Monday, 21 November 2011

MYKI: it's your key to bureaucratic frustration

I received a cheque in the mail today.  I had been waiting for it for five weeks.

(c) divacultura 2012

That's right, it's a bank cheque for 94 cents!  I called Westpac Bank to find out how much they charge to issue a bank cheque.  The call centre operator advised me that they charge $10 for a bank cheque regardless of who is purchasing the cheque.  $10!  More than ten times the value of the cheque itself.

The story of this 94 cent cheque starts at the beginning of this year when I took up the opportunity to try out MYKI, the new "smart card" ticketing system for public transport in Melbourne.  An offer of a free card was made as an incentive for travelling Melbournians to make the switch from the paper Metcards to the smart MYKI.  Usually the card costs $10 to purchase and then money is added online, over the phone or at machines at stations.

I'd waited a while before actually using the card because I'd heard there were still lots of problems.  Shortly after I started to use MYKI I became eligible for concession travel.  To pay only the concession fare, I needed to have a concession MYKI.  I went to the myki website to find out what I had to do.  I had to download and print a form, fill it out by hand or type it and print it and then take it to the "discovery centre" at Southern Cross Station.  At the discovery centre, I handed over the form and the card with its balance of around $20 to an aqua clad woman and was given a concession MYKI with a zero balance in return.  I was given a handwritten receipt noting the date and details of the card surrendered.  The $9.80 administrative fee was waived because the change of card and consequent refund was due to a change in concession status.

Given the smart card technology and the world we live in, I expected that the balance on my old card would be topped up onto the new card on the spot and then the Public Transport Ticketing Authority would complete whatever process they needed to follow on their own.

My expectations were soon found to be ridiculous.  Here's what actually happens:  the forms and cards are sent by post to somewhere else in Melbourne to be processed.  The date on the receipt acknowledging surrender of the card is meaningless when it comes to counting the quoted 21 business days it takes to process the refund - they only start counting once the form has been processed at the place where it was sent to and even if it was processed on a Saturday, the clock doesn't start ticking until the following Monday.

Once that has happened they buy a bank cheque and send it to you in the mail.  My bank cheque is dated 15 November and I received it today, 21 November.  I'll bank it tomorrow and it will take another 5 business days to clear, so if I'm lucky I will have access to my 94 cents by next Monday, 28 November.  I originally requested this refund on 18 October!  That's 42 calendar days, 30 business days, before I get my own money back.  Lucky I didn't need it to pay the rent.

Here's what the Public Transport Ombudsman wrote to me in May this year about the process:

"Currently the quoted time for a refund cheque is 21 days which accounts
 for processing of the refund form, two levels of approval, sending the
 details to the bank, having the bank create the cheque and delivery to your
 address.  Ideally, the cheque will come quicker than the 21 days quoted
 but the reason this length of time is quoted is in case there are any delays
 in the process."

I was amazed that the usual fee to administer this Byzantine process is only $9.80!  If the fee isn't waived, they deduct it from the balance that is owed to you.  In other words you have to pay to get your own money back.  And having been through the process twice now, the process never takes fewer than the quoted 21 days.

I was also surprised that the Ombudsman didn't tell me that they have to cut the card open to get the money out.

Being an activist by nature I made a complaint to the Public Transport Ombudsman.  I had also participated in a series of pointless conversations with the MYKI call centre and was left with the impression that everyone agrees the process is ridiculous, but no one has the will to do anything about it.  Or they've been worn down by the System, the Process, the Bureaucracy and are resigned to a state of being best described as "that's just the way it is".

The Public Transport Ombudsman wrote:

 I am pleased to advise that in the near future, the balance of a myki
 that is replaced due to change in concession will be transferred to the new
 myki card.  As myki is currently under review by the government, I am unable
 to provide a timeframe when this will be in place, but can assure you this
 is a change that is being looked at to be implemented in the near future.

 The reason the previous myki balance is refunded as a cheque is due to
 the process that was initially set up where a replacement for a change of
 concession was processed as a refund.  As advised above, the TTA has
 since realised this is not ideal and hopes to change this in the near future. 

This was written on 10 May 2011.  It's now the middle of November and the near future has not yet been reached.  Indeed, the future looks bleak.  

The Public Transport Ombudsman also advised in July this year when I enquired further:

As it stands the process for a change of concession remains the same as it
was previously.  The TTA recommends if at all possible for you to use up as
much as possible of your remaining balance on your myki card before
undergoing the change in concession, as the balance of your myki card will
be refunded as a cheque.

The TTA sincerely apologises for any inconvenience this may cause.

"TTA" is the Transport Ticketing Authority.

So I followed this advice and was left with an unusable 94 cents on the card.  

As a committed and regular user of public transport, I'm very happy with MYKI - as long as I never have to phone the call centre or use the website to top up the card.  Touching on and touching off happens smoothly and swiftly.  I've never been overcharged.  I always have a ticket.  I can download a statement of my travel and keep track of GST and business related travel which means I can actually claim these costs against my business.  

BUT, the back end processes are wasteful and outdated.  I'll believe that they are committed to harnessing the technology to streamline inefficient processes when I see it.  I'm waiting.

Editted to add:  On looking at my account online, I've discovered that $9.80 was added to my card by the MYKI people so that it could then be deducted as the administrative fee.  That's how they waived the fee!  They DO have the technology.  Why won't they use it? (8:30am 22 November 2011)

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