Broken promises from Myki

Over the weekend I was cleaning up piles of junk I have collected over the years, when I found a 2007 dated student concession card application form. Inside it provided an introduction to the ‘soon to come’ Myki system, where a number of statements that have since been proven untrue. So what promised features been cut from Myki in the five years since?

2007 Student Concession application form, with since superseded Myki information

Scan of/scan off

The Myki website circa December 2008 promised the following:

myki is simple to use. Every time you travel by public transport you will scan on with myki at a card reader (called myki scanners) at the station gate or near the vehicle door. The system instantly recognises that a myki has entered the network. At the end of your journey, scan off with myki to finalise your trip details. myki money will ensure the best fare is calculated automatically for your travel.

The ‘instant recognition’ of Myki cards promised has never eventuated, with the Transport Ticketing Authority having to run a “Myki users urged to touch, not swipe or wave” campaign in early 2012 to reset user exceptions around the poor performance of the system.

Weekly best fare

Up until March 2008 the Myki website described the ‘best fare’ functionality as follows:

myki gives you the best fare for the way that you travel.

Using myki money, your fare will be capped at a 2 hour, daily or weekly (Monday – Sunday) maximum, no matter how much you travel.

Alternatively, pre-purchase of myki pass ensures you receive the best discounted fares.

In Melbourne, myki money can calculate your best fare as you travel, and deduct it automatically as you scan off at the end of your trip.

For example:

  • If you scan on and scan off in Melbourne city one morning, myki money can calculate that the best fare for you is a two hour Zone One.
  • Then if you travel more than once during the same day, myki money will re-calculate the best fare for you as a daily fare.
  • The more you travel during the same week, myki money will automatically give you the best fare by capping your accrued travel to a weekly fare.

A weekly cap on travel was also described in the 2008 edition of the Victorian Fares and Ticketing Manual – the official document to all transport ticketing in the state.

The weekly fare cap is based on the zones used during the week (from 3.00 am Monday to 3.00 am the following Monday). If a customer pays for an off-peak trip, then the peak price of that trip is counted towards their weekly fare cap. This provides an incentive for customers to avoid peak times. The weekly cap will be the same as Weekly Metcards or Weekly V/Line tickets.

It appears that the weekly cap was killed off in mid-2008: the June 15 version of the Myki website is exactly the same as that a few months earlier, but only mentions 2 hour and daily caps. I haven’t been able to find official reason for the change, but presumably implementation difficulties killed it off.

Short term tickets

An integral part of the original Myki system was the sale of short term tickets: a cardboard smartcard that is bought from a ticket machine or bus driver, and provides the user with 2 hour of travel for a cost slightly more than the normal fare charged to standard Myki users.

Sales of short term tickets commenced in 2009 when Myki went live in Geelong, and they continue to be sold onboard buses in Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo, Seymour and the Latrobe Valley even today.

Short term cardboard myki ticket from a Geelong bus

The sale of short term tickets from ticket machines was also built into the system, but the option to do so is currently disabled for machines located in Melbourne:

Screen of a CVM, only the 'Buy short term ticket' option is greyed out

Expanding the rollout of short term tickets was cancelled by the Baillieu government in June 2011, acting on advice contained in a secret report by consultants Deloitte. Supposedly the continued rollout was cancelled because the cards cost $0.40 cents to manufacture – making up almost half of the $0.90 charged for a concession bus fare in Geelong! The withdrawal date of the tickets already being issued outside Melbourne is still unknown.

Ticket machines on trams

Allowing passengers to top up Myki cards onboard trams was the second part of the system cut by the Baillieu government in June 2011: these machines would also have sold short term tickets to occasional travellers.

A single Myki ticket machine was installed onboard a tram in early 2009 for field trials, with it remaining in place but not in use until at least November 2011:

Myki ticket machine in B2.2012, with the screens all covered up

Yarra Trams says that the change would reduce the tram company’s costs, boost space for passengers and reduce fare evasion issues by eliminating a key reason given for not buying a ticket – but everyone else says the change makes it much more difficult for passengers who only use trams to pay their fare.

So my verdict…

The entire point of a smartcard ticketing system is that it is faster than a magnetic strip based one: Myki fails at that. Maybe building the entire system atop Windows CE is the issue, perhaps it is because we hired a company that was described in a leaked draft of an Auditor-General’s report as having “no corporate experience in developing, implementing and operating a ticketing system”.

I’m willing to be more forgiving around the removal of weekly caps on fares: users currently have the option of buying 7-day Myki passes, so if one can plan ahead, the cost is still the same. I don’t know of anywhere else in the world where pay-as-you go weekly fare caps apply, and I can only imagine how difficult implementing the logic in software would be. Beyond the processing of a week worth of travel data to determine the cap, the correct handing of thousands of ‘exceptional’ use cases make the current logic look like a cakewalk – what happens if I travel in zone 1 for five days in a week, then make a single trip into zone 2?

