If you don’t always touch-off, it often doesn’t matter

The Myki mantra of “touch-on, touch-off” will reach fever-pitch as it gets pushed across the PT network.

And people will say it’s a hassle. Which it is. The touch is (if everything works okay) quicker and easier than inserting a Metcard into a slot, but having to do it twice per trip negates that somewhat.

Myki and Metcard readers, W-class tram

If you’re travelling into the CBD by train, the touch-on/off is no more awkward than using Metcard — touch-on at your local station, touch-off to get out the gate in the CBD. (The current retro-fitted gates are a bit temperamental, but will be replaced once Metcard is phased-out.)

But on the way home, you touch-on to get in the gate in the CBD, but they say you’re meant to touch-off after you get off at your station. Along with everybody else who is also trying to exit the station at the same time. And on busy buses and trams it can be a hassle.

Already I’ve seen an account of a passenger getting stressed because she couldn’t touch-off on a tram.

Always best to touch-on, to make sure your card is valid and your fare is paid. But here’s the thing: in a lot of cases it makes no monetary difference if you don’t touch-off.

(The following relates to Melbourne metropolitan services only. V/Line is different. And the following does not constitute advice or a recommendation from the PTUA, nor even a recommendation from me! I’m just making a point.)

Myki Passes

With a Myki loaded with a Pass (equivalent to a Weekly/Monthly/Yearly, and generally cheaper if you’re travelling four times a week or more), the system will assume that, if you touched-on in a zone covered by the pass, that you travelled only in that zone. So if you only ever travel in zone 1, and you have a zone 1 pass, and you don’t touch-off, you won’t get charged any more.

Note: if you travel outside your usual zone, then you do need to touch-off, to ensure you pay for the correct extra amount (off your Myki Money balance). If you don’t, you’re stealing a fare, and you can get fined for fare evasion.

Myki Money default fares

It’s important to understand what a default fare means. The default fare is charged when the system can’t work out where you travelled to, so it assumes you travelled as far as was possible. On a bus (or tram), this means to the end of the line. On metropolitan trains, this means two zones. It’s not a fee on top of the fare; it’s a default fare.

[At one stage they proposed to sting you an extra 20 cents, and this was in place in regional cities for a while. They’ve seen sense.]

So, if you’re making a two-zone trip, you don’t actually need to touch-off. The fare charged is the same whether you do or not.

Default fares only apply to the two hour trip, by the way. Despite what some reports might say, you can’t get stung for a $9.94 zone 1+2 daily fare on a single trip. You’d only get that if you took two trips in a day (not in the same two hour period).

[Note that according to the official Fares and Ticketing Manual, during the transition stage as Myki rolls-out, the default fare on buses and trams is a single zone, regardless of where it goes, but what I’m writing about here is the bigger picture, eg once the system is fully running.]

Myki Money on buses

Bendigo bus MykiIf you’re making a single zone trip on a bus that only travels in one zone, likewise, you don’t really need to touch-off. The system should charge you the same single-zone fare whether you do or not.

[Caution: I wouldn’t be surprised if this is problematic in the first few months of bus operation. It’s also possible there might also be issues when buses are through-routed, for instance the zone 1-only bus 223 to Highpoint often runs through to the zone 1+2 route 215 to Caroline Springs.]

Myki Money on trams

Obviously this one is easy now they’ve officially said you don’t need to touch-off on trams. The system will assume a zone 1 fare, and the zone 1/2 overlap has been extended to the end of the four lines that previously were in zone 2-only. (If you travel on trams entirely within the overlap and want the cheaper zone 2 fare, then you do still need to touch-off.)

The fare cap

The Weekend (and public holiday) fare cap is $3. If your travel costs were going to go above $3 (which is well under the full fare single zone daily rate), then again, you don’t really gain anything by touching-off.


I’m sure any Departmental beancounters reading this are appalled.

What about statistics? Don’t they gather lots of precise data about where everybody’s travelling from and to, and boost services accordingly?

Well, obviously they won’t be able to do that on trams, since most people won’t touch-off.

And the thing is, the crowding that we have on the system now is not a statistical issue. They get very good train system statistics from the old Metcard system during morning peak (the most crowded part of the day), because most passengers validate at their origin station and then again to exit through station gates in the CBD. So odds-on they know exactly where you travelled, and when.

The question is whether they use that information to plan and fund improvements. In the past, they haven’t. In fact they ignored their own report from 2003 warning them to buy new trains.

So while it’s true Myki is likely to provide better statistics, better statistics are not really the problem.

The problem is poor planning, and an unwillingness to invest.

