Metcard - Public Field Trials

Page last modified/checked: Sunday, 6 October 2002

Bus Routes 732, 734, 735, 754

On and from 20 August 1996, the first public field trials of the Automated Ticketing system commenced on the Ventura Bus Company routes 732, 734, 735 and 754. Extensive testing of software and hardware equipment and driver familiarisation had taken place at this company's Knoxfield depot. 15 buses had been fitted out; sufficient enough to operate all services on the above routes from this date. Some media attention was devoted to this event.

This flyer was available on these routes until stocks ran out.

The following are examples of Metcards obtained on the first day. Note the unique slogan wording which indicated that all tickets issued on these bus routes were free of charge on this day only.

Issued on Route 734

Issued on Route 732

Rail - Ashburton station

On Friday 19th April 1996 the media announced that the first rail based ticketing equipment would be installed at Ashburton station from the following Monday. Work went ahead and by the end of that day the first tangible signs of Metcard coming to the rail system were on show.

Getting to the heart of the matter

A validator takes shape

The finished installation during the PTC's internal equipment testing program. Inside the station, the first Booking Office Machine and monitoring equipment was also part of this.
Photo taken 29th April 1996

Public field trials commenced on Wednesday 18th September 1996. These placards became a common sight across Melbourne as the system was rolled out. This photo was taken on the following day.

On that day only (18th September 1996), all rail+2, 2-hour, daily and 60 plus tickets were issued free from the vending machines and the booking office. The equipment at Ashburton was then placed in test mode over the next three weeks; its placing into public use was partially delayed (it is believed) due to problems with the vending machine recognising $20.00 notes.

The field trial was extended to include the rest of the Alamein line during the 2nd and 3rd week of October. The stations from Camberwell to East Richmond were bought into use in stages, followed by the Glen Waverley line during November-December 1996. As automatic fare gates were intended for Camberwell, Glenferrie and Glen Waverley, the free standing validators were thus never installed at these locations, and the green tram/bus type validators were provided in lieu, distinctly as a temporary measure. This occurred at other stations in the Metropolitan area for the same reasons.

Tram - Route 75 - East Burwood

The 75 tram route was phased in from mid-September 1996; the actual date that the first machines went into public use would probably be impossible to trace now. It was common to board any tram and find the machines and/or validators not in service or closed. Camberwell Depot also operates route 70 (Wattle Park), however, this service is run primarily by the "A" class trams, whereras East Burwood is operated by the larger "B" class articulated cars, therefore the initial installation and testing could be confined to this route. After the machines were commissioned, conductors remained on board for about a fortnight to assist customers in their use. They could also sell tickets when the machines were out of service, or if customers only had notes, but after this period the public were on their own - something that many of them did not relish.

From issue 6 of the "AT Update" comes this interesting map showing the geographic extent of the AT pilot phase launch area. This is the only source where a complete description of what was officially termed "the public field trial area" has ever been found. The bus routes incorporated Ventura, Waverley Transit and Driver Bus Lines. Interestingly, the route 70 tram does not appear on this map.

Click here for larger image (78k)

The bus routes shown on this map were progressively fitted with the necessary equipment and went into public use with little delay. On the other hand, the continual technical difficulties with the route 75 (and 70) tram delayed the AT program from extending onto other tram routes for at least another 15 months. On the rail side, all associated cabling, conduits and central management for this more complex aspect of the system continued to be installed during 1997 across most of the Metropolitan area. The Sandringham line was the first to be equipped throughout with vending machines and validators, followed by the Frankston and Pakenham/Cranbourne lines, in stages, during mid-1997. This equipment stood idle and shrouded in bright blue (padlocked) canvas covers branded with wording indicating to the public to watch for news releases in their local press regarding its imminent introduction. As we know, this period was protracted and became a visible embarassment to the Government and the Onelink consortium. During 1997, the former Kennett government publicly threatened to cancel the contract with Onelink, citing ongoing problems with vending machines on board trams at Camberwell depot, and the public dissatisfaction with the performance of station vending machines. The Government set a standard of 99% or better performance requirement on this equipment, and were not prepared to sign off the system and commence payment to the Onelink consortium until these problems had been ironed out.