The Brokenness of myki
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). Therefore 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).
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.
|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.
|It is faster than the Metcards at the gates, due to the contactless system.||
|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.||
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.
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.
|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|
|Long-term/commuter options available
|Only single-use option
|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)
|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
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.
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. The 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.