The Sustainable Urbanist: myki Madness

Recently, I was at Melbourne Central about to catch a train home with two dollars in my pocket. As I went to turn the coins into ‘Myki Money’ I realised there was only one machine accepting coins (no thanks to any warning signs). There were about ten people in the line. After I finally loaded my money, swiped my card and raced down the escalators, I arrived at the platform to see my train pulling off from the station. I was left to wait another twenty minutes for the next one. Horrible!

This story isn’t unfamiliar to Melburnians who know catching public transport is more of an abuse than a service.

The Liberal Government has labeled Myki an “effective and reliable” system. But last Sunday I had a few words in my head about the system and they were far from effective or reliable.

Myki has just added another layer to the diaster that is public transport in Melbourne. With no timetable cohesion between trains and buses, infrequent services, the need for facility upgrade and now a counterintuitive ticketing system, it is no wonder the car is the preferred mode of travel.

The current shambles in the Victorian Liberal Party is representative of former premier Ted Baillieu’s lack of leadership over Myki. If Baillieu really wanted to create an “effective and reliable” system, why didn’t he avoid throwing good money after bad, leave the fully functioning Metcard system, and pour that money into better services and upkeep?

Public transport expert Paul Mees says the Myki system displays spectacular incompetence on behalf of the Government and believes it should have scrapped Myki when it had the chance. Mees does not understand why Melbourne would spend a budget blowout of $1.5 billion when Perth spent just $35 million on a perfectly workable system.

Myki has also made the public transport system more difficult to use. If you were annoyed you couldn’t use notes on trams before, under Myki things have reached a new low. With no vending machines on trams or at stops, gone are the days when you could just jump on a tram – now commuters must have previously gone into a Myki retailer and topped up their card before boarding. The same procedure has been introduced to buses.

Mees describes the system as an “open invitation to fare evasion, because not having the ability to buy tickets on the tram or bus, or at the station – something no other system in the world has foisted on people – makes fare evaders out of honest passengers.”

Even if you were quick enough to think of whipping out your smart phone to transfer the fare across, the smart card is not that smart. It takes twenty-four hours for internet transfers to register. Are these the characteristics of an “effective and reliable” system?

Paul Wescott from the Public Transport Users Union says, “The ridiculous decision not to proceed with the planned short-term paper ticket means that passengers have to always have their Myki with them, or purchase a new one, provided they can find a place to do so – a particular challenge for bus travelers.”

For tourists this is also very problematic. A visitor in Melbourne wanting to use the transport system once is forced to buy a Myki card on top of their fare, despite the card being entirely useless once they leave.

Westcott is baffled the Government has not given a clear reason as to why there are no single trip tickets on the system. The decision was apparently based on a recommendation in Myki system report. Despite initial promises, it has refused to make the report public. Greens leader Greg Barber has taken the Government to the Supreme Court to try to get the report released.

To Westcott the Government’s back-flip to introduce single trip tickets for charities and the disadvantaged is proof, “despite denials, paper short-term tickets can be accommodated by the system.”

The Myki mess is a product of political incompetence and a commitment to neoliberal principles on both sides of Parliament.


It’s a belief that privatisation results in better services, which in the case of public transport is a recipe for disaster.

If we are ever going to see a truly “effective and reliable” transport system, qualified people must be put in the driver’s seat of transport policy. Government must focus on supply of – rather than demand for – sustainable transport to create a public transport system which will lure commuters out of their cars.

Matt O’Leary


  1. I do agree that myki is not a perfect system, but many of the problems described above would still be evident if Metcard, not Myki was still being used.
    Trains, trams and buses would still not be synchronised under Metcard, so lack of cohesion would still be evident. In fact, with the ability to track consumer preferences through myki (should the Government choose to do this) it could actually become a huge advantage of myki.
    The queeing to buy a Metcard would still be present, if not worse when compared to myki. Everyone, would be in line to buy a Metcard, not just the unorganised who need to top up. Auto top up is a reliable program that shouldn’t go unrecognised.
    And if Metcard was in use, you would still have been late in getting to the station, and the train still would have been missed. Your poor time management skills are hardly the fault of myki.

    You are correct to state that the Liberal Government could have scrapped myki, but this would have been up there with the more laughable (or lack thereof) decisions they have made. The system was almost complete when they came into Government, and I dare say the costs of removing, rather than continuing to implement the smart card, would have been greater. Instead the blame should squarely be put onto the previous Labor Government who saw the design and majority rollout of the system.

    I personally do not agree with the decision not to have temporary tickets available for toursits etc. I do understand their reasoning, which I take to be that it would just be the same as Metcard, and would slow down the transition to myki. Melburnians would simply continue to purchase temporary myki’s, which would make the billions of dollars invested into the smart card redundant.

    I agree with the statement better qualified people should head our public transport system.
    But many of the problems you described above are not the fault of myki, rather the fault of self, or wider system flaws.
    Happy commuting, Sean.

  2. Yes Sean I agree with what you are saying. The highlighting of the system problems (like broken ticketing machines at stations, poor and unconnected services) was to enforce the fact than rather than spend a whopping $1.5 billion on the Myki ticketing, both sides of politics in Victoria should have had the foresight to pour that money into upgrading the system.

  3. Simple dont touch on on trams and buses. Easy free ride. Woo hoo. Of course I touch on and off at the train station. But where I live there is no retailer selling MYKIS and I live near a bus/tram stop.

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