Road pricing in London, 18th century

The Age reckons myki is “failing at maths”, but I wonder if the key failing is actually with the way it’s managed rather than with any technical shortcomings.

This report in Tuesday’s paper said “hundreds of travellers (who use myki) are paying too much”. It follows an earlier report by The Age, back in April, when it was claimed that “one third of myki bills are inaccurate”.

Both these stories refer to MykiLeaks, a web site set up by Monash University student Jonathan Mullins. It enables travellers to review (some aspects of) the accuracy of myki statements on-line.

The Age’s latest report indicates a big improvement since April – the proportion of inaccurate statements is down from 33% to 15%. But if valid, that’s still a very high error rate even if, as The Age’s reporter says, the total dollars involved aren’t significant (the combined overcharge across circa 300 faulty statements was $1700, with the biggest error being a traveller charged $18 instead of $6).

But there are reasons to be careful about how much weight to put on the MykiLeaks results. One is that we don’t know how accurate the MykiLeaks algorithm is. Another is that only 2,000 statements have been submitted to the site since it started last December. That’s a very small proportion of the million plus myki cards on issue.

Such a small sample might not be problematic if it were randomly selected, but it seems unlikely the kind of people who use MykiLeaks are representative of the whole body of myki users. They could have good reason to be wary if, for example, they are in the small group who make the kind of complex, multi modal trips where myki appears to be weakest.

I don’t know for sure how accurate myki actually is or even what most of the errors are, but I don’t put a lot of store by MykiLeak’s findings. But that doesn’t really matter all that much because the key issue in my view is the poor public perception of myki – it’s pretty clearly a tainted brand. I’m the first to be wary of on-line polls, but surely it’s not without significance that a staggering 91% of the 5,657 readers who voted in The Age’s poll answered ‘No’ to the question: “Do you trust myki to charge you the correct amount?”.

Moreover, read through the comments on the article and it’s evident there are other issues too. Quite a few people have difficulty understanding their account statements. Others are annoyed by the considerable delay between topping up their account on-line via credit card, and when the funds become available for use. Many resent having to identify errors themselves and then contact a call centre to have it fixed up.

If The Age’s report is a fair account, the Transport Ticketing Authority (TTA) seems to be taking a defensive posture. That’s not good for business and it’s not smart politics either.

The best counter the Chief Executive, Bernie Carolan, could manage was to warn “myki users against giving their personal information to the (MykiLeaks) website”.  He also said he couldn’t confirm MykiLeak’s claims because the Government doesn’t have access to the site. Just as he did back in April, Mr Carolan again provided this reassuring, customer-friendly advice: “If a customer is concerned they have paid more for their fare than required, they should contact the myki call centre on 13 69 54”.

This sounds to me like an organisation that’s a little out of touch with its customers. People don’t want to hang on the phone to a call centre to correct a mistake they didn’t make. Moreover they expect the TTA will identify its own overcharging errors, not leave it up to customers and wait till they complain. Perhaps most of all, they want to be reassured – they want the TTA to tell them honestly and plainly if they’re being over-charged or not. Mr Carolan didn’t answer that question – he responded with bluster.

The TTA needs to stop being defensive and start being positive. Customers shouldn’t have to wait for a Mr Mullins to materialise in order to get basic information about the accuracy of the system. But given they have waited, the TTA should’ve negotiated with him long ago. If his program is a dud, then say so clearly and unambiguously. But if it’s reliable and accurate, the TTA should acknowledge any errors on its own part. It should explain the circumstances of any errors openly and frankly and put them in context so customers can make their own mind up.

The TTA needs to be pro-active about winning the trust of its customers. Not all travellers understand it can take days for an on-line credit card payment to be processed by the bank and the funds deposited to his or her myki account. It could make sense for the TTA to think about taking on this risk – the amounts at stake are relatively small beer and building bridges to customers might just be a smart business strategy at the moment.

And there’s really no excuse for account statements that a substantial proportion of customers don’t understand – public transport shouldn’t be an IQ test. Either the market testing of the statements was inadequate, the explanation is deficient, or the charging system’s too complex.

The TTA should see customers concerns as a message rather than an annoyance.