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.
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:
- Card vending machines;
- Myki Quick Top-up machines;
- Station booking office equipment.
Thankfully none of these are essential to allow people to travel around the network.
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.
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.
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.
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.