Metcard - A brief history

Page last modified/checked: Sunday, 6 October 2002
The origins of Metcard can be traced back to the MetTicketing Taskforce, set up by the Victorian State Government in July 1990, to "inquire into community interest in the public transport system and particularly in getting the ticketing system right".

The experience with the previous "Neighbourhood" fare system (13th November 1983 to 26th August 1989), which was riddled with anomolies and grew too big for its own good, and the subsequent 3-zone "Met Fare System" (from 27th August 1989) which had well-documented problems with the scratch ticket concept (and constant tampering with what should have otherwise been a simple system) perhaps leads to this comment being made by the taskforce.

It is clear from this report that many of the recommendations of the taskforce became important aspects of the Metcard system - indeed, the team did what they were asked to do quite well. It is realistic to expect that the taskforce would not have been considering privatisation of the Victorian public transport system in their recommendations; but they could NEVER have forseen that the metropolitan ticketing and fare collection system itself would be privatised. The extent to which the automatic fare collection project was implemented drastically reduced the number of staff employed for ticket selling purposes, further allowing the various transport operations to become viable sales items. The taskforce suggested that automatic fare collection could be used to enhance and improve the whole sphere of Melbourne's transport ticketing for both the user and the operator - and this certainly occurred; however there will always be anomilies and extremes that the public will encounter as technology creeps into our everyday lives. The Metcard ticketing system is by no means immune to this.

It was not until after a change of Government in 1992 that the wheels started to turn in regard to automated ticketing. The then Liberal Government in Victoria called tenders for the design, supply, installation and on-going maintenance of an automated ticketing system for the metropolitan transport network. A number of bidders applied, including Thorn-EMI, PRODATA, Alcatel, MNL Wayfarer, amongst others. We are happy to be able to illustrate a number of the demonstration tickets supplied by these manufacturers to the PTC in mid 1993. The August 1993 edition of the PTC staff newsletter "Turning Point" gave the first detailed insight into the tendering process and the Government's high expectations of what the future AFC system would mean for Melbourne. Click here for a scan.

In September 1993 the "Onelink Transit Consortium" was announced as the preferred tenderer. Onelink comprises: ERG Australia (Perth), Fujitsu Australia, Mayne Nickless (Armaguard) and the National Australia Bank. The Government were at pains to assure the public that they were getting the best system possible. By late September 1993, dummy fare gates had been exhibited at the Royal Melbourne Show to begin the public education process. By the end of December 1993, continuing problems with prototype equipment on trams (particularly the "Z" class) had already soured peoples enthusiasm and perceptions of the system.

Testing continued through 1994, but it soon became clear to those involved with the testing procedures and PTC staff that the realistic operation of an automated ticketing system was vastly different from what "looked good on paper" - even if it was glossy !!

During 1994, firstly the PTC's own Automated Fare Collection (AFC) team commenced distributing their own "Bulletin" to staff, followed in May by Onelink's "Training for AFC" newsletter. The PTC's staff newsletter "Turning Point" also started their regular "Update" from July.

In June of that year, the Government outlined to staff and the public the future directions of the operation of the metropolitan rail system. A key element to this and pivotal to the AFC system itself was the "Premium Station" plan. The remainder of 1994 continued to give the impression that the system was not too far away, through staff bulletins and the first public information handout.

On a related topic, in April 1994 the National Bus Company commenced using console type AES Prodata ticket machines for the issuing of their own thermal paper type tickets. Signifigantly, when Metcard was rolled-out across the metropolitan bus system, these same machines were installed on all other buses together with validators. The software development of this equipment was different to the National Bus machines and meant that National Bus were unable to install validators to embrace Metcard.
See article in The Age: April 2nd 1994.

1995 saw the Government threaten to fine Onelink over the protacted delays to the impementation of the AFC project. The media was peppered with articles related to this and other on-going technical problems. Keep in mind that not one permanent as against ergonomic aspect of the AFC system had even been seen by the public. From this period we are able to show two interesting ticket examples whose purpose appears to be the formatting and arrangement of the type of information that would ultimately appear on Metcards.

Things remained relatively quiet until April 1996 when media reports indicated that initial istallation would soon begin on the rail system. Around this time wooden dummy fare gates appeared at Spencer St then Flinders St and mobile installations were trialled at Caulfield, Oakleigh, Dandenong, Ringwood and Blackburn. Meanwhile, at the Ventura Bus Company Knoxfield depot, all buses had been fitted with automatic ticketing equipment. The installation of AFC equipment on the tramways system was still lagging, with only Camberwell Depot so far being fitted with a computer and associated equipment.

The first ticket vending machines were installed at Ashburton station on Monday 22nd April 1996. From this month, Onelink started distributing their "AT Update" to operational staff, reaching issue number 8 by Christmas 1996, then vanishing.

In summary, the entire Automatic Fare Collection system is privately operated by the Onelink Transit Systems Pty Ltd consortium consisting of ERG, Fujitsu (Australia) and Mayne Nickless; financing coming from the National Australia Bank. This consortium designed, installed and continues to operate the "Metcard" automatic fare collection system under a contract entered into during May 1994 and expiring in 2007. Essentially this arrangement represented the first phase of the privatisation process - something that the public are still largely oblivious to. The roll-out (August 1996 to April 1998) and "acceptance" (November 1997) of the AFC system was conducted when the transport system was still under Government operation. During 1998, a corporate structure was created in preparation for the ultimate privatisation of the state owned rail and tram network. In so far as the Melbourne metropolitan area is concerned, this gave us four stand alone business units known as Hillside Trains, Bayside Trains, Swanston Trams and Yarra Trams. These were derived from physical and operational aspects of the rail and tram networks. These same marketing names were adopted by the new franchisees when they took over during August & September 1999, however, during 2001 these companies relaunched under their own names giving us "Connex", "M>Train" and "M>Tram" respectively. The "Yarra Trams" name was retained by the parent company.

The key point of the Metcard ticket system is its ability to identify every ticket that is passed through it; a procedural requirement that the travelling public know as "validation". It is this process alone that identifies how many people are using the rail, tram or bus system and where they are entering on to it. In theory, from this figure the operating companies can be correctly apportioned the amount of revenue they are owed for usage of their services. This task is carried out by a state government-created body known as the Revenue Clearing House. Onelink also receive a percentage of this revenue for having provided the tickets, infrastructure and management of the AFC system. This whole arrangement may seem complicated and is quite likely unique within the public transport sphere.