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Ticketing Woes: The Patchy Record of Myki

What is it about government contracts that produces the worst results and poorest returns? Those clods behind such deals, notably in the poison chaliced field of public transport, seem so utterly incapable at even modest competence.

In public transport, muddles, bungling and oh so much fumbling are common; the whole show comes into view when public money is thrown at a project, and the planners get enthusiastic about a contractor they favour. In the Australian state of Victoria, this seems to be of a particularly advanced order. When it comes to paying for public transport, things always seem to be untidy and inchoate. With the plastic transport card known as Myki – be wary when government officials call them “smart” – a triumph of clumsiness and ineptitude came into being.

The list of problems, tweaks, and aberrations afflicting the soon-to-be-reformed myki system, covering trams, buses and trains, is lengthy. From the time the contract was made in 2005 with Kamco, subsequently acquired by NTT Data, it seemed that it was a system designed to create problems. In June 2008, it was reported that the new Myki ticketing system had failed 10% of the tests it had been subjected to. The system, projected to cost A$500 million, had already been running three years behind schedule, leading the Labor Brumby government to put A$350 million into the scheme to cover the burgeoning blowout.

In May that year, Transport Minister Lynne Kosky was forced to concede that the government had underestimated the problems that would come with the introduction of the new “smart card” across the transport network. But she still insisted, as the provincially minded always do, that Australia’s second most populous state would be receiving the “world’s best” system by early 2010.

As a result of such delays, both myki ticketing, and the pre-existing Metcard ticket system would be run parallel to each other for up to 18 months, adding twelve months to what had originally been planned. Not exactly the world’s best solution.

Then came the information pamphlet fiasco, where 500,000 booklets of 28 pages were scrapped for being out of date. The then opposition public transport spokesman, Terry Mulder, asked the sensible question: “Wouldn’t you think number one, you get the system working properly, number two, you get the brochure printed and you send it out.” Too logical; too tidy.

Victoria’s Transport Ticketing Authority was defensive on the issue. “[The] project schedule is different to what was expected then, and in particular there has been a change to the way Myki is going to be used on trams,” explained the TTA’s Bernie Carolan.

Once the system came into operation, more hiccups followed. In 2011, 20,000 seniors received, according to The Age, “a new smartcard that does not give them the travel benefits they are entitled to, including free weekend travel and discounted weekly fairs.” The ticketing authority had to broadcast a fat, full-voiced mea culpa: the error had arisen because the cards in question were marked “Seniors” but still charged the full fare.

As the years have gone on, other cities have pushed ahead, giving travellers other options of payment. The Victorian approach has, however, become schizophrenic. In July 2022, the Guardian Australia could only poke fun at the fact that Sydney has given its transport users the option of not even using their version of Myki – the Opal card – excepting concession travellers. Travelling in Sydney on light rail, ferries, buses, and trains was a simple matter of using a credit card or relevantly linked smart device.

In Melbourne, travellers have yet to be availed of that option. Those with Android devices could opt for using Myki’s mobile version. The same could not be said for the iPhone, despite the state government’s A$1 million allocation in 2019 to resolve that issue. All this time, NTT Data, the company maintaining the system, could hardly be said to be a paragon of efficiency.

As is often the case, getting a provider of a workable, faultless system can prove to be a challenge. The government in question finds the company or entity willing to provide services. A deal follows, often to the least suitable candidate. At times, soft corruption serves to garnish the arrangements, cushioned by a history of friendship, political ties, and sometimes, a family bond.

In 2016, NTT Data convinced the Andrews government that it was still the best custodian of the transport system. At the sum of A$700 million, its contract was renewed for seven years. This did little to impress the state’s auditor, which had found “significant issues with the system, which precipitated six major amendments to the original 2005 contract.” It noted, for instance, the time taken to design and deliver Myki: the original plan of two years ballooned to nine, leading to “significant unanticipated costs – a $A550 million (55 per cent) increase on the project’s original budget of almost A$1 billion.”

In the case of updating the current Myki system, the US-based Conduent has been entrusted with the grave task, to the whistling tune of A$1.7 billion, to operate the ticketing system from December this year. Two others failed to convince: NTT Data had finally lost its favourable standing, and Cubic, responsible for the Opal system in Sydney, Melbourne’s perennial nemesis in terms of childish city rivalry, was fobbed off.

The contract with Conduit is for 15 years and will do what the Opal system in Sydney currently does: move card ticketing to a platform based on accounts where smart devices, debit and credit cards may be used.

Following the script given to all transport ministers, Ben Carroll was boisterous about the ordinary and unremarkable. “This is a very important moment for Victoria and public transport. For the past 16 years, we have had a card-based ticketing system under Myki. We now reach the 21st century with account-based ticketing.”

At least the minister resisted the temptation this time to make claims about a revolutionary system that would place Victoria as the forefront of ticketing nirvana. Gone was the bushy-tailed enthusiasm of the world beaters: Melbourne was merely leading from the middle. “We aren’t the test bed. This is an off-the-shelf system.” It just might work.


