Hi-tech system to replace Metcard

PLASTIC smart cards will replace the failed Metcard ticket system on Melbourne's trams, trains and buses under a $400 million plan.

The commuter-friendly electronic swipe cards are designed to make ticketing easier and do away with queues.
Passengers will simply pass their card across a scanner.

The e-tag style card has a monetary value that can be topped up, and fares are deducted from it.

The cashless ticketing system will be introduced in 2007, when the Government's contract with Metcard supplier, OneLink, expires.

The Government has allocated $3.9 million in the Budget for the first year of a four-year program to develop the system.

But the Sunday Herald Sun understands the supply of the card system will cost more than $100 million, while operating costs could be as high as $300 million over 10 years.

This is in line with the NSW Government's $370 million, 10-year deal to introduce the cards later this year.

Victorian Transport Minister Peter Batchelor said electronic smart cards were the next generation in ticketing technology - making Metcards, which used magnetised strips, obsolete.

"We believe smart cards are the way to go,"he said.

Mr Batchelor said cost estimates would be drawn up and fine details of the system worked out before tenders were sought.

He vowed that the new system would avoid the "debacle"of OneLink's Metcard, which resulted in passengers deserting the system and fare evasion soaring to $50 million a year.

The Sunday Herald Sun revealed flaws in the Metcard system with an unprecedented survey of the entire rail network in 2001. It found one in four ticket machines was defective.

As a result, Mr Batchelor ordered an independent audit of the system.

When Metcards are replaced in March, 2007, the fare structure will remain the same and a small cash ticket system will service infrequent travellers who do not have smart cards.

Mr Batchelor said smart card systems across the world were being studied to ensure the Government "takes the time to actually get it right".

He said the Kennett Government had not done its homework before awarding the ticketing contract in 1997.

"That was a debacle from the Government's, contractors' and taxpayers' point of view,"Mr Batchelor said.

Mr Batchelor said he was excited about sophisticated applications of the smart card but the priority was to make sure an electronic ticketing system worked.

The Government will make significant savings on the annual cost of collecting $350 million in fares. Until electronic smart cards are introduced, the bulk of this money will be coins.

The card has the potential to be an e-purse, storing value that can be used for CityLink tolls, fast-food outlets, parking meters, newsagents, photograph booths and school canteens.

The cards, which are used in Hong Kong, London and other cities, can award bonus points to be used as discounts on future fares.

Experts say the new system will be more reliable because the scanning machines are electronic and, unlike the coin ticket machines, do not have moving parts to wear out.

They are also less vulnerable to vandalism.

Public transport operators spent $600,000 last year to protect ticket machines from vandals.

NSW has awarded a contract to ERG, the Perth-based multinational parent of OneLink, which will phase in the smart cards later this year with a fully operational system by 2006.

Source: HeraldSun Sunday | May 25, 2003


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