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Melbourne's much-maligned myki smartcard system will go live on trams and buses on Sunday even though the $1.35 billion operation still has problems, Public Transport Minister Martin Pakula has announced.
Mr Pakula said today that ''bugs'' are likely to emerge when the bungled system - which is $350 million over budget - is up and running.
he myki smartcard was meant to take over from Metcard on March 1, 2007 and has been a thorn in the side of the Brumby government.
Track the smartcard debacle from go to woe
It has been in use on buses in six regional towns since late 2008, and on Melbourne's trains since just before January this year, but the government has refused to say until today when it will be turned on for trams and buses in Melbourne.
In a move that will quell commuters' fears of queues at ticket validators, Mr Pakula said only zone two commuters will have to touch off on trams.
The minister said it was important to get the system working so that it could be properly tested.
"There are some bugs that only emerge when you are in a live environment," he said.
Metcard system to run until Easter next year
Mr Pakula, who has been Public Transport minister for six months this week, said it had been the main focus of his time in the job.
Less than 5 per cent of trips are being made using a myki card on Melbourne's trains at present.
The Metcard system will run alongside the myki system until at least Easter next year, Mr Pakula said today.
He said that "this isn’t about turning Metcard off overnight".
He said "somewhere between $400 million and $500 million" had already been spent on creating myki, and that the total cost of the system was $1.35 billion.
Mr Pakula would not say what proportion of myki readers would have to be not working on a tram before the entire tram would be considered not working. Each tram in Melbourne has at least eight validators on it. Some have up to 23.
Zone 1 commuters 'won't have to touch off'
Mr Pakula said commuters would have to touch on and off trains and buses, and would have to touch off on trams if they were travelling in zone two only.
"Otherwise, you touch on and you won’t have to touch off."
He could not say when myki would be turned on for V/Line trains.
“If you are already using myki on trains you will be able to use the same card to get around on Melbourne’s trams and buses,” he said.
“And if you already have a myki card and have been waiting to use it on trams and buses, then you have the choice to use it from Sunday.
“If you want to continue using Metcard because you are not ready to switch to myki, the two systems will operate alongside each other until at least Easter next year.”
Opposition slams timing of announcement
Opposition transport spokesman Terry Mulder, however, slammed the timing of Mr Pakula's announcement, saying it coincided with today's parliamentary inquiry into the myki debacle.
"Today's myki news is similar to the way John Brumby handled the announcement about how Footscray residents will be turfed out of their homes for a new train line," he said.
"It is more about Labor's media strategy than anything else.
"John Brumby and Martin Pakula know that at 1pm today, the Upper House parliamentary inquiry into train services is starting to examine the myki debacle.
"So an hour before at 12 noon, Martin Pakula suddenly announces that myki will start on trams and Melbourne's buses next Sunday."
Mr Pakula said every team of ticket inspectors would carry a myki reader to check tickets.
And Mr Pakula said he expected there to be problems as the system went completely live for trams and buses, as well as the 25,000 to 30,000 travellers already using myki on trains.
"There is obviously going to be a bedding-down period," he said.
Pakula defends delay and cost
He defended the immense cost and time taken to implement myki. Last Monday marked five years since Labor signed the contract to bring in myki with US-led consortium Kamco. The Kamco consortium had never built a complete ticketing system from scratch before.
"Last week there was a bit of excitement about the five-year period but that’s how long it has taken to implement these sorts of ticketing systems around the world. Big reforms are difficult."
He said Metcard would soon be redundant technology that would need to be replaced.
"While it is working well, Metcard is old technology and it is technology that where continuing to get parts for it is going to be increasingly difficult. In those circumstances we were always going to have to replace it."
No special offer for new users
There are 430,000 myki cards already in circulation in Victoria.
Mr Pakula said there was no special offer such as the one in January, when myki cards were free to those who registered for one.
"That ($10) is the cost. The myki card costs money to produce. I’m not ruling out that at some point in the future that there might be another free offer. We were pretty clear about the deadline for the free offer."
Transport Ticketing Authority chief executive Bernie Carolan said the system was not yet perfect.
"It (launching on Sunday) doesn’t mean we think it’s absoulte perfect," he said, but the system would go live "and then (we can) identify the issues in a live environment".
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