The Myki mobile trial is progressing

Last year the government announced that Myki would be coming to mobile phones. Early testing happened late last year, and last week PTV opened up the trial to up to 4000 participants.

The technology allows you to load a “virtual” Myki card onto your Android phone within Google Pay, and use it for travelling on public transport.

Apparently there are people out there for whom the holy grail of everyday life is being able to carry their phone but leave their wallet at home. I’m not one of those people, but this could help them meet that goal.

What you need to join in

The basic requirements are:

  • Android 5+, supporting Google Pay
  • NFC (Near-Field Communication) on your phone
  • Gmail account – this seems to be used to whitelist your account for the trial
  • Credit card – this is added to Google Pay to load up the virtual Myki card

You can apply on the PTV web site.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/danielbowen/46986179391/

How it works

Once you’re accepted, your Google Pay account is whitelisted. You can then go into Google Pay, then to Passes, Travel cards, and you should be able see a Myki option.

If that works, from there you can create a new Myki card on your phone. It simulates a real card, though unlike a real card, it’s free – at least during the trial.

Just like a real card it can be loaded with Myki Money or Myki Pass. (The latter is limited to 60 days, the length of the trial, but this limit will be removed when Mobile Myki publicly available.)

Curiously, the virtual card expires in two years. Not sure why.

It looks like, as with other Google Pay functionality, the phone just has to be awake and unlocked when you touch it to a reader. The phone and the reader talk to each other and Google Pay figures out that it wants the Myki card, and applies the touch.

(Someone on one of the forums reckoned it doesn’t even have to be awake. I couldn’t get that to work.)

What’s impressive here is that it works with most of the existing Myki hardware:

  • Fare readers (old and new);
  • Myki Checks;
  • handheld devices used by Authorised Officers and V/Line conductors.

This is important, as it means a full rollout can occur without expensive and time-consuming replacement of the tens of thousands of devices out there. Given the older fare readers are 10+ years old, this is almost miraculous.

PTV tells me that it doesn’t work with:

Thankfully none of these are essential to allow people to travel around the network.

Poster showing Myki equipment
Myki equipment (from an old staff poster)

Using Myki mobile

I already have a Myki card with a brand new Yearly fare on it, so I’m unlikely to use it for everyday travel at the moment.

But I’ve tried it a few times with Myki Money loaded.

As you’d expect, the fare charging is identical to a real Myki card.

Response times: initially I found it very patchy. But for I also tried (for the first time) Google Pay at the supermarket, and found the same issue.

Eventually I figured it out: it helped a lot to discover that for my Motorola phone, the NFC antenna is right at the top.

So you don’t hold the phone to the reader in the middle, and flat like a Myki card. In the case of my phone, you point the top to the reader – then it works much better.

So it’s definitely worth checking where the NFC antenna is on your phone.

Once you’ve mastered your touch technique, it seems about the same speed as a physical card: pretty fast on the new readers; somewhere between fast and slow on the old ones.

The virtual card can be registered to a Myki account, so you can then use it to top-up online, or even set up Auto Topup (which for Myki Money users is great).

Important: if you can’t be sure that your phone battery will last while you’re travelling, you may want to stay away from this. PTV tells me it’s the passenger’s responsibility to ensure that if ticket checked, their phone has enough juice.

Things that they could improve

You can top up instantly within Google Pay, which is a big plus over a normal Myki card.

But you can’t set up Auto Top-up, which would be helpful.

I’d personally love to see Auto Top-up combined with weekly and/or monthly fare capping. That would completely remove the requirement for regular passengers to ever buy Passes or top-up again, while knowing they aren’t paying more than necessary if they travel every day including weekends.

Mobile Myki: transaction history

The travel history within the app isn’t perfect – sometimes it just says “Public transport”, though usually it figures out the mode.

The mode icons are apparently Google’s, not PTVs – because it’s within Google Pay, there are limitations.

Transferring existing funds and Passes from a physical card to the phone app’s virtual card does not appear to be straightforward – this is a hangover from Myki’s existing policies and procedures. It’d be good if this was resolved in some way.

