Why Paper Tickets Should Be More Expensive

A proposal to ditch paper tickets for public transport in favour of only using smart cards has been dumped in Queensland. I don't think that we should be dumping paper tickets, but I do think we should be charging a lot more for them.

Picture by Daniel Bowen

Last week, Queensland officially abandoned a long-standing but controversial proposal to completely eliminate paper tickets and make everyone use a go card instead. The state will now retain paper tickets for single journeys, but will require a go card for any more complex passes.

That seems a reasonable decision, but it's also backed up by a strategy of making go card journeys cheaper, so that people have an incentive to adopt them. That still leaves a paper ticket option for very occasional travellers and professional luddites, but provides a reason for even vaguely regular users to go electronic and make the system more efficient. There should be a lot more of that approach if we want to encourage electronic ticketing systems and increase public transport usage.

Admittedly, sometimes circumstances dictate that you can't do that. Melbourne's somewhat messy rollout of its myki card ran in stages, with train users able to use it ahead of bus and tram customers. That strategy meant that offering discounts to early adopters really wasn't on, since anyone who wanted to use multiple modes of public transport would be penalised — a dumb idea when you're trying to encourage people to use the system. Right now, pricing is effectively identical across myki and the existing Metcard system, which means there's not necessarily an incentive to switch if you haven't already.

And I'll admit offering discounts doesn't always seem to make a difference. I'm constantly amazed whenever I visit Perth at just how many people purchase paper tickets on buses, even though there's a discount of 15% if you use the SmartRider card instead. I don't visit Perth terribly often, and I've taken up the card; why someone who lived there wouldn't do so is beyond me.

Aside from the individual convenience of not scrambling for change, using smart cards offers other improvements for travellers. If no-one needs to buy a ticket on a bus, then the process of boarding is much quicker, shortening overall journey times. At crowded railway stations, being able to just tap a smart card to get through exit gates is quicker than waiting for a magnetic stripe ticket to pass through. (Brisbane tries to solve this problem by using staff to check paper tickets, but that also creates bottlenecks.)

Moving to a smart card requires a fare system where you can build in discounts for more frequent travellers but also encourage overall usage (something that's conspicuously absent in Sydney, where we'll be lucky to see any kind of electronic ticketing system for years). Once you've done that, then adding a penalty for infrequent users — people who just buy a paper ticket — is the obvious next step.

Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman sometimes suffers from wallet bulge owing to too many travel smart cards. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.


    Paper tickets would be cheaper if they applied the same and if not better discounts to go card users. A 10 trip weekly would always get you free weekend travel, however under the go card you get half price weekend travel.
    The only issue with it all is the crappy implementation, both business and infrastructure wise.

    While I'm all in favor of technology been used to make life easier, it would be simpler to make public transport free, subsidized by road uses and parking.

    While driving is still easier for me to get to work (due to abhorrently bad public transport system), it would remove the issue of fare evasion and simply make the whole system far more attractive as a whole.

    You could even have a paid upgrade system for better, less cramped seating options :D


    I understand your idea but just yesterday I forgot to top up my go-card and I needed a paper ticket, unless we can top-up on a bus (can we already?) then we still need paper tickets. What I really want to see though is a system where you pay a flat fee and get unlimited travel within some zones that you elect, that would be glorious!

      The auto-top-up option is one way of dealing with that issue.

      We have this in Sydney with the MyMulti Tickets, however the pricing means that for a lot of people the pricing for the ten trip tickets is much cheaper.

      Matthew, we can't top up our Go Cards on BCC buses (due to council policy), but all other bus operators like Veolia, Logan City, Park Ridge etc are able to.

    It's actually 25% off ticket prices here in Perth if you set your SmartRider up to direct debit your bank account. The 15% is for the other manual loading methods.

    The SmartRider is also the only way for primary and secondary school students to get their 50c fares.

    No idea why most people don't get one. Maybe they only infrequently travel, or are too lazy to get organised with one.

    Melbourne needs to get its myki system better organised, as it stands, paper is superior because of how long it takes to validate a myki and having to do it as you get off means the time savings for paper vs card are eradicated.

    While I have a myki, I prefer paper tickets because it's less hassle and I know I'm not going to get overcharged for machine failures.

      The Myki system is an absolute mess. I'm hanging on to my paper tickets as long as I can. It take just one Myki user to create a queue through the Flinders St Station gates (even when it works correctly), imagine how bad it's going to be when everyone has to use them.

    getting rid of paper tickets was cancelled in QLD because after almost 3 years they haven't developed a replacement system for casual travellers or tourists.

    I've been to many countries that have paperless systems, and they all had a process for casual users.

    If they want people to use the smart cards over the paper tickets they should just make the GO Card cheaper in QLD & keep the tickets at the price they already are, since they're over priced as it is. It's something like 8 dollars from Elenora to Tweed Heads.

    Also their system is shit enough as it is, they refuse student ID cards unless they have a date on them, which TAFE NSW doesn't have since their student ID cards are valid for longer than one year unlike your high school ID cards.

      Hate to tell you this, but if you're studying at a NSW tertiary institution, you're ineligible for student concessions anyway, and may be fined if a TSO boards your service.

    Since travelling through Tokyo I am constantly amazed at the archaeic system in Sydney. Different passes for Buses & trains, no cost & convenient option for train travel unless you use it every day to validate a weekly ticket, and the fact that it costs me $4 to go one stop is just ridiculous. Good thing i've got a bike and do not need to use the archaeic public transport system too often!

      I don't know which Sydney you are talking about. going one stop on neither bug nor train costs $4. in addition the MyMulti tickets allow transport users who use a combination of bus/train/ferry to have just one ticket. Finally annual tickets exist for people who dont want the hassle of travel 10s or weekly tickets. In all I would say Sydney has it more together than what I see users saying about the ticket systems in other cities. That said if a bus ran on time it would be nice!

    Adelaide doesn't have a smart card/RF card option for public transport yet, and I've not heard about one on the table either...

    I used an Oyster card in London and thought it was brilliant.

    I've also read Cory Doctorow's "Little Brother" where it's obvious that electronic travel cards can be used to build up a transport profile of you as an individual (assuming the transport companies/governments ever wanted to do so).

    So yes: definitely introduce RF cards for transport as a convenience, but paper tickets should also remain for a) the times when you forgot your Go card/Myki/Oyster Card, b) for non-residents who aren't in your city for long and c) for those paranoid people who don't want their movements tracked.

    "At crowded railway stations, being able to just tap a smart card to get through exit gates is quicker than waiting for a magnetic stripe ticket to pass through."

    Except for MYKI, which takes much longer to register, compared to a metcard which zips in and out of the validation machine.

    This is especially annoying when on the bus and I MYKI user stops dead in the exit doors to "touch off", holding up everyone behind them.

    Go Card website doesn't even have an automatic payment gateway, which means it takes 48 hours to top up your go card. As if I could be screwed to go in to a newsagent to do it, and as if I'm organised enough to add credit 2 days in advance. This has caught me out twice

    Canberra is about to go to the MyWay smart card system early next year. I for one am looking forward to it, but I can see it not being too successful either. I travel the buses all the time (no alternative, I haven’t a licence). During the weekdays most people use or purchase period tickets (weekly or monthly) or the ten ride tickets. A single ticket can include a free transfer to a second bus, so for most people it's two rides per ticket

    During the weekend though it’s mainly cash, from teenagers or senior citizens. I actually get irritated with the senior citizens, many who are regulars on my local route, who keep purchasing two hour tickets, when they would be better off with ten ride tickets. If they don’t purchase multi-ride tickets what is going to convince them to get a card, let alone learning how to add funds to the card? Many senior citizens I think may be leery of putting money into a card, that they can't see how much money is in it. It's easier to deal with and handle notes and coins. Teenagers may use the card for school, but do they have the discipline to keep their cards in the black?

    One solution I've read is, after six months of the MyWay card, is to raise the price of a ticket from $4 to $5, with no discounts for students nor senior citizens. Concessions would only be available if you use the card.

    Another issue with the Go Card was (and I am not 100% sure if this is still the case) was that for monthly ticket holders, it is not a cheaper alternative. Purchasing a monthly ticket was roughly the equivalent of catch two trips a day, 5 days a week, for a month. Pricing for the same number of trips on a Go Card was the approximately the same. However, on a monthly ticket any additional trips beyond this in the month were covered by the cost of the ticket (ie unlimited travel for a month) where as the Go Card still charges you 1/2 price fares for each trip (1/2 price per trip over 10 trips in a single week).
    There is no saving there, especially when I use my monthly ticket to travel between offices during the week AND use it on weekends.

