I had the “pleasure” of using Melbourne’s Myki system last week, to compare to Perth’s SmartRider. Some observations:
Myki’s bad points:
• Readers take too long to register that it has touched on or touched off. This was especially a problem getting on crowded trams or getting through the barriers at closed stations during peak, like Melbourne Central or Flinders Street.
• The tones on Myki readers aren’t helpful. Error tones sound like normal tones and all tones are too quiet. Tones should leave the user in no doubt what happened.
• The display on Myki readers aren’t helpful. Unless you happen to be looking at it at the exact correct angle in the exact low level ambient light, for long enough to annoy those queueing behind you. Oh, and you may want to wear your reading glasses because the amount displayed appears to be in a 5 point font. At open train stations, they’re all mounted too high to be read from a wheelchair. Didn’t anyone consult disability advocates?
• What do all those lights mean? Green and Orange? Green and Red? What? What?
• Many Myki readers on trams simply didn’t work. Worse, they’re either too high or too low. No consistent mounting. A few didn’t work on train platforms, but there were at least 2 readers, often more at open stations, so that’s no so bad.
• The rules regarding “touching off” are confusing. In all transport other than trams, patrons must touch off. On trams, patrons are encouraged not to touch off unless traveling wholly within zone 2. I noticed quite a few patrons ignoring that advice, possibly because they don’t trust the system, or because being human they like consistent rules.
• Myki readers don’t like any other contactless smart card being within cooee. This includes credit cards.
• Myki cards don’t like being too far from readers. More often than not I had to take the card out of my wallet to use it.
• There is no alternative cash ticketing. The local response was to tell people without Mykis to ride for free. (Carrying on a grand Melbourne tradition of fare evasion, then.) There are no automatic dispensers, and not all stations have staff on hand to sell the cards, and even those stations that do, they aren’t open beyond business hours. Apparently 7 Eleven stores sell them, but 7 Eleven stores also sell $0.20 2 minute noodles for $1.00.
• The Myki top-up machines are poorly designed. It’s all touch screen (great), but the keypad for credit/debit cards is a million miles away from the action, and how anyone in a wheelchair could conceivably use it is anyone’s guess. To the visitor, the difference between Myki Money and Myki Pass is irrelevant; why is that an option anyway, if the system is supposed to calculate the cheapest fare?
• There is a time limit of 5 years on the card. Didn’t use up all the money you put on it? Tough. You’re a visitor and bought a card and won’t be visiting again in that timeframe? Tough.
• It’s like Melbourne is saying: “Hey, visitors, don’t use public transport because we hate you!”
• It cost the Victorian taxpayer $1.5 billion. I know, right?
• Fares possibly aren’t the best available, and compared to SmartRider are more expensive, eg:
Myki (adult) SmartRider (adult, autoload)
42 km (zone2) $5.92 2 hrs 42 km (zone5) $5.33 3 hrs
15 km (zone2) $5.92 2 hrs 15 km (zone2) $3.00 2 hrs
9 km (zone1) $3.50 2hrs 9 km (zone1) $2.03 2 hrs.
Interestingly, Myki is supposed to have daily caps, but it never seemed to apply to me. I fear it’s a scam similar to how telcos have caps on their mobile phone plans.
• Additionally SmartRider has a Free Transit Zone within the CBD, $0.50 fares for school children, and free travel for senior citizens, Age Pensioners and Disability Support Pensioners from 9am to 3:30pm weekdays plus all weekends and public holidays.
• Pensioners using Myki can get free rides but only before 7am and only on trains. This consistent rule thing seems to be a problem in Victoria.
Myki’s good points:
• It fits into a wallet.
Now SmartRider isn’t perfect, but:
• It is usually very quick (so no bunching at gates).
• Tones are loud enough and pitched so that patrons know when they’ve tagged on, off, if they’re low on money or if there has been an error. (Hear the collective groans and see the collective eye-rolls from patrons as some people try to tag on, getting 5 annoying beeps everyone telling them there isn’t enough credit on the card to tag on.)
• My SmartRider still works even next to my MasterCard in my wallet.
• The rules are consistent; always tag on, always tag off. There are a couple of exceptions at some trains stations where buses drop patrons off inside the barriers, but patrons still tag off getting off the bus. The system automatically tags them on for getting on the train. The “tag on, tag off” rule isn’t violated as far as patrons are concerned.
• SmartRider readers are robust. Buses only have 2 readers, and some train stations only have 1. Policy is that if the SmartRider reader fails for whatever reason, and there is no alternative to tag on, SmartRiders get that part of the journey free. I’ve been in situations when a whole station’s readers went down. Normally the penalty for not tagging off is paying a default fare of 9 zones (for trains), but everyone was refunded the fare. Having a card snapped in two doesn’t count as being a reason to get a free journey.
• All train stations, buses and ferry terminals have paper ticket dispensers. Paper tickets don’t get the 15% (default) or 25% (autoload) discount fares that SmartRider has, but it least it means visitors, or any one really, doesn’t have an excuse to evade a fare.
It’s not just Myki letting down commuters and visitors to Melbourne. There are two standout features of Perth’s public transport system:
1) Integration. Buses which terminate/originate at train stations have timetables set around the train time tables. But it’s not just timetabling. No matter which private company is contracted, all buses have the same brand and livery. Nearly all buses have disabled access. All train stations have disabled access. It’s really is a pity Melbourne is so far behind in this.
2) Free Transit Zone. Traveling by train in the FTZ is free if you have a SmartRider. You still tag on and tag off, but it’s free. (For paper tickets, it’s a 2 section fare – $1.90 adult.) On buses, no need to tag on or tag off. If Melbourne had a FTZ, say, all stations on the Loop plus all tram and bus stops within the area bounded by the Loop, then getting across the Central Business District wouldn’t be such a hassle. Getting on the packed tram won’t mean all the horrible gymnastics of touching on, and then off later. It would also mean that ticket inspectors wouldn’t have to ride in the tram in the CBD. I found this an enlightening experience on the 86 tram going towards Docklands. The inspectors boarded at Spencer Street, and a once full tram emptied within moments. There were only 3 of us travelers left. Either nearly everyone on board wanted to get off at Southern Cross Station, or they were fare evading. As an aside, there are two types of ticket inspector in Melbourne; uniform and plain clothes. The latter look like they’re thugs straight off a film set of a gritty police drama, and have manners to equal the low-lives that smoke on trains and steal from pensioners. The uniformed mob are just tidier.
Final analysis: Myki is a lemon Melbourne will be stuck with for many years. Let’s hope the team behind Sydney’s Opal card don’t repeat the same mistakes.