What future for the FTZ?

The Free Tram Zone (FTZ) just turned five. It was introduced in January 2015.

If you’re wondering why there was so much discussion on it last week, it’s because submissions to a Parliamentary Inquiry on the topic just closed.

Transport Matters Party MP Rod Barton, who moved for the Inquiry, posted an article addressing some concerns with the FTZ. You can see his motivation in all this is coming from the right place:

We need to break the cycle of dependence on cars to get around this city and we need to solve the operational issues that are holding our public transport network back.

The problem is he seems to have assumed that fares are the biggest barrier to getting people out of their cars:

We needed to … do more to encourage people onto public transport. … If price will get them there, then we should drop the prices. Our city needs this and our environment needs it.

I don’t think that’s right.

The biggest barrier is lack of good services – public transport that actually presents a viable, time-competitive alternative to driving.

It’s not such a big issue in the CBD and inner suburbs, where the trams (including in the Free Tram Zone) complement the trains and buses, and provide a pretty dense, pretty frequent, connecting network, at least during daytime. In these areas, public transport competes strongly. Only a minority of people come into the CBD by car, for instance.

It’s the middle and outer suburbs where the only option might be buses every 30-60 minutes, and if you’re lucky there are trains, but only every 30 minutes after dark. Most people won’t use these at any cost if they have a car.

Still, given the Free Tram Zone has been around for five years now, the effects of its introduction should be visible…

And the current debate got a few myths flying.

Did the FTZ get more people onto trams?

Yes it did. Budget Papers show patronage rose sharply, from 176.4 million in 2013-14 to 204 million in 2015-16, an increase of 16% in just two years — the highest growth in at least 20 years.

In fact in the data going back to 1947, the only higher jump I could find was following the patronage dip from the 1990 tram strike that knocked the trams out of action for over a month.


Did the FTZ discourage driving?

No it didn’t, and this is the real problem.

In January 2015 there were two major fare changes:

  • Zone 1+2 fares were capped at zone 1 prices;
  • and the FTZ was introduced.

Analysis of VISTA data (which surveys tens of thousands of people and their travel) shows that the first change, capping Zone 1+2 fares, resulted in a reduction in car travel. Some people who previously drove to Zone 1 stations now board trains closer to home. Despite it also introducing some issues to the fares, the effect on reducing driving has undoubtedly been a good thing.

But the VISTA data also showed that within Zone 1 (where there was no price change apart from the FTZ) more people are now driving to the area included in the FTZ. Conclusion: The FTZ has encouraged more driving.

This is in line with car parks promoting their location within the FTZ.

The other thing the data showed was similar to the anecdotal evidence: many people hopping onto trams had previously made their short CBD journeys by walking or cycling (including using the blue hire bikes, partly killed off thanks to the FTZ). This is not a positive change.

Doesn’t everybody benefit from the FTZ?

No they don’t. The people who benefit are those who did not reach the zone by public transport.

If you do catch public transport to the CBD/FTZ, you get trams included in your daily fare (unless you used the Early Bird train fare).

This means that for most paying public transport users the FTZ makes no monetary difference.

Some of the confusion around this might be because in some other cities in Australia, there is no daily fare cap, or it is very high, so you would pay extra for a lunchtime tram trip to the shops. Not so in Melbourne.

Wouldn’t scrapping the FTZ would hurt the poor?

Mostly not.

The main beneficiaries are people drive into the FTZ – who as the Grattan Institute says, are more than twice as likely to earn a six-figure salary as other workers.

Some international and interstate tourists also benefit by not having to buy a Myki card, but only if the entirety of their travel is within the CBD and Docklands. It seems unlikely that those people are unable to afford the cost of public transport fares – though better sales and distribution of Myki cards, for instance through hotels, would be a good idea.

There are some students on low incomes who live in or close to the FTZ. Most of them can already get substantial discounts on fares. But I’ll wager most people living in the FTZ are not hard up for cash.

Melbourne’s “battlers” are more likely to be found in outer suburbs with no efficient frequent usable public transport, struggling to afford the running costs of the cars they need to get where they need to go – or struggling to reach education and work opportunities.

Those people should be the priority for assistance.

Crowding? Can’t they just run more trams?

Crowding has long been an issue on CBD trams, but has got markedly worse with the FTZ.

It’s particularly an issue in evening peak hour, when paying passengers who want to head outbound are squeezed off the trams by free passengers riding a short distance. The above video shows route 19 outbound at 5:45pm.

