The Ombudsman’s report on Myki (and other IT projects)

Last Wednesday the Ombudsman/Auditor General report into government ICT (Information & Communications Technology) projects was released. Included in the list of projects gone bad that it investigated was our old favourite Myki, with some interesting findings on the timings and costings:

The TTA business case dated 27 April 2004 had forecast total expenditure of $741.9 million over the life of the project (2004-17). Following the award of the contract in 2005, the budget was revised to $999 million … In April 2008, the budget was increased to $1.35 billion…

New Myki reader, Bentleigh station (not working yet)In other words, an 82% cost increase between 2004 and 2008, though “only” a 35% increase from the point in 2005 when the contract was signed to 2008. (The 2008 costings still apply today.)

More interesting is what the conclusion is on where to go from here:

In my [The Ombudsman’s] view, the TTA focus in the short-term must be to ensure the operational efficacy of myki as soon as possible and replace Metcard. I can see no reason why the TTA cannot immediately commence planned transition from Metcard to myki on a station by station, line by line basis. This will minimise the significant costs associated with running parallel systems.

I think this makes a lot of sense — provided they can come up with a solution to the short term ticket problem, preferably, of course, continued availability using cheap thermal tickets, as seen in Brisbane. They should also do another “free” card offer (perhaps just make the card free with a balance deposit).

It’s not just the costs of running Metcard and Myki, it’s also the problems caused by the two systems coexisting — primarily slow and unreliable/unresponsive “Frankenbarriers” at major stations, and bus/tram location detection problems because drivers have no access to Myki consoles to log what route they’re running, and the GPS apparently can’t work it out on its own.

Other than these issues, Myki pretty much works, and it’s time for the government to bite the bullet and get on with it.

I saw the TTA’s old transition plan as being the logical way to go.

For instance, with trains, one day you’d arrive at your station to find the Metcard vending and booking office machines gone, Myki machines in their place, with only Metcard validators remaining (for existing tickets). Station and TTA staff (Myki Mates) would be there for a few days to explain to you how to buy a card, charge it up and work it, answer questions, solve any problems.

Have a few teams converting a few stations each day, and you’d soon have the biggest part of the network/regular passengers switched (eg “station by station, line by line”, as the Ombudsman says.)

Then do the same on trams and buses.

Residual Metcards (weeklies, monthlies, yearlies, 10×2) would disappear over time and at some point they would offer fee-free refunds on them (as has occurred when other types of tickets were withdrawn). Once they’re all gone, remove the Metcard validators.

(In fact I suspect Metcard Yearlies have almost disappeared, given it was about a year ago when they switched to selling Yearlies only on Myki.)

Sure, there’ll be glitches along the way, but if the government gets on with it, it’ll all be over and done with and working, well before the 2013 state election, and won’t be something that’ll haunt them going into the next poll.

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22 Replies to “The Ombudsman’s report on Myki (and other IT projects)”

  1. The chance of them changing the schedule at this point in time is pretty slim I imagine, but of course you are entirely right. The Liberal governments announcements on how to handle Myki was about as wrong as it could have been by the time it was made.

    No short term tickets – absurd.
    No V-line services – Very silly, especially considering infrastructure has already been put in place at Southern Cross and a lot of the Vline network.
    Keeping metcard until the end of 2012 – Expensive and silly!

  2. As I watched someone try to scan their Metcard at a Myki validator, I thought, to have two electronic ticket systems running side by side must be quite unusual. To have them running so for what, over two years or more, must be extremely unusual. I am surprised so many do use Metcard when there are good savings to be with Myki.

  3. It seems to me there are still problems in the underlying state machine regarding fare calculations in the zone 1/2 overlap and subsequent travel into only zone 1 or 2 that result in overcharging. My last complaint was met with the response of use Metcard.

    There is also a program of adding exits on down platforms at many suburban railway stations to deal with the inevitable hold ups caused by the need to touch off.

  4. I agree that it is inefficient madness to run parallel systems. However, there are significant problems with the back end of myki that it makes me very nervous. They need to sort these problems out!

  5. One of the other things they need to do, is make it easier to swap from ordinary Myki to Concession Myki. I lost my job a while back and haven’t yet go another, so I’m now on Newstart and thus eligible for a Concession fair. However the process to swap my Myki over was just so ridiculous, I didn’t bother, I just use concession Metcards.

    To swap the Myki, I have to go to the Myki centre at Southern Cross (or mail it in) and give over my existing Myki and sometime in the next 6-10 weeks (their quote) they would send me a new card and a refund for my myki balance. They couldn’t even swap the balance over. Then, when I get a job, I have to go through it all again as as pay $9 each way for the priviledge !!!! arrrggggghhhhhhh. If they don’t have short term Mykis what am I supposed to do during the swap over period.

