[LINK] Vic transport smartcard to cost $1bn

Russell Ashdown russell.ashdown at ashdown.net.au
Wed Feb 6 11:58:55 EST 2008

Tom Worthington wrote:
> The Victorian system seemed to be workable when I tried it 
> <http://www.tomw.net.au/blog/2007/05/victorian-public-transport-contactless.html>. 
> But transport smartcard projects frequently have problems, where the 
> transport companies fail to rationalize their fee structure before 
> implementation. We should not be surprised that the Sydney one has 
> failed, or that the Victorian one appears to be about to, but that 
> some, such as Perth, seemed to have worked
This trivialises the problem with implementing a system-wide integrated 
ticketing system over multi modes of transportation.  The problems stem 
from the many permutations of trips that may be taken by commuters and 
the need for each commuter to "touch-on" and "touch-off".  It's a fact 
that such a system as that implemented in Sydney and Melbourne was 
always doomed to failure, not only because the system itself was flawed, 
but because it was set-up in such a fashion so as to facilitate 
intending fare evaders a free ride.  In fact, the implementation was so 
poor that even passengers with every intention of paying often received 
a free ride due to the system's inability to register their trips.  The 
problems with such a system increase exponentially as the geographic 
area serviced by the public transportation system (and hence buses, 
trams, ferries, number of routes and number of trips) increases.

Add to that the requirement for each bus, tram or ferry to have on-board 
a complete and up-to-date version of the same database (fares, hot 
cards, run changes, driver changes, conductor changes, etc.) and the 
larger the fleet the bigger the problem is.  Not to mention the network 
congestion at each depot as the fleet is started for the day and so must 
simultaneously download that day's database.  Oh, and I almost forgot, 
at the end of the day, the reverse must occur:  The data from each 
bus,tram, ferry, etc. must be uploaded, causing even more congestion and 
network time-outs, not to mention the number crunching that must occur 
overnight (often with crucial elements of data missing as buses,trams, 
ferries, etc. fail to upload that days data.)  All this over a WiFi 
network installed as a single access point in each depot!

Brisbane is currently attempting to implement a "Go-Card" for use on 
trains buses and ferries.  It suffers not only from the aforementioned 
problems but also hardware and software failures and also has 
geographical issues with the integrated GPS when calculating "on-stop" 
and "off-stop" fares. 

Translink, the Queensland Government organisation which was created to 
oversee the introduction of "integrated ticketing" and the "Go-Card" in 
Queensland has been given notice it (Translink) will be shut down.  A 
new organisation will be created to take its place.  Translink 
bureaucrats commissioned the "Go-Card" system and have overseen the many 
delays and false-starts in its implementation.  The Minister of 
Transport has been embarrassed by statements he has made regarding the 
roll-out dates of "Go-Card" and (as a result?) Translink have started to 
roll-out a live system test of the product on a small section of 
Brisbane's Northern perimeter. 

Here is why Perth is "seeming to work."  Geographically smaller with 
only a small rail  system (79 train sets) servicing only five lines, a 
relatively small bus fleet when compared to Australia's larger cities.  
Basically, the system is able to "cope" due to the smaller number of 
permutations of trips and fares.

It is the size of the network and the logistics of computing the 
(hundreds of) thousands of permutations of trips and fares each day, the 
servicing of the many hundreds of terminals installed in buses, trams, 
ferries and railway stations (remember: other than railway stations, the 
vast majority of these devices are off-line and stand-alone terminals 
for most of the day and must be downloaded or uploaded or sometimes both 
within a relatively small window before leaving their home depot), is it 
any wonder that the "system" works in Perth and not in Sydney and 

The small test to be conducted in Brisbane's Northern suburbs will prove 
to the satisfaction of the press that "Go-Card" 'works', thus removing 
the immediate pressure from the political masters of Translink.  
However, only a full system-wide stress test will prove the "Go-Card" 
system actually works or fails in "the real world."  I know where my 
money will be!

More information about the Link mailing list