Rod Barton noted:

Indeed, overcrowding exists across the entire public transport network. However, this is not by any means an insurmountable problem. This is an operational issue that could be solved by adding increased services or shorter shuttle routes that take passengers to the perimeter of the zone.

Running more trams is the logical answer in principle, but problem is that right now, there are no more trams to run.

Could they buy more? Yes. But in the context of them struggling to even provide upgrades to ensure a fully accessible, or indeed fully air-conditioned fleet, where does this money come from?

Nobody expects transport systems (road or rail) to completely pay for all their costs, but at least if patronage is growing on fare paid routes, then revenue is increasing to cover some of this investment.

Funding for expensive upgrades to free services with no financial return is a hard ask when there are so many other demands on public money.

Free Tram Zone

Should the entire PT system be free?

Public transport network revenue for 2018-19 was $982 million (PTV Annual Report 2019).

Even accounting for the huge cost of running the Myki system (about $100m/year — all those upgrades like new faster readers don’t come for free) that’s still a lot of foregone revenue that would have to be covered if there were no fares.

The beneficiaries would be wider than the FTZ of course — but mostly it would be those people who have a service that is good enough to use.

Those in the outer burbs with their hopeless buses would not start using public transport just because it was free. They’d still drive.

Public phone free calls

To draw an analogy: Free outer-suburban public transport is like free payphone calls. Few people make use of it, because frankly the experience of payphones is just nowhere near as convenient as mobile phones, which most people own already – even though they are not free.

Ultimately even if government had that money to spend, upgrading services would do far more to get people out of their cars and using public transport.

As Chris Hale notes: In wealthy cities like Melbourne, potential public transport passengers are indifferent to fare changes or discounts, but respond robustly to enhanced service.

Free Tram Zone: Casino is out, Batman Park is in

Isn’t the FTZ boundary illogical?

Yes it is. It comes within one stop of the Exhibition and Convention Centre, the Casino, the National Gallery of Victoria, and the Exhibition Buildings and Museum.

Remember the history: the Coalition proposed it in early 2014 before the state election, and Labor immediately matched it. It appeared to come straight from the politicians, bypassing the bureaucracy and the transport operators.

It’s almost as if the politicians who designed it back in 2014 just drew a line around the Hoddle Grid, plus Docklands and the Vic Market, and didn’t consider the tourist hotspots… or indeed where the boundary tram stops were located.

Other points

Did the FTZ speed up trams? Few people now need to touch their tickets. But timetable and performance data shows no overall speed benefit, and the tram operator has raised concerns about delays, with CBD trams now averaging just 11 kilometres per hour. Crowding appears to have more than countered any boarding/alighting time saving for individuals.

Was the FTZ to cover for the City Saver Zone, not catered for under Myki? The City Saver Zone was catered for under Myki. It worked on trains and buses provided the user touched on and off.

Unofficially it worked on trams too, but was removed in mid-2010 when touch-off was made optional on trams. This was thanks largely to slow Myki Reader response times, though dodgy GPS may have also been a factor.

Have fare cuts like the FTZ and the nearly flat fares added to upwards pressure on fares generally? Yes. Around the same time the Coalition introduced those changes, they also flagged CPI+2.5% rises from 2015 to 2018, which were subsequently implemented by Labor. A short trip in Melbourne’s Zone 1 now costs about double that of Sydney.

The Free Tram Zone debate

What happens with the FTZ now?

We’ll see. The Inquiry will go ahead obviously, but the government has already said they don’t want to expand the zone – in fact their response to the Herald Sun sounds awfully like “we know it causes all sorts of problems, but expanding it will make it even worse”:

The state government has rejected a call to extend free CBD tram services, saying it would increase crowding and make trams run slower across the network.

Equally I doubt they’ll get rid of it. In 2018, both major parties, as well as the Greens, said they had no plans to change it or remove it.

If the robust debate seen last week proves nothing else, it’s that it’s a politically vexed issue, and it’s probably easier just to ignore the problem.

I’d love to think the government would be brave enough to get rid of the Free Tram Zone – to claw back some revenue, relieve crowding and stop encouraging CBD motorists – but unfortunately for paying passengers, we’re probably stuck with it.


Ten years of Myki in Melbourne

Happy birthday Myki!

Yesterday marked ten years since the Myki system’s implementation in Melbourne. It was switched on for Melbourne trains on 29th December 2009.

