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.
In contrast, online top-up still takes up to 45 minutes – this is because “the card is king” – see below.
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)
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.
- Sydney since 2017 – thanks to them using a version of London’s Oyster
- Adelaide since 2021 – trams only at this stage, but expanding to O-Bahn buses and other modes soon
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.
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.