That’s changed recently to an extent, of course, and certainly Myki touch stats are likely to be used to some extent, just as Metcard validation stats are now, but you’ll continue to see people with clipboards around on the system doing the real counting of passenger loads.

I suppose the question is: should passengers go out of their way to touch-off when they don’t have to, just so the statistics will be a little more accurate?

In summary

It will cost you no more if you don’t touch off, when:

  • Travelling on a Myki Pass entirely within the zone(s) covered by the Pass
  • Travelling on a tram within zone 1
  • Making a zone 1+2 trip on a tram, train or bus

So what should I do?

I’m not going to tell you what to do. And I don’t expect you to try and remember all this stuff and know when you can get away without touching-off.

It’s probably easiest to just follow the official line and touch-on, touch-off every time (and don’t bother with touch-off on zone 1 trams). Other than slowing you down a bit, it won’t hurt, and it will ensure that you don’t get stung with an extra default fare accidentally. (If everything works okay, that is. At the moment there are glitches.)

Perhaps in time, if and when all the Myki machinery is humming, and plenty of scanners have been put in, and the touch-on/off sounds have been differentiated so people don’t even need to look as they pass by them, and everyone’s used to it and has mastered touching without even breaking step, then touch-on/touch-off might not seem so bad.

(You know, in London, under some circumstances to avoid a higher fare, you have to touch your Oyster card during your journey. No really, it’s true.)

Update: Summary (above) added.

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.

21 replies on “If you don’t always touch-off, it often doesn’t matter”

@Daniel. Do I have to still touch off at the city and on zone 1 when I travel from zone 2 to zone 1? If I am on zone 1 and 2 overlap do I still have to touch off?

@Phill, not sure I understand your question.

Assuming you’re on a train, how would you get out of a city station without touching-off, given you have to touch to get through a gate to exit?

Seems people want to touch on once and I appreciate that. But in my opinion, that’s a pay per trip scenario or that would work if there were one or no zones. Or we could go back to having a myki for Zone 1 and another for Zone 1 + 2 like the metcard system. Myki isn’t neccessarily bad, but it’s trying to do too much ie one size fits all approach hence the confusion.

Have you done studies on removing zones? That would eleviate the touch off part and encourage PT use. People from Zone 2 would still pay by way of it taking longer to get to CBD but of course Zone 1’s would be complaining why they pay the same as Zone 2.

I do think it’s dangerous for you to encourage not touching off (though you do say it’s our personal choice). You are adding to the confusion by showing scenario’s where you don’t need to touch off. Also it would make inspectors job harder because they’ll have to think, “is this guy not touching off because it’s legitimate? because he’s genuinely fare evading or he can’t wait in the long queue to touch off?”

All in all, great piece and hopefully either we adjust to the new changes (with added reliability/more readers) or the system changes, again (OMG!!).


@Wilson, remember Myki covers most of the state. It’s not two zones; it’s over fifty.

In fact the question of removing zones altogether came up at the Train Services Inquiry last week. Here’s the Secretary of Transport Jim Betts’ response (proof copy only at this stage), which I am inclined to agree with:

On the one hand, there is a school of thought that says that we should keep it very simple and have flat fares. The criticism of that would be that if you are travelling to the city from South Yarra, you are paying as much as somebody who is travelling from Frankston, or from Geelong for that matter. So you can see that there are pros and cons on either side there.

Later on in the transcript he is also asked about the statistics:

It provides us with a richer source of data. The privacy commissioner has gone all over this stuff, so there is no threat that we will be monitoring individual passengers and how they move around the system, but to the extent that people are touching on and touching off, it gives us much more finely grained detail about the station that they are travelling to or from, or whatever, than we could get under the current system.

@Andrew, to be fair, they’re trying to promote a simple message of “touch on, touch off”. It doesn’t really make sense for them to put a whole bunch of detail nobody will really remember into the brochures.

“it often doesn’t matter”.
True, but….
For me, it always matters when I commute from the city to Brighton Beach. By touching off at my end station, I get charged $2.94 instead of the default $4.96.

@Daniel I don’t think I read anywhere about how/when a default fare is charged? I think the biggest issue is that people don’t understand when they’ve been charged a default fare.

If you don’t touch off, your default fare charge won’t be applied until the next time you touch on – for some people that may be the following day. So when they tally their daily charges they think they’ve been overcharged, or charged twice, but in fact they’re paying the correct charge for the previous day’s travel.

I think this is really important to understand.

Yes, if you caught a train from Broadmeadows via Ringwood to Frankston, you would have to touch in the middle of the journey at Ringwood to prove you didn’t go into Zone 1 so you could get the Zone 2 only fare.
But we don’t have any train lines which do that. How about the buses ?

