Ranting transport

Today’s factually incorrect Myki rant article in The Age didn’t help

I didn’t think I’d write two Myki blog posts in one day, but…

Let me briefly go through the mistakes in this opinion article from The Age today then I’ll get to the real point of this post.

Myki receipts, Flinders Street station

”If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, goes the old adage.

The claim in government circles is that Metcard is broke — at least almost — and needed significant investment to keep it running reliably. I don’t know if they’ve ever presented the evidence to that effect, but given regular cases of cards getting jammed in validators, there seems to be something in it.

The grounds for a new ticketing system were there, if it was likely to: (1) allow passengers to use $5, $10 and $20 notes on trams

Actually the original plan was for Myki to include ticket machines on trams which would accept notes.

It is unknown just how many people have been fined after boarding a tram holding a $10 note, only to discover that a $10 note – legal tender everywhere else in Australia – didn’t buy a tram ticket.

Legal tender does not mean every business selling something has to accept every form of Australian currency. See: No, the law doesn’t demand that Myki accept 5 cent coins, or that Metcard machines accept notes.

Picture this myki utopia: … so you simply whip out your phone, log on to the myki website and transfer credit on to the card, before touching on before the tram has even reached the next stop.

I wonder how he thinks the transaction gets from the Myki web site onto your card? Magic? Actually it gets transferred via wifi when trams (and buses) are in the depot… which is why they say it could take up to 24 hours.

(They should look at upgrading to mobile data of some kind if it’s possible given the load, and at the very least they should make sure updates to fixed readers are available within an hour or two.)

When you transfer funds into your card via the internet, you need to wait up to three days for those funds to be available.

Myki themselves say 24 hours (although they hedge their bets and sometimes say “at least 24 hours”), though I’ve seen it work in about two hours.

Until now, charities, community legal centres and other non-government organisations which provide services to people who are homeless or on extremely low incomes simply provided clients with daily Metcard tickets where the need arose. Now, they are faced with the prospect of providing a $6 myki card, plus fare, to each client for each journey.

I’m not sure why he assumes those people would need a full fare $6 card. Aren’t they more likely to need a $3 concession card (provided they have the relevant proof, such as a Health Care Card)?

In any case, as noted by The Age just last week, NGOs such as charities needing to pay for travel for their clients can use a paper Day Pass.

The bottom of the article notes Mr Marks is a solicitor with the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service — perhaps the Transport Ticketing Authority hasn’t approached them about this. I know the TTA has been talking to a lot of other NGOs on this topic — for over a year now.

Later in the article Mr Marks derides the Myki Fares & Ticketing Manual for its lack of brevity. If he had read it properly, he’d have found on page 43 it details the Day Pass.

As it happens, I’m a great supporter of the Manual. Every PT system in the world has a myriad of business rules behind it. The difference is in Victoria they’ve put it out in the open so anybody can read it. Kudos to the Victorian Government for this.
Myki Pass details

when they ”touch off”, users are not told the amount myki is taking out of their account. They are only given the balance remaining on their account.

This is completely wrong. All Myki devices (apart from the old Metcard gates which are fast vanishing) tell you the current balance as well as the fare just deducted.

On the bright side, at least he didn’t raise the 90 day myth.

(“TheMykiUser” also wrote a blog post about this article… the author of The Age’s piece responded here.)

My point: factually incorrect rants like this are not helping

Myki has problems — some of them, such as the lack of a short term ticket, are really serious.

Mr Marks raises this, but his point is lost in all the misinformation, which undermines the whole article.

The factual errors, which should have been avoidable with a little research (you know, the type of research someone should do when writing for a major newspaper), mean the government (and I mean both the TTA, which is responsible for implementing government policy, and the Minister’s Office, which is responsible for setting it) will probably have dismissed the entire piece out of hand. It gives them the chance to say “well, there’s lots of errors here, the whole thing is rubbish.”

Myki is costing $1.5 billion over ten years, and the level of debate on this should be better.

