V/Line ticket queues before Myki

For all of the things that Myki has managed to screw up, there is one positive outcome from the implementation of the new ticketing system – the ability to pre-purchase V/Line tickets ahead of time. So what did V/Line passengers have to put up with before?

Monday morning at South Geelong, and a ticket line so long it spirals around the entire waiting room

Before Myki

The inability to pre-purchase a V/Line ticket might sound a little odd to someone who never left Melbourne, but it was true – V/Line travel was almost as inflexible as travelling with a low cost airline, and nothing like Metcard, where you could buy a ticket ahead of time and keep it in your wallet until you needed it.

In the days of paper V/Line tickets, they could only be purchased from major railway stations, or a limited number of ticket agents in country towns, and every time you bought a ticket you needed to know on what date you wanted to travel.

It was possible to buy V/Line tickets ahead of time for a future trip, but if your travel plans changed, a trip back to the ticket office would be required, to get a refund on your old ticket and have a replacement ticket issued for the new date – and too bad if you forget to get the refund before your travel date!

With all of that mucking around, it was no surprise that the majority of passengers bought their tickets on the day of travel. As a result the busiest times for V/Line station staff was after the commuter peak – hoards of passengers headed for a day out in Melbourne would all descend on the station ten minutes before the next train, each needing to be sold a ticket before the train departed.

3VL40 arrives into South Geelong, school holiday crowds filling the platform

The difficulty in pre-purchasing tickets also resulted in massive lines at Southern Cross Station every Friday evening, as Melbournians headed for the country waited to buy V/Line tickets from the booking office.

It didn’t help that the majority of Melbournians didn’t know that V/Line tickets could be purchased most staffed suburban railway stations.

The failure of paper based ticketing - almost 50 people waiting to buy one, on the Friday night before the long weekend

Regular commuters were a little more lucky, as their regular travel patterns allowed them to confidently purchase their weekly or monthly tickets ahead of time – my usual trick was to pick one up at my local station on my way home, ready for the next morning. However that didn’t prevent queues forming at country stations every Monday morning, as forgetful commuters realised that their tickets had expired over the weekend.

South Geelong on a Monday morning - 'round and 'round the booking office goes the ticket line

Fast forward to today and V/Line travel is far more convenient, at least for irregular travellers – just top up your Myki ahead of time, and if you decide to take a trip on a V/Line service, all you need to do is touch on and off.

The loser with Myki are V/Line commuters – gone are the days of just walking onto the train, falling asleep with your weekly ticket on your lanyard, and then waking up in Melbourne – now you need to touch on when you board, get woken up by the conductor for a ticket check, and then wait in a long line at Southern Cross to get out of the ticket gates.

Why so inflexible?

The above raises a question – why were V/Line tickets so inflexible? The reason itself is thanks to Myki.

If we go back about decade, V/Line trains were a lot less busy than they are today, with services being both slower and less frequent.

N453 on a down South Geelong service at North Shore

The V/Line ticketing system was also different, with the rules being more flexible – each return ticket gave the holder seven days to make the ‘forward’ journey and 30 days to complete the ‘return’ leg, with the conductor walk through each train in order to punch a hole in every ticket.

In addition, a ticket to ‘Southern Cross’ was just that – V/Line ticket holders were only entitled to travel to the stations listed on their ticket, so any journeys involving a connecting leg on a suburban train required passengers to buy a separate Metcard to complete their journey.

Changes came in January 2006, when the V/Line and metropolitan ticketing systems were integrated as part of the extended lead up to the introduction of Myki. The V/Line website circa 2006 described the changes as such.

A number of changes to V/Line fares and conditions came into effect from 1 January 2006.

Designed to further align ticket rules ahead of the introduction of Victoria’s new public transport ticketing solution in 2007, the changes affect a number of ticket types, as well as some of the rules and conditions applying to travel on V/Line trains and coaches.

The changes will lead to greater consistency across the public transport system – directly linking regional and metropolitan fares – making it easier for customers to access different forms of Victorian public transport.

One of the most significant changes will provide V/Line ticket holders with free access to the metropolitan system (trains, trams and buses), as well as regional buses, from 22 April 2006.

It was this change to ticketing rules that killed off “open” return tickets – with the new benefits given to passengers, there were many ways to game the system. Some of them included:

  • With V/Line tickets now valid on suburban services, you could buy a cheap V/Line return ticket, punch the ‘forward’ leg, and then spend the next 30 days travelling in Melbourne for free, while telling ticket inspectors that you were headed back to the country later that day.
  • The new VLocity trains did not allow conductors to change carriages mid-journey, so passengers could play ‘dodge the conductor’ to avoid getting their ticket punched, and reuse the ‘return’ leg of their ticket another day.

When V/Line added restrictions to their paper tickets back in 2006, it was originally intended that the ‘New Ticketing System’ (Myki) was to replace it within a year or so. As a result, V/Line never bothered to come up with their own way of pre-purchasing tickets ahead of time, or implementing any form of automatic ticket machines – the supposed silver bullet of Myki was ‘just around the corner’ for half a decade.

V/Line did experiment with online sales of tickets, such as this ‘Travelwise’ flyer from 2009 shows. Unfortunately the initiative fell flat, as the collection options were anything but convenient – purchasers had the choice of waiting 48 hours to pickup from a station, or 7 days for postal delivery!

V/Line 'Travelwise' flyer promoting online sales of tickets

It took until June/July 2013 for Myki to be finally rolled out to V/Line commuter services, which allowed paper tickets to be killed off in February 2014.

‘Business Card’ footnote

Another defunct V/Line ticket was the ‘Business Card’ – a 10 trip ticket that could be purchased in advance, and then punched by the conductor each time you travelled. The original intent behind it was making it easier for irregular passengers to travel by train, but from 2006 it was vulnerable to the same loopholes as ‘open’ return tickets. It was eventually killed off in 2007 because the majority of purchasers were only using them to game the system.

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3 Responses to “V/Line ticket queues before Myki”

  1. V/Man says:

    VNET did have the functionality to add ‘+ MET ZONE 1’ / ‘+ MET ZONE 2’ / ‘+ MET ZONE 3’ / ‘+MET ZONE 1/2’ + ‘+ MET ZONE 1/2/3’ or similar for an add on cost to paper tickets. Never was advertised and rarely seen used, though meant a Metcard wasn’t required.

    VNET also had the functionality to have a range of suburban stations (actually all I think) to be entered as the destination location; for example GEELONG to BELGRAVE via MELBOURNE (Melbourne was used to define Spencer Street, Flinders Street, North Melbourne and Richmond).

    I’ll try and find a sample ticket of it some time, if it hasn’t faded in the box I’ve got them in!

  2. […] you remember the days when paper tickets were the only way to travel on V/Line trains? Every Monday morning passengers would forget their ticket had expired over the […]

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