Three generations of Melbourne ticketing

The core of Melbourne’s railway network is the City Loop, circling the Hoddle Grid and serving three underground stations. Having opened to passengers in 1981, during the past 30 years of operation three different methods of ticket checking have been used to ensure passengers have paid their way.

Manual checking of tickets dates back to the start of railways, and in the City Loop things were no different. With staff required to sit by the station exit and eyeball the ticket of each passenger who walked past, this photograph from the Weston Langford collection shows the facilities on the northern concourse of Parliament Station in 1985, where passengers were funnelled past a half dozen ticket checking booths.

Parliament North Concourse in 1985 (Weston Langford collection)

With the reliance on the Mark I Eyeball, staff were expected to read the fare type and expiry date of each ticket in the seconds it took a passenger to walk past, presumably leaving these manual checks easy to circumvent by those wanting to scam a free ride. The system was also labour intensive at the front end, with passengers needing to line up at the ticket window each morning, asking for their “return to Richmond” or “weekly to the city” tickets, issued on a small piece of date stamped cardboard.

The next advance in public transport ticketing was the magnetic stripe card, where tickets are issued by coin operated vending machines, and checked by automated barriers at the entrance and exit of stations. The London Underground experimented with magnetic stripe ticketing as far back as 1964, and by the 1970s the majority of new metro networks around the world were equipped with similar systems.

Back in Melbourne we were a laggard on the automated ticketing front, with it taking until the mid-1990s introduction of Metcard to give local transport operators a less labour intensive method of collecting fares. The contract for Metcard was signed with ERG Group in 1994, with equipment rolled out between 1996 and 1998, and full revenue operation commencing in May 1998. As for the remaining paper tickets, these hung around for a few more years, the last ones being withdrawn from sale at the start of 2002.

Here we see the Metcard barriers at Flagstaff Station during a lull in passengers in morning peak, with passengers required to insert their tickets into the barriers on entry to the station, as well as on exit.

Metcard barriers at Flagstaff Station, with the new LCD next train displays behind

We now reach the current state of the art in ticketing – the contactless smartcard. Pioneered by Hong Kong’s Octopus card system that was launched in 1997, the 2000s saw an explosion in the number of similar systems being installed around the world. The main advantage of the new technology is that they work through wallets and bags, speeding up the ticket checking process by eliminating the need for tickets to be inserted into barriers or validators.

Melbourne made a start on our smartcard system in 2005 when the Kamco consortium won the contract to develop what became known as the Myki system. Covering both metropolitan Melbourne and country Victoria, work started on the rollout in 2007, with limited public operations starting in 2008. It took until December 2009 for the commencement of Myki operation on suburban trains, with the rollout to the rest of the metropolitan area following six months later, with the end of Metcard sales coming in December 2012.

The third generation of ticket checking in the City Loop is the dedicated Myki barriers that have so far only appeared at a limited number of locations: this example is at Melbourne Central at the Swanston Street end:

Myki barriers at Melbourne Central seeing light use in morning peak

The big advantage of these new gates over the previous Metcard barriers is the location of the Myki reader: located on the top of the barrier for maximum convenience, the card reader also has the same screen as seen on every other piece of equipment, allowing passengers to see their balance when touching on or off.

As for the existing Metcard barriers and their slow Myki scanners, there is a reason they are nicknamed “frankenbarriers”: they are just an interim step in the rollout, and will be eventually replaced by the proper Myki barriers.

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5 Responses to “Three generations of Melbourne ticketing”

  1. Daniel says:

    One of the real problems with manual (eyeball) checking was that staffing costs would often result in few staff being on duty at off-peak times. Many of us would remember having to join a queue to file past a single staffer on duty at Flinders Street on a Sunday – something unthinkable now.

  2. […] have always formed at the exit of the railway stations in the city, as passengers pass through some form of ticket checking routine in order to prove they are not fare evaders. Unfortunately for regular commuters, a new bottleneck […]

  3. Belinda says:

    The location of the reader on the new myki barriers is actually less convenient for left handers – there’s no way you can easily reach it with your left hand. Using your left hand to hold the myki is almost possible on frankenbarriers.

    I realise that you can’t have left handed myki gates, but it would be nice!

    • Marcus says:

      As another lefty, you are right on the mark – I can recall trying to use my left hand to insert my Metcard into the ticket barrier slot, but it was never convenient. I also had the issue at some suburban railway stations – if a validator was not located in the middle of the walkway, they were situated hard up against a wall as you entered, favouring right-handed use.

      A rather expensive way of making left handed myki gates would be to make the end barrier in each array with the reader located on the opposite side of the gate to all the others – in the same way lecture theaters reverse the fold out table at the end of the row.

      • Belinda says:

        Yes, I thought about a left handed gate per bank but imagine how confused the public would be by that if they have trouble with myki as it is! Should have been done during rollout – 10% of the population must be affected.

        I had forgotten about how annoying right handed metcard barriers were because I was overseas for 3 years during changeover.

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