Ahead of the wider rollout, I got to look around the Myki test centre, which was fascinating.
Around the place were lots of test cards and computers and other hardware
Myki gates: at the time these hadn’t been deployed anywhere on the system – initially Myki readers were fitted onto the old Metcard gates.
History has shown that the Myki gates (in particular the readers) were too slow, and many of the readers have since been replaced by units made by Vix, which was the company that engineered Metcard, finally providing sufficiently fast response times.
Gate Controller – these are seen at railway stations, allowing staff to configure and control the gates. I don’t think the deployed units have the large emergency button – this seems to be generally placed discretely nearby.
Myki Check devices were deployed to a lot of busier railway stations and tram stops to sit alongside Myki vending machines, though they are now being replaced by Quick TopUp machines (which can also check the card status).
Note the display shows daily and weekly capping – the latter was never rolled out (though I’d argue that it would be a worthwhile change – it is easier to understand than 7-day Passes, and better value for passengers)
Tram vending machine – only one or two of these were deployed onto trams, for test purposes. They would have allowed people to buy or top-up a Myki card, though with coins only. They were cancelled in 2011 as a result of the Baillieu government’s review into Myki. It was reported later in 2011 that 500 of the machines had been bought in 2008, never to be used.
Myki readers. Like the gates, these have also never performed satisfactorily, which led to the scrapping of the requirement to touch-off trams. These are also being gradually replaced with Vix units – they first appeared on E-class trams, but are also increasingly appearing on buses.
Those with long memories might recognise this part of the test centre – it was where in January 2009, one of the readers fell apart in front of then-Public Transport Minister Lynne Kosky, as the TV cameras were rolling. (Kosky didn’t start the Myki project. That was her predecessor, Peter Batchelor.)
Looking back with the benefit of hindsight, Myki is now in daily use and has gradually improved, including with faster online topup, the Vix readers, Quick Top-up machines, Mobile Myki and the removal of unwanted receipts.
Some of this newer technology is probably thanks to the open architecture design of Myki, but it doesn’t excuse that the original rollout was so troubleprone, the result of the State government insisting on building it from scratch.
Despite the problems with Myki, the purchase of an established system for Sydney wasn’t radically cheaper. I suspect the costs are mostly related to the size of the rollout – in particular the amount of hardware to be installed on vehicles and stations.
The scrapping of tram vending machines and short term tickets in 2011 has made life difficult for some users, including those who don’t regularly use public transport, putting them off using the system.
Perhaps more public transport networks will move to cashless in coming years, but it was a backwards move at the time. It would be easier to deal with if London-style contactless credit/debit card payment options was offered alongside the other options.
For all the faults, we’re stuck with Myki now, and at least it mostly works for most users. But let’s hope the improvements keep coming.