Policies: Ticketing systems

Amid the ‘scratch ticket’ controversy in 1990, the Public Transport Users Association’s policy on ticketing systems was adopted with overwhelming support from PTUA members. The policy was endorsed by the independent Met Ticketing Task Force in 1991, when market research showed that most members of the travelling public supported it. Given Melbourne’s subsequent history of high-tech ticketing disasters, we have seen no reason to substantially change this policy.

Staff cuts not an option

The PTUA believes that the public transport system must be adequately staffed for it to be efficient and economically viable. Since a large proportion of the costs of running public transport are fixed, and the system is significantly underutilised outside the peaks, robust cost recovery is heavily dependent on attracting additional passengers to the system throughout the day and seven days a week.

People will not use public transport unless they feel safe and comfortable. Staffing levels must be adequate to ensure this, and to provide information and assistance to passengers, especially the elderly and the disabled. This requires that railway stations be staffed at all times the trains run, and that most trams have conductors (on services with low patronage and no security problems, the driver should be able to provide adequate security).

Some argue that automated ticketing frees staff to provide better customer service. This may be true if staff are present, but a ticket machine alone cannot provide information, assist passengers, or help them feel safe. If it is vandalised or malfunctioning, it cannot even fulfil its intended function of selling or validating tickets. Conductors are necessary on trams to control fare evasion and for passenger safety, so they should also sell tickets, as an alternative to placing ticket machines on trams.

Many cities do use some form of automated ticketing, but those with a staff presence have been more successful. Amsterdam and Stockholm restored conductors to trams due to fare evasion and vandalism, while Singapore and Toronto staff all stations. By contrast, Paris uses a fully automated system and fare evasion is rampant. In Melbourne, there is also little goodwill among passengers (who have put up with dysfunctional ticketing systems for years) meaning that staff are now essential to control fare evasion.

Technology not the answer

To attract patrons, a ticketing system must be user friendly, simple and reliable. The Metcard system did not satisfy these criteria; but neither does the Myki Smartcard system that has replaced it. The Smartcard system has cost well over a billion dollars to implement and run – money that could have been spent on more pressing public transport priorities.

The PTUA believes that ticketing policy of the last 20 years has been technology-driven, and functionality has been sacrificed. This is demonstrated by the numerous reductions in scope that have come with successive revisions of the Myki system.

Smartcards do not solve the problems of fare evasion, difficulty of use (particularly for new users), security considerations or provision of customer information. Travellers will still have to run the gauntlet of a lonely, unstaffed stations and vehicles, and risk encounters with aggressive ticket inspectors when machines are broken.

Worse, with now no ticket machines on board trams, and no short term/single ticket option, it is impossible to travel without first buying a Myki smartcard. This has made it difficult for all but the most determined new and occasional users to switch to public transport. It has also resulted in inadvertent fare evasion on trams, from passengers who board with every intention of paying their fare but simply can’t because the system does not provide them with an option to do so.

Making ticketing work for everybody

We should be moving to a more passenger-friendly system, based on the presence of staff on trams and at railway stations. As an immediate mitigatory measure, the government should move to return genuine conductors (selling a range of tickets at normal prices) and station staff to the system.

A short term ticket option must be provided so that new and occasional users (including visitors to Victoria) have an option of buying a ticket on-board. If the Myki Short Term Tickets are too expensive to provide this option, then a simple paper ticket (similar to those offered in Perth and Brisbane alongside their smartcards) should provide this role. The physical infrastructure already exists within the Myki system to print paper tickets that could be used for incidental travel.

Greater emphasis on periodical tickets can help by reducing the frequency of ticket purchases. This also helps speed up buses and reduce queuing at stations (See the policy on Transport fare reform). Discounts on periodicals should be improved to make them more attractive. Refunds must be simplified and conducted at the point of purchase, with no charge where the problem is through no fault of the passenger, and a small fee for passengers whose circumstances have changed or have other good reasons.

The PTUA supports the sale of tickets at retail outlets like newsagents, in addition to but not instead of sale on vehicles and at stations. A full range of tickets should be available for purchase at all railway stations and a wide range including single use and daily fares on all trams and buses.

PTUA policies

Reviewed: September 2015