Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Smart Cards on Public Transport

A report out today tells of how here in Melbourne we evade our public transport fares in a big way. We do this because we can, the system lost it's conductors and number of years ago. They were replaced with an automated ticketing system, that hasn't really worked very well since it's inception.

The way it works: You buy a ticket either at an outlet such as a milk bar, tattslotto shop, or on the tram. You have to know what type of ticket you want, how long you want to travel for. 2 hours or more, where you want to go, zone 1,2, or 3. You have to provide a status I.D. if you want a concession ticket. As you can see just getting the ticket is a pain. Once you have the ticket and you get on the tram you are supposed to validate the ticket. This is done by passing the ticket into a slot in a validating machine these are mounted along the center aisle of the tram. Once you have done all this you can take a seat and rest easy. That is until a ticket inspector comes along to check on all those passengers who haven't bought a ticket, or validated their pre-bought one. Even the validating is a contentious issue. The law is vague about whether you actually have to validate a pre-purchased valid ticket.
So we have public transport fraud.

At the time of this system being put out for tender, there were all sorts of cock ups. Culminating in broken contracts, court cases and overruns in costs etc etc. Now we are on the brink of yet another system, that in my opinion will be even worse.

The new system proposes we use a smart card to pay for our public transport trips. Smart cards have been around for a while, but for a variety of reasons they are not in common usage yet. The main reason for that I think is that what appeared to be a secure card re privacy turned out to be not so.

My main objection to using a smart card in this way is that a smart card has a lot of private information on it. It has money stored in it. It requires sophisticated software. And all this is expected to work very quickly on a busy commuter tram with queues of passengers lurching this way and that, as the inexperienced traveler tries to decipher the information required to purchase the correct fare with the correct zone correct status etc etc. [See above for fare pricing]. I think the designers of this system haven't thought through the everyday practicalities of traveling on public transport. In a similar way to the current ticketing system which is still not working properly.
I know for one I wouldn't want to be harassed at a ticket machine on a busy tram with a faulty or used up smart card.
Next time I will suggest an alternative system.