Tuesday, August 24, 2010

MyWay - the RFID ticketing system for ACTION

Canberra is fortunate in that the entire public transport network is one large zone. It hasn’t always been that way; it used to be three zones until four or five years ago. Having one zone makes implementation of a new ticketing system fairly painless. Purchasing and using a ticket needs to be an idiot-proof, pain free endeavour. Ideally, it should be easy to do and having only one zone makes purchasing the correct type of ticket for your journey a lot easier than on other public transport networks. We are fortunate we wont ever see the Sydney ticketing debacle – where separate tickets are needed for each leg of your journey if you transfer from bus to train to ferry, or the Melbourne Myki debacle where a ticketing system has somehow cost 1.8 BILLION dollars.

The present ACTION ticketing system is based on decades old technology, which is no longer serviced by the original manufacturer. Replacement units have been bought from other public transport companies, which have decommissioned them, so that the ACTION fleet can continue to use it. Frequently one will board a bus and find a hand drawn sign across the ticketing unit advising that it’s broken, and the trip is free. This loss of revenue must cost ACTION a not insignificant amount of revenue each year. 

Im sure that 'Going your way' and 'MyWay' are not coincidentally named.

Back in April 2010, the Chief Minister, who is also the Transport Minister, issued this media release:

Roll-out of ACTION's Smartcard technology begins
The technology supporting ACTION's new $8 million Smartcard ticketing system is being rolled-out on buses ahead of a trial of the system in late August, Chief Minister and Minister for Territory and Municipal Services, Jon Stanhope, announced today.
Mr Stanhope said the Smartcard would be available later this year and allow Canberrans to travel on buses without cash.
"Canberrans can look forward to a new ticketing system that is fast, easy and flexible," Mr Stanhope said. "It will offer bus users a reusable and rechargeable card for travel on all ACTION buses, helping to cut queues and travel times across the network.
"The Government is on track to deliver the start-of-the-art ticketing system by the end of this year."
Mr Stanhope said the Smartcard uses a microchip that is picked up by a reader without taking it out of a wallet or purse.
"The Smartcard can be preloaded with money over the internet, phone or at card facilities across the ACT, eliminating the hassle of carrying coins and purchasing individual tickets on a bus.
"A one-use ticket will continue to be available for casual users and tourists.
"Users will be required to tag-on and tag-off their bus, which will significantly improve our capacity to monitor passenger trends and make adjustments to our services.
"The Smartcard system is an important part of the ACT Government's investment in developing a more efficient and user-friendly bus network."
Mr Stanhope said the new ticketing system would retain the current flat fares structure.
"The automated fare system will ensure passengers pay the lowest available fare each time they use an ACTION bus."
Since this announcement a few other details have emerged. DownerEDI have been publicly announced as the tender winners, and the system will be similar to the Perth SmartRider system. The current single zone system is to be retained. 

'ACTION' features nowhere on the MyWay RFID card. 'Transport for Canberra' is a new unannounced (to date) body. They see you using B-Pay to top up your card balance online.  

The Chief Minister has also said that the MyWay cards could be used for paid parking, so it may be that a range of uses for the card outside actual public transport could be in store. The card, as shown to the public, is not branded ACTION, nor does it use ACTION colours. Perhaps this is due to future integration with the Queanbeyan public transport providers, as flagged in the Canberra Transport Plan, and also the subject of inter-governmental discussions. This is yet to be determined. It could also work seamlessly with a light rail system which would offer the rapid transit backbone that Canberra sorely lacks, and which impedes the take-up of public transport significantly. 

How will people purchase and put ‘credit’ on their electronic travel cards ? No doubt there will be an online facility offered when it ‘goes live’, and of course Canberra Connect could handle this task. The Myki terminals which are at every Melbourne railway station, also offer an indication to future usage. ACTION staffing of interchanges for ticket purchasing is already at very low levels, a MyWay machine could work around the clock. 

ACTION also recently leased a shopfront in the Civic bus interchange area that will house a MyWay information centre, and no doubt will offer card recharge facilities. This is a positive sign as it indicates that the trial is still on track. According to the ACTION website, they plan to trial the new card in two phases:
  • Pilot Test – During August and September 2010 ten buses will be fitted with MyWay equipment for a small-scale test to be conducted by ACTION staff and contractors.
  • Trial Period – During September–November 2010 a larger scale test of onboard equipment and the MyWay processing system will be conducted.
This should sort out bugs in the programming of the cards, and also allow people to become accustomed to a new way of buying and using their bus ticket. If there is one thing that is easily predictable it is this – people hate change, and there will be angry letters to the Canberra Times regardless of how logical or easy to use the new system appears to be.

It will also be interesting to see how people take to the new tag-on tag-off system. It is very different to current ACTION practice. It may also be problematic due to the ACTION practice of making everyone enter and exit the bus from the front door, except at interchanges. Making this inefficient system even more inefficient – some new buses have only a front door, and no middle door. These make boarding times much longer than they really need to be.

