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Over the past two or three years, I have been using Victoria’s “new” ticketing card, myki. I knew it is broken from the first time I used it, but I had not realise how fundamentally broken it is until I came back from my trip to Gold Coast.

As most of Melbournians knew, myki was designed to replace the previous ticketing card, Metcard. Metcard was a paper-based ticketing system, which I believe most of us would have an experience using some form of paper-based tickets. Myki (stylised in all lowercase “myki”, pronounced “my key”) is a smartcard ticketing system, which uses a contactless (I believe it is using RFID) chip, essentially storing your balance in the form of digital money in the card.

Granted, I was one of the early adopters of myki, simply because of its convenience. The Victorian ticketing system uses a fairly simple-yet-complex time-based fare structure, which I will try to explain in these points:

  • Fares are time-based and zone-based. When I came to Melbourne, Victoria has 2 effective zones for public transport. My friend said that for buses, they have more zones, but for the pricing schemes, it is still counted as 2 effective zones (hence I put the word “effective“).
  • Tickets are valid for trains, trams and buses, with the exception of regional trains (VLine).┬áTherefore you can hop on a train, then catch a tram, and then jump in the bus using the same ticket as long as your ticket is valid.
  • A single ticket validation will last for 2 hours (rounded to the next hour) irrespective of zones, unless you buy a daily ticket. As usual, single-use ticket is usually more expensive than multiple-use ticket.
    • For example, if you validate a single-use ticket at 03.05PM or 03.40PM, it will expire on 06.00PM (05.xxPM rounded to the next hour). A lot of people (myself included) use this fact as an advantage, since validating at 03.01PM essentially makes your ticket last for roughly 3 hours.
  • If you have multiple-use tickets, when you validate the second time after the initial 2 hours expired, your ticket will then be considered as a daily ticket, and is valid until 03.00AM the next day.
  • If you validate after 06.00PM, your ticket will expire at 03.00AM the next day, irrespective whether it is a single-use or multiple-use.
  • Zone fares are different. Zone 1-only tickets are slightly more expensive than zone 2-only tickets. There is also a Zone 1 + 2 tickets, which allow you to travel to both zones, and more expensive than single zone ticket, but is cheaper than buying a zone 1 AND zone 2 tickets.
    • For example, assume a zone 1 single 2-hour ticket is $3.00, and a zone 2 single 2-hour ticket is $2.00, then a zone 1 + 2 single 2-hour ticket will be $4.00 (instead of $5.00).
Metcards in various themes

Metcards in various themes

Conceptually speaking, myki is a great replacement for the Metcard system due to the alleged benefits that it brings. What the higher-ups don’t seem to see is, the hidden cost and flaw lingering in the myki system itself, which undermines the benefits.

Alleged Benefits What Actually Happens
It is more environmentally friendly. Something that will ALWAYS be a hype in developed countries.

The reason for this is that Metcards that have expired or used will be considered as paper wastes, while myki can be reused (topped up) over and over.

  • Myki cards are set to expire in 4 years. Currently there is no way to extend its life, meaning the first batch of myki holders have to replace their card due to expiration. Once replaced, the old myki card cannot be used in any form, and will go to the bin.
  • That is not to mention how many of the first batch of myki cards were found defective and had to be replaced.
  • Currently, about roughly 300 myki cards are being replaced each day. Did someone say environmentally friendly?
It offers an automatic fare calculation, giving the users the lowest fare on a trip, provided the users touch on and off during their journey.

The previous Metcards require the users to decide which Metcard is the most suitable for them, with a single-use Metcard priced more expensive than multiple-use Metcards.

  • The overhead cost of getting a myki card with empty balance, which currently sits at $6.00 for full fare (previously $10.00, I know since I’m an early adopter), and $3.00 for concession, compared to ZERO when using Metcards practically trumps this reason.
  • That is not to mention if your myki is defective, although you can replace it, you still NEED another myki to be able to travel, which you will HAVE to buy. The replacement process takes roughly 10 business days.
  • This also puts travelers at a loss, forcing them to buy a myki that they obviously won’t need when they went back home, as there is no way to refund the cost of purchasing the card.
  • And also, the fare calculation is not that smart either. It still gives a faulty calculation, especially in overlapping zones and zone boundaries.
It is faster than the Metcards at the gates, due to the contactless system.
  • It’s definitely faster than getting an authorised public transport officer opening the gates for you when your myki didn’t work, or waiting in line to touch off your travel.
  • Every Melbournians know that myki is considerably slower to the previous Metcards. A touch on/off will take you roughly 2 or 3 seconds, provided the machine successfully touched on/off your myki.
  • This is THE major drawback of myki, which I will try to elaborate later on.
It offers an online system where you can top up your myki and view your previous journeys. Registered myki can be replaced with the balance intact if missing or lost.
  • The online top up is not instantaneous. The last time I used it, I had to wait for 2 business day for the transaction to be cleared, making the point of online top up moot. Besides, you can only top up using myki machines, or at the retailers selling myki, meaning you have to know your myki balance BEFORE going into the bus/trams, as they do not sell a single-use ticket anymore.
  • And I cannot think any single reason for me to view my previous journeys unless I’m trying to sue them for overcharging my journeys.
  • Keeping the balance intact on replacement cards is nice, except for the fact that you have to buy a new card (which I mentioned above) while waiting for your replacement, and as far as I know, you cannot transfer your balance from your “temporary” myki to your new replacement card.

