Fares for short trips now double the cost of Sydney

As expected, public transport fares in Victoria go up from 1st January. This time it’s a CPI rise of 2.2% – thankfully not as high as the last four which were CPI+2.5% (budgeted by the Coalition in 2014, delivered by Labor).

This takes the standard zone 1 or 1+2 daily fare to $8.80, and the 2-hour fare to $4.40.

It’s worth noting that for short trips in zone 1, this is now precisely double the $2.20 Sydney tram or bus Opal fare for up to 3 kilometres.

The fare rules are a bit different – Sydney’s free transfers are generally limited to the same mode within 60 minutes, and the daily cap is much higher (except on Sundays).

(The short distance single zone Go Card fare in Brisbane is $3.25 peak, $2.60 off-peak. In Perth the Smartrider fare is $1.98 for two “sections”, or $2.79 for one zone.)

It turns out that the fares in Sydney in most cases are lower than Melbourne’s standard $4.40.

  • Sydney tram/bus: $2.20 for up to 3km, half the Melbourne zone 1 cost, and 26% cheaper than Melbourne zone 2 at $3
  • Sydney tram/bus: $3.66 for 3-8km, still 17% cheaper than Melbourne zone 1, though more expensive than Melbourne zone 2
  • Sydney train: $3.54 peak/$2.47 off-peak for up to 10km
  • Sydney train: $3.08 off-peak for trips of 10-20km. (The peak fare is identical to Melbourne, at $4.40)
  • Even train trips of 20-35km off-peak are cheaper in Sydney, at $3.53

Melbourne’s fares (within zones 1 and 2) are generally cheaper for longer trips: over 8km on buses (Sydney trams don’t even go that far!) or over 20km on trains in peak, or over 35km off-peak.

And the transfer rules and daily cap mean Melbourne is cheaper for roaming around all day (for instance, tourists) – but this is not what most daily commuters do.

It’s those short trips that really sting, thanks to the nearly flat fare structure. You wonder how many people choose the car by default for short inner-city trips because of it, especially when travelling in a group.

Also spare a thought for V/Line passengers. Anomalies in the zone system mean that, for instance, a passenger from Lara to Melbourne pays $4.40, but hopping on the train a few minutes earlier at Geelong will cost a whopping $13.40 in peak, $9.38 off-peak.

How much have fares gone up over time?

Looking at the basic 2-hour zone 1 adult fare, it’s gone up quite a bit over time – from $1.60 in 1990 to $4.40 in 2019. If it had followed the rate of inflation, it’d now be about $3.57.

Melbourne PT fares since 1990

See the data. I am currently missing the prices for 1993. Can anybody help?

People travelling long trips (the old zone 1-2-3) have benefited from the removal of zone 3 in 2007, and the fare capping added in 2015. In 1990 the 2-hour fare was $3.80, from January it’ll be $4.40. If that had followed the rate of inflation, it’d be about $8.49.

There was a slight drop for all fares in 2013 (actually in the last days of 2012) when single use Metcards were phased out, forcing everyone onto the bulk price Myki fares.

Solutions are hard

Solutions are hard because so often the politicians reject any policy change where anybody is disadvantaged.

The flat fare has pros and cons. The only logical alternatives are more zones, or point-to-point pricing. The latter is difficult given the older Myki readers still common around the system on trams and buses are so unreliable, and Myki zone detection is so hopeless.

It appears for instance that buses have two GPS systems. One is able to, usually, tell the real-time apps how far away the bus is to a minute’s accuracy; the other is often unable to figure out which of two gigantic zones it’s in.

Introducing off-peak fares is another option. V/Line gives a 30% discount for off-peak. Perhaps this should be looked at for metropolitan trips too. The same discount would bring that $4.40 fare down to $3.08, matching Sydney on more trips. This would help improve demand at off-peak times, and would shift some trips out of peak.

There is a kind of off-peak pricing: between 6pm and 3am you’ll only pay one 2-hour fare – this was inherited from Metcard, and inherited from the 1980s era paper tickets before that! There is also the weekend/public holiday $6.30 cap.

And another upgrade that would be of benefit: re-instating the weekly and monthly caps once planned for Myki would help stop Myki Money users paying too much, and remove the confusion of having to choose between Money and Pass to get the best deal.

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.

Crosstown traffic / Bacchus Marsh stopover

All of us have data being captured about us all the time.

For many of us that includes Myki travel data (though even that is tiny compared to the myriad of information captured by our smartphones).

Mostly for me it’s the drudgery of everyday work commuting, but every so often there’s something of interest.

Crosstown traffic

26/01/2018 13:49:14 Touch off  Train 1/2 Bentleigh Station - - -
26/01/2018 13:09:15 Touch on   Train 1   Footscray Station - - -

This is not a typo. On Australia Day (public holiday timetable) we managed to do Footscray to Bentleigh in 40 minutes.

There was a little bit of trickery involved. The train from Footscray ran into the Loop clockwise (being a weekend), and as we came into Melbourne Central the app told me a train from there clockwise to Richmond was imminent, so we swapped onto it, then just managed to get a connection at Richmond onto the Frankston line to Bentleigh.

