Tuesday, July 12, 2011

In defence of myki

Whatever issues myki had with being delivered late and over budget, the Baillieu government’s decision to remove ticket vending machines from trams and remove short term tickets is a ridiculous response.

Being unable to top up myki cards on trams is a key shortcoming of the system, and what I assume was a cost cutting measure that I cannot believe was ever considered justifiable. The system has had implementation problems, and its introduction would have benefitted from user education about how to touch on (not to swipe), among other things. However, this decision doesn’t improve the situation at all.

Abolishing short term tickets forces all users to purchase a $10 myki card, making life unintuitive and compromising public transport’s value as a spontaneous, easy and default transport option. Cities all over the world are moving to curb motorised transport, in the face of rising petrol costs, the proportion of emissions contributed by the transport sector, increasing populations and congestion. Cities including Melbourne.

Making public transport a less attractive transport option is one outcome of this policy choice, which makes compliance harder and accidental or unintentional fare evasion easier. Making public transport require forethought and a trip to an outlet to purchase a card makes it less user friendly and harder to navigate. This is particularly the case for those who are likely to be infrequent users of the system (both infrequent public transport users and tourists), and who are by virtue of this, those users most likely to use short term tickets.

The Baillieu government was never going to abolish myki. A cursory understanding of the reasons an alternative ticketing system was developed shows that the Metcard infrastructure was designed to function for nine years, initially until 2007, at which point it would be replaced. The contract was extended in 2005, to cover for the development and introduction of a replacement system. Retaining Metcard was never a viable option, its infrastructure now having been in operation for longer than its designated life cycle and gradually failing, with replacement parts no longer being manufactured. Scrapping myki would require replacing it with something else, which, aside from being a horrendous waste of money, time and resources (not necessarily a key concern for a new government) would require the development of something new. This would take years of development before roll out, and would require a system in the mean time.

Keeping it, however, left the government with a perfect excuse to buy some time and effectively removed any sense of urgency about making (or announcing) its decision about retaining or scrapping myki. It was a perfect gift for any new government: an inherited problem, in a system supposedly beset by issues since day dot, none of which are their fault and all of which can continually be wheeled out and highlighted as an example of what this government has to deal with. The fact that they didn’t commission its development and have been extolling its problems during their time in opposition mean that they were able to take their time with a ‘review’ (7 months), completed by Deloitte for $350,000.

Despite initial teething problems, I think the system is working well. Beyond a single incident wherein a machine froze while topping up my myki, removing money without adding credit, I have not personally had any problems with the system at all. This issue was immediately rectified, with a friendly and apologetic customer service call, myki credit added to my card within one working day, and a follow up call to let me know. Nobody likes change – no new system was ever going to be embraced across the board, and people don’t get excited about ticketing systems. In other cities, the cost of the existing/old system ticket was increased when new smart cards were introduced, to encourage take up. This didn’t happen in Melbourne, and perhaps the real issue lies in the failure to properly encourage take up of myki in the first instance. It’s really not that bad.

No comments:

Post a Comment