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  1. Fred

    Dr Kampmark: NSW transport is also riddled with incompetence: ferries that cannot handle rough conditions, trains and trams with welding issues, a train network with incompatible sections, etc. It is highly probable that all federal and state governments have departments with skill “challenges”. Governments should employ competent project mangers and subject matter experts directly rather than through third parties (to avoid the Pwc effect). These skilled resources should be involved in/manage negotiations and delivery of projects excluding politician input. Having worked on the supply side I’ve had to deal with some “interesting” contracts that have left me scratching my head – who wrote the pile of rubbish and which fool in my organisation bid for it.

  2. New England Cocky

    I sympathise with Victorians concerned about the self-serving apparent incompetence of their myki ticketing system. But spare a thought for taxpayers in N NSW where public transport does not exist.
    Oh sure, the original Great Northern Railway (GNR) still runs from Sydney to Armidale, 230 km south of the Queensland border and I am told that the North Coast Railway (NCR) north of Grafton, about 200 km south of the Queensland border, still operates on bus services because at least one bridge remains missing ….. for decades rather than replaced, thanks to political decisions made in Macquarie Street to support the over-subsidised Sydney suburban network used by many Labor voters.
    The procurement ”incompetence” continues into departmental and rail network administration. Railway administrators are paid over $400,000 per year to manage a frequently derelict rail system that successive governments have refused to maintain or upgrade far too often. This management ”strategy” flows from the ”dead person’s shoes” corporate principles where saving money rather than maintaining infrastructure is paramount for their political masters.
    Now add the demented political ideological ”thinking” of the past 12 years of NSW COALition misgovernment that has left the Minns NSW LABOR government with huge costs ahead thanks to the neglect & political incompetence of their predecessors.
    Meanwhile, back in New England, the feral NOtional$ MP is promoting the $1500 BILLION Northern Inland Railway (NIR) financial disaster linking Melbourne to Brisbane (perhaps) and the CSG export Port Gladestone to move SANTOS gas to overseas contracts at public expense ….. while SANTOS pays no income tax on BILLIONS of income annually. This proposed project ”just happens” to pass close by two ”grazing properties” owned by Beetrooter that are reported to over-lie extensive CSG deposits.
    So what do pensioners and other poor people do when needing to move about an electorate having few and declining medical facilities and professional staff?
    It is time to re-route the dubious NIR from Dubbo through Binnaway on an upgraded line to Werris Creek and up the existing upgraded GNR to Tenterfield, then split with a new line down the existing railway easement to Legume then Beaudesert then the Queensland network while a spur-line goes to Toowoomba for air freight out of the new Toowoomba Airport.
    These re-routing proposals all occur on existing railway easements thus saving the cost of buying agricultural lands and the enormous multi-BILLION cost of the poorly proposed Toowoomba to Gatton ”tunnel” down the Toowoomba Range.

  3. Terence Mills

    Perhaps we should send a team over to Singapore where they have had a fully integrated rapid rail and integrated bus operation as part of their mass rapid transport (MRT) system.

    It’s been operating for years and from personal experience – having lived there for several years – it seems to run efficiently without problems.

    Incidentally, both Singapore and Melbourne have comparable populations around five million !!

  4. Kerri

    Public transport should be free.
    With an ad campaign with the slogan
    Get what you pay for! Take public transport!

  5. Lyndal

    I agree with NEC – there are so many possibilities for improved and restored rail networks.
    The only reason for many line closures seems too have been to give preference to the road transport industry. The replacement of trains with buses that travel station to station and which are not able to pick up / drop off between stations , is another ludicrous concession to private business.
    Meanwhile, there are ways that existing lines could be made more useful to passengers with more services.
    NECs missing bridge is sitting in a field between Maldon and Dumbarton

  6. Stephengb

    Call me a name but, there was a time when you purchased a ticket from a ticket office or out of a coin machine attached to the wall. You got on board and a ticket collector came along checked you ticket to render it unusable again and then carried on.

    Then came along a big big big multinational computer company that offered to replace people with plastic cards all for the price of one persons job.

    Cost ?

  7. Konn

    Kerri, free transport would work but our cities are impractical because of urban sprawl. Our cities are designed for cars, not people. I understand Labor is doing everything in its power to change the shape of cities, Exhibit A – their solution to housing affordability crisis – massive increase in immigration and a flutter on the stock market with ‘profits’ used to build a minimum number of social homes sometime in the future, like never.
    The controlled implosion of access to shelter is not an accident.
    Terrence, comparing Melb with Singapore is apples and oranges. 80% of Singaporeans live in High Density Flats unlike all Aus cities where single family dwellings are still the main stay. Singapore with its smaller footprint is easier to provide transport services.
    However, the UN through its ESG plan intends to change things for Aus. Petrol cars will be phased out within about 20 years. If the average person thinks they will be given access to an electric vehicle curtesy of the State subsidies, well, dream on. Outer suburbs are going the way of the dinosaur but it won’t happen overnight, no need to spook the chattle. Change is scheduled at a rate to not raise awareness as a whole.
    Stephengb, true. The ‘powers who ought not be’ want a digital world that gives them the power of veto on all decisions. Carbon auditing is much easier to enforce in a digital world. Imagine trying to run a 20 minute smart ghetto without the digitization of almost everything.
    What a nightmare that would be for the creators of nightmares, the parasite class.

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