And ideally the mobile Myki could be used with any of the existing devices, opening up more top-up options such as cash or EFT/ATM cards using a station vending machine. (I’m sure I’m not the only one who periodically takes all my change to the railway station to load up onto my Myki card.)

And of course the additional payment option of using a phone doesn’t abrogate them from fixing issues with the physical Myki cards.

Why doesn’t it work on iPhone?

It’s all a bit technical, but it seems to be an issue with the different approaches from Google and Apple.

From what I can gather:

Google is happy to let developers make full use of the NFC functionality in phones to do whatever, including doing things outside Google Pay.

Specifically, PTV and others use a feature called “Host Card Emulation“, so the phone can impersonate a Myki card.

In contrast, Apple provides only limited access to NFC functionality in phones, because they want all transactions to be within Apple Pay, from which they take a cut (something like 0.15%). They won’t allow Host Card Emulation.

Here’s some technical discussion on Whirlpool about it. Don’t take it all as gospel, of course.

Elsewhere…

In some places like London (which uses the Oyster system) and Sydney (which uses Opal, which is Oyster technology), iPhones/Apple Pay can be used because they are actually impersonating a credit card, not a transport card.

This is apparently impossible in Melbourne because the readers can’t read credit cards, though I’m not sure if that’s all readers or just the older ones. You would hope the newer ones are capable, and gradually they would replace the old ones.

Simply using a credit card which charges the appropriate fare is obviously a lot easier for tourists: no mucking about to set it up; no trying to calculate how much money to load so you don’t end up over-paying with little hope of easily getting a refund.

In other places like Shanghai and Beijing, the local transport authorities are beta testing with Apple, and have presumably found a way to work with Apple’s technology and conditions.

Mobile Myki: creating a card

Leading the world?

What’s interesting is that there are actually very few jurisdictions using Google Pay for their public transport — Google only introduced it last year. Las Vegas (which shows up as an option), Birmingham (UK), and a few Asian cities apparently. And us.

So if it goes well and gets a wider rollout, we might be one of the first big systems using it.

That’s might be something you didn’t expect from Myki!

Public transport needs to be simple to use, so services need to improve, but opening up easier payment options is also important. So it’s good to see this progressing.

What we know about the Myki mobile phone trial

The State Government has announced a trial of a mobile phone app for Myki.

Here’s what we know about the trial.

Will it mean the end of Myki cards?

No.

Despite the fascination of headline writers with Myki being replaced, a phone app will be an additional option, alongside cards.

Some people don’t have mobile phones, and may never have mobile phones. They’ll still need cards.

Will it only be E-class trams, as first thought?

No, the government now say it’ll be systemwide, without the need to rollout new equipment. Which is good – there are thousands of devices out there on stations, trams and buses. Replacing them all would be extremely expensive.

Why only on Android?

I’m told it’s because Apple has the iOS NFC feature heavily locked-down, apparently in the hopes of controlling all payments made with iPhones.

NFC isn’t on all Android phones, but it is on an increasing number of them. It’s already used by a number of public transport cards in some way, including being able to instantly check your balance on Sydney’s Opal.

Perhaps in time Apple will come to the party.

Myki, Smartrider, Go card, Opal public transport smartcards

Will it cover Myki Pass and Myki Money?

Yes, both. The app will be able to act as a Myki card, with the same fares.

It will also allow instant top-up, without the current 90 minute online delay. (This delay is similar on all public transport smartcards).

Will it cost $6 like a real card? Will it expire like a card?

I doubt it will expire. (Most phones don’t last 4 years like a Myki card is meant to!)

The cost is unknown. The $6 cost of a real card is partly because you can commence a (non-V/Line) trip on a zero balance, so the balance can drop as low as minus $4.30. It’s not yet clear how the app will work in this regard.

Perhaps if in some way it enables a user to pay just the cost of a daily fare, this can partly negate the need for a single use ticket, which isn’t currently provided.

