Myki Mess Is Labor’s Shame. Still

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When Myki was introduced by Melbourne Metro back in 2008 there was an air of excitement for a long overdue modernisation of public transport in Victoria. The technology, by then widely used in other first world countries, promised to simplify and speed up the daily commute. RightofB tears Labor a new one.

The project started in May of 2005 with a projected delivery date of March 2007. 18 months is a very short turnaround for a project of this size. By the end of 2013 (8 years on) the project was still not signed and closed off. $1.5billion later and Melbourne finally had a world-class touch-less travel card system. Or did they?

Estimates put the number of daily metro travellers between 550-610,000, with support at 220 stations. The London underground, by contrast, moves virtually the entire population of Victoria in a single day. 4.8 million people board the London Tube daily, and their Oyster card is integrated with ground rail and bus services.

The Oyster card released in 2003 was in planning stages for 3 years and in roll-out phase for 16 months. By 2012, 80 million Oyster cards had been issued. The cards can be used across Underground, buses, rail and even gets you onto ferries puffing up and down the Thames. The Oyster and Myki technologies are exactly the same but the difference in speed is unbelievable. The Oyster card requires a supersonic wave within 15cm of the reader whereas the Myki card requires multiple drags of direct contact with the reader resulting in mass annoyance for users and those piling up behind in a peak time rush. The saddest result being that the old paper card system was faster to top up and use, and did not print a receipt when you specifically selected “no receipt!”

Five years is a lifetime in technology, so how can the Oyster card be a superior product to the brand new Myki, while servicing 8 times the number of commuters at virtually the same price tag? The answer unfortunately is a familiar one… government. The Victorian Labor government and Transport for Victoria thought they knew better. Why use a proven system from proven companies when you can reinvent the wheel?

While TranSys (a consortium of proven and reliable businesses) was conducting research with institutions like MIT to design the Oyster card system as a world class gem, VicGov was piling on local project managers at $1,000 per day. Their jobs were to navigate bureaucrats whose only mission in life is to say “no” until they receive their government pension. These ambitionless operators don’t like change. Blocking and complaining are government KPI’s. Process makes government officials happy. The more process and regulation the better! No one wants responsibility and everyone tries to cover their backsides.

The consortium that won the Myki project from VicGov was Keane, which consisted of ANZ locals Downer Engineering and Ascom, both underwhelming and lacking the skillset for this project type. Suspicions about the tender process were raised but ultimately swept under the rug while the rules and regulations set by government impaired these relative newcomers.

The same questions tend to arise after government projects. Why were the requirements not specified properly from the start? If the research had been undertaken by a high school student it would have pointed to multiple successful implementations around the world, including London. The simplest answer is usually correct: corruption in government process and poor fiscal and project management. That’s the only logical reason VicGov managed to screw up a proven template to deliver a subpar, out of date and overpriced product.

Over and over we see the results of government taking on large commercial projects and every time we see them fail. Time and again we get slugged with a tax or a higher cost and it’s due to government oversight, overspend and over regulation. And always with their partners in crime the unions lurking on the fringes. They spend more money and achieve less while we end up with the bill. Australia used to be the trendsetters for projects like this, the young country used to punch above its weight by being ambitious, daring and courageous. When will we wake up? When will we stop government involvement in these projects?

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result.

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