The real truth is bad enough.

OK… next post tomorrow totally non-PT-related.

Update Friday: Russell has posted a response to this blog post.

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.

16 replies on “Today’s factually incorrect Myki rant article in The Age didn’t help”

From my point of view, the Metcard system was very worn out and much of the equipment needed replacing.

‘It is unknown just how many people have been fined after boarding a tram holding a $10 note, only to discover that a $10 note – legal tender everywhere else in Australia – didn’t buy a tram ticket.’ This would be an interesting statistic. I think most were asked to leave the vehicle at a point where they can get change or buy a Metcard. Also, was anyone ever fined for not revalidating an already validated and valid Metcard? I doubt it, although the pressure was certainly on at some point to validate every time your board a tram.

In his response to The Myki User, Russell says that topups take days (or hours), which is nothing compared to the convenience of buying a paper ticket which works straight away. Which is, of course, precisely what happens when you top up at a machine. (And yes, that’s still a smart card — it’s “smart” because the card actually talks to the reader, rather than being a passive recording medium.)

Still, I guess when Myki was sold as being excellent, and it really isn’t, non-tech people will have a variety of uninformed opinions which colour their views of it. It’s only going to get worse — people have decided it’s crap, and because they are largely unaware of the design, or how it could be improved, they assume you have to scrap it and start again, or that the old system was better.

It’s sad that an article with some valid points, might get ignored due to these factual errors. The legal tender issue is a low priority, how about introducing PayPass to Myki machines instead? It would make it even easier and painless to purchase a ticket.

The two high priority fixes to Myki are

– Short term tickets
– Length of time for credit to be applied

There is no excuse for not adapting existing Myki top-up machines (that already print paper receipts) for paper tickets, particularly for short tram trips and the tourist market. I still saw the majority of tourists on my tram buying tickets via the Metcard machine all the way up until it was decommissioned.

Why can TramTracker infrastructure not be leveraged to improved the speed of credits being applied to Myki? They appear to be radio devices of some kind…surely this grid is suitable?

This system is an embarassment, focus on the two points above – and it will improve quickly and measurably.

Daniel, I think it is a stretch to call them factual errors. Rhetorical flourishes perhaps. The last two are generally correct, although one is a very recent policy change, and one is true of some of the readers being phased out. The others are in essence correct. Myki doesn’t function very well – not even as well as Metcards; it doesn’t accept either short term tickets or notes or coins on trams; and it is out-of-date in its approach to customers (whether that is a delay in topping-up or requiring form filling for expiring cards).

Marks is also correct in his diagnosis. The government chose smart cards because “everyone else had them” – they admitted as much at the enquiry. But smart-cards are an early-90s technology that was invented to deal with an era when data storage was expensive, wireless connectivity almost non-existent, credit cards a paper-based system and online management of personal accounts a future indulgence. The system has kludged these items onto a smart card infrastructure, badly and at great expense, but it still fails the expectations of modern users.

Modern users carry sufficient data storage, wireless connectivity and online accounts to run Myki in their pockets. There is a reason bar-codes are ubiquitous these days and outside Japan smart-cards never realised their apparent potential for personal storage: bar-codes allow the system to run off a server farm and merely use the bar-code for identification of users (account based/single-use/whatever), not storage and calculation. If the government had paid the slightest attention to the technological breeze they’d have ignored smart-cards and gone that route instead. The next generation of ticket systems will absolutely not be smart-card based. The current generation didn’t need to be.


A couple of points. One: Smartcard ticketing systems around the world have taken around seven years to implement. With the pace of technological advancement, it’s not a surprise that the technology chosen in 2005 is not the most sophisticated in 2013. However, smartcards are used for public transport fare payment in many modern cities.

Two: Can you imagine technophobes, who struggle with the change from Metcard to myki, adopting bar codes for paying their fare? Do you really think that is the best solution to suit the whole of society?

myki may have some things to work on, and many of these will be resolved in time, but I don’t think using bar codes will be the next step.