The roll-out and first ten years of operation ended up costing a whopping $1.5 billion. The only Australian system of comparable size, NSW’s Opal system, was a little bit cheaper, but is still the same order of magnitude. My conclusion is that the size of the system (number of devices, and all the supporting infrastructure) is a more important determinant of cost than anything else.

Currently there’s a $700 million, 7 year contract in place to keep Myki running and for the current round of upgrades.

(If you’re wondering, the $100 million a year of costs is more than covered by fare revenue, which the PTV Annual Report says topped $900 million in 2018-19.)

After a very shaky start, and a long protracted roll-out that took more than four years (from regional town buses in early 2009 to V/Line in 2013), the Myki system has improved over time – and I suspect most passengers have become accustomed to its quirks.

But there definitely is still room for improvement, even without wholesale re-engineering of the system.

New Myki signage on trams, October 2015

How can Myki be made better?

Here are a few issues that should still be fixed:

Passes are confusing, and can result in passengers who travel every day paying more than necessary. This should be replaced by a Myki Money weekly cap, which was originally promised. (Monthly too? Perhaps.)

With readers often awkwardly located, touch-on and touch-off sounds should be made different so it is easier to identify that the card has been touched successfully, and in the intended manner. Sounds should also be consistent across Myki reader types, and made louder so they are easily audible in noisy environments. (There’s no need for them to beep once or twice depending on the type of ticket. Nobody uses this.)

Myki reader speeds are inconsistent. New faster readers have been deployed at many stations, and increasingly on buses and trams as well, which is a big improvement. (Thank you, open architecture.)

It would be good to know if this roll-out is going to eventually replace all of the older readers. Their response times were never acceptably fast and consistent – and are probably why the terminology changed from “scan” to “touch”.

The new readers either don’t display the card balance/expiry, or display it so small that it can barely be read. I know they’re trying to ensure people don’t dawdle at station gates, but some people now never see their card Pass expiry.

Mobile Myki: touching at a reader

Myki Mobile for iPhone would be a big plus – take-up on Android seems to have been reasonably good, despite some glitches, but making it available for iPhone mean almost all mobile phone users have the option.

If this can be achieved, arguably being able to use credit cards directly on the system (as in London and Sydney, both using variants of the same system) becomes less important.

Fare anomalies need to be fixed. This is not strictly a Myki issue, but the result of years of governments of both stripes fiddling with the fare system – first getting rid of zone 3, then making zone 1 and 2 an almost flat fare. The result is that Melbourne to Lara (58km) cost $4.40; to the next stop at Corio (64km) is $12 (peak). That’s completely ridiculous, and encourages people to drive across Geelong to Lara station before catching their train.

Expansion to the rest of V/Line would be useful, to make train usage beyond the commuter belt easier. This was originally the plan, but was “de-scoped” by the Baillieu government in 2011. I suspect there are probably issues getting Myki to handle First Class and seat reservations, which is why it was decided it was all too hard.

Free mode. Myki readers need this for the now regular bus replacement operations, to prevent issues with passengers touching-on when they don’t need to, and for regular free travel periods such as Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve. (They might still need to be partly functional to cater for touch-off for people ending their trips, for instance just after 6pm when free rides start on New Year’s Eve.)

Myki reader on Christmas Day
Myki Reader prompting users to Touch Here on Christmas Day

Tickets for occasional users need to be easier to get. Single use tickets were also originally planned for the system, and de-scoped in 2011, along with tram vending machines.

Admittedly there’s some benefit from not having single use tickets – it reduces litter and waste, and encourages repeat use – but only if you can convince people to get a card in the first place. If not, the system remains a barrier to new public transport users.

Remember, concession cards can’t be obtained through the vending machines, which are the only option at unstaffed stations.

Are the cards sufficiently available for tourists? Can the refund system be improved?

And what to do about the lack of touch-on opportunities for tram users?

All this becomes less important if both major mobile phone operating systems can use Mobile Myki.

Myki billboard advertising, February 2014

Fix the web site. Most of it (including the overall look and feel) hasn’t been changed since it was originally released. Still the same tiny fonts and non-mobile-friendly layout.

And there’s idiotic stuff still on the web site: When you purchase a Myki Pass online, the default selection is Zone 1 to Zone 1, which would also be the most popular option. Leaving that default returns an error: This myki pass is not available at this time. Please select another and try again.

What does that error mean? It’s because since 2015 you’ve had to buy Zone 1+2 (for the same price). Why not either tell you that, or automatically change the selection?

