Like many of my fellow Melbournians, I was recently forced to try my hands with using a Myki card on our distinguished public transport system. When I say “forced” I mean it: through the Baillieu government removing all sale points of the Metcard other than the stations themselves, the risk of having no ticket to go home with has risen significantly enough for me to look at the less greener fields of the Myki.
When I say “less greener” I mean it: we all know how badly the Myki project was managed, and how buggy its final deliverable is. But there are other aspects that are often ignored, such as Myki collecting a nice database on where and when the people of Melbourne were as well as their travel habits. As always, little attention is paid to this privacy nightmare. Think about it this way, though: if I was to knock on your door and tell you that from now on I would log all your car trips for you in a database you have no access to, am I to expect anything but a punch to my face? Yet we allow Myki and our State Government to get away bruise free.
The main topic of this post is not the discussion of privacy matters, but rather the tale of what took place when I was forcibly coerced into embracing the Myki system. In simpler words: here is the tale of what took place between Myki and I as I started using it.
The Myki system has been in production at Melbourne since 2009. During January 2010 the State Government decided to give Myki cards away for free (they usually cost $10), so I got myself one. I did not, however, use it or do anything with it up until a week ago when I determined I can no longer avoid it.
Already having a Myki card in my wallet, the next step I needed to take before using the card in anger was charging it with money. Our saga begins there…
I went to the Myki website, logged into the account I had established two years ago, put my credit card info in, clicked the “Confirm” button, and… And the site crashed. I wouldn’t have minded if that had happened at any other point of the transaction, but when it happens at the time of confirming my credit card it is rather worrying: was I charged or wasn’t I? The Myki site couldn’t reliably tell me.
In the spirit of sportsmanship I went in again a tad later, and this time around my Myki got charged. So to speak, that is, because the confirmation screen told me it would take up to 24 hours for the money to reach my card:
On the other hand, the confirmation email that was sent to me in parallel told me it would take at least 24 hours for the money to reach my card:
Given that the only way both the confirmation screen and the email can be right is if it takes the transaction exactly 24 hours I was rather puzzled. As in, puzzled as to how a facility that has been used by hundreds of thousands of Victorians for over two years cannot get such simple text coordinated across its emails and website. I will also say that the mere fact it takes so long for the money to get through indicates a badly integrated system in the first place: I have been ordering at Amazon.com since the mid nineties, and it was always able to show me my purchases on the spot (and neither did it ever crash in the middle of a financial transaction).
Arriving at the train station the next morning in a rather insecure form, I tried my Myki card just for the sake of it. I touched on for the very first time! It turned out the money got to my card in less than 24 hours and I was beeped in.
At the other end of my travelling I touched my card off, as they say. And? And nothing happened! I wasn’t let out. I was not particularly surprised by this failure, as I have been witnessing dozens of disgruntled Myki users locked out of exiting the train station over the years. I didn’t expect it to happen to me during my first ever use of the Myki, though. What a welcoming!
Like many other before me, I went to the help of the station’s attendant. He took my card, got out of the station, touched it on again, went inside through the now open gate, and handed me my card back. I touched off again (after waiting the queue all over again) and this time it worked. Again, it worked – but with lots of uncertainty in the air for this first time user. Does it mean I’ll be charged twice? And given that I touched on before, what was the deal anyway?
That was the tale of my entrance into the heart of Myki darkness. The main message I take out of my experiences is that the system is not production ready; yet it has been in production for more than two years now and is actively being forced on us as of early 2012. Clearly, none of the relevant decision makers have been using Myki; they just get some high paid consultancy to write them an ass covering report, and move on through their lives with the aid of taxpayer funded cars.