    ..Paul

  6. Paul K: I’m running a one woman campaign on the very issue of swapping Myki cards when your concession status. You can read about the level of apathy amongst Myki staff and the responses I’ve had from the Ombudsman over on my blog (http://divacultura.blogspot.com/2011/11/myki-its-your-key-to-bureaucratic.html)
    I’ve done the swap both ways and I agree it’s painful.
    You should know that they are not supposed to charge the $9.80 administration fee if the reason you need the new card is because of a change in concession status – going either way.
    Wanna know how they waive it? They credit your account with $9.80 and then debit it. Which proves they DO have the technology to credit amounts to cards!

  7. I know it costs $7, but it sounds like it would be easier just to buy an anonymous concession myki and use that until you are back in the workforce. Which is annoying, because changing the status of something like concession should be a 3 minute job at any station counter, with the documents sighted or scanned by the station master and the full fare/concession status toggled on a computer.

  8. @PaulK
    Its not just swapping cards over, its virtually any administration duties regarding myki. I lost a wallet with my myki card inside. It took about 4 days to get a new bank card. A week to get my new licence. 5 days for the new Medicare card.

    Roughly 8 weeks and about a dozen phone calls to get a replacement Myki with the balance put on. In that time there were so many different stories, explanations and outright stuff ups that if I lost another I wouldn’t be bothering with the process.

    @Dave
    The concession Myki’s do actually have concession printed on the card, that’s about the only reason it might be more difficult than a simple toggle button. However even handing over a new card and transferring the balance across shouldn’t be hard. The same person can have multiple cards on an account, how hard can it be to transfer balance from one to the next?

  9. There’s a letter in today’s Age which is relevant to this subject. A reader from Geelong obtained a Myki card earlier this year, and put $20 on it. She only uses it occasionally, because she says there are “limited opportunities” in Geelong. I know that Myki was rolled out in Geelong long before it came to Melbourne, so I’m guessing she means there is no public transport to wherever it is within Geelong that she needs to go.

    Recently in Melbourne she tried to use her Myki card on a tram, and it was declined due “insufficient funds”. Turns out that if one doesn’t use a Myki card for 90 days, the funds are “archived”. To “unarchive” the funds, one must find a Myki machine and – get this – top up the card with more money! Which will then enable the card to be used in what the letter writer dryly notes is “an amazing 24 to 48 hours. What are they using – pigeons?”

    I’d be asking four questions of the Transport Ticketing Authority:

    1. Why archive funds at all?

    2. Assuming they have a good reason for archiving – which I doubt – why is the period of non-use as little as 90 days? Some people are only occasional visitors to cities where Myki is in use. Surely a period of, say, 12 months would be more reasonable?

    3. If it takes 24 to 48 hours to make archived funds available, how is that supposed to be of any use to a person such as the Age letter writer, who will very likely have returned to their home town by the time the funds are available?

    And, most ludicrous of all:

    4. Why on earth should a Myki cardholder be required to top up the card with MORE of their own money merely to get at the funds which are ALREADY on it?

    If I were experiencing what the Age letter writer, @PaulK, @divacultura, or @Julian are experiencing, I’d be banging on the door of my local member’s office, demanding to know why. This is not good enough.

    I agree with @divacultura. While the problems still exist with Myki, I’m glad the old Metcard system is still in place as a backup. I don’t yet have a Myki card, but I have only recently received my first ever health care card. I fully expect only to have it for a short time, and to be returning to full fare status in the not too distant future when I’m working again. While I continue to hear stories like @PaulK’s and @divacultura’s, about how hard it is to change one’s Myki from full to concession status and back again, there ain’t no way I’m going to switch from Metcards to Myki just yet.

  10. @Bonnie, despite what the letter says:

    card balances are ”archived” if the card is not used for 90 days

    …this is misleading. The balance of the Myki isn’t archived; the topup is.

    That is, if you topup online, but then don’t “collect” it onto the card by using the card for 90 days, it gets archived. It gets un-archived when the card is used on the system.

    Any existing balance stays on the card, even if it remains unused for 90 days or more.

    Agree, the other problems people are seeing are not good enough.

    The problem where a credit card expiry on an auto topup results in the Myki card being rendered inoperative and having to be sent in to be re-activated is particularly stupid. (Note to anybody using auto topup: make sure you change your credit card details when your bank issues you a new one.)

  11. Well its not just myki that has that problem. My auto phone billing fails every year when the bank issues a new card – with the same card number on the same card account.
    Curiously, the power company never has a problem with it.

  12. @Bonnie – I’m onto the local member now.

    The thing I find most incredible is that decisions have been taken to design the system this way! As I understand it, the reason the credit card expiring is a problem is that myki is set up to give you money before it takes it from your credit card. If the card is expired they obviously can’t do this. What other business hands over the product before they get the money? And further, builds a SYSTEM so this happens?

    Honestly.

