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.

Google celebrates 150 years of London Underground – and could we have bought Oyster?

As seen at google.co.uk on Wednesday. Very cool.

Google Doodle London Underground

(Large version found via the Going Underground blog)

Note the subtle shading of fare zones, which reflects how they look on the official maps.

It’s been claimed in the past that in Melbourne we couldn’t adopt an existing smartcard ticket system like Oyster because Melbourne had specific needs. I disagree… London has zones, trains, trams, buses and ferries. We have zones, trains, trams, buses. A handful of ferries run in Melbourne, but aren’t part of the integrated fare system.

Myki and OysterNot so different.

Perhaps it wouldn’t have saved much money to buy Oyster (Sydney is doing so, and it’s costing a similar amount to Myki), but I bet it would have saved time getting it running, and from what I’ve seen, we would have got faster response times on the readers.

That said, Brisbane implemented Oyster as “Go” card, and has had some issues. And Myki’s ambition was to cover most of Victoria with fare zones – I wonder if Oyster could have handled that. (V/Line buses run to Canberra and Adelaide. Adelaide was going to be zone 73.)

But of course now Myki has been cut in scope to go no further than the V/Line commuter belt — 13 zones in all. I suspect it could have handled it.

And the rumour is some in the bureaucracy are beginning to realise the way Myki was built was a mistake. Too late now.