Myki, iPhone and payment cards

What’s going on with iPhone and Myki?

Plenty of people want to ditch all their cash and cards and leave the house carrying only a phone. And lots of people want to know what happened with Myki on iPhone.

So here’s what I know.

Your options right now

For those who don’t want a physical Myki card, Mobile Myki lets you create a virtual Myki card on an Android phone equipped with Google Pay and NFC. Once loaded, you can pay your fare by touching on and off with your phone.

But it’s not available on iPhone.

Something that is available on both Android and iPhone is topping up a physical Myki card instantly using NFC with the PTV app and a credit card. This is similar to a Myki quick top up machine.

In contrast, online top-up still takes up to 45 minutes – this is because “the card is king” – see below.

Topping up Myki on an iPhone using the PTV app

What about Myki on iPhone?

What people are wondering is if Mobile Myki will be available not just on Android but also on iPhone, so you can load a virtual Myki card onto an iPhone, and then touch on and off with the phone, or with an Apple Watch.

I’ve asked different people in industry what happened with this, and each time the answer has been the same:

Apple needs to enable it, and they’re not interested.

This is not unique to Melbourne. Apple’s got a list of places where you can use an iPhone or Apple Watch to pay. Very few locations have the device emulating the transport authority’s card: 5 in Asia, and 5 in the USA. That’s it.

For all the others listed, they rely on bank-issued payment cards being accepted on the public transport system.

(Hat tip: @jakal on Twitter for the Apple link)

Payment cards

Allowing bank-issued payment cards (debit, credit, ATM cards, anything supporting tap and go) actually makes more sense than enabling iPhone specifically.

Cards are phone-agnostic. They don’t rely on someone even having a phone. And the banks are happy enough for you to use your phone instead of an actual card if that’s what you prefer.

Importantly, it’s far more user-friendly because you don’t have to organise to buy a special card or even create a virtual one on your phone. You don’t have to load money onto it (which involves anticipating how much you will spend). You just travel and it charges your bank account as you go.

You can argue that Myki was poorly designed, and didn’t correctly anticipate this concept. That’s probably down to timing.

Which Australian cities accept bank payment cards on public transport? Only two currently.

So it’s not widespread in Australia yet, but it’s coming soon to Brisbane (there are trials underway), and… for us here in Victoria (more on this below), so the three biggest cities will have it.

I can’t see anything about them being accepted now or soon in Perth, Tasmania or Canberra.

Using a Mastercard on a London Oyster fare gate

How Myki works: the card is king

Myki is designed around the “card is king” principle – that is, the card is the point of reference for your data.

A top up is added to an “action list”, which takes up to 45 minutes to be sent to every Myki device on trams, buses and stations, so the transaction can be written onto your card when you touch it on at a reader.

Why design the system like this? Because you need an instant check of the card balance when a passenger is touching-on. You can’t assume there’s a reliable network connection back to a server, let alone a sub-second response time to ensure there isn’t a delay while a dozen passengers board the tram or bus, or queue at a station fare gate.

This is not unique to Myki – most current public transport smartcard systems work the same way.

If the card is king, how do bank payment cards work on PT?

Let’s assume we want bank payment cards to work on public transport. This is sometimes known as “contactless” (the term used in London and Sydney) or “open loop” (where card networks are made up of a number of issuers; the opposite of “closed loop”, where cards are dedicated to specific uses and only issued by one party).

If normally the “card is king”, how does it work with payment cards?

Over time, live checks may become possible, but here’s how it currently works in London, which pioneered the use of payment cards on public transport, and Sydney, which uses a version of the same system:

  • When touching on a card for the first time, they assume you’re able to pay, so they let you on, and record that you’ve touched onto the card
  • If a ticket inspector needs to check your fare, they can see with their readers that you’ve touched on the card, and your most recent touches/trips
  • Your touches on and off are collated, and at the end of the day, the total fare incurred by your card is calculated (so it can use daily caps, and even weekly caps) and billed to your card issuer

If it turns out your card can’t pay, then they put a block on it. You might get your first ride free, or even your first day, but shortly afterwards you’ll find you can’t touch-on.

More reading if you’re interested: Sydney (the list of error codes and the information on fare compliance are particularly interesting) and London.

Could Myki take payment cards now?

I’m told the Vix readers installed across much of the public transport network can read bank-issued payment cards, but that the older Myki readers (most commonly found on trams) cannot.

And the back-end work to do it? I’ve heard much of it has been done.

So could it happen? It sounds like yes if the government want it, but instead the focus has shifted to the next ticketing contract in 2023, which can bring other upgrades too.


Why not just make the system free?

Because it would cost a fortune, be a huge subsidy to rich areas that are well-served by public transport, and it would not greatly increase the number of users, especially in areas where services are poor. Public transport needs to be affordable, and it needs to be better, not free.

We should aspire to have a great and effective public transport network. The best networks in the world are not free.

Myki: the next generation

The state government has said clearly that they want the next generation of ticketing to accept payment cards, including on Apple devices.

It’ll be important to retain physical cards for those who need them.

Along the way there’s also opportunities to integrate it with station parking – similar to NSW, which has a system where they don’t charge as long as you’re making a PT journey, or Perth, where they charge a small fee.

And from what I understand, the companies tendering for the ticketing contract have thought carefully about how to transition passengers across to a new or upgraded system. (If you’re a PTUA member, see the March 2022 PTUA newsletter for more on this.)

