Myki myths 3: credit expires after 90 days – no it doesn’t

PTV Myki hub, Southern Cross Station

The short version

  • Myki credit, once on your card, does not expire after 90 days of not getting used.
  • Nor does your card expire after 90 days of not getting used.
  • If you top-up your Myki via online or phone (NOT over-the-counter or at a vending machine) but then you don’t use the card within 90 days, then you may have some issues.

The full version

It’s a persistent myth of Myki is that the money you put onto it expires after 90 days. This popped up last week in a letter to the Bayside Weekly, and also more notably ABC radio’s Jon Faine put it to Public Transport Victoria boss Ian Dobbs, who unfortunately failed to deny it. (PTV doesn’t actually have responsibility for Myki yet.)

Here’s some of the original incorrect text from the accompanying ABC Online story:

The Transport Ticketing Authority may extend the time people have to use their Myki credit.

Currently credit on a Myki card expires after three months, which has provoked anger from occasional users.

To their credit, the ABC have now corrected the text.

What some people think happens (but doesn’t)

You load credit (“Myki Money”) onto the card. If you don’t use it within 90 days, it disappears. This is not true.

What actually happens

Myki Money does not expire. But there is a limitation with off-system topups.

Some context: It’s important to understand that the Myki system, and other public transport smartcard systems, hold your card balance on the card itself. This means each transaction is (theoretically) relatively quick, and does not rely on a network connection back to a central server to verify the card’s balance and determine if the card is valid for travel.

When you topup your card on the system, that is, over the counter at a retailer or — eventually — a railway station, or at a vending machine, your card is presented and the new balance is updated straight away, without delay.

When you topup your card off the system, that is, by phone or from the web site, the transaction is sent from the central computers to every Myki device (readers, vending machines) in the state, to await the presentation of your card. When your card is presented (such as putting it on a vending machine to check the balance, or touching-on) the transaction is transferred onto the card, updating it. It’s then removed from all the devices.

Following so far? Okay.

The limitation of 90 days is that if you do the phone/web site topup, but don’t present your card anywhere on the system for 90 days, then the system “archives” the transaction – takes it back off all the Myki devices and puts it back in the central computer, presumably so as not to clog up all those devices with too many unactioned transactions.

If/when you eventually show up with your card on the system, it “re-activates” the transaction… but because the communication is not realtime, it might take a few hours (up to 24, they say) for the transaction to be ready again for transfer onto the card.

So in summary…

Myki reader, Mckinnon stationSo in summary: the balance, once on your card, does not expire after 90 days of not getting used.

Nor does your card expire after 90 days of not getting used.

What does happen is that online/phone transactions get “archived” if you don’t complete them within 90 days.

How do other systems do it?

Queensland’s Go Card has a similar timeout, also 90 days, but if you don’t complete the transaction the money goes back to your bank account:

Travel credit will be available on your go card within 48 hours. It’ll appear on your transaction history next time you touch your go card to a card reader. If you don’t do this within 90 days, the money will be returned to your credit card.

London’s Oyster card has much greater limitations. Topups can’t be “collected” onto your card on buses; you have to nominate a specific station to collect it. And there is a much shorter timeout for online transactions:

If you don’t collect your online renewal, your order will be cancelled and you will get a refund:

  • If you ordered a Travelcard, your order will be cancelled two days after your chosen start date
  • If you topped up the pay as you go credit on your Oyster card, your order will be cancelled seven days after your collection date

Refunds will not be processed until at least four days after the date your order was cancelled.

Note that it also appears you have to nominate the start date of a Travelcard/Pass (with Myki Pass it activates on the first day you travel in the zones it applies to).

How could Myki handle this better?

Obviously they could bump out the 90 days to something longer, if it didn’t cause other problems. It’s unclear if this is viable.

They could send the transaction all the way back to your bank account, as with Go Card. Then at least people wouldn’t feel as if Myki had “stolen” the money. They might also notice it on their bank statement — a reminder that it hadn’t been completed.

Myki could also make this limitation more widely known, particularly on the web site when people go to do an online topup, in big bold bright letters.

Finally, for some crazy reason the Myki Check (blue) devices seen in some stations do not process topups. They’re not even hooked up to the network. All they can do is look at what’s on the card. This is counter-intuitive, and appallingly bad design. Ensuring these devices can process topups would help people bypass queues for vending machines in order to verify their topup has arrived correctly.

One last tip

Note that at a railway station, apart from checking via a vending machine, you also can touch-on to verify if your topup has arrived and complete the transaction. Remember to hold the card to the reader for as long as you need to see what’s on the screen.

If you don’t want to travel, simply wait 30 seconds (the timeout to prevent accidental double-touches) and touch-off. The “Change of mind” feature means if this happens within 15 minutes, you don’t get charged; nor does any dormant Pass activate.

PTV: it’s more than just rebranding, but will it make a difference?

PTV bus stop signMuch of the tram and bus stop signage around the CBD was modified over the weekend, with PTV (Public Transport Victoria) logos replacing the Metlink logos. And the Metlink web site now forwards to a reskinned (but essentially identical, so far) PTV web site.

But it would be a mistake to assume this is just a rebranding exercise.

PTV is the trading name of the Coalition government’s Public Transport Development Authority, which describes itself thus:

Public Transport Victoria is the statutory authority that administers Victoriaโ€™s train, tram and bus services. It provides a single contact point for customers wanting information on public transport services, fare, tickets and initiatives.

PTV was established in April 2012 with the aim of improving public transport in Victoria by:

  • Ensuring better coordination between modes
  • Facilitating expansions to the network
  • Auditing public transport assets
  • Promoting public transport as an alternative to the car
  • Acting as a system authority for all public transport and an advocate for public transport users.

In terms of who’s in PTV, primarily it’s made up from a merger of the Public Transport Division of the Department of Transport, and Metlink (whch, it must be remembered, was purely a marketing and comms organisation).

Eventually (when the dust has settled on Myki) it’ll include the Transport Ticketing Authority as well. It’s got a CEO (Ian Dobbs) who replaces the former Director of Public Transport (Hector McKenzie), and a board of directors, which (within 12 months of establishment) should include a community representative. Other than that, we don’t know a great deal about the internal structure yet.

Dobbs was head of the Public Transport Corporation in the 90s, under Kennett. Some cynics think this may be the sign of a slash and burn strategy coming up, but I’m thinking (glass-half-full, and remembering that this government came to power in part because it promised to improve public transport) it may mean he’s just good at implementing government policy and finding efficiencies… remembering of course that things like the abolition of guards on trains in the 90s enabled more frequent train services on weekends.

(Maybe you kids don’t remember when Sunday trains were every 40 minutes all day. From April 22nd, they’ll be every ten minutes on the three busiest lines. And weekend trains are double the length of those in the 90s, so we’ll have 8 times the capacity.)

Of course, working underneath Dobbs is essentially the same workforce that was previously there in PTD and Metlink. So it is unclear how much things will change.

Why not call it “Metlink”?

They wanted a statewide name, not a metropolitan-centric one.

OK then, why not “Viclink”?

Dunno, but Viclink isn’t the best ever name, is it.

Will it make a difference?

Too early to say. The goals sound good, and I know from having met him that Dobbs has some good ideas and a determination to make a positive difference… but watch this space.