The same page has a “Which zones do I need to travel in?” link. This goes to a PDF with another link in it, to a page which doesn’t actually tell you anything about which zones you need to travel in.

Myki receipts, Flinders Street station

Oh well, at least they got rid of the compulsory (and often unwanted) Myki machine receipts.

What else would you fix?

  • Remember, fares go up on 1st January. If you use Myki Pass and want to beat the price rise, buy a Pass before then. Your card can hold your current Pass and your next Pass.

Protip: the Myki gate doesn’t have to close behind the previous person before you can touch your card

Update – see below

At busy times, queues can form at station fare gates, especially when large numbers of people arrive from multiple trains at once.

Investment in more gates and faster (Vix) readers has helped – 950 new readers are being installed in 141 stations.

But it’s noticeable than some people wait for the person in front of them to go through and for the gate to close before touching their card. This slows things down.

You don’t need to wait. When the light acknowledging the previous person’s card goes off (or for older readers, when it says “Touch here”) you can touch your card – even if the gate itself hasn’t closed yet behind the previous person.

In the video above, hopefully you can see that the guy in front of me waits until the previous person has cleared the gate and the gate has fully closed, then he touches.

But I touch my card and follow before the gate has closed.

This helps keep the queue moving rather than a stop-start shuffle.

Given ongoing problems at some busy stations, I’m surprised authorities haven’t tried to educate passengers on this – particularly now all the busiest stations have the faster readers.

Keeping people moving through the gate line seems like a logical step to help improve flows through stations.

Update – it turns out there’s a complication! I’m told that at some locations, going through this fast may not be possible – the gate may get confused and close on you. This seems to be an issue with some of the red coloured gates in particular – not the yellow ones shown above. So if the gate is red, you’re right to be wary.

Photos from ten years ago transport

Myki ten years on, and photos from the test centre

This is part two of my ten year old photos from September 2009.

At the time, Myki had been launched in regional cities, and was about to start in Melbourne.

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 test centre September 2009: Booking office computer and cards

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.

Myki test centre September 2009: Fare gates
Myki test centre September 2009: Fare gates

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 test centre September 2009: Gate controller

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)

Myki test centre September 2009: Myki Check

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 test centre September 2009: Tram vending machine

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.

Myki test centre September 2009: readers

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.


Some thoughts on the Myki data leak

This, the other week, was interesting:

In a concerning revelation, researchers have found that myki, in conjunction with social media, can be used to uncover a wealth of information about card users.

ABC: ‘Shocking’ myki privacy breach for millions of users in data release

Here’s the report and media release from the Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner:

Information Commissioner investigates breach of myki users’ privacy

Here’s the original study:

Two data points enough to spot you in open transport records

What happened was that PTV released a whole bunch of Myki touch on/off data for a “datathon” event, where people see what handy things they can do with the data.

It was “de-identified” – that is, Myki card numbers were removed and replaced with another identifier, which could link trips from a single card together, but not back to a card holder.

Or so they thought.

Part of the problem was they left in a flag indicating the card type. This is not just Full Fare (Adult) or Concession – it goes down to the precise type of Concession or free pass. For instance type 39 is a War Veterans Travel Pass; type 46 is a Federal Police Travel Pass.

With more than 70 types of card, some of the more obscure types are pretty rare, so if the person you’re trying to track down is using one of them, they’re probably not that hard to find, particularly if you know which stations they regularly use.

That’s presumably how the researchers found Anthony Carbines, State MP for Ivanhoe, I’m guessing travelling on a State Parliamentarian Travel Pass – by looking at the data, and matching it up with his social media posts, which included at least one from Rosanna Station.

I’m probably in there too. And so are you. (I’ve only seen a sample of the data; a mere 30 million card touch records out of the total 1.8 billion originally released.)

Myki machines at Southern Cross

Ultimately, it’s good that data sets like this are released. There actually should be a lot more of it – at present, the data released by PTV is very limited. Anything related to patronage or bus service performance is really difficult to find.

Perhaps the problem with not adequately cleaning the data is that they’re out of practice. Almost everything currently available either has nothing to do with passengers directly, or is at such a high level that it could never be used to find individuals.

More data should be out there. Ultimately, the public transport network is funded by taxpayers, and it should be a lot more accountable and transparent than it is.

One thing’s for sure: if they have a go at releasing this level of detailed data again – and I hope they do – they’ll need to be more careful to remove information that could be used to re-identify individuals.


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.

Mobile Myki: touching at a reader

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.


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.


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?


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.