Default fares kind of make sense (an assumption about where someone travelled if they don’t touch-off), but the way they’re implemented under Myki leaves a lot to be desired.
An example from Saturday, when I zipped down to Geelong and back on the train.
Summarising the official history:
12:15 Touched-on at Footscray (zone 1). The train was just arriving, so almost no waiting time.
12:25 Conductor checks my card, just after departing Sunshine.
13:17 Touch-off at South Geelong (zone 4). I’m charged $4.50. I have an active zone 1 Pass on the card, so theoretically it should have charged me just for the travel in zones 2 to 4. This involves taking the normal off-peak (eg weekend) fare of $8.26 and deducting $3.76, the usual zone 1 fare, given I’ve already paid for that. So this seems correct.
I had a walk around and a spot of lunch in Geelong, before heading back to the station, encountering Greens Senator Janet Rice along the way, after spotting her leading a marriage equality rally. We had a good chat on the train back.
— Daniel Bowen (@danielbowen) September 19, 2015
14:23 Touch-on at Geelong (zone 4).
15:26 Conductor checks my card (somewhere between Little River and Wyndham Vale)
At Southern Cross I changed trains from V/Line platform 8 to Metro platform 12 via the Bourke Street bridge, which does not require exiting the paid area, since barriers between previously separate paid areas were removed.
Some other V/Line to Metro interchanges at Southern Cross also don’t require exiting, since V/Line uses platforms 15+16, within the Metro paid area. The same often applies at other stations too, such as Sunshine, Footscray, Caulfield and Dandenong.
16:34 Touch-off at Bentleigh (zone 1). This triggers a default fare of $8.04, almost double the amount of the trip down.
So what’s gone on here? Firstly, it was a bit over two hours from touch-on to touch-off, which triggered the default fare. This is a problem — many perfectly logical trips take over two hours, even just in metropolitan Melbourne. (Memorably, those taking long trips on buses have been asked to touch-off then back on midway through their trips.)
Default fares on V/Line vary according to where you touch-on. PTV says:
The default fare for V/Line commuter services at touch on is a 2 hour peak fare between the zone of touch on and Zone 1. The conductor will reset the default fare to the end of the line (will depend on the direction the train is travelling).
So the default was a zone 4 to 1 trip, which matches where I was going. But if a default fare triggers, you don’t get any off-peak discount, not even on weekends when the entire day is off-peak.
So in this case, it’s charged me a full peak fare from Geelong of $11.80, minus the zone 1 portion of $3.76 = $8.04.
Is this a rare situation? I’m not sure.
I’ll claim a refund, but why should it be up to the passenger, given I did what the system asked of me — top up, touch on, touch off?
How it could be improved
Two hours is clearly not enough when travelling across four zones and interchanging. It’s worse with long waiting times, common at V/Line stations. (I waited half an hour; it could have been a lot worse at some stations on the weekend.)
An easy (perhaps) fix would be to change the two hour limit to be more generous for trips of more than two zones. Currently it’s 2 hours for 1-5 zones, 3 hours for 6-11 zones, or 4 hours for 12-13 zones. Perhaps adjust those rules so you get three hours for trips of 3-5 zones, though even that is pushing it if your wait after interchange is long, and so is your remaining trip (Geelong to Hurstbridge, anybody?).
And it wouldn’t help the long Smartbus trip situation. As I noted back when I posted about that: If they’d thought about how the software might be used in the real world, then (at least on buses) they should be able to figure out that as you exit the bus after a long trip, you didn’t really magically travel to the end of the route (before the bus itself got there) and then board it again.
The worst outcome would be to tell people to traipse up to the gates and exit, then re-enter when changing trains. That truly would be dictating that the people conform to the needs of the system, rather than the other way around as it should be.
A little more intelligence in the system would be appropriate, to ensure that people taking genuinely long trips don’t get stung unnecessarily.