Jumping through that hoop saved us about 10 minutes — a timetabled journey with just one change should take about 48 minutes.

Still, it shows that good frequencies along direct routes mean a fast trip, even when it involves connections.

You’d struggle to get across town that fast in a car. Google Maps reckons 30-50 minutes on the weekend if driving — there’s frequently congestion in King Street if you drive through the CBD, and taking the Bolte or Westgate then Kingsway is no better, as the exit onto Kingsway is often clogged.

Melbourne, like any big city, has transport demand from many places to many places. Public transport needs to cope better with this.

The more routes (be they train, tram or bus) go to frequent (10 minutes or better) services, the better connections will be, and the more trips will be competitive with driving, and the more people will choose public transport instead.

Ballarat station

Copycat from Ballarat

08/02/2018 23:02:22 Touch off  Train 1   Southern Cross Station	- -     -
08/02/2018 21:34:15 Touch on   Train -   -                      - -     -
08/02/2018 21:28:04 Touch on   Train 8   Ballarat Station	- -     -
08/02/2018 19:39:43 Touch off* Train 8   Ballarat Station	- $6.72	$26.98
08/02/2018 19:04:15 Touch on   Train 2/3 Bacchus Marsh Station	- -     -
08/02/2018 18:29:49 Touch off  Train 2/3 Bacchus Marsh Station	- -     -
08/02/2018 17:23:46 Touch on   Train 1   Southern Cross Station	- -     -

I thought I was being so clever.

I wanted to get to Ballarat, but I had missed the 17:10. The next train all the way was at 17:50.

But the timetable also showed a 17:35 to Bacchus Marsh, arriving there at 18:18, just ahead of the next Ballarat train. So perhaps I could have a quick stop-off at the Marsh?

That went fine until by Sunshine the train was running late. No need to panic though, it’s just one track each way; they can’t overtake, right?

Wrong. The train was held at Melton for a few minutes to let the Ballarat train fly past. D’oh. That’s a lesson for next time.

So I had an unscheduled half-hour in Bacchus Marsh. Which was charming.

The kicker is this made me late for a PTUA Ballarat branch meeting. Oh well, they welcomed me when I eventually got there, and we had an interesting discussion.

After some dinner I headed back. The 21:34 touch-on was the conductor checking the fare. (When conductors check fares, they also set the default fare to the end of the service, making it important that you touch-off after using V/Line.)

Also notable: breaking the trip at Bacchus Marsh meant my Myki Pass covered part of the trip, and I got charged just $6.72 the rest of the way to Ballarat, rather than the usual $21.60 (minus $4.30 for Zone 1/2 on my Pass). This is the anomaly facing V/Line users thanks to changes to metropolitan fares — some trips are dirt cheap, some are expensive.

That $6.72 also seems to have covered my fare home afterwards: Marsh touch-on at 19:04 to commencing the trip back at 21:28 is more than 2 hours, but because it’s a trip across six zones, the “fare product” is 3 hours, not 2.

Cheap with the stop-off? Yes. But I’d have preferred to be there on time.

Reports of Myki’s death have been greatly exaggerated

There’s something of a disconnect between the headlines today and the reality.

“THE death of the trouble-plagued $1.5 billion Myki ticketing system has begun with commuters to use bank cards and even their smartphones to ride from the middle of this year.” — Herald Sun (paywall)

We shouldn’t get carried away. New options for payment of fares will supplement smartcards, not replace them.

London and other cities have led the way here, with the London Oyster system’s contactless payment option. I used it in July, and it’s incredibly useful.

It won’t work the same way in Melbourne. I’m hearing the initial trial involves phones rather than credit cards, as the technology is a closer match to what’s deployed with Myki.

The Herald Sun reports that the Victorian trial will initially be on E-class trams, which indicates the newer Vix Myki readers that are installed on that fleet (as well as in some stations) will be involved.

So it doesn’t require scrapping the entire Myki system. The question will be whether this functionality can be retrofitted to older Myki equipment, or whether all readers need to be replaced to roll out the enhancements networkwide.

Anyway, bearing all that in mind, the following may be of interest…

How London’s contactless option works

Transport for London calls their Paywave/Paypass credit card payment option “contactless“.

It sits alongside the smartcards, it doesn’t replace them. Even adding phone payment options, some users such as children won’t have any of options available, and will always need smartcards.

The credit card functionality is programmed into the smartcard equipment, reflecting that the basic technology is the same — which is one reason why Myki cards often don’t work well when credit cards are nearby.

Users touch on and off as normal at the Oyster gates and readers with their Paypass/Paywave credit card. The system accepts most local and overseas cards, which is an absolute boon for tourists — as well as other occasional users.

It assumes you’ll be good for the first trip when you touch-on. This avoids a time consuming back-to-base credit check that may not be possible on a bus if there’s no connectivity at that instant. If there’s a failure of some kind, your card won’t work on the next trip.

