From December 29th, a month from today, basically all metropolitan public transport will require a Myki card, following the government decision in June 2011 to not implement short term tickets.
I expect regular users will adapt. Most of them already have. It’s the occasional users (and that includes locals as well as tourists) who will have four significant barriers to using the system.
As with any big change, there will initially be confusion due to out-of-date information floating around. Take for instance the widely regarded Lonely Planet, which until a couple of days ago, said on its “Getting Around” page for Melbourne:
Metcards allow you to travel on any and all Melbourne bus, train and tram services, even if you transfer from one to another. Tickets are available from Metcard vending machines and counters at train stations, on board trams (tram vending machines only take coins and only dispense City Saver, two-hour and daily tickets), from retailers displaying the Met flag (usually newsagents and milk bars) and the Met Shop. You can purchase tickets directly from the driver on bus services.
Obviously in time this information will get updated — just in the last few days Lonely Planet has updated the page with the latest information, including removing references to the Met Shop at the Town Hall, which closed last weekend, in favour of the new PTV Hub at Southern Cross.
(In contrast, the official Tourism Australia page on transport in Melbourne is hopeless. Its top link is some obscure coach company called Transport Network Australia, and there is no mention at all of PTV, Metro, Yarra Trams, Myki or even older entities such as Metlink. Meanwhile, Wikitravel is out of date, but not hopelessly so. Rough Guides mentions nothing but Metcard. Frommers is pretty much up to date, but with last year’s prices.)
But even if you do look at the official Myki info, can you figure out what to do?
Adapting from a system where you say up-front when and where you want to travel, and buying a ticket for precisely that, to one where you get a re-usable card, load money onto it, then use it up, is a big change, and even if you know precisely how the system works, it’s difficult.
For instance, you’re arriving in Melbourne for a day. You know to buy a Myki, and can find somewhere to do so. How much do you load onto it so you don’t have too much left over when you leave?
Let’s say it’s a Saturday. The maximum weekend fare is $3.30. So, you should load $3.30, right?
Well, no. For a Myki (using Myki Money) to touch-on, the balance must be above zero. So for travel for the day, you’d need to load $3.40 (at a machine, because they don’t take 5 cent coins — at a retailer you might well be able to load $3.35.)
This is not super-simple to understand.
Then of course there’s the cost of the cards. $6 for an adult/$3 for concession. It may not seem like much, and I suppose it isn’t… for one person.
But if you’re travelling in say a family of four, you’re suddenly looking at $18 plus the fares. For a short visit, or for locals who only use public transport once-a-year, this is a not insignificant outlay.
And if you load up too much money on the card/s, it’s a hassle to get the balance back — the only way to get a refund is by cheque, taking 21 days — next to useless for international travellers.
(I have Go cards from a trip to Brisbane last year which still have about $8 on them, for this reason, even though their refund system is a little easier to use.)
The third hurdle is availability.
While Myki cards and topup are widely available (moreso than in Perth), there are some significant gaps.
only buy buy only full-fare Myki cards at railway station/tram stop vending machines. To get a concession Myki you have to order it online or find a Premium station or retail outlet.
On trams, you won’t be able to buy or topup a Myki card at all. There will be no options to legally ride a tram unless you already have a loaded card.
This presents an enormous barrier to occasional users who want to catch a tram.
Finally, something which I think gets forgotten…
Even if you figure out what you need to do, get over the cost issues, and it’s possible to find the card(s) you need…
I think there’s a psychological barrier to buying a re-usable card when you only want to use it once, or once in a blue moon. (No, the balance does not expire after 90 days.)
I know people who visit Brisbane and are happy to pay the much higher fare for paper tickets, knowing that Go cards are cheaper. So it is too with Myki at the moment, while Metcards are available.
Not everybody wants that kind of souvenir of Melbourne. Not every local or regular visitor will be able to tuck it away in the drawer and trust themselves to be able to find it again when they need it.
I’m sure the government would like every single Melburnian to have a loaded Myki card in their wallet, ready for use, and for every visitor to buy one too. The reality is somewhat different.
Encouraging new customers to use your product — initially occasionally, perhaps, with the hope they’ll switch more regularly — means it has to be easy to obtain.
I think there’s a real concern that the removal of all short term ticket options (particularly from trams) will make it too hard for new users to (legally) jump on board.
Already I know of one dedicated motorist who, looking for any reason to stick to his car, is using the “you can’t buy a single ticket” excuse — even though it’s not quite true yet.
How this plays out after December 28th is anybody’s guess. It will be fascinating to see what happens.