Smartcard ticketing: Sometimes IT isn’t the answer

Smartcard cartoonI’m a bit of a geek, but even I can see that sometimes technology isn’t the answer to a problem. The Victorian government has announced a $494 million deal for a new public transport ticketing system, to run for 10 years from 2007.

Question is: does it solve the number one problem with the old system — which is that it’s easy to fare evade? This is widely estimated to cost up to $50 million a year.

No, it doesn’t fix this, because ticket checks by staff will still be few and far between.

Well given that it would cost in the region of half that amount of money to put staff on stations and trams, with plenty left over to patch up the current ticketing system into something decent, wouldn’t that be a better idea?

Okay then, if it doesn’t fix fare evasion, then are there other advantages to the new system?

  • Contactless tickets (thus more reliability) — this was originally meant to be in the current Metcard system. Staff have them, the validators are ready for them, but the card media was found to be too expensive. How much would it cost to re-engineer for cheaper media? Then maybe my Yearly ticket wouldn’t go kaput after 5 months, grrr.
  • Automatically finding the cheapest fare — possibly some benefit, but the examples they’re giving (converting your 2 x 2 hour blocks into a Daily ticket) are already offered with 10×2 hour tickets.
  • Getting out of the OneLink/ERG contract — eg they charged a fortune to enable Daily tickets on trams, but miraculously got it done within a week or two of payment, so it can’t have been technologically too difficult. Not sure this new contract will be any better. I wonder if source code/intellectual property is to be handed to the state in 2017? And note ERG is in the new consortium.
  • Through-ticketing (but not necessarily fare integration) with V/Line and country buses — Not sure if that’s possible with current system without revamp of rural fare structure spaghetti. Zones 4-10, anybody?
  • Better passenger stats — New system will achieve this by penalising if you don’t scan-off at end of trip. Current stats are gathered by people with clipboards. Note that stats showing consistent overcrowding on some lines has — apart from Upfield line — resulted in no initiatives to relieve that overcrowding.

So, a couple of marginal benefits. But worth half a billion dollars? Not from this tax-payer’s point of view.

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3 Replies to “Smartcard ticketing: Sometimes IT isn’t the answer”

  1. The ticketing needs to be simple. I live in Geelong and have declined to use Melbourne’s public transport ever since the paper tickets were phased out. Yes, that is a long time ago.

    Just get any system that works simply amd is vandal proof, please.

  2. I couldn’t agree more.

    Luddites seem to be getting more common. I figure this is really bad for society because children of Luddites could be severely disadvantaged compared to their techno-whiz classmates. Not sure if it is enough to create a whole new under-class but I wouldn’t be surprised.

    Anyway, I figure any new technology that we expect to be utilised by the whole population should be easier to use than the old technology. If it is harder, it just makes more Luddites who pine for the simple days of old. We used to only have to carry a valid ticket. Now we have to validate as we get on. Next we will be expected to validate as we get off too? How many little annoying tasks are PT users expected to put up with? In 20 years they’ll probably want us to push the goddam bus too!

  3. San Francisco has a person come round at every stop (they ride on the train) and put a hole in your ticket, put it in a slot under or over your seatr. (It is a double decker train.) Every stop they check the ticket. If you just got on the train you geive your ticket to the person. I don’t know if ther is any cheating.
    In Vancouver, they have an elevated train. You buy your ticket, walk up the stairs and get on. Someone collects the ticket once you are on. (It’s been a while since I was there.)
    Here we ride the bus. The door is only big enough for one person at a time. We either swipe our bus pass (I get mine from work – it comes off our paycheck everytime. It has our picture on it.) If you don’t have a monthly bus pass or one like mine, you either pay your $2.00 (depends on how far you are going) or put your bus ticket in the machine.

    Have 2 doors. One for coming on the train – swipe your pass, and one for leaving the train – with more room.

    janice

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