We're stuck with a ticket to deride
AFTER a long, excruciating gestation, myki finally became Melbourne's only ticket to ride last Saturday. But there are few signs the city is ready to accept it. If anything, our collective resentment at having been lumped with such an ill-formed ticketing system seems to be growing stronger.
This past week I've seen a woman lecture a tourist pair on a tram in detail about the many ways in which myki sucks; a train passenger give a Metro ticket inspector lip about why he shouldn't have to pay because his taxes were already contributing to the system's colossal $1.5 billion price tag (he did this after showing his valid card); and a fleeting attempt to launch a mass civil disobedience campaign on Facebook. (''What if we all refused to use it? What could they do?'')
So it was strangely refreshing, at a time when Melburnians are egging each other on towards mob rage about how much they hate myki, to hear a visitor put forward a modest view that, just maybe, the system is not quite as bad as all that.
In a letter to The Age, Yvonne Parker of Portarlington wrote: ''On the first morning of a four-day stay in Melbourne, an interstate friend and I walked into a 7-Eleven store near Melbourne Central, wearing our ignorance about myki on our sleeves. Within minutes we were on an Elizabeth Street tram, using my friend's new myki and my previously unused one. Obviously we country and interstate people can get our heads around things more quickly than you Melburnians, judging by all your readers' complaints.''
Allow me to put forward a modest view of my own: Melbourne, it's time to kiss and make up with myki.
Or, to steal a line from a well-worn pop classic, if you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with. It's true we don't have London's super duper Oyster card or Hong Kong's incredible Octopus. Instead we are stuck with myki, and we need to try to make it work for us.
This is not to say that it's a perfect system, or even a good one. Myki is heavily flawed in its current state, to put it politely.
Myki's list of flaws is legion and has been well covered: bus passengers being overcharged; the four-year card expiry date; the failure of the new myki gates at busy stations to clear passengers any quicker than the old Metcard barriers; the way vending machines spit out two receipts when you ask for one, and one when you ask for none.
But all these problems can be fixed with time. As evidence, the Transport Ticketing Authority recently resolved another myki irritant - the need to post a blocked myki card in the mail to have it unblocked - and made it possible to do this online.
The beauty of smartcard ticketing systems is that they can be improved over time.
Oyster was full of bugs when it was introduced to London, and Londoners hated it. Ten years later, most of its bugs have been killed and Oyster is rated one of the world's best smartcards. Who's to say we can't do that here?
At any rate, myki's biggest failing is no design flaw, but a political decision to strip passengers of the option to use short-term tickets.
This decision promises to inconvenience more travellers more often than any other myki flaw (except for some charities and a few lucky pensioners riding Mornington Peninsula buses), and those it will hit hardest are visitors to Melbourne and people who can't afford to keep a card topped up. It also makes it impossible to buy a ticket on a tram for the first time in Melbourne's history.
The Baillieu government has never properly justified its decision here, other than a sketchy explanation that it would ''reduce the risk of further unnecessary cost increases''.
The decision was akin to an act of sabotage by a government more concerned about its bottom line than making the system work for the many who must rely on it.
Myki may be Labor's bastard child, but the Baillieu government adopted it and its failure to explain why it dumped short-term tickets means it will rightly wear any voter discontent about the issue.
But even this decision is not irrevocable. One interested observer noted this week there was a golden opportunity for a political party to take a promise at the next election to bring short-term tickets back.
Then Melbourne might truly have a myki system it could live with.
Adam Carey is transport reporter.