Five years ago today, the government unexpectedly announced that Myki was valid for travel in Melbourne, from 3pm that day.
It followed the rollout in regional centres earlier that year, and the installation of numerous card vending machines and reader devices around Melbourne.
The government had foolishly promised it would be switched-on in Melbourne by the end of 2009, and just about met that promise… except they only felt it was ready for use on trains only, and many of the devices at railway stations weren’t working properly, and the web site had big problems (including compatibility with Google Chrome and some other browsers).
Having used Myki in the regional cities, I was one of few Melburnians to already have a card, and that evening I attempted to use it. The short trip I took was charged correctly, but attempting to top-up at two separate machines failed — contradicting the government’s claims that it was ready for use on the rail system.
All in all it led me to the conclusion that it made sense to order a free card while they were offered, but not to start using it:
Once you have your #Myki card, put it away until the system actually works, unless you want to be commuting to Pain City.
— Daniel Bowen (@danielbowen) December 30, 2009
Progress in the last five years
A change of government in November 2010 put the project into stasis for a while.
The old Metcard system eventually got switched off at the end of 2012, meaning you can no longer buy a single ticket for travel in Melbourne or in the biggest regional cities where Myki operates.
Functionality that didn’t make it into the system
Both before and during the Coalition’s reign, numerous design decisions were made to reduce or hobble the functionality, either deliberately or because things didn’t go to plan.
While trying to precisely copy the Metcard fare structure, some features were deliberately removed:
- The periodical zone benefit allowed a single zone fare to be used anywhere in Melbourne on weekends. This was removed, though the Weekend cap made up for it somewhat, even on occasion paying you back for travelling in an extra zone
- Under Metcard the fare used to be still valid if your tram/bus was delayed/cancelled and the travel started after the expiry time
- Myki originally had a weekly cap system planned, which presumably would have made a Weekly Pass unnecessary, and made the balancing act of trying to get the best weekly fare much easier. You can see it still on the “Myki card content report” issued at railway station booking offices when things go wrong. I still think they should implement this.
- In fact, early information indicated it would also include a monthly cap. As this 2004 press release says: “With Smartcard, there will be no need for customers to plan their travel for the day or week before purchasing tickets, because the new system will be programmed to read the number of trips over a period of up to a month to work out the cheapest possible fare“
- The claim back in 2004 was “It only needs to be scanned for less than half a second”. It’s not unfair to say it’s never consistently reached that speed, though the deployment of new readers at some stations is promising.
- In 2010 the then Labor government changed the zones to include the outer parts of the tram system into zone 1, to avoid touch-off issues for tram users, particularly in the CBD. This also scrapped the City Saver fare on Myki, though up to that point it had been working. They also made changes to some bus zoning, which made sense to make them more consistent.
- The Coalition government made the decision to scrap the short term ticket option, which had been working in regional cities since 2009. This included scrapping of any form of ticket purchase on trams, which had been originally intended via card vending machines offering Myki and short term ticket sales. Tram ticket machines and short term tickets were subsequently scrapped.
- The system was planned to include most public transport services in Victoria, including the entirety of the V/Line train and coach network, even including those coach services going to Adelaide and Canberra. Again, it was the Coalition that reduced the scope. It seems unlikely it will ever happen, as it would depend on them expanding the system functionality to include things like booked seats.
(Marcus Wong has a good article on this: Broken promises from Myki)
Five years on
Five years later, where are we?
Overall reliability seems to have improved, but the system is still as inconsistently slow as ever, apart from the new readers installed at a handful of stations. These are engineered by Vix-ERG, which I guess shows that things work better when you get an experienced mob in to do the job.
A number of other problems remain: the big ones being reader response times and incorrect zone detection on buses and trams, but even simple improvements like changing the beeps to be more meaningful (for instance to distinguish between touch on and touch off) and showing the 2-hour fare expiry time haven’t been done.
People put up with Myki, but I think it’s fair to say many of them don’t like it — particularly if they’ve seen faster systems elsewhere.
But we’re stuck with it now. The ten year contract expires in 2016, the system will keep running — which honestly is a relief given the cost of installing all the equipment.
I’m still of the view that the government should review and simplify the fare policies, then re-write the reader software for speed.
Next up I’ll have a post which compares public transport smartcard systems around Australia.