John, with regard to your second point. I don’t see technophobes struggling to use Skybus or buy concert or sports tickets. Both of which use barcodes. Both of which are vastly more flexible, user friendly and cheaper than smart cards. Nor is there any reason people need to understand the technical part of the system, beyond scan this side up. So yes. I can imagine people using such a system. I can even imagine them appreciating the ability to reprint a ticket on demand if they lose it, instead of having to fill in a form, wait several days for a ticket and several weeks for your old credit.

With regard to your first point. The technology to do the basic things people expect predates 2005. Postpaid accounts, immediate payments and online account management : all well established best practice for new systems by 2001. Barcode ticketing is a decade old. The government chlose smart cards because other cities use smart cards. That a ticketing system is a subset of a technical problem that many companies had solved much more cheaply never came into consideration.

At least they’ve removed the requirement to post in the card for unblocking after a failed auto topup. That was just idiotic. And 24h is way better than several weeks.


As noted above, Russell Marks has posted a response to this blog post here:

I’ll just address a couple of his points:

I wrote: “Actually the original plan was for Myki to include ticket machines on trams which would accept notes.”

He responded: “A number of defenders of Myki make this statement, or a variation of it. I’m not sure what the point is.”

The point was that this was in the context of his original text, which speculated on why the new system was planned and built — it said: “The grounds for a new ticketing system were there, if it was likely to: (1) allow passengers to use $5, $10 and $20 notes on trams; and (2) cut down on fare evasion.”

When it was planned the new ticketing system was going to specifically address his point 1 (up until June 2011).

Secondly, I wrote: “Legal tender does not mean every business selling something has to accept every form of Australian currency.”

He responded: “Again, I’m not sure what the point is here.”

Umm well, I wasn’t the one who brought legal tender into the debate.

By the way, he also shouldn’t confuse me with being a defender of Myki, but I’ll assume he’s not a regular reader of my blog!

But thanks Russell for responding.

“Metcard allowed me to transfer currency into a ticket ready for validation immediately. If Myki can’t do that, it fails.”

This is the bit of his argument I don’t get — you could order Metcards online and they’d somehow materialise and work immediately?

Myki has instant topups from machines, just like Metcard. You can even buy a Myki from a machine if you don’t have one. So…

Anyway, only really responding here because (perhaps wisely) he doesn’t have a comment system. He should probably take note that his arguments are so poorly thought out and sometimes just rehashes of old ones, that he’s forcing people who have been critics of Myki for far longer than he has into defending it.

Railway stations have machines which can sell and top-up mykis. Tram stops don’t. That is the core of your problem right there. You cannot top-up a myki at the stop, nor on the vehicle.
Seven-11’s are not everywhere.

hey enno: not all railway stations sell mykis. And some tram stops do allow you to top up your myki. Although you cannot top up a myki on the tram, unless you had coins you couldn’t do so in the metcard era either. The core of the problem is people wanting to blame others for their own problems.

Well here is another question. My last planned work trip to Melbourne was in October, and in anticipation of this visit I put $50 onto the myki account using the Internet. The trip was cancelled, so this $50 credit has now gone into limbo.

Is it correct that I now have to do an actual cash top-up at a myki machine ? And that if I do so, the $50 top-up will somehow resurrect itself – a couple of days later ?

It’s a good thing that the place I stay when I am in Melbourne is near a station and not a tram stop, or I’d be screwed.

Can’t wait until the day i can just whip out my smart phone and be confident I’ll actually get a data connection…

Another erroneous article by Russell Marks. Check out his perspective on why Labor are doing do badly reproduced at

He even goes so far as to suggest that Thomson and Obeid are only allegedly guilty of exercising ‘free market capitalism’. Really Russell? Given you’re a lawyer, maybe you could check the Criminal Code and Corporations Act which might beg to differ? Is this really what we’re publishing nowadays? Is full employment really resulting in such laziness that people don’t need to check their facts anymore? Ugh.

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