Fortunately an electronic interface ensures that the time taken by the driver to take money, issue a ticket and change, and then for the passenger to deploy the ticket is now done away with, saving 10 to 15 seconds per passenger, which will add up over a heavy peak hour. Perhaps the ACTION timetable will shift from the fiction section of life’s library to the non-fiction section.  

The card readers are already installed in some ACTION buses. This one is near a back door. Will ACTION allow people to board from the front and back doors, or is this a tag-off capable unit only ? 

The actual technology of tagging on and off using RFID technology is well proven, and available from multiple vendors. Forcing ACTION passengers to actually tag-on and tag-off may not be so easy, at least for a while. On the ACTBus website someone who has obviously seen some of the details posted the following (edited): 

“…the tag-off enforcement will be linked to the transfer system. In other words, you must tag-off if you intend to transfer otherwise you will be charged for a new journey. Which, of course, is exactly the wrong way to encourage tagging-off. MyWay will use the 'best available fare' method. Essentially you will pay for your monthly tickets in instalments: First you will be charged a single fare; then when you use it again the same day, you might be charged off-peak fare or another fare-saver. At some stage you might then advance to a weekly ticket and by week 4 you will be charged the equivalent of the monthly ticket at which point you won't be charged any more until one month after your first journey, then it starts again.”

What if you don’t have a MyWay card? What if you are one of the international tourists who wants to ride the fabled ACTION bus three hour trip from Tuggeranong to Gungahlin? The bus driver will still be able to sell you a ticket, but only a single trip or daily ticket. This is obviously designed to move people to purchasing a MyWay card; loading it with cash and making you use the electronic system.

Of course, how the long suffering bus drivers of Canberra will deal with the drug-addled booners pretending their creditless MyWay card is really in credit, will be another thing. I’m not sure this will stop beggars hustling for ticket money in Garema Place.

Although most people already use multi-trip or weekly/monthly tickets, the MyWay RFID card is a technology that people are familiar with and will be able to use and understand. Parents will know that their children will always have money for the bus, and that they will always be able to check the balance online. 

A 'Myki' terminal, at a Melbourne railway station. MyWay is similar technology, and logically these units could be installed at all interchanges, and future 'Park and Ride' facilities. 

As Deep Throat told Woodward and Bernstein ‘follow the money’ – and MyWay is no different. I have no doubt ACT government accountants are in favour of the MyWay system. It will cost each ACTION passenger ten dollars to buy their MyWay card, and then they must keep it in credit so that they can use it for travel (and whatever other future uses emerge).  The Chief Ministers press release announcing the contract indicated that the system would cost $8 million dollars to implement. If 30,000 people use ACTION each day (based on the 2002 PTFFS figure), that’s 300,000 dollars. If each of these people loads a $92.50 (monthly adult ticket) credit onto their MyWay ticket account, that’s a cool 2.7 million dollars in the first month.

Obviously, this ticketing system will pay for itself, and provide ACTION (or the ACT government) an instant 3 million a month that they will see relatively quickly, and not subject to percentages taken by newsagents and shopkeepers who currently sell ACTION tickets.  The current situation where rides are free due to faulty ticket machines, also sacrificing revenue, will also decline. This will obviously not turn ACTION into a profit generator, but it will enable the current grant that ACTION receives to provide services, to be spread a little further - perhaps into new buses or extending the REDEX system.

The new MyWay ticketing system is sensibly being based on proven technology, and being implemented by a company with a successful track record in these things. By not asking a ticketing system to do too many things (which was the problem with the Myki saga), or designing a system from scratch, this will ensure that the MyWay system will be rolled out across ACTIONS fleet fairly painlessly.

Any improvement in the public transport system should be applauded. By making public transport reliable, frequent and attractive, more people will choose to use it as their primary mode of transport. The time and administration savings that the MyWay system will bring about will translate into more efficient running, quicker entry and exit by passengers and hopefully buses that run according to their schedules. This simple improvement removes a source of stress, and will encourage more people to use the public transport system. 

UPDATE

On 30 August, the Canberra Times published an article pointing out how the outdated ticketing system is having a severe impact on estimating passenger numbers and revenue. 

4 comments:

  1. Drivers will be able to make the rear unit tag on and off, tag off only or inoperative

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thats good news. I still dont know why people are only allowed to exit from the front doors. By making the units tag on/off this means entering by the rear doors at interchanges will make the bus empty and fill a bit quicker, leading to improved timeliness.

    ReplyDelete
  3. This is just one more step towards the creation of a cashless society. Once cash disappears, people will eventually be forced to take a human implantable microchip, like the VeriChip, in order to buy or sell anything. These implanted chips are already being used by people in the Baja Beach resort night club in Spain.

    Interestingly, this was predicted some 1900+ years ago in the Book of Revelation. The coming implanted RFID chip based cashless society will be the fulfilment of the Mark of the Beast, more commonly know of as 666. Don't believe me? Try reading Revelation 13:16-18.

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