[LINK] Vic transport smartcard to cost $1bn

Craig Sanders cas at taz.net.au
Wed Feb 6 15:13:00 EST 2008

On Wed, Feb 06, 2008 at 02:05:56PM +1100, Marghanita da Cruz wrote:
> Craig Sanders wrote:
> <snip>
>> the amazing thing, to me, is that it's almost impossible to see where
>> the actual value in a system like this is. what benefit does it give
>> - to anyone, but especially to the public transport users? more
>> importantly, what benefit does it give that's actually worth hundreds of
>> millions of dollars (or over $1bn with all the stuffups)?
>> IMO, it's a lot like e-voting. no benefit to anyone at all *except*
>> for those flogging the system and those who want to exploit the
>> system's flaws. worse, it introduces several new failure modes and an
>> unneccessary dependancy on fickle new technlogy.
> As an irregular, but frequent, user of public transport, I can see
> value in a single ticketing system. Also, in choice in pricing - based
> on a period of time - weekly pass, daily pass etc.

sorry, i guess i'm being melbourne-centric.

we've had a single ticketing system for over 20 years. you can buy
two-hour, daily, weekly, monthly, yearly tickets. one ticket lets you
travel as much as you want in the time allowed(*) in the travel zone
that it is valid for. there used to be three zones, zone 1, 2 & 3. zone
1 extended to about 10-15km from the center of melbourne, depending on
where you wanted to go or come from. zone 2 to about 20km or so, zone
3 to the end of suburbia. a few years ago, zones 1 & 2 were merged,
leaving 1 huge inner zone and an outer zone consisting of the far outer

current price is about $3.20 for a 2-hour zone 1 ticket, full fare. less
than half for concession fare. daily tickets cost slightly less than
twice what a 2-hour ticket costs. weekly, monthly, and yearly tickets
cost less proportionally. a 2-hour ticket was enough for most people to
get to the shops, do their shopping, and come back home.

you also used to be able to get short-trip tram tickets, if you were
travelling 10 tram stops or less within the inner city, but i think they
vanished a few years ago (they didn't save you much, and actually cost
more if you had to make a return journey within the 2 hour limit).

and we had all this back in the early 80s with just plain old
paper (or cardboard for weekly and longer) tickets marked by the
bus-driver/tram-conductor/train ticket clerk with a hand-held hole

later they moved to scratchy-type tickets. buy the ticket, either in
advance or on the vehicle, and scratch off the day/time when you use it.

still later (about 10 years ago IIRC) they moved to mag-stripe tickets,
replacing tram conductors and train-station staff with ticket vending
machines. the new tickets were ok, getting rid of conductors and station
staff sucked (and still sucks).

now they want this stupid, pointless smartcard system.  corporate

(*) 2-hour tickets are stamped for the hour after you purchase, so if
you buy/validate it at :01 past the hour you effectively get 3 hours.
and 2-hour tickets bought after 5pm are valid until midnight or whenever
the trams/trains/buses stop for the night.

btw, the 2-hour tickets are available as a 10 x 2-hour trip ticket. that
is actually a benefit of the mag-stripe tickets (although there's no
reason the same idea couldn't be implemented as a hold-punched ticket)
i buy them because i don't use public transport much these days and
it's convenient to just have a ticket in my wallet so i don't have to
have coins for the vending machine. also, you get a slight discount for
buying in advance compared to buying 10 individual 2 hour tickets at the
time you need them.

> The problem with implementing new technology is generally not a
> failure of technology, but a failure to implement the business
> practices around it. This requires high level change across government
> agencies.

actually, the problem is building in a stupid dependancy on technology
far more complicated (and thus fragile and prone to problems) than is
actually needed for the task.

melbourne's "MET" ticketing system worked perfectly well for years
without the "benefit" of expensive, complicated technology or recurring
licensing fees for the hardware & software. and no risk of downtime due
to software bugs or script-kiddie hacking.  and it's cheap.

the old paper and hole-punch tickets were adequate for the job. there
are some slight benefits to the automated mag-stripe tickets but they
probably weren't worth what the system cost. switching to smart cards
certainly isn't worth what it has cost so far (or even what the original
budget estimate was).  IMO, they should cut their losses and give up.
maybe sue to try to recover some of the money.

it worked in melbourne. there's no reason why it wouldn't also work
in sydney or brisbane or anywhere else. it's simple, fault-resistant
technology that just plain works because there's almost nothing that can
go wrong with it.


craig sanders <cas at taz.net.au>

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