Using credit cards and iPhones to tap on to Melbourne public transport won’t be a network-wide reality until at least 2025, but the Victorian government has defended its new ticketing contract amid claims other bidders could have implemented the compatibility faster.
Upgrades to existing card readers on trams, buses and trains – as well as more ambitious schedules for the installation of new readers – were detailed in two proposals to overhaul the Myki system that would have seen credit card and iPhone payments accepted across the network before 2025, Guardian Australia understands.
However Conduent’s proposal, which was announced with a vague timeframe, was ultimately favoured by the Victorian government, which was seeking to improve passenger interaction on the problem-plagued Myki system, as well as to avoid potentially overpromising on a deadline it could risk missing.
The state’s public transport minister, Ben Carroll, announced earlier this month that the US-based company had been awarded a $1.7bn, 15-year contract to overhaul the Myki system.
Conduent was selected after an 18-month tender process, beating rival proposals from Cubic, which is behind London’s Oyster and Sydney’s Opal systems, and NTT Data, the Japanese company which has run Melbourne’s transport ticketing since 2010 when it acquired the firm that launched the Myki system in 2008.
During the announcement, Carroll said Melbourne’s ticketing system would move from being card-based to account-based, allowing for discounted fares and weekly caps.
Account-based ticketing is part of the second and final phase of the overhaul planned by Conduent.
The first phase is to accept open payments, which is the ability for a passenger to tap on with different cards or devices, such as credit cards and Apple Pay, rather than a physical Myki which residents and visitors are still required to buy for $6 . Carroll declared: “We will now reach the 21st century”.
But Conduent won’t take over from NTT Data until 1 December, with trials of the new technology to begin at some point in 2024 and then progressively roll out across Melbourne and regional Victoria.
Timeframes for both phases are vague. A start date for trials next year has not yet been set, a Conduent spokesperson said.
Likewise no date has been set for when payments using credit cards and iPhones will be accepted across the entire network.
Carroll had previously said the rollout could take 24 months. Neither the government nor Conduent have announced a year by which they aim to have network-wide open payments in place.
However, sources with knowledge of the tender process said that two of the proposals for the ticketing contract included dates for network-wide open payments before 2025.
Roughly three-quarters of Melbourne’s Myki readers are capable of recognising contactless credit card taps, however the compatibility has not been enabled by the operator.
It is understood that among the other proposals, a greater reliance on modest upgrades to these readers would have allowed for a much faster rollout of the first phase of the overhaul.
Another source said the government was conscious of how ticketing rollouts around the world are often late and wanted to temper public expectations by announcing a vague timeframe.
One of the ticketing proposals was cheaper than Conduent’s proposal, the Guardian understands.
“Two of the providers proved they could do it quicker than they asked for,” one source said.
“There was a view by some inside the government that they wanted a shiny new system across the network, including new readers. They could have brought much of the functionality promised with what’s already there, but if it all looks the same to passengers they think ‘what’s new?’.”
The Victorian government denied other bids proposed a network-wide overhaul before 2025, however it’s unclear if this relates to the full overhaul or the first phase of open payment capability.
“We have every confidence in the new ticketing system that will be employed,” Carroll said. “The new contract with Conduent will see Myki evolve and provide a greater benefit to passengers – by using proven technology to make it quicker and easier to top up, touch on and travel across the state’s world-class public transport system,” he said.
The claims that other bids offered faster results come after reports that Conduent has encountered problems in other open payments in other cities, including Paris and Montreal, where physical tickets are still required. Conduent’s ticketing system in Philadelphia has also run into problems.
London’s public transport began accepting payment by credit cards more than 10 years ago. In Sydney, open payments were accepted across all public transport forms by 2019.
The Public Transport Users Association’s spokesperson, Daniel Bowen, said there were roughly 20,000 devices on the Myki network. “Just physically replacing tens of thousands of devices is a huge job”.
Bowen was concern that open payments might not be ready in time for regional Victoria to host the 2026Commonwealth Games. “It’s a race against time, given tourists would be the main beneficiaries.
“We’re definitely playing catchup, but at the same time I don’t think passengers would want to rush this,” Bowen said.
• The headline and text of this story were amended on 29 May 2023 to clarify that the Myki network is not yet accepting iPhone payments. The system does take Android payments.