Why The Victorian Government Shouldn't Abandon myki

Dear Victorian Government, I understand that the option of ditching the myki smartcard ticketing system is on the table, with a review of the entire project currently under way. It's not surprising that a newly-minted government would want to score brownie points by dealing with what was, by any measure, a controversial project. However, I really hope that you won't set Victoria back by abandoning the use of smartcard technology altogether.

You won't get any argument from me that myki (which, incidentally, would come across much better with a capital letter) has been really poorly managed, and that some of the technology that has been chosen stinks. Having used it over the past six months during my regular visits to Melbourne, here are my three biggest complaints:

  • The reader systems on buses are utterly hopeless. As often as not, they're out of order. When they are operational, you need to hold the card down for several seconds to get them to register, which creates a major blockage if everyone boarding is doing it. On countless occasions, the driver has told me not to bother, which means that my trip isn't registered and potentially I don't get charged correctly.
  • The readers at station gates are a bit more reliable, but positioned really stupidly. It'd make much more sense to have them at the same height as the existing ticket readers. (This is the approach adopted in London, and those gates also accept paper tickets, so it's definitely doable.)
  • Topping up is a pain. My local station in Melbourne is a "premium" station, but I can't add value to my card on the platform where the ticket office is. I have to go to a separate (and rarely used) platform. Who came up with that plan? Every ticket office should be able to top up a Myki card. There's staff and a network connection, so where's the difficulty?

These aren't one-off issues, or problems that change over time (such as the rather stupid staged rollout which was no incentive for anyone to use the system). They're fundamental technology issues that need to be addressed. But the point is that they can be addressed. Get some better bus readers, shift the gate readers and roll out some more top-up machines, and the whole system would be eminently usable.

The general impression across Melbourne is that smart cards are a nuisance, but it doesn't have to be that way. Properly implemented, smart card systems make travel easier. In my travel bag, I have smart cards for use in Brisbane, Perth and London. All of those work with no drama across the system.

I can add value to them pretty much anywhere I need to. The tap-on/tap-off process works with no problems and in less than a second -- I'm so confident about it I normally just leave the relevant card in my wallet, which is something I've never ventured to risk with myki. Indeed, it works so well that buses in London frequently don't offer any option to buy tickets on board, which means that boarding is a much quicker process altogether.

Properly implemented, smart card systems have benefits for both travellers and the governments that operate them. We get a more efficient ticketing system that works for both casual travellers and regular commuters and shortens queues. Operators get much more accurate data on how the system is being used, which is vital for future planning.

No paper tickets is the way of the future. I understand that fixing myki will be an expensive proposition. However, abandoning smart card systems altogether is even more damaging in the long term. And I should know -- I live in Sydney.

Regards Road Worrier

Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman looks forward to when he can travel for days using nothing but smartcards. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.

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Comments

    Fully agree Angus. For those of us who live in Sydney and don't have a paperless ticket system [yet], it seems absurd to pull it before even trying to fix the technology and implementation issues that they have. I hope they have come too far, and pulling it will be deemed to be too expensive and too hard.

    myki rocks. I think people should be a) more patient with the new system b) use it more.

    it will get better to a point where you rave about the system like I do

      I've used myki plenty, and that's what's led me to conclude they need better readers on the buses. No way I'm going to rave about it until getting on the bus becomes something that you can do without pausing.

        yeah it's awful on buses but at least people don't just stand in front of them like on trams.
        also its annoying when you touch your myki at the train station and someone on the other side of the barriers with a metcard just puts their card in and the system lets them through first.

      It rocks? It sounds horribly broken. The SmartCard system in Brisbane is great, I don't see why they didn't just use the same thing?

      Probably the only thing the Brisbane City Council hasn't screwed up.

        That's because it was implemented by translink, which is state, and not BCC.

    I certainly agree that smartcards should not be abandoned, but the issue the Victorian Government is dealing with at the moment is the potential to switch to a cheaper smartcard system (given there is somewhere around $700 million left in the myki 'budget')

    If the outcome of their review suggests we can switch to a cheaper and more reliable system then I'm all for it - the left over money can even help fund the Doncaster or Airport rail lines.

      Doncaster doesn't need the trainline as much as South Morang / Mernda... At least Doncaster has decent bus services.

    I think it extremely unlikely they'd get rid of it.

    Firstly it would look like a huge waste of money. The Libs want to be in a posiiton to point at Labor about waste, not put themselves in the firing line.

    Secondly, why take responsibility for fixing something that you can still blame the opposition for until at least the next election? It's a no win proposition for them.

    Lastly, despite some problems, it's honestly not that bad. The problems with PT in Melbourne go deeper than the ticketing system. Another ticketing overhaul won't solve the real problems of underinvestment in aging infrastructure.

    My major complaints would be with the barriers as it can be much slower than using the metcard, or it doesn't work at all. Although this would be a temporary problem as they were intended to be replaced with myki barriers.
    The website is another inconvenience, a bit slow to add money and the transaction list is slightly confusing and hard to keep track of.

    It's a good system when it works.

    I hate it when you forget to tap off when you reach your destination. They charge the default fare (for me that equals $4.96 instead of $2.02)

    If they want people to tap on and tap off then at least place a gate at EVERY station. Something physical would be great to help you work out if you've used the card correctly.

    It kind of feels a little unfair at the end of the day when everyone else walk past the gates without any action required. You have to get your card out and slam in onto the face of the reader in the hope that it will read in the split second you have before a crowd of non-myki people trample you.

    And then there's also the horrible user at the topup kiosks. I have a "myki pass" and to add value to my card, I insert on the machine, wait for the screen and then hit "back to main menu". At that point I can top up my pass. It took me a few minutes to figure that out the first time I used the damn machine.

    Then there's the fun you get if you happen to want to travel for a couple of days and your pass has expired. You can't top up a pass for less than 7 days, so you have to add money. When the money runs out, it will typically go negative. At that point any pass value you add to the card is "not activated" until you add more money on. But this isn't mentioned anywhere - your card is just rejected by all the readers. The attendant at the station couldn't help me, just saying that "yeah, that's happened a few times this morning." I had to go into the myki store at Southern Cross station to figure out what was wrong.

      Er. "horrible user *experience* at the topup kiosks".

        When you place your myki on the top up machine, it defaults to "quick topup" mode, opening the coin & note slots. If you don't place it on the machine, you can tap "Top up myki" on the main screen and will then be instructed when to place the card on it.

    Why did the Victorian government have to develop a new system?

    Why didn't they just Copy n Paste a working system from another city?

      Because it was cheaper (on paper) for them to hire a totally inexperienced company, rather than implement a tried and tested system that would have hit the budget they quoted.

      That's exactly what they should've done.
      Guess they thought they could do better.
      Instead they've ended up with a tangled mess of misery.

    There are other problems you haven't come across or mentioned:

    You don't have to touch off on trams, but unless you do, you can't enter a gated train station (because the system stupidly assumes you're "inside a ticketed area" rather than outside). This means you have to touch off on trams – and if the reader isn’t working on a tram or a bus when you have touched on, you can’t enter a station.

    The online trip history is appalling, and so telling if you have been overcharged is difficult to the point of impossible.

    The myki system doesn't work if you have cards like paypass (MasterCard) enabled credit cards in your wallet - the myki reader displays "More than once card detected" so you can't simply leave the card in your wallet. Other RFID cards (i.e. Qantas FF card) do not present a problem, but touch payment credit cards do. This slows down the process even more.

    Finally, it should be abandoned if the cost of starting again with a smart card system that ISN'T myki is less than the cost of fixing myki. Sunk cost to date is irrelevant; the only things that matter are remaining cost (and, of course time) to completion. If it is quicker and cheaper to buy and implement Brisbane’s or London’s system, that’s what the government should do.

      I've never had to touch off from a tram to be able to touch on into a gated train station. Works perfectly on my afternoon commute home, on the 96 tram from St Kilda to Southern Cross station, then train home - touch on the tram, touch on at the station, touch off at the other end.

      Of course, that's assuming the readers are working on the 96 tram. I've had a couple of trips where all the myki readers were disabled, and one trip where all the myki readers where stuck in an endless reboot cycle. Looks like they run Windows CE, they had that rotating hourglass inside the square in the middle of the screen as they booted.

    There isn't any proof that taking an overseas system could or would work. Every jurisdiction has different fare structures and transport modes. An example is Sydney, who will be using Oyster technology at a predicted cost of $1.2b. However this is a much smaller implementation than myki, which is replacing 3 ticketing systems (4 when it comes online on SkyBus) and will be the largest public transport smartcard implementation in Australia.

    By the way, current barriers are retrofitted Metcard ones, that's why the placing of the myki reader on them seems strange. You can check out the proper myki barriers at the Collins St end of Parliament station, they're fast, the reader is on top, and they are very quiet.

      "There isn’t any proof that taking an overseas system could or would work."

      WHAT??????

      Can you tell me what we have that London does not have, but 20 times more? Trains, trams,buses, underground, 6 zones plus regional rail. It has probably 100 times the peak usage.

    BJ, you're actually incorrect. If you don't touch off on a tram you can most definitely got through a gated station, you will receive a simultaneous default touch off (from the tram) and touch on (for the train), and the barrier will open.

    Regarding the other RFID card issue, I know many people that have them, they place their myki one one side of their wallet another RFID cards on the other. Most (mens) wallets also flip open, so it's easy to just touch the myki side to the reader.

      @kiwiguy72, that might be the theory. The fact is that if I haven't touched off, I need to hand my card to the guy at the station on the other side of the barrier, who touches off for me on the station side, before I can touch on and open the barriers. Maybe I'm lucky and have a "special" card. Same problem with my colleages, on the same Tram then Train journey.

      Re RFID/ Paypass cards - they were different side to wallet, same problem.

        I don't want to sound rude BJ, it's not theory, it's fact. Otherwise you would never receive a default touch off and your card would always be touched on. If your myki is registered, check the transaction history, you'll see simultaneous touch on and "Touch Off (Default Fare) on these transactions.
        More importantly,make sure you're notvswiping or waving your card across the reader, especially the retrofitted Metcard barriers, they are temperamental.

        Exact same thing happens to me BJ. Now I just don't swipe on a tram because I'm sick of missing my connecting train when I forget to swipe off the tram. I buy a pass that's valid for four weeks and only swipe at the station or when I'm not going to connect to a train.

        I'm a fan of myki and happy to promote it to people but until you've actually used it every day Brendan you can't dismiss these faults in the system. If you work at myki then you're certainly going the wrong way about community consultation, with this dismissive attitude!

        The other two problems I have with myki are the same as everyone else:
        - unreliability when swiping off the bus. I have to yell to the bus driver to wait for me about once a week when the reader doesn't read my card, so I end up holding up the (empty) bus.
        - 24 hours needed to top up a card online or on the phone. I don't live near a machine and have to buy a 2-hour ticket to catch public transport to the nearest machine. Understand this would be fixed when (if) there's myki top up machines on the trams.

        For now it just makes the system seem like a pilot with bugs and bits that need fixing rather than an actual working system where you can get fined.

    - Scrap ticket machines and validation machines in trams!! Trams are a nightmare for precision electronics - they are full of high powered, spiky electric noise. London has trams and light rail, none of them have ticket machines or validation machines in the trams/trains themselves. Small in-expensive validation machines can be placed at each stop (solar powered and wireless) so there is no congestion for tapping on and off, no problems getting kids, prams, etc organised.

    # Buy an off the shelf system - but most importantly make sure the system uses the 'tap-and-go' or paypass/wave system that is going in everywhere as it is issued by Mastercard and Visa. Tourists will not need to pre-purchase tickets if they have a tap-and-go card , occasional users don't need to pre-purchase tickets. You will find that most of the smart phones that come out in the next few years will also be able to act as 'cards'. Card readers are a defined protocol so can be bought 'off the shelf' which will keep the price down. The vendor can still issue their own card, with the bonus of being able to also purchase other items with the card.

    There are other problems as well. If you topup online the credit will not hit for at least 24 hours. What sort of an online system works like that.
    The autotopups do not make sense.
    As you mentioned the readers are slow.
    It would cost a fortune to fix the system.

    Better off scrapping it and implementing oyster (I think, the London one). It would be cheaper.

    The myki system has a cost per single use ticket of 0.35 as opposed to metcard 0.02. It would send the govt bankrupt.

    And smartcards should be permenantly free, this $10 thing is a clear barrier to adoption.

      The web and phone topup transactions are sent out to all readers and topup machines (about 20,000 devices) in an overnight "action list". They are generally available next morning, though sometimes take 2 days, especially if the first reader you use is a tram or bus which hasn't been back to the depot to receive the action list update.
      This is the same with every similar system, in both Australia and the world, Go Card, Smart Rider, Oyster, all have overnight web & phone topups. With Oyster you have to nominate the station you will collect your topup at, and you cannot collect it on a bus.

      Auto topups work differently. The auto topup request stays on the readers and when your card drops below the nominated balance, the reader tops it up. This then triggers the transaction to your credit card or bank account. Auto topup is actually the easiest to use, the only caveat being that you need to keep your credit card or bank account details up to date, because if the transaction fails, a block request is sent to the card.

      The cards do cost money and there is a cost involved to code and process them. If they were always free, people would be less likely to take care of them. The $9.80 fee for refund of any funds on the card is exactly the same as with Metcard now.

      Lastly, if you think it would be cheaper to get Oyster, think again, Sydney is licensing the Oyster technology for their T-Card (take two), at a cost of more than $1.2b, for a much smaller system than myki will be. They are also very likely to have to massively simplify their fare structure.

    The lack of vending/topup machines *is* related to the protracted rollout. More machines will go in to replace the old Metcard machines when (if) Metcard is phased out.

    I've got a bunch of blog posts on Myki's progress, at the URL above. I'd have to say that it's been troubleprone, but it's mostly working now, so it'll be interesting to see what the government does from here.

    Thanks for the credit on my pic, BTW.

    At what point will be money wasted on ticketing systems exceed the net ticket sales?

    At that point it will be easier, cheaper, and better for the environment to simply make public transport free.

    The best smart cards I've seen are in Hong Kong, the orange Octopus card. They're all "touch and go" cards that can be topped up anywhere that accepts the card. The system is apprently based originally off the London system, but I've never been to London so I don't know what their's is like. The Octopus cards are used by ALL forms of transport in HK and not only that they're used for non transport purposes, such as paying for things at the shops. There is a maximum cash/credit limit that the cards can hold, but they're widely accepted and can be topped up at any place that accepts them for payments. I use them all the time when in HK and the most difficult time I've ever had with them is when I actually have to get one, it might take a whole 2 minutes to get a new one and put credit onto it

      Thanks for the kudos Nick. As one of the "techies" responsible for the HK Octopus system (and Singapore, San Fran, Seattle, Rome, etc.), I still regard this as the benchmark system. I'm upset every time I read about the myki problems - it's not rocket science these days to produce good high-speed smartcard transit systems - it's been done for over 16 years bu those who know how to do it.

    My biggest problem with Myki is the annoyance of touching off. I regularly take public transport to Uni. To do so, I must catch a train, then a bus. The train station is ok. Blockage occurs, but not that often. My biggest problem with Myki is when it comes to buses. Upwards of 30 people catch the same bus to uni, so the bus gets very full. With only one exit, everyone has to wait to for that one person to touch off. This takes about 2 seconds. 30 people x 2 seconds = 1 minute. This may not seem like much, but it gets really annoying, especially with the metcard system, where people can just walk off. Another thing I've noticed is how often my friend forgets to touch off. He normally just jumps off the bus, then remembers to touch off. Yet there are no touch off points, AT ALL, at the bus stop. This really irks me. Wouldn't it be better to have a touch on/touch off point at the stop itself? Or at the very least, a touch off only point at the stop? It'd make life a lot easier, and would encourage me to use myki.

    @Fred, fare revenue is already much higher than the cost of ticketing systems. Even Myki's high cost of $1.35b over ten years (eg $135m per year) is far less than the nearly $700m per year collected in fare revenue in Victoria.

    An annoyance that I came across was the way that expiry dates are handled for myki pass. Using metcards the expiry date on your ticket includes the expiry day; myki expires the day before.

    Not a big thing really, but it caught me out the first time and I missed my train as a result (mad dash to other platform at Coburg to topup my myki pass)

      Expiry of your myki pass is exactly the same as Metcard, at 3am of the next morning. E.g. A 7 day pass activated on Wed will expire at 3am the following Wed. This expiry date and time shows every time the myki card is held to a reader, for as long as it is held to the reader. It also shows on topup machines & the blue "check" machines.

    My biggest current gripe with myki is that if you turn on auto-topup and there is any problem you have to PHYSICALLY MAIL THE CARD BACK in order to get it unblocked. This for a smartcard system where the block is nothing more than an entry in a database. That's absurd.

    In part it is due to the fact that when they do an auto-topup transaction they credit your card before they know the charge has succeeded. This because it can take them up to 24 hours to actually process a charge. Is this some bad joke? Any online payment processor can tell me within seconds if my charge has been approved. Is myki processing card charges manually or something?

    Other gripes:

    $10 non-refundable fee for a card (other systems charge a lower fee that is partially refundable if you return the card.)

    $10 fee to cancel your card and get a refund of your existing balance.

    "Offices" that offer no actual services over or above what a top-up kiosk offers.

    In addition to the above mentioned problems: slow unreliable readers on busses, poor positioning of readers on gates, and difficulty topping up.

    I've used smartcard transit systems all over the world. Myki is by far the worst I've used. I'm a big fan of modern technology, and a die-hard early adopter but at some point you have to just pull the plug.

      myki readers are not connected to back end systems in real time. If they were, you could expect touch on and off to take as long as an eftpos transaction in a cab, because it would need to connect to the back office every time. 

      Transactions only happen between the reader & the card, these are then reconciled in an overnight process. The card itself holds the last 10 transactions. This process is the same in similar systems all over the world, e.g. London's Oyster. This also gives the system a high degree of resilience as if readers were always connected & comms were lost, the system would fail.

      Myki also uses the same equipment, made by ACS systems also used in transport systems all around the world. The back end software platform, as far as I know is ACS' Argos system. Only the fare calculation part has been built for Vic, so it really isn't a "home grown" system.

      I also need to state that I have no connection with any company or entity associated with myki, I have simply been using it for over a year now.

      I too have had a terrible experience with having to send back my card to myki. Its true, I dont understand why every other credit transaction on the internet can authorise and decline my transation instantly, yet myki can't, therefore with money constanly going in and out, sometimes it tries to take funds from my account a few days later.

      Then it declines your card and you have to send it back. I understand the readers aren't instantly connected, but the lock should still be able to be remotely removed once you pay correctly and you touch back on, even if you had to go to a myki top up booth. I even went to the myki customer service centre in Southern Cross to see if they could unlock it, and they told me that even though they are connected to the network, and can issues cards from there, the only place that they can unlock the card is at head office, how absurd for a 'Smart-card' system!

    They shouldn't continue to try and fix their homemade myki system. It should be scrapped. Instead they should purchase a proven smart card system, from a vendor who has already successfully implemented the technology in other major cities (e.g. london, hong kong, brisbane, perth etc.).

    The copy/paste idea is misguided. London took over 5 years from soft launch to widespread use, also it covers a very small (comparatively) area of 6 + 3 zones. It also deals with flat fares for buses.

    The original government tender required an "Open" solution that prevented vendor lockin. Hence the need to build it all from scratch. The Metcard experience had suitably sickened the government last time.

    More importantly the State Government's procurement policy of LBW - lowest bid wins removes any slack that a contractor may have for all the clever ideas that policy managers come up with - like top ups have to be available from all and not just one designated station (London requires that you designate your pick up point and requires that you wait until next day).

      London deals with a far more extensive network of services -- that did indeed take time. Flat fares for buses is definitely a bonus in implementation.

      Not true at all about top-ups -- I've topped up my card at multiple locations and you can get a new card at any Underground station with a ticket office (or swap an existing one if it does develop problems).

        Oyster online top ups must nominate a station to pick up the update on the card. These are not available immediately after the online charge up and have to be collected after the batch has processed, typically next day. You are correct that this is not the case for in person charge ups

        The state government insisted that best practice be ignored and that card updates be broadcast all over the network - buses trams trains and retailers. This is part of the cause of issues in Victoria.

        On the matter of picking up replacement cards from ticket offices - this is a matter of the franchise agreements setup up in Melbourne and a Government insistence that despite completely changing the ticketing system the franchise holders staff were to not be impacted in any way. Hence they are not authorised to do anything to the card other than send it back to the central office. Again policy impacting technology.

        Consider also government fears around fares policy which has resulted in a fare structure designed for "simple" magstripe cards being retrofitted onto smart card technology.

        Can you set an automatic update online. I've got my Go Card set to top up when it gets to $5.

    Hehe Perth's SmartRider sounds much better than "myki". Although Melbourne's public transport is probably more reliable and frequent, so it's win-lose form everyone's perspective!

      "Although Melbourne’s public transport is probably more reliable and frequent..."

      Clearly you've never taken public transport in Melbourne.

    Instead of dumping $1.35 billion dollars down the toilet, I think people would've been much happier if they just slashed ticket prices. When its cheaper to drive to work than it is to buy a full fare ticket why bother?

    I wish I had a contactless card but I have a yearly ticket (old Metcard) through an employer deduction scheme. I was told it can be converted to myki but myki told me my employer has to contact them and my employer is not inclined to do anything so I'll have to wait til June.

    There's too much hardware installed. If the govt. scraps it, O hope they just scrap the unreliable fare scheme and keeps the contactless hardware and just have a contactless Metcard.

    I wonder if it would be cheaper to have free public transport.

    I don't think the government has spent the full $1.3b, the rest was for five years of a maintenance agreement.

    At the moment, I'm in favor of myki amd I hope they don't remove the already installed readers.

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