Those are the actual real-world on what is actually happening when you use myki on a daily basis. For some time, myki coexisted with Metcards, meaning those who despise myki can actually use Metcards. Nevertheless, I still use myki for the convenience, and the fear that Metcards would be phased out (which came into effect on 29 December 2012). As a software developer, I know that there is no such thing as a bug-free or completely perfect product, and silently hoping as more people use it, the system will stabilise and improve itself.

myki card

However it all changed when I went to Gold Coast. They have a smartcard ticketing system as well, named go card. And compared to myki, using go card is like having a supercharged on-drugs myki. Throughout the week I use the go card system, it became apparent that myki is not only broken, but beyond salvation.

myki go card
Automatically gives the lowest fare, provided you touch on and off Same
Available to use on different public transport Same
Time-based fare Single-usage fare
Zone-based fare Same
Long-term/commuter options available

Note:
Long-term options, labeled as myki pass, available in 7 days, and any number of days above 28 days.

Only single-use option

Note:
go card has different incentives like if you travel 9 times then your 10th will be free, peak and off-peak hours with different rates.

2 effective zones 23 effective zones (yes, that is a freaking twenty-three effective zones)
$6.00 for full fare card $5.00 for full fare card
Partially refundable (and it’s a pain to do it)

Note:
Only the balance is refundable as either balance transfer to another myki, or a cheque refund. It takes roughly 10 to 21 working days.

Refundable

Note:
Both card purchase price as well as the balance is refundable straightaway in cash at their official outlets.

Replacing Metcards/single-use tickets Coexists with single-use tickets
Cannot top up on the tram/bus, you have to have a positive balance before entering the bus You can top up on the bus
2-3 seconds to touch on/off Less than 1 second to touch on/off
Online features available Online features available

Note:
I have not tested or tried their online features

Like I’ve said in previously, the main drawbacks of the myki system was its slowness when touching on/off. The official statement (or at least, what I’ve been hearing) was that it was slow due to coexistence with the Metcard validation system. However, as more and more Metcard gates being replaced by myki gates, and myki machines are separate with Metcard machines on trams and buses, I suspect the problem was not the gates, but the system itself.

The go card, which touched on/off in less than 1 second confirms my suspicion on the myki system. Every time I touch on/off, my myki will “phone home” to check the and verify the available balance before validating the card. In other words, my myki (and the machine) will try to “sync” my balance, even if I’m not registered on the myki website. This is the fundamental problem of the myki system, and as such, unless a major overhaul is taken to rewrite or refactor the entire system, the myki will still be slow as hell.

Adding insult to injury, the earlier myki campaign that focused on “touch on, touch off” actually backfired. While the campaign is a success, the result of this campaign is that people actually touch on and off every single time, even when they don’t need to. A lot of people still touched off on trams, even though it’s not required (unless traveling entirely in zone 2). If people have a myki pass, the equivalent of long-term tickets, you are not required to touch off unless you’re outside the zone recorded in the card, and yet I still see a lot of people touching off, and people still giving me that look whenever I didn’t touch off. This also contributes to the mess myki has made.

People queuing to validate their myki at Southern Cross station

Up to this day, I still don’t understand the decision to make the ticketing system from scratch, whereas there are a lot of places in the world that has successfully implement a good ticketing system. Obviously, one cannot simply buy a system from another state or country and use as-is, there are few adjustments to make to fit the existing ticketing system, but it will generally be cheaper compared to building everything from scratch.

The state government seems to try to cover the fact that myki is a failed project (or handicapped, at best), forcing more people to use myki by phasing out Metcards and turning deaf to any issues concerning it.┬áThe alleged benefits of myki being cheaper for commuter, while true initially, is currently diminishing due to the recent price increase. As it stands today, a single zone 1 + 2 ticket is literally the same as if you’re buying a zone 1 and zone 2 tickets separately.

Whenever I think about myki, it seems that during its development, the project didn’t have a competent system analyst and risk mitigation strategies, despite costing the state a hell lot of money. And now we’re living with the consequence of replacing a ticketing system that did not need to be replaced in the first place. It occurs to me on what one of my lecturer had said before: “business people making technical decisions“. It is as simple as that.

jovee~