The removal of short term tickets is a joke, but the government that came up with the specification in the first place is also to blame – Perth and Brisbane both use simple printer paper receipts for single trip tickets. So why use expensive cardboard smartcards when a piece of paper does the same thing, and requires less equipment than our current ticket machines are equipped with? Giving all users a way to pass through ticket gates is the only possible explanation I can see.

Given that we are already a long way down the path, going to paper tickets would need software changes in ticket machines, but a much simpler ‘solution’ is still available: jack up the price of short term tickets to cover the extra costs associated with selling them. If passengers don’t want to pay the extra each day, they can buy a reusable card like everyone else.

Finally: ticket machines on trams. If the government wanted to save money on the rollout of the system, they should have taken it out of scope at the beginning of the project. By the time the Baillieu government cut them in June 2011, the ticket machines had already been developed and tested, with hundreds of them already been purchased and sitting in storage. You might say that I’m arguing to keep the machines because of the sunk cost fallacy‎, but in reality the machines would have been quite valuable for tram passengers, assuming they operate as expected – which is another issue entirely!

I wonder what other promised features will go ‘missing’ as time goes on?


Thanks to Toby Nieboer (@tcn33) on Twitter for coming up with the ‘spot the Myki differences using the Wayback Machine’ game:

Bonus factoid

In the Transport Ticketing Authority’s 2012-13 annual report, the value of the destroyed short-term tickets and tram ticket machines was listed under the “Asset impairment” heading:

All short-term cards in stock as at 30 June 2012 were written off with the exception of stocks required to support sales on regional buses for a reasonable period. Total amount of write-down as at 30 June 2012 was $15,702,136.

As at 30 June 2012 all hardware and software costs attributable to tram CVMs were written off except for any reasonably expected recovery of hardware costs as spare parts for compatible network devices. The amount of impairment charge for 2011 – 12 was $197,095, resulting in total impairment charge of $13,078,028 as at 30 June 2012. As at 30 June 2013 the remaining costs of tram CVMs of $1,661,268 were written off and tram CVMs were physically destroyed after usable parts were extracted.

$30 million flushed down the drain!

Update: short-term tickets finally scrapped

Despite the objections of locals, the sale of two hour and daily short-term tickets ended in Geelong on Friday 19 April 2013.

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27 Responses to “Broken promises from Myki”

  1. Julian Wearne says:

    An excellent summary and I agree with all your points. Although I’d love to see the Weekly cap implemented, it does seem like a lot of extra work, and a potential for considerably less revenue. As you say, planning ahead still allows the right fare; but it is annoying that the scheme was constantly “sold” on the basis that the lowest fare will always be calculated, which clearly isn’t true.

    Yarra Trams says that the change would reduce the tram company

    • Marcus says:

      I’m assuming the Yarra Trams interpretation of ‘reduce fare evasion issues’ is ‘making it easier to fine someone for fare evasion’.

      At the moment you can jump on a tram without a Metcard and intend to buy one from the machine, and still be following the law. With the removal of ticket machines, just stepping onto a tram without a Myki means you’ve broken the law.

      Another thing I missed: tram passengers possessing a Myki that did have a positive balance the last time they used it, but end up with a negative balance after trying to touch on. if a default fare has resulted from your last trip, the system deducts it when you touch on, sending the card into negative and hence not valid for travel.

    • mich says:

      It eliminates the ability for the detected fare evader to say that the ticket vending machine was broken or defective or not accepting their money. It also eliminates the “excuse” that they had no coins.

  2. Julian Wearne says:

    Oh I also just remembered, before the tendering process was completed Victorians were promised that a smart card system would allow for touching on and off through a wallet. Whilst this does work in some cases, the Myki team claim that the system was never designed for this to work.

    From an email exchange with Myki customer care and myself:
    Please be advised myki has not been designed to be recognised when presented to a device from inside a wallet or item of clothing. A myki may register a successful touch on or touch off from inside a wallet, pocket or bag, however, when placed alongside other cards, you may receive the error message

    • Julian Wearne says:

      Oh, I’ve just looked at the wayback machine page that Toby Nieboer has linked to. Seems that even the Myki website was originally claiming that the card didn’t need to come out of the wallet, which means that either the email response I received was a lie, or the website back in 2007 was.

  3. Evan says:

    I’m not sure where the weekly fare cap thing came from. It wasn’t in the original specifications, and in my conversations with insiders I was told that they had absolutely no intention of implementing it, due to the general messiness of the concept – it’s nearly impossible to implement in such a way that it works for everyone. The 7 day myki pass was intended to be the substitute.

