The Institute recently played host to Professor John Alford of the Australia New Zealand School of Government, which trains top level Federal and state civil servants. He gave staff a demonstration case study – on the failure of the Melbourne equivalent of Boris bikes.
Failure on biking
The project involved 600 bikes located at 50 hire stations across the city centre. Melbourne is pretty flat and bike friendly with 100km of bike paths. But the scheme generated fewer than 70 rides a day in the first two months after it went live. In the 10 times bigger London scheme that period generated 1 million rides – or more than 16,000 a day.
The answer is quite simple. In London, Boris bikers wobble around bare-headed. Fewer than five per cent of Boris bikers used a helmet. The safety conscious Aussies levy a $147 insta-fine on anyone caught without a helmet. Casual bike hire and mandatory helmet use don’t mix – but no one implementing the scheme had thought about how real potential bike hirers (as opposed to the downtown students they trialled it on) might behave. That is an all too frequent design flaw.
...and on electronic travel cards
The second Melbourne transport issue is their reviled version of London’s hugely successful Oyster card. When I have visitors to London, I make sure they equip themselves with an Oyster card on arrival. It’s convenient, easy to buy and much, much cheaper than ordinary fares. When I suggested to friends in Melbourne that I might buy a myki card on my holiday, they looked at me as though I was mad.
It turned out not just to be mad, but almost impossible. First, mykis are hard to buy. They are available from a couple of downtown outlets (no good in the suburbs) and you can't order online.
Second, the promise on mykis is that they cost you "no more" than your ordinary weekly ticket (and the existing tickets are a perfectly good deal). So no good for visitors and no incentive for regular commuters.
Third, trams and buses didn’t accept them at the start – losing one of the huge Oyster advantages. Six months in, only five per cent of Melbourne train passengers had switched to myki. That has slowly begun to increase, but it still accounts for just one in five commutes.
Fourth, the technology is notoriously flaky and liable to overcharge. When it launched, press reports suggested that one in 10 myki users were being overcharged. And the whole project came in massively over budget. And for proud Melburnians the final insult was that Perth had implemented a system that worked at about a tenth of the equivalent cost.
An uncertain future
So, on paper, the idea sounds exactly like Oyster. But a series of poor implementation choices made the myki a hot election issue in Melbourne. The newly elected Victorian government premier, Ted Baillieu, has launched a review into the $1.35 billion system, describing it as "a financial disaster and a functional disaster for commuters."
There may be many dividing lines in next year’s London Mayoral elections, but binning Oyster won’t be one of them.