Theft from Metcard and Myki machines

One might think that leaving steel boxes full of cash on an empty railway station platform would be a temptation for criminals – and it is. So how much damage have they inflicted for their meagre returns?

Armaguard crew do a cash pickup at Southern Cross

In 2015 two men were jailed for breaking into Myki machines – causing $600,000 of damage to retrieve less than $6000 in cash. However, the older Metcard ticketing system wasn’t immune to being targeted by criminals.

Armaguard staff swapping over the cash vaults from the Metcard machines at Flinders Street Station

The Auditor Generals’ May 1999 ‘Report on Ministerial Portfolios‘ included an entire section on the problem:

‘Corporation’ below refers to the ‘Public Transport Corporation’ – the government entity once responsible for running Melbourne’s trains, trams and buses; and ‘ATS’ is the automatic ticketing system better known as Metcard.

Impact of criminal damage to ATS dispensers

In early November 1998, the operators of the train businesses faced severe disruption in the availability of the ATS dispensers following a spate of crimes which exacerbated the risk of fare evasion.

At that time, the train businesses were advised that 8 ATS dispensers at 7
metropolitan train stations in the eastern suburbs had been damaged during attempts to illegally remove the cash collections held within the equipment. The offenders had used a corrosive liquid to damage the electronics of the equipment, triggering the discharge of money and rendering the equipment inoperative, requiring their withdrawal from service for major repairs.

The damage to equipment escalated over a period of 2 weeks after the initial wilful damage was reported until 70 machines were out of service. In response, the Corporation in conjunction with the private consortium, responsible for the installation and operation of the ATS, devised modifications to the machines which rendered the use of the corrosive liquid ineffective. The consortium also appointed a security firm to initially guard machines located at 9 major suburban stations and to provide mobile security services at unstaffed stations on one particular train line. However, the attacks continued as perpetrators became aware that the intermittent security presence provided opportunities to access the equipment.

In response, in late December 1998 the Corporation engaged a security firm
to provide both security guards at selected stations and roving security services to cover other stations between the hours of 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. The timing of the attacks again shifted to those times when perpetrators were aware that there would be no security presence. As a consequence, the Corporation immediately engaged security services to provide 24 hour protection, initially at 97 train stations and then increasing to over 200 stations by February 1999. During January 1999, 137 machines were out of service and every metropolitan train line was affected by the incidence of offence, however, the deployment of such security resulted in a rapid reduction in these offences. All damaged machines were back in service by the end of February 1999 and no security guards have
been employed since that date.

In the period from November 1998 to February 1999, items of ATS equipment totalling 243, mainly dispensers, were damaged by corrosive liquid attacks at 142 metropolitan rail stations and 39 dispensers were damaged by other means. During this period the Corporation paid $3.4 million to security firms engaged to protect the ATS dispensers. In addition, at the date of the preparation of this Report, the Corporation has been unable to provide a specific estimate of the loss of fare revenue collections resulting from the non-operation of the ATS equipment.

At the date of the preparation of this Report, the Corporation has not sought compensation from the consortium for the financial impact of the non-availability of the ATS dispensers or for costs it incurred for the provision of security services. The consortium has also not lodged a claim with the Corporation for the costs it has incurred for the modification of the ATS dispensers.

The agreement between the Corporation and the consortium for the ATS
states that the loss of cash collections from ATS dispensers is to be borne by the latter. However, the agreement also states that costs incurred due to vandalism are initially to be met by the consortium to a maximum of $2 million, with related costs in excess of this amount shared equally with the Corporation.

Unfortunately for Metcard, fixing the liquid induced cash jackpot problem wasn’t enough – old fashioned vandalism was also taking ticket machines out of service.

At the peak of the problem, the damage bill was running into the millions of dollars per year, which lead to the State Government in May 2002 renegotiating the contract with OneLink, operator of the Metcard system:

In the past 3 years, the PTC and OneLink have shared the costs of vandalism, estimated between $6 million to $7 million per annum. As part of the settlement, the PTC will be required to pay $3 million per annum to OneLink and that company is to assume responsibility for payment of vandalism costs and operational machine failures.

Eventually another round of security fixes was deployed to the ticket machines, and the vandalism rate fell, as detailed in the October – December 2006 edition of Track Record:

The progressive strengthening of the ATS equipment (making it more vandal resistant) from December 2001 to June 2002, coupled with increased surveillance and policing, delivered significant reductions in the weekly incident rate for vandalism.

Weekly incidents of vandalism to ATS equipment – January 2001 to March 2004

A relatively constant level of ticket equipment vandalism has occurred over the past three years. There were 1,055 reported incidents in the December quarter 2006.

It puts the problems of Myki into perspective, doesn’t it?


Back in December 2002 a particularly brazen criminal broke into the tram depot at Glenhuntly, and stole a cash vault from the Metcard ticket machine onboard tram Z1.45. At least Myki isn’t vulnerable to that problem!

Liked it? Take a second to support Marcus Wong on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!
You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

5 Responses to “Theft from Metcard and Myki machines”

  1. Jacob says:

    Another reason to make Public Transport free during the off-peak.

    Like watching the ABC is free. And walking on the footpath outside my house.

    • Marcus Wong says:

      If you stopped collecting fares, you don’t have to worry about ticket machines (and repairing the associated vandalism) but you also take a massive hit in revenue:

    • Alex says:

      Walking on the footpath outside your house is only “free” if you don’t pay council rates; someone is paying them if it isn’t you.

      Nothing is really free anyway. Something is paying for the ABC to broadcast. Take tickets away from the public transport system and the costs still have to be settled somehow–probably through increased taxes.

  2. […] it is worth remembering that Metcard wasn’t perfect – the gates needed regular clearing to prevent them reading the magnetic stripe tickets […]

  3. […] systems. The scratch tickets were just silly. Metcard was troubleprone (remember when they deployed security staff to guard ticket machines?). The Myki deployment was messy and […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *