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?

Is it time to buy a Yearly Myki fare?

Generally every January, public transport fares in Victoria go up.

This year it’s expected to be a 4.3% rise — this is CPI of 1.8% 2.8% (for the year to September), plus a 2.5% 1.5% rise that was first announced by the Coalition in December 2013, to be implemented in January 2015-2018, and dutifully followed by Labor each year.

(Did the Coalition plan that rise to cover the Free Tram Zone and Zone 1+2 capping? I’m betting yes; they announced the zone changes as an election policy just three months later in March 2014, which was quickly matched by Labor. I wonder how long it’ll take for zone 1+2 fares to reach their previous levels?)

Just before the price rise is a good time to decide if buying a Yearly Pass is good value.

These are available for any combination of Myki zones, provide a discount (365 days for the price of a 325 day Pass) — and because you pay up-front, you’ll be getting travel during 2018 for the 2017 price.

Cheaper than buying a Yearly Pass at the retail price is buying it through Commuter Club. CC is a discount scheme offered by a number of large corporate employers, particularly government departments and universities.

The biggest seller of CC tickets is the PTUA. PTUA membership plus the cost of the ticket is still a saving compared to the full price — $84 cheaper at 2017 prices. And by being a PTUA member, you’re supporting the organisation and its campaigns.

PTUA CC orders at the 2017 price will close on 30th November. This is imposed by PTV on all CC re-sellers, though some may have slightly different close dates.

  • PTUA CC tickets are paid in advance. Some employers who offer CC will do it by regular salary deductions, which could be a better option.
  • Unfortunately CC tickets are only available for Zones 1 and 2. (That said, if you’re a V/Line user living further afield, you could probably buy a Zone 1+2 CC ticket and load Myki Money onto it for your travel further out.)

New Myki signage on trams, October 2015

So, how much can you save? It varies, according to how much you usually travel. Here’s a couple of ways of working it out.

Cost in days – this compares the cost of 365 days on a Pass, with the cost if you’re paying for individual days

What this means is that if you buy a PTUA Commuter Club Yearly for $1515, you’re getting 365 days of travel for the same cost of 184 days of Myki Money, or 308 days of Myki Pass days (assuming you buy Passes of between 28 and 325 days).

In both cases, the cost in days goes down in 2018 if you’ve paid in advance, because the prices go up.

Another way of working it out is Cost Per Day (inspired by this Reddit post).

So a PTUA CC Yearly will cost you $4.15 per day if you travel every single day, or $5.83 per day if you travel on weekdays only — compared to a Myki Money price of $8.20 (2017) or $8.55 (2018).

A secondary saving might be if, because you’ve prepaid your travel, you end up using public transport more often instead of driving.

Flagstaff: extra standalone Myki readers to take gate overflow

If you think this all sounds more complicated than it needs to be, you’re right. Myki was originally designed with automatic weekly and monthly capping which would have made it a bit easier to pay-as-you-go on Myki Money but still get the discounted Pass rate.

Perhaps one day it’ll be re-instated, but until then, for regular users it’s worth doing a little research to find the cheapest option.

The CBD bus ride that #Myki thought was in Brighton

So apparently the installation of GPS equipment to track buses stop-by-stop in realtime hasn’t helped Myki zone detection at all.

On Tuesday at lunchtime I caught a bus from Queensbridge Street (aka Casino East, the brand new tram/bus platform stop) to Queen Street.

Tram/bus stop, Queensbridge Street, Casino East

It’s all within 1 kilometre of the city centre — about as far from zone 2 as you can get. And it’s on a route with realtime information, so at least some of the equipment in the bus knows almost precisely where it is.

So, what happened? Myki charged me for a zone 2 fare.

It thought I was in Brighton, in the zone overlap area.

Myki charging: I was in the City, but it thought I was at Brighton

It seems to have got the route number right. “out” indicates it thought it was an outbound trip, though given it’s a crosstown route, I have no idea that’s correct or not. Perhaps they should have different indicators for crosstown routes, such as “se”/”nw”?

The silver lining is that the zone 1 fare cap meant I was charged the correct amount for the day’s travel: a total of $7.52.

(I normally use a Yearly Pass, but it’s run out, so I’m using Myki Money for a while.)

Zone detection on buses (and trams) has been a problem for years, and it’s only the zone changes in January that have hidden the issue for Melbourne users, but it remains a problem on regional town buses — there are regular reports of overcharging.

Clearly it’s is something they still need to work on.

Oh, and the new platform stop? Nice, though some of the bus drivers seem a little uncertain about how close to the platform edge they should stop. The bus/tram lanes seem quite effective at helping them get past the traffic.

And I wonder if, when commissioned, the realtime screens there will show bus as well as tram?

You can check your Opal card balance on a phone. #Myki? Don’t hold your breath.

Outside Australia, numerous public transport smartcard systems have apps that let you instantly check the balance of a card using a phone that uses Near Field Communication (NFC).

Most such phones are Android, but the Apple iPhone 6 and later also has it.

Because the “master record” for this data is kept on the card itself, only checking via NFC can guarantee details that are completely up to date — unlike checking via the web or other apps which can’t read the card (such as Myki Plus* and Pay 24). Reading from the web site means it may take several hours or even longer to update.

It seems NSW’s Opal Card has just joined the NFC app club… for Android only at this stage, it appears.

So I just checked my Opal balance on my phone. Neato.

Opal NFC phone appOpal NFC phone app

I think Opal is the first Australian public transport smartcard to offer this.

How long will we wait for Myki to provide this? The web site has barely changed in 6 years, so I wouldn’t be holding my breath — though the tendering to a new operator for the ticket system may mean we’ll see these types of improvements. Indeed, the operator of Opal, Cubic, is one of the short listed companies to run Myki.

Already the Vix-provided gates/readers are appearing at more stations, with response time much more in line with other systems around the world. Just shows how we benefit if the ticketing system is run by a company that actually has some experience at it.

  • Transport for NSW: Opal apps
  • Previously on the blog: What can you see on a Myki card by using an NFC app? — not very much. It’s all encrypted.
  • *Myki Plus’s description misleadingly implies it does use NFC to read the card. It doesn’t. In the fineprint on their web site, it says: “Myki Plus displays the information retrieved from the myki website. This may mean there is a delay between when you touch on and when your balance is updated.”
  • Of course, one should always be cautious about financial transactions such as topping-up your Myki when using an unofficial app. I’d rather stick to the clunky web site, myself.

#Myki Monthly and Weekly Pass fares: more expensive than ever compared to daily fares

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.

Myki 2015 bus signage

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.

Melbourne Myki Pass costs vs daily fares

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 weekend 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).

Average days per Monthly ticket cost (2011)

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.