  13. @Daniel, thanks for the explanation, but isn’t it splitting hairs?

    The customer has put money on the card. As long as they wait the required 24-48 hours (which arguably is excessively long, but that’s a whole ‘nother complaint), the customer should be able to access that money – even if their first access is several months down the track. For the Myki system to archive that topup money because the customer hasn’t accessed it within 90 days is indefensible. From the customer’s point of view, the difference between “existing balance” and “topup money” is irrelevant – it’s all money, it’s all there on the card, they should be able to access it.

    The letter writer may be mistaken in the fine detail (in which case, shouldn’t the Myki customer service person have done a better job explaining it to her?), but regardless, I still think she has a valid point. She has put money on that card, and she now can’t get at it unless she puts more money on that card. If I were in her shoes, I’d be furious.

  14. @Bonnie, I’m not saying someone caught in that situation doesn’t have a right to be angry about it, but it’s quite a different problem, and it’s important to be accurate about what the issue is (and isn’t).

    If the system “archived” every single card balance after 90 days of inactivity, it would be disastrous; it would make it unusable for all occasional users.

    But this problem is limited to a specific scenario; that of people who decide to topup online but then don’t use it for three months. Yes, they should have thought more about how this would impact people. I expect they designed it this way because otherwise every device in the state needs to store that topup until the card it belongs to turns up, and they thought 90 days was a reasonable time.

    Given this issue has sparked a letter into The Age, and another several months ago into the Herald Sun, it’s evident that in the real world, some people do topup then leave it dormant for more than 90 days, and it needs a re-think. It also, obviously, needs to be better explained to people when they ask about it.

  15. It’s the same old issue where people don’t realise that they don’t really have a myki account as such, everything happens on the card. So in the case of the archived topup, it never made it to the card as the person didn’t hold it to a reader to collect their topup. If they had, it wouldn’t be archived, as once it’s on the card, it stays on it until it is used. The 24-48 hour timeframe is to allow topups to be sent to all readers to then update the card. With fixed readers and topup machines, the topup is there the next morning, with mobile readers on trams and buses it may take longer.
    Note that this is the same in every public transport smartcard system worldwide.

  16. These rogue Frankenbarriers….ultimately this is basic stuff, and the fact that they still exist, 18months after myki was first launched should tell you everything you need to know about WHY myki has not and can not be fully launched.

    myki currently only has a 25% cut through with met travellers. Imagine the chaos if 100% of people were using it.

    The 3rd barrier from the right at Flagstaff is a severe culprit, and there are others. Yet still, Metro refuse to put up signs indicating that the queue you are in has a faulty myki reader.

    The potential lost revenue from Met staff waving myki users through, is too much for the government to stomach.

  17. @Julian, There is no real need for Concession cards to have the huge ‘C’ on them that I can see. If the inspectors all had Myki readers than they could see its a concession and ask to see the appropriate concession entitlement. That way I could just have the card toggled at my local (premium) station

  18. @PaulK, agree – the readers provide the double beep, it shows up on handheld readers etc. Since the status of the ticket requires reading electronically anyway (unlike metcard), there’s no need at all for any physical difference in the myki cards. Another waste of effort – both in producing separate cards, and then the hassle and staff time, and customer time in swapping between the two discussed earlier in this thread.
    Should suggest to DOT as an efficiency saving – if there’s a justification for a separate card, I’d like to see it…

  19. @Dave, note that Myki readers give a double-beep for Commuter Club yearlies (unlike Metcard readers). The double-beep does not necessarily indicate a concession.

  20. Fair enough. Still, if the only way to read the validity status of a myki is electronically, there is still zero reason to have separate cards. Same for seniors. A massive waste of effort.
    I cannot believe that myki has a massive back-office processing centre and mail in/out for this stuff when it could be handled remotely (ie, you send in your concession details, the myki staff adjust via computer and one-two days later, you’re current card is updated to concession status.

    Same for refunds – why refund balances of less than $10 if the bank cheque costs that much (as divacultura experienced). Use it or lose it – pass the card onto a friend, if you really aren’t going to use that last $5.76. Alternatively, enable station agents to refund on the spot (zero the card and issue cash).

  21. Transition is simple.
    October first anounce that paper MET tickets would be removed from sale as of January first and would no longer be accepted/valid after March 31st.
    Refunds on yearly tickets to be offerred to those who bought theirs before November 1st. Anybody else with outstanding tickets would have to provide a very solid case for refund.
    Done, dealt with. Turn the MET ticket equipment off on April 1st.

    Yes, single use tickets, tourists and interstate or country visitors are a problem and need to be dealt with. myki was specified and developed to have single use disposible tickets available and they should honour this requirement.

  22. Pretty much works ain’t good enough. I cant use it, what do I do? Despite several attempts to transition I have found the Myki system is too unreliable for travel to work every day. I need to have the meticket system as a backup.

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