What about contactless credit cards, such as Paypass?

It looks like existing Myki equipment isn’t compatible with that.

That’s a shame, as I suspect a lot more people have contactless cards than NFC mobile phones. Card payment works really well in London, and many cities (especially those that use a variant of London’s Oyster) are trying it.

But that may be changing over time, and it’s still a positive move to help make it easier to pay a fare.

And on balance, it’s better not to go down the path of huge expense to replace all the equipment around the system. Perhaps that can be planned for the new generation of station/bus/tram devices, to allow a later upgrade.

New Myki signage on trams, October 2015

When will the trial happen?

The trial is expected to run from July until early 2019.

I hate topping up. I want it now.

If you use Myki Money, you should consider Auto-Topup.

It was a bit kludgy when first introduced, but works really well now. I’ve had it set up on my kids’ cards for years.

Unfortunately it doesn’t work with Myki Pass, which is why they should really implement Myki Money weekly and monthly capping, which was originally planned.

How do I get involved in the trial?

PTV says: To stay up to date with the Mobile myki trial, including how to register your interest in participating in the trial later in the year, make sure your myki is registered.

What else?

This government fact sheet might help:

PTV: Mobile Myki fact sheet (28/5/2018)

…or leave a comment/question and I’ll see if I can get an answer.

New phone: Motorola G5 Plus

A reminder that despite how it may sometimes seem, not all my blog posts are about transport. If you want to view only the transport posts, try here. For convenience, this link is also on the menu at the top, under Transport.

Over the years I’ve had many mobile phones.

Here’s an update to that old list:

November 2013: Google Nexus 5 — I did that Apple-like thing of preordering this before I’d actually seen it in the flesh. This was a terrific phone. Fast, good camera, great features, no bloatware, and being a Google device, got updates really quickly.

I loved some of the features I only discovered well after I got it, like the pedometer which is now tracking my steps, and NFC, which has all sorts of uses such as checking public transport smartcards (in smart cities like Sydney and Singapore where this is enabled) — see below.

Then the phone died in late-2016. The power button got stuck, and it continually switched itself on and off.

I replaced it and then stuck it in a drawer until a couple of weeks ago when my son Jeremy needed a phone to use while his was being repaired. He found a way to repair the power button, and it’s still going strong!

Opal NFC phone app

October 2016: Google Nexus 5X (which cost me $489 at the time) — the spiritual successor to the 5. I really wanted to like this as much as the 5, but I didn’t. It was a good phone, but not a great phone. It feels a little laggy at times.

Perhaps that’s one of the perils of buying a phone that was released 12 months earlier.

There’s also probably a point at which (for all phones, tablets, and other devices) you should stop installing major upgrades to the operating system, which often bring major new features requiring perhaps more horsepower than the device can provide. Instead, it might be better to just install the security patches… at least until they run out.

Daniel buys a new phone

Having a good, fast reliable phone is more important these days than it has been in the past. I’m not sure that back in the day, any of us Gen Xers really appreciated that by the 2010s we’d literally have such a useful computer that we could carry around in our pockets all day.

I decided last week to get a new phone, and after some research settled on the Motorola G5 Plus (currently retailing for about $380), for three main reasons:

Get something faster. The 5X was released in 2015. Interestingly, you can still buy it new through some dealers (though Google themselves no longer sell it, having moved to the Pixel — at about double the price). I think there are now better value phones in the $400-500ish range.

Fear of the boot loop. I don’t know if it’s common or not, but a known hardware problem with the 5X phone is that occasionally they will get into a state where they continually boot, and (barring hacks to fix it) have to be sent back for repair or replacement. This is something I could deal with at home, but there’s no way I’d want it to happen while on our overseas holiday later this year.

Dual SIMs. I’d like to have mobile data for maps and so on while travelling, but I’d also like to be reachable on my usual phone number. Telstra international roaming isn’t cheap: $85 for 300 Mb or $160 for 600 Mb.

