I’m a bit bemused by the apparent mass surprise of people that Myki cards expire. Every other type of smartcard expires. Credit cards get replaced every 3-4 years. Despite the system cost, Myki cards don’t magically last forever.
Right from when the system first went into live pilot in Geelong in late-2008, it’s always been known (though not widely) that Myki cards expire after four years — the question has always been what happens when they do expire, and how are replacements organised?
What is surprising is that the TTA only released details of the process last Wednesday, after the first cards issued back then started expiring. And I expect it was helped-along by one of the first cards to expire belonging to Channel 9 reporter Andrew Lund.
And of course there’s a sense of irony in that cards are expiring before the system is fully rolled-out. (If the election hadn’t resulted in a change of government, the plan had been for Melbourne’s phase-out of Metcard to be done by Easter 2011.)
So, what happens?
After four years the cards stop working, with the readers reporting an “expired” error. You then have to get a replacement.
This can be done over-the-counter at the Southern Cross PTV Hub. Apparently at some stage in the future you’ll be able to do it at any Premium station.
Or you can send the card away for replacement, but it’ll take 10 days to come back to you.
Or you can buy another card, then fill in a form and get the balance of the old one transferred, as well as a refund on the new card’s purchase price.
Thankfully you can organise the replacement before the card has actually expired, if your card is “is approaching its expiry date” (though it doesn’t specify precisely what “approaching” means).
It’s unclear if the replacement cards will have higher-level security, to counter the theoretical hack identified last year. This vulnerability is unlikely to be exploited in the real world any time soon, so replacement of cards is not considered urgent, but they might want to get it done within the next four years.
Do you get an expiry warning?
It appears not, at least not for unregistered cards. Myki readers will flash warnings if your balance is low, or your Pass is about to expire, but it seems nothing is highlighted when the card itself is close to expiry.
You can check it on a Myki Check machine, or a vending machine, but if you only use buses or trams, you might never get a chance to use one of these.
If the card is registered you can check it on the web site.
And they say that registered card-owners will get an email in advance, though it’s not clear if that process is actually in place yet.
Is four years long enough?
All cards expire eventually. I assume the TTA made a wild guess that four years was a reasonable amount of time to set, perhaps anticipating a higher failure rate after that.
Brisbane’s Go Card, based on a different version of the MiFare smartcard, has a ten year life.
I had a look around — a lot of other systems (including Perth Smartrider, San Francisco Clipper and London Oyster) don’t seem to nominate a card life. I suppose either that means they keep going until they stop working and you get them replaced, or they just don’t make it public, and have measures in place to issue replacements when it happens. Of course in these cities, if you get stuck, there is a single use/short-term ticket option as a backup.
How could it be better
For a start they should have publicised the replacement process ahead of the cards starting to expire, and targeted it at those most likely to be affected — those who were the very first to get Myki cards: Geelong bus users. They could have also ensured that cards could be replaced over-the-counter at locations in Geelong (and the other regional cities), as well as in Melbourne.
And the readers should give an advance warning, so it doesn’t just get sprung on you.
Although I’m not currently using it, my first Myki card is from April 2009. I’ll be interested to see if this process has improved by the time it expires.
Finally, perhaps instead of a hard expiry date, with the card suddenly unusable, they should have provided a month’s grace, and/or automatically sent out a replacement if the card was registered and in regular usage.
Update 9/1/2013: It turns out the emails are being sent to at least some people, though this one was received just two days before the card’s expiry, which is inadequate to arrange a replacement before the card is no longer usable: