Airtrain, but you don’t get the same discounts, because Airtrain has special fares. In contrast, Myki can’t be used at all to pay Skybus’s premium fares (though rumours abound that it will eventually be possible).

Go card on bus

The alternative: paper tickets

My sister was wary about the expense of getting Go Cards for her family, and spent the first day travelling on paper tickets. This turned out to be quite expensive, as those fares are about 45% more. No wonder 80% of trips in South East Queensland use Go Card. She got Go Cards for the rest of the holiday, including travel to and around the Gold Coast.

The paper tickets are thermal paper. They appear to have more restrictive transfer rules, and you have to find a human to let you through station barriers — along with the cost, these all encourage you onto Go Cards instead.

They are also only available as single trip tickets. This may have been to further encourage people to switch, but caused Translink and the government major embarassment in August at the Ekka (Brisbane’s Royal Show equivalent), as thousands of occasional users had to queue to buy tickets to get home, with police eventually ordering rail officials to let people board trains without tickets, to prevent a crowd crush.

In contrast, for many fares, Myki is only marginally cheaper than short term/paper/single Metcard fares. For instance, regional bus fares are only 10% different, resulting in many people continuing to buy single short term tickets off drivers (which are an expensive cardboard semi-smart card).

The plan for Myki of course is to have no paper ticket option at all. This would be a retrograde step, since occasional users and those unable to obtain a Myki card before travel would have no fare option.

Translink single tickets

Conclusions, and lessons for Myki

Go Card is quite obviously more mature than Myki, despite being initiated around the same time, with the system going live about a year before Myki started in regional cities. It’s older technology though, using the (now hacked) MiFare Classic cards.

Myki has more secure cards, better fare options (with daily caps and passes available).

The key lessons for Myki, are, I think:

  • Response times have to be made consistently fast (as well as the other well-documented problems ironed-out).
  • Some sort of paper ticket option should be provided, preferably with thermal paper tickets, which are cheap to produce and require staff assistance to get through gates. Myki fares should be at least 30% cheaper to further encourage their use.
  • A refund system should be provided for Myki.

(There’s a bunch of other stuff they should fix about Myki, too.)

Update: Some discussion on the points above on the Rail Back On Track forum. Regarding the Journey Planner showing zones, this is true for the main Translink web site, but not the mobile version. And I did know that Go Card refunds can be done over-the-counter, but assumed we wouldn’t have time to do this when catching the Airtrain back to the airport.

Update 2: Note that the Myki $9.80 refund fee was removed in January 2012 — however although you can get a full refund of the card balance, the cost of the card itself ($6 full, $3 concession from January) can’t be refunded. And unlike Go Card the refund can’t be done over-the-counter — they send you a cheque in the mail.

Queensland floods

I’m not going to name names, but two people remarked to me last week that the Queensland floods wouldn’t be that bad, because all the houses have stilts, so everyone up there would be fine.

I wasn’t about to get into an argument about it, but at the time I had my doubts. I suspect the people involved (both a generation older than me) have in their minds that the whole state is filled with “traditional” architecture of the Queenslander style — in particular those with stumps/stilts that let’s the house sit above ground level.

I may not have been to Queensland for twenty years, but I know it’s simply not true. As in any modern urban area, places like Brisbane (under threat now from floods) and the many regional cities have a wide variety of architecture, and traditional structures like stilts may or may not be integrated into modern designs, particularly as local drainage systems improved and the risk of termites and other pests (a reason for the stilts) may have been less prominent.

In any case, in the last day or two the flooding has got significantly worse. This video from Toowoomba shows just how quickly it can develop from a mere raging torrent into a dangerous situation where cars are thrown about like toys.

A number of people are confirmed dead, and many more are missing from places like Toowoomba.

Two-thirds of Queensland has been declared a disaster zone, and for those outside Australia trying to judge how big the problem is, the flooded areas are said to be about the size of France and Germany combined, or for our American friends, the size of Texas and Oklahoma combined.

Packed freewayBrisbane is now under threat, with some of the images yesterday of thousands fleeing central Brisbane reminiscent of disaster movies — proving yet again that freeways are no good for moving large numbers of people at once (but if you’ve driven in, and you can’t get back home any other way, what choice do you have?).

[Pic at right: Riverside Expressway, from Queensland government traffic camera, 1:36pm AEST Tuesday]

My uncle lives in Gordon Park, in inner-suburban Brisbane. Thankfully his suburb is not on the list of those likely to be affected by the river breaking its banks, and the excellent flood maps prepared by Brisbane City Council show that even if local flooding occurs, his street (which is on a hill above a park and a creek) should be safe. My sister rang him last night to check on him — he’s doing fine so far.

A lot of areas will not be so lucky though, and one can only offer best wishes to those caught up in the flooding.