    • Marcus says:

      The fact that it appeared in the 2008 edition of the ‘Victorian Fares and Ticketing Manual’ means somebody in charge thought a weekly fare cap was going to be included – presumably said document was created in mid-2007?

      As to whether it ever made it into the requirements specification that Kamco received, or if it was cut removed from scope via a change request, I’m guessing that the only way to find out would be a Freedom of Information request.

  4. Simon Russell says:

    A more useful solution to the short-term ticket option is to make them reusable. A cardboard ticket can easily last a week, which would make it perfect for visitors. You could charge 40 or 50 cents for it, and people wouldn’t mind, or make it free if you buy it with $5 credit on it. Obviously the understanding would be that it’s not durable, so it’s up to you to keep it unbroken.

    Lisbon uses this system.

  5. mich says:

    I think both Brisbane and Canberra have features which work similar to a weekly cap.

  6. john says:

    That page also shows that a myki will be yours for four years. That answers the question for when they were going to tell people about the expiry date, it was there from the start!

    • Marcus says:

      Here is the page in question:

      Unlike paper tickets, myki is made of durable plastic and it will be yours to keep for up to four years.

      The four year lifespan may have always been baked into the system, but the Transport Ticketing Authority ‘forgetting’ about it until now is just another stuffup.

      • Evan says:

        Indeed, they should have been well aware and well prepared for it coming.

        The expiry is quite reasonable. It stems from the warranty period on the cards, which given the conditions that many would be exposed to, is understandable I’d say.

        What I’d say is less reasonable is the inflexible means for replacement. Ideally it would be a simple matter of filling in an online form for a free mail-out replacement (perhaps with a very nominal mailing fee) with the balance transferred, with the alternative option of presenting the expired card for an on-the-spot changeover at a train station. With a bit of thought, even myki machines could be set up to provide replacements.

        • mich says:

          Any mail-in option falls over on the basis that you can’t have value on the old and new card at the same time. There might be a loophole to somehow swindle the Government of a few bucks!

          Given that people need the cards every day, the best plan is to simultaneously cancel the old one and issue the new one at a station. That won’t work for people who don’t go near a station, but it should be the primary method, with mail-in schemes as a “plan B”.

          Any plan which requires people to buy another myki to use for a week or more, while the other one gets replaced, is unacceptable. If you have a yearly, why should you pay $50 or more on another myki, so you can keep going to work for a week, while they faff around re-issuing your yearly pass ?

    • mich says:

      That’s true, this four-year-life thing was discussed on blogs four years ago. I don’t think it was publicised at all, though.

  7. Daniel says:

    Re: short term tickets in “Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo and the Latrobe Valley”

    And Seymour!

    • Marcus says:

      It’s a easy city to forget – the government did the same thing when it came to the Regional Fast Rail project!

  8. Michael Bell says:

    Marcus, it seems PTV did “jack up the price of short term tickets to cover the extra costs associated with selling them”, AND found a way to make them durable for multiple uses, AND ensured they allow exit through barrier gates. They just did it in a way that may not have been anticipated. The “jack up” price for a short term ticket is $3 for concession, $6 full, and its called a Myki, not a Short Term Ticket.

    • Marcus says:

      I’ve never through of it that way, and when explained in that way, you put forward a good argument. The only gotcha is that new Myki cards are not available everywhere on the public transport network: with trams the only way to buy one it to use one of the few tram stops in the CBD that have a Myki CVM installed, or find a retail outlet to buy one from.

      Train stations don’t have the same issue, and apparently a Myki ‘Starter Pack’ can be purchased from bus drivers with $4 of travel credit:

  9. Richard says:

    Thanks for the read, Marcus. I fondly remember these promises as well as the difficulty of getting the “right” sized image for my 2007 concession card. The theory was that once you sent the card in with the photo, that photo would be scanned and printed on to your own personalised myki card that you would receive in late 2007 or 2008, which would do away with the need for both a concession card AND a myki:

    “By completing the Victorian Public Transport Concession Card Application Form, your myki concession card will automatically arrive in late 2007, with your photo ID and your student pass (if purchased) already on it.

    More information about myki will be available throughout 2007, in the meantime check out”

    The system has deviated so far from its original flawed, albeit more efficient conception that it’s almost unrecognisable.

    • Marcus says:

      I’m pretty sure I’ve got one of those older concession card application form sitting around at home – I recall the ‘Myki is coming soon’ message was included for a number of years in a row.

  10. […] were a cardboard single use smartcard ticket, sold on buses in Ballarat, Bendigo and Geelong following the introduction of Myki in […]

  11. […] following the decommissioning of the Metcard ticketing system in December 2012, it was originally planned to replace them with Myki machines, but the idea was abandoned in […]

  12. […] the machines still advertised descoped features, like short term […]

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