They track your touches around the system during the day, then the next day charge the total fare to your bank credit card account, subject to which zones you travelled in and daily caps. The fares are identical to Oyster card pay-as-you-go (the equivalent of Myki Money).

You don’t get individual trip amounts billed to your credit card, just the one transaction per day. If you want to see the detail, you use the Oyster web site:

London Transport contactless credit card statement

There’s also a weekly fare cap, to ensure you’re not paying more than the Weekly Travelcard rate. However London’s contactless option isn’t capable of handling longer season passes such as Monthly fares. It also doesn’t handle any type of discount/concession fare. Those are all still on Oyster cards.

Ticket inspectors have portable readers, similar to those currently used by Victoria’s Authorised Officers, that can see the status of your credit card, and whether it was touched-on. We got ours checked on a London suburban train. The exception seems to be river boats, where a member of staff must see you touch-in.

London Bus ticketing notice

I’m not sure whether the credit card providers have had to make big changes to accommodate these systems, but even if so, you wouldn’t think they mind one little bit if it helps them get all those transactions via their cards instead of cards issued by the public transport authorities. Possibly they’re also getting a transaction fee or some other type of cut.

It also helps the public transport authorities, as a lot of the headaches of issuing their own cards reduce in magnitude, they need less ticket machines, and they gain access to potential customers who don’t want to buy a PT card.

The important thing here is that it’s an option. People who value their privacy and prefer an unregistered smartcard, topped-up only using cash, can continue to do so. People who don’t have credit cards can still use smartcards.

What exactly the Melbourne trials will involve hasn’t been announced yet. It’ll be interesting to watch.

Meanwhile, other enhancements that could be made to Myki include: weekly and monthly capping (once planned, never implemented), differing touch-on and off sounds to reduce confusion, finally eliminating unwanted ticket machine receipts, and continuing roll-out of the faster readers.

Other questions? Leave a comment.

Melbourne’s fares rise above CPI again

As expected, fare rises have been announced to take place on January 1st.

It’s a rise of 4.7% — which is CPI+2.5%.

(At least, 4.7% is the claim. Some fares, such as a Zone 1 two-hour fare, are rising by more: $4.10 to $4.30 is almost 4.9%, thanks to the price being rounded to the nearest 10 cents… which makes no sense, because you can’t directly buy these fares with cash.)

Just as this was emerging on Saturday, the Caulfield group of lines suffered major unplanned disruptions. Channel 9 was out for the fare rise story, but captured the train chaos as well:

Here’s the official PTV price list (which oddly doesn’t list the Weekend/Public Holiday Daily Cap, believed to still be $6 adult/$3 concession, or the Seniors Weekday Cap, which in 2017 is $4.10).

Here’s the State Government press release (which tries to temper the anger by announcing minor reforms such as free rides for primary school groups at off-peak times).

So how much have fares gone up over the years?

I thought I’d do a quick graph of the last 20 years.

Melbourne fares 1997-2018

Notable:

  • 1998 and 2010 saw no rise, as prices were frozen those years
  • 2007: Zone 3 is merged with zone 2, resulting in 3-zone trips dropping in price
  • 2013: single fares (on Metcard) were abolished, switching everyone to the slightly cheaper Myki fares, which were equivalent to 10×2 hour discounted fares under Myki
  • 2015: Zone 1 and 2 fares were capped at zone 1 rates, resulting in 2-zone trips dropping in price to the nearly-flat fares we have now

What if we look at the rises in those fares, and compare them with CPI?

Melbourne fare rises since 1997

  • 2004 saw a whopping 9.8% increase in fares, about three times CPI, the same year that Short Trip tickets were abolished, resulting in a huge jump for non-CBD short trips
  • 2012 and 2013 saw rises of CPI+5%, budgeted by Labor, implemented by the Coalition
  • 2015 to 2018 saw rises of CPI+2.5%, budgeted by the Coalition, implemented by Labor. What a team.

As you can see, for trips formerly covering three zones, these are still cheaper (just) than they were before 1997. Two zone trips are still relatively cheap, rising at well below CPI.

Zone one trips were tracking a bit above CPI until 2012, but when Metcard was abolished the switch to bulk rates brought it back down pretty much in line with CPI since 1997. Rises since have it well above.

There are still Ways to save. Options include Earlybird, and Myki Pass if travelling most/all days of the week. In fact you can buy a Myki Pass before January 1st and pay the pre-rise price, then use it later.

Additional fare revenue adds up to a lot of money, which can go into upgrades — we all understand that.

But the fare changes to a largely flat fare have resulted in some people benefitting enormously with fairly cheap fares for long trips, at the expense of others, who are paying a lot for short trips.

Upgrades to infrastructure and services are important to get more people using public transport. But affordable fares are also important — with repeated above CPI rises, for many people, this is going backwards.

With this fourth CPI+2.5% increase, Labor implemented the Coalition’s budgeted rises. They can argue that if they hadn’t, they’d have had to find the money elsewhere. Question is: what will happen next?