Myki and penny pinching bus passengers

A few weeks ago I asked the question – How far is Myki making you walk? Turns out many think that selling a tickets onboard public transport is a needless luxury, and that forcing users onto direct debits or online purchasing is a perfectly acceptable replacement. That might work for some, but public transport is supposed to be for everyone.

High floor Moonee Valley Coaches bus, with Myki readers

Over on Reddit, somebody got it.

Back when I was a poor uni student, well before Myki came into play, I used to scrape together coins for public transport. I didn’t often have a lot of money in my bank account, so an auto-top up may not have worked when every cent counted.

So how does find passengers who have to scape their money together for a bus fare?

Transdev bus #8613 rego 7976AO on a Mordialloc-bound route 903 service on Hampshire Road, Sunshine

Route 903 is a good start – it does four hour long circuit of Melbourne, from Altona in the west to Mordialloc in the south, passing a real mix of suburbs: Sunshine, Essendon, Coburg, Preston, Heidelberg, Doncaster, Box Hill, Burwood, Oakleigh and Mentone.

Onboard I found a long reel of unwanted Myki receipts.

My findings:

  • Passenger 1: Northland. Added $3.50, new balance of $2.29
  • Passenger 2: Northland. Added $10.00, new balance $10.46
  • Passenger 3: Avondale Heights. Added $4.00, new balance $4.88
  • Passenger 4: Sunshine North. Added $3.00, new balance of $2.43
  • Passenger 5: Sunshine. Added $6.00, new balance of $10.92
  • Passenger 6: Sunshine. Added $5.00, new balance of $1.54

To summarise:

  • Three passengers had a negative balance before they were forced to topup,
  • Two more passengers had a balance of less than a dollar before they topped up,
  • And only one passenger maintained a ‘healthy balance’ of more than $10.

Also note that only one passenger added enough money to their card to meet the $10 minimum online topup, the rest scraping their pockets for coins; and that none of the passengers maintained a balance substantially higher than $10, the bottom end trigger for auto-topup.

'You'll never wait in line with Myki auto top up' advertisement, sitting atop a CVM

Six passengers on one bus route isn’t a conclusive answer to how people use public transport, but it does point to one fact – there are people out there who don’t have the funds to spare for direct debits and bulk online purchases.


When developing software or websites, one of most hard-earned lessons is you are not the user. From usability expert Jakob Nielsen:

This is why it’s a disaster to guess at the users’ needs. Since designers are so different from the majority of the target audience, it’s not just irrelevant what you like or what you think is easy to use — it’s often misleading to rely on such personal preferences.

The solution for technology nerds – user research and testing. The same lessons apply to those in charge of public transport.

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11 Responses to “Myki and penny pinching bus passengers”

  1. Beren says:

    There is of course a big bug which has never been solved. Swipe on, swipe off, myki moves into negative value. At this point you technically have paid for a two hour ticket. Now swipe on, declined. So even though I’ve paid for a 2 hour ticket, all trips inside this 2 hour window will be declined.

    I note you picked the 903, one of the many routes that has ticket inspectors at Northland and on board. Many other routes never see inspectors except for Broadmeadows where inspectors fine the people least able to pay the fines.

    • Craig says:

      In the case of going into to a negative balance, you have only paid PART of the two-hour fare (or daily cap) – if you have $2.50 on your card and the fare is $4.10 (Zone 1+2 full fare), you owe them $1.60 when you reach the other end.

      In some other systems (like Sydney), the system won’t let you touch-on unless you have the minimum fare in credit on your card.

      The Victorian approach at least gives you an opportunity to take the tram to somewhere you can top-up if you can pay part of your fare.

      The designers seem to have thought everyone would pay attention to the lights on the readers and the balance when they arrive they touch-on, and at the moment of seeing they have gone under $10, will run towards the nearest machine or retail outlet to top-up.

      In reality of course, many people only discover they have gone into the red when they attempt to board the next leg of their trip to work or home…

  2. Andrew says:

    I often think about what you say in your footnote when it comes to train station design and displayed information for users. It is very difficult for someone familiar with, say a train station, to forget everything they know and put themselves in a mindset of being a stranger to the station. A bit offtopic but trains and public information used to show where the train was going when it reached the city, such as City Loop via Flinders Street, Flinders Street via City Loop or just Flinders Street. This very helpful information for passengers seemed to have been withdrawn several years ago.

    • Beren says:

      Yeah, but also the timetable can also mess you up too. Like going frankston to upfield line on a Saturday late at night, PTV says both lines are direct to Flinders st, but the frankston line train goes into the city loop. You quickly fumble around to realize you have two options, rush at parliament or go to southern cross. There are many times I count myself lucky to be an extremely intelligent user of PTV app. Its ability to get me out of jams is incredible. But good luck to anyone who doesn’t have my equal profeciancy, stuck at Flinders st for 30 minutes. Also our network simply is appalling in many areas. Tullamarine is so last decade. And the werribee line was designed by a moron. Why not just loop the Altona line and run it one way all day? The west is extremely woeful, only one loop tunnel serves the west compared to 3 for the east.

  3. Stanley Bell says:

    I often see bus passengers who do not touch on their myki. Usually young people but some older folk as well. They do so because they know they will not be challenged by the driver as apparently that is now the policy. Only on rare occasions I see the driver challenge the fare evader.

    • Beren says:

      I’ve never seen anyone challenged over Myki. The reason being is that it’s faster for people to just get on the bus then use Myki. If every passenger bought a couple of dollars worth of fares, the bus would never be early. This is the thing about Myki, the bus drivers no longer have to care. It happened slowly, with Myki not working on buses, to confusion, and simply put, fare evasion is so rampant you couldn’t possibly stop it. If drivers were to tomorrow force everyone to not fare evade, it would literally cause the entire bus network to grind to a halt.

      • Beren says:

        You know, that isn’t how I remember it growing up. I remember with Metcard, the bus driver definitely would not let you on if you didn’t have a valid Metcard, I mean, he may make exceptions for 2 hour tickets. The thing is, and I am sure that everyone will agree, the rollout of Myki in buses was handled so poorly, that it led to a situation where bus drivers didn’t even care if the equipment was turned on, didn’t even care if you touched on or not. Initially people couldn’t even pay for credit.

        The bus driver needs to keep to a schedule, and this far outweighs the need to force passengers to swipe on.

        After this, passengers worked out that if they swiped a declined Myki, nothing would occur, oh whoops.

        In my opinion, trams and train drivers don’t need to care whether passengers are paying. Why should a bus driver who is probably earning a lot less, yet one could argue just as stressful a job? We are at a point now where maybe we should start designing buses to have better flowing doors similar to airport style buses, and not force all the passengers through the front door to slowly board. This is doing nothing but slowing down public transport, and it’s a zero sum game, buses have never turned a profit.

  4. mich says:

    There is a lot of serious nonsense on those long bus trips.

    I once actually caught the 901 bus from the airport to Frankston. When I got off, the stupid myki system insisted that I was actually getting on, and apparently charged me again !

    No wonder people don’t know what their balance is.

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