One of the questions I have about myki is about trams. For instance, one morning, if I were to travel to the Camberwell Junction on the route 75 tram from my house in the zone 1/2 overlap, I could touch off and receive a cheaper zone 2 fare. However, if I decided to later in the day travel on a zone 1 tram from the Junction, for instance, the 72 or the 70, would I be charged for a daily zone 1 or a daily zone 1+2? I would be eligible for both tickets (the earlier being the best fare); however, seeing that I touched off when I first used the tram in the morning, would I be charged for the latter?

@Cameron: I reckon that is an excellent question. I don’t think myki would have the intelligence to select the correct fare.

@Roger, yes, for your trip, it matters. I’m not sure what point you are trying to make here.

@Belle, yes good point. The calculation of the default fare happens the next time you touch-on, when it realises that the previous trip was never “ended”.

@enno, the only way that could happen with buses is if you were able to change services without touching-on again; eg at an interchange designed like a railway station with a Paid Area. Melbourne has no such bus interchanges.

@Cameron, assuming your second trip was within the same 2-hour period, you’d be upgraded from the Z2 fare to the Z1 fare.

If you do your Z2 (overlap) trip at 8:30am (2-hour period expires 11am), then a Z1 trip at 11:30 (2-hour period expires 2pm) then another at 4:30pm (2-hour period expires 7pm), then I believe you should get charged the Z1 daily fare, but I’m not certain of that.

Thanks for that Daniel. I started to worry a bit since the Myki site doesn’t clearly show that it is not necessary to touch off on trams (the transport I mainly use).

Reading your post, I still don’t understand what to do.

And that’s the system’s fault, not yours.

I have used my Myki this week on both Trams and Trains. I have touched on and off when using a train and only on when using a tram.

When I look at my transactions on the website I have supposedly made multiple touch-offs on each tram journey. This leads me to believe their stats will be pretty useless. Also, my first two tram trips were correctly charged at 2.94 each but then I was refunded 0.92 on each one. Subsequent ones have no refunds applied!!

For me, the thing I find most inconvenient is that there is no way by looking at your card to know when a 2hr trip expires – you have to pay attention and remember the exact time you touched on. With the current system, the expiry time is printed on the card, so that you can keep track.

Daniel: @Roger, yes, for your trip, it matters. Iā€™m not sure what point you are trying to make here.
The point is, that MY type of trip (zone 1 by train) is done by 100s of thousands of people every day. This makes your heading “it often doesn’t matter” wrong – for most trips by train, it usually DOES matter !!

@Paul, 92 cents is the difference between the Z1 fare and the cheaper Z2 fare. It may have decided for some reason that you were travelling entirely in the Z1-2 overlap.

@Altissima, agreed. Would be nice if it told you.

@Roger, hmm, well I guess my interpretation of “often” doesn’t equate to “in the majority of cases”

I’d be curious to know if they’ve fixed these problems with the system:
* The system not showing the expiry time of a 2 hour slot?
* The system activating a pass when a $3 weekend cap would be cheaper?
* The system disallowing further trips on a 2 hour slot, with a negative balance?
* The system taking a week to get off-system credit (web topup) onto the card?

I think the system should always show something like
Zone 1 OK until 10:00am
Zone 1+2 OK until 21 Aug 2010
as well as the balance and touch-on/touch-off status message.

I also think the system should let you use a 2 hour (or daily) slot regardless of balance. At present, it denies you if the balance is negative, which is fraudulent, because you are paying for a ticket which you can’t use. This is likely to be a practical issue for many people like younger children who have no cash on them, when malfunctions in the system send their balance negative, not to mention the many adults out there who don’t have a spare dollar.

I agree with Daniel’s comment that the beeps need to be different for touch off – but I have this to add: THE BEEPS SHOULD BE MUCH LOUDER.

myki is always spelled with a lowercase m! Although I doubt the public will ever catch on to this.

Regarding not being able to see the expiry of a 2 hour period, what would you usually do in this situation with a Metcard?
Would you decide to travel more frequently because your card is still valid, or not travel because your card has expired?
It doesn’t really matter with myki as there is no need to buy a new ticket… you will just be charged for what/where you need to travel.
I find it pretty convenient to be honest, knowing that the card is keeping track of the time and you don’t have to think about it.

emily> Regarding not being able to see the expiry of a 2 hour period,
emily> what would you usually do in this situation with a Metcard?

Hey I gotta decide whether there’s time to be a poser and sip a latte on Chapel St!

No, seriously: if you have several things to do, you might organise differently unless you knew you could make your 2 hour slot, and/or keep an eye on the time.

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