Saturday, July 16, 2005

We're getting smartcards

Firstly the official announcements from the DOI's Transport Ticketing Authority.

The members of the winning project team are Keane Corporation, Ascom, ERG Group and Giesedke & Devrient.

Some background

Melbourne has an excellent integrated multimode zonal fare system that other cities (eg Sydney) would do well to copy. However it's in the implementation where Melbourne has come unstuck, not once but twice.

This history explains why public transport ticketing, ticket purchase and validation is much more contentious in Melbourne than almost anywhere else, where it attracts a much lower profile.

The ticketing problems started with the 'scratch ticket' debacle of the early 1990s. Scratch tickets proved unworkable, fare evasion thrived and the system was abandoned soon afterwards (though not before enough tickets to last for many years were printed!).

Next was the automated Metcard system introduced in 1996. Taxpayers paid dearly for cost and time over-runs. An early assumption that most passengers would buy tickets at retail outlets (as is common in other cities), a design unsuited to passenger needs and frequent machine breakdowns led to public hostility and widespread fare evasion, particularly in the first five years.

More recently, anti-vandalism modifications, better maintenance and allowing tram machines to sell daily tickets eventually made Metcard workable. However, maintenance is not cheap, and even if only a few days are missed, functionality quickly declines. In its FAQ the DOI recognises that Metcard is merely 'tolerable', not 'world class', which it hopes Smartcard will be.

The Smartcard challenge

Provided above is the historical context in which Smartcard finds itself. Its success depends on some as yet unanswered questions answers to which will eventually become known.

These include both machine and human elements, such as the extent to which passengers will adapt to the 'tag on tag off' regime (especially in crowded buses and trams), the design of vending machines for the disposable tickets (given that current Metcard machines do not accept common note denominations for commonly purchased tickets) and handling of breakdowns (given the extra passenger faith required).


Another opinion.

Transport smartcards around the world.

Proposed transport smartcards for Australia.

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