On many public transport systems, they go out of their way to encourage what we in Melbourne call Passes — sometimes called Season Passes, Periodicals, Monthly or Yearly tickets: a fixed price for unlimited travel for a period.
For the system, the benefits include reduced transaction costs, getting a bunch of money up front, and the promise of customer loyalty, at least for the Pass duration, but also beyond that if they like the discount and the service and renew.
For the passenger, they get a nice discount, and they don’t have to bother with queuing and buying more tickets for a while. In some places, they don’t even need to get their ticket out unless asked by an inspector.
Passengers can also use the Pass for any travel they like during that time, for instance weekday commuters might use it for social or recreational travel on weekends or evenings.
The key benefit of the Pass is the discount over everyday fares, but Melbourne’s used to have some other benefits which have been removed with the migration to Myki:
- Pre-1990s Metcard, on weekends, a Weekly/Monthly/Yearly allowed travel not just for the cardholder, but also for another adult and kids, effectively becoming a weekend family ticket
- Pre-Myki, on weekends the fare also allowed travel in any zone in Melbourne for no extra cost (the clumsy handling of this has led to the situation where some users actually get charged a negative fare for using extra zones now)
Personally I think the loss of these benefits is probably forgiveable. Bringing across every single fare oddity into a new system is part of what has made Myki so trouble prone. There’s a good argument that they should have simplified things further, such as scrapping the Weekly Pass and using an automatic Weekly Cap instead. But I digress.
The bigger effect of Myki, and in particular its compulsory use in Melbourne since the end of 2012, is that the Pass discount is now greatly diminished.
How many days does a Pass cost?
Weekly fares were about the cost 4.3 Dailies, from the 90s, right up to 2012. Since Daily fares were moved onto Myki Money, which is at a cheaper rate (since it was originally intended to sit alongside 2-hour and Daily short term/single use tickets), a Weekly fare is now equivalent to 5 weekdays.
In other words, the Weekly fare is no longer a great proposition, unless you know for sure that you’ll travel more than 5 days a week. If you’re not sure, or you never use public transport at weekends, you might as well use Myki Money.
A Monthly/30 Day Pass had been about the cost of 16.2 Dailies, making it a very attractive proposition for daily commuters. It’s now the cost of 18.4 weekdays, making it less compelling for 9-5 workers who might only have 20 days’ use in the month if they never use public transport on weekends.
A lot of people buy 33-day Passes, and have them start on a Monday, and end on the Friday five weeks later, avoiding paying for an intermediate weekend if they are unlikely to use it. With some planning ahead, you can also adjust the number of days (anywhere between 28 and 325) to fit in with public holidays or leave from work.
Yearlies used to be about the cost of 171 Dailies. They are now up at the cost of 199 weekdays.
For metropolitan passengers, there’s no reason to ever pay retail price for a Yearly. Get the Commuter Club discount via your workplace or PTUA instead.
Happily, the combination of the Yearly discount and the Commuter Club discount still makes it a pretty good deal for most everyday users, as long as they can afford the initial outlay (or their workplace can pay it via monthly deductions).
What about the weekend cap?
My calculations are perhaps a little shaky, but the figures come out significantly worse if you take into account that some days in a Pass would be subject to the $6 weekend/holiday daily cap, not the weekday price.
(While few would have welcomed the increase of the weekend daily cap from $3.50 to $6 in 2014, it did remove the anomaly whereby Myki Money users got weekend travel more cheaply than loyal Myki Pass users.)
Including the weekend cap in the calculation, a Weekly costs the same as 5.3 days (assuming no public holidays). A 30-day Pass is 23 days (also assuming no public holidays in the month). A Yearly is around 251 days (assuming 12 public holidays per year).
Comparing Melbourne to other cities
A PTUA study in 2011 found that Melbourne had one of the most expensive Monthly fare prices in the world, at 20.3 days. (The calculation used an average of Zone 1, Z2, and Z1+2 prices. I’ve used just Z1 above.)
The average for the other cities in the study was 12.5 days, and the European cities in particular had deep discounts for Monthly fares.
The prices may have changed a bit since then, particularly as many cities have moved to smartcards in the mean time, and changed their fare structures. For instance in Vancouver it appears the Monthly has moved up from 12.67 then to about the price of 15.5 days now (based on two single fares with transfers).
But most of them still seem to price their Monthlies cheaper than Melbourne.
I’m certainly not arguing that Myki Money fares should go up. The discount from paper tickets is a reasonable one, given the inconvenience of having no paper tickets available.
Given Melbourne’s Weekly Pass discount is negligible for most users, it might be time to revisit whether an automatic Weekly Cap (once proposed, and partly implemented) can easily replace it. A Monthly cap was also once proposed, but seems to have been excised at an early stage.
But to encourage regular users, the Monthly/Yearly price should really come down, at least to reflect the cut in daily fares that occurred when everybody got forced from paper tickets onto Myki.