    "I’m constantly amazed whenever I visit Perth at just how many people purchase paper tickets on buses"

    In Perth there are paper ticket options that are better value then the electronic alternative. e.g. Family Rider $9 covers Two Adults and 5 Concession all day and the whole network during school holidays and weekends I believe.

    Plus to start on the system, you need to pay $10 just to get the card!

    Singapore has a ticket system that for singe trips you pay a deposit for the card ($1), but once you have used the value of the card, there are machines to use to get your deposit refund.

    Nice Article. I completely agree with charging more for paper tickets. Here in Brisbane, most of the time passengers buying paper tickets block the entrance to the bus door, not allowing any GO card users through, slowing the embark time - this is a big problem.

    Instead of offering discounts, they NEED to increase the paper ticket price substantially. People are creatures of habit, they will most likely change over when they realize they are paying more than they usually do, not when they can save a few cents/trip.

    If only we had a Hong Kong Octopus card, which can purchase items at convenience stores !

    One factor that nobody has mentioned - it's impossible to manufacture cheap chip-based fare media. The best you can do, even in million-quantities, is about 15 cents a ticket, and that a lot more expensive than paper tickets. So replacing all paper tickets with chip-based fare media will cost the government a fortune over a long period.

    Clearly the person who wrote the article doesn't live in Melbourne.

    I've seen people wait up to 4 or 5 minutes for their Myki to register. So this "it's quicker on and off to have a card" is nothing short of false.

    I dread the day paper tickets are phased out (here's hoping they're not) because as Myki stands now, we would never get to work waiting hours to get on and off.

    Let's not forget the fact that you can't top up on transport, and have to arrange it 24 hours in advance on Myki. Wtf?

    When Myki bcomes the only ticketing option, fare evading will rise 6,000%.


    I think Angus's views on paper ticket vs card make a lot of sense - in Plato's world of forms.

    The problem is how authorities have implemented their card systems. In my instance, the implementation of Myki has been woeful! Waiting over 7 days for online credit card transactions to hit accounts; and, unnamed, unauthorised reps "adjusting" account credits without any notification.

    Further, and one of the biggest problems ~ the transport authorities have not accounted for the largest behavioural change needed - the requirement to swipe off.

    Typically, most suburban rail swiping facilities don't include any conditioned access. So, when individuals come back from a day of work, its very easy to forget to swipe off as you can walk through the gates without any restrictions - only to be hit with the "default fare" of $4.96 vs $2.94. Somehow, with a cost of $1.2 billion, there is insufficient funds for such gates.

    The beauty of the old Metcard is that you can buy the cards from nearly anywhere and you control the funds and billing. With Myki its problematic to topup and you don't control your account.

    I agree with the 'default fare' catch. On the Qld rail network it's easy for an irregular traveller liek myself to forget to swipe off on leaving a suburban station. I've been hit with the default fare more times than a standard fare. Consequently, I now make sure I travel for free the next time if I get hit with a 'default fare' ie if QR make it non-trivial to swipe off and charge me more, I'll just wander on and off their train without paying.

    When they first announced the idea to implement Myki, i dreamed it would be like the Octopus card in Hong Kong.
    Almost instant registration when you tap the card, through your bag or wallet, on the reader. That was always fun. And being able to use it at stores and with most vending machines.
    Getting into a train station was truly efficient even in peak hour.
    Buses charged a flat fee so you only needed to tap-on.
    And with train journeys, the fee was adjusted quite a bit depending on how far you went.

    But the current Myki system is nothing more than an overglorified metcard handler. From what i remember it still deals in terms of 2-hour/Daily and zone 1/2.

    It could've done more, and it is far too slow to be called smart.
    And let's not forget the cost and delays.

    Out of curiosity, why couldn't Melbourne just borrow the technology of Octopus and Oyster cards?

    For now, i'm sticking with metcards out of principle

    Go Cards would be adopted more by those still using tickets (mainly the weekly/monthly users) if the Go Card simply let them have the same function. But nooooooooooo that wouldn't make sense would it. morons. I'm actually quite disgruntled to hear they're just cutting the weekly and monthly tickets.

    I go onto a bus in the City early afternoon and find the floor covered in MyMulti 1- *single* tickets. The 10 seconds saved per person by buying single tickets before getting on the bus mean wasting money printing one-use magnetic tickets that are also used for TravelTens- and tickets thrown all over the place.

    Sydney should hurry up with the smart card system.

    How do I travel by bus in Brisbane, when I only need to go to the City probably once a year? I am 70 years old, and seldom travel by public transport. How can I buy a ticket?

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