In contrast, a Three UK prepaid SIM, including 1 Gb data and texts and calls for a month, costs 10 pounds (A$17), or 12 Gb for double that cost, and it includes roaming in Europe. (I’m still looking at the options, but this appears to be one of the best.)

The solution to cheap local rates + keep your usual number? A dual-SIM phone. Use data and outbound calls on the cheap local SIM, and still be able to receive calls/texts on my Australian number. And the money savings will help subsidise the new phone.

(I wonder if the phone companies dislike this?)

In fact I suppose I could even choose to use a second SIM at home to get cheap data and/or try and get around the Telstra capacity problems on peak hour trains between Malvern to South Yarra — though from what I’m told, the other carriers are no better.

Motorola G5 Plus phone

So I bought a new Moto G5 Plus, and sold the Nexus 5X on Gumtree over the weekend. (eBay won’t let me sell a mobile phone, due to Paypal having a grudge against me, for reasons they’ve never been able to explain.)

I listed it for $220, and got all sorts of cheeky offers from as low as $130. I refrained from telling them they were dreaming. Eventually accepted an offer of $180 from a bloke who had a Sony phone he quite liked, but dropped it and smashed the glass. Whoops.

And the new phone? So far so good, apart from the wallpaper, which I’ve changed to my own design, and the “Hello Moto!” audible greeting, which was the first thing I switched off!

Some phones can read #Myki cards. Could you one day check your expiry/balance on a phone?

For anybody with an NFC (Near Field Contact)-compatible phone (such as my new Google Nexus 5), you can use the this little app — Tag Info Lite to read Myki cards.

Not that it’ll tell you very much — see below. All the actual useful information appears to be encrypted.

Myki card seen on an NFC mobile phone, using NXP TagInfo Android App

Apparently in some parts of the world an unencrypted copy of the card balance/status is also stored, allowing apps that will let you check your balance. For instance Farebot works with cards from Seattle, San Francisco, Singapore, the Netherlands and parts of Japan, and Travel Card Reader looks similar.

Shame Myki doesn’t appear to have this option, not even in PTV’s own apps — though I guess in theory they and/or Keane could do it, given they issue devices to Authorised Officers to do card checks.

With the old Metcards, you could easily see the expiry date(s) as it was printed on the card itself.

This is an opportunity, of course. As more phones include this technology, perhaps a future (hopefully minor) upgrade could allow people to check their card balance or fare expiry in this way.

(Some apps claim to do this with Myki, but what they’re really doing is checking your online account, which is not necessarily up to date — the card is the point of truth.)

Myki card seen on an NFC mobile phone, using NXP TagInfo Android App

Myki card seen on an NFC mobile phone, using NXP TagInfo Android App

Oh, and here’s what I get from a Brisbane Go Card:

Untitled

Every mobile phone I’ve ever owned

Inspired by Andrew’s post a few months ago, here’s a list of the mobile phones I’ve had over the years.

Ericsson GH198 (from 1994). It had a twirly antenna that could be flat against the main part of the phone, or twirled around and up to make calls. I seem to recall it cost me about $400 plus a 2 year contract

Predictive text on the Nokia N95I think after that I had an Ericsson GH337 or 338 for a couple of years. Or maybe I had a 337 then a 338? Can’t remember.

Nokia 6210 (from 2001) — first one with a web browser and an internal antenna rather than one which stuck up out of the phone.

Motorola E365 (Briefly in 2004, before I sent it back because I didn’t like it) — it was the first one with a camera.

Nokia 6100 (2004) — a titchy, tiny phone, with interchangable covers. Neat.

Nokia 6230i (2006)

Nokia N95 (2009) — this was great. (See pic, showing a quirk of the predictive text, which thought you were more likely to want to say “slaves” than “plates”)

HTC Desire S (2011). Also been great, though it’s a bit slow with Android 4 loaded onto it. I’m about due for a new one now.

  • A 2011 post where I compared the SAR (Specific Absorbtion Rate — eg radio waves going into your head) of some of these phones.