Removing the barriers to using public transport (especially for new and occasional users) is important to help recover patronage, especially when a big chunk of regular commuting passengers have drastically cut their travel due to working from home.

Making it as easy as possible to pay and get on board is key to that.


  • Originally this post said that where bank-issued payment cards are used, the ticket system writes small amounts of data to the cards, in part so ticket inspectors use this information. This is incorrect – I’m told that on Sydney’s system, inspectors use live data from the central server, though presumably in some cases there is a lag.
  • 25/10/2022: Adelaide’s trial of bank-issued payment cards is rolling out to the entire public transport network.

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.

19 replies on “Myki, iPhone and payment cards”

Whether it’s using my mobile Suica in Japan (for payments as well as travel) or tap and pay in London. This is an essential convenience feature and long overdue for Melbourne. Sydney is still a bit behind as they haven’t enabled ‘ExpressTransit’ features that allow you to pay with a locked phone. The capping mechanisms in London are excellent and obviate the need to buy weekly and monthly passes. In Japan you get the option to load season tickets, concessions, seat reservations and other things onto the mobile cards, plus they can be used in place of cash in many situations.

Hello! Great article, thankyou! I just wanted to add something about how it works with iPhone in China.

There are over 28 cities which now have Transit cards that can be added into the Apple wallet (and topped up directly). Each of these city cards also works on the “China T-Union” network, which is a part of the UnionPay house, which is as I understand it, the equivalent of MaestroCirrus business we have in Australia. Previously, when these cards didn’t have China T-Union accessibility, you had to then setup a new card in the Apple Wallet for every city you visited (I have about 5 in there now), but since they have now adopted the T-Union setup, one city’s card actually works in each of the 28 cities.

Further, the subway system (at least in Tianjin where I am based), allows for us to tap on/off with a Bank of China debit card. If that debit card is in the Apple Wallet, then it too can be used in lieu of the physical card itself. A Bank of China card cannot however, be used in all cities. Each city seems to have their own “pilot” bank that they’re partnering with (the pilot however seems to have been going for around 4 years already though).

Just for interest sake, the 28 cities on China mainland which accept the T-Union travel card, and which also have their own city-specific branded card include: Beijing, Changsha, Changzhou, Dalian, Foshan, Guangzhou, Heyuan, Jiangmen, Jieyang, Jinan, Lhasa, Maoming, Nanchang, Nanjing, Ningbo, Shanghai, Shanwei, Shaoguan, Shenzhen, Shijiazhuang, Suzhou, Taizhou, Tianjin, Xiamen, Xi’An, Xuzhou, YunFu.

“Allowing bank-issued payment cards … actually makes more sense …”
I’m not sure how tapping your credit card, etc, would handle concession fares. A senior wouldn’t want to pay $18 to travel on Sat and Sun when they get free travel.

Legally you can argue that your opinion of using an iPhone has you at a disadvantage. Thus I use the application PTV load up myki and if I forget my card/s at home I can provide a valid card number and it’s balance to the transit officer.
No fines has been issued so far.

One thing that Sydney will apparently be eventually enabling with contactless on your phone payments is “transit mode”. This allows you to pay at the gates without unlocking your phone or bringing up the payment app. That will make it much easier to use.

@Roger, discounts and concessions would require people to register their payment card, assuming the system accomodates that… or they could just continue to use a Myki card.

“discounts and concessions would require people to register their payment card, assuming the system accomodates that”
Does anyone know a transport system anywhere in the world which allows for concession fares when concession-card holders use their credit card as a touch/swipe card for public transport?

So how would they calculate if you’ve had a 2 hour or daily or zone fare based on if you’ve touched on/off with a credit card, would it just keep deducting money when you tap every time?

In both Sydney and London there’s no way for ticket inspectors to definitively know that a bank card hasn’t been touched on other than where the card has previously been blacklisted by the system, as the system needs to presume that the touch on hasn’t been communicated back to the central server yet. London gets around this by charging cards that are checked by inspectors the penalty fare (something Melbourne got rid of some years ago), and Sydney I believe charges those cards the default fare. Both blacklist cards if they’re checked on multiple occasions without having been validated.

Presuming Melbourne follows the Sydney model of charging non-touched on cards the default fare, it would make it simplistic for people to avoid ever getting fined or having to pay for a fare by using a different bankcard on the rare occasion they had their card checked by an authorised officer.

Personally, I hope they add consesion fares if possible, I am from Sydney, and I can use any of these features because I use child fare. I heard in some city’s you can email them your card number and they can mark it as a different fare

Recently moving to a iPhone has been quite annoying, I have now purchased 5 $6 dollar Myki cards when I need to catch a train and have forgotten mine. I know I’m to blame but never happened when I had it on android . I hear they won’t even want people to tap on , like the Amazon shopping experience

Thank you for the articles I have only just found this blog while trying to work out if the Belgrave line is so slow on purpose , are Melbourne trains slow compared to other countries distance vs stops and all that

Would love one of your analysis or a link if someone has already compared


A new reader

I was on the Myki delivery team back in 2006-2010. Using phones as the primary “ticket” back then was in the original 2003 proposal to the government but was rejected in favour of a payment card. There were a lot of factors that came from the government, special needs access, ISO standards, etc that restricted the concept. There were a lot of government requirements we managed to get adjusted though – like the original requirement that the readers in trams and busses would switch off when the vehicle doors closed – meaning that everyone would queue to touch on at entry – including special needs people, parents with prams, etc. The whole transport system would have slowed down to force compliance.

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