Perth’s public transport system finally catches up with commonplace travel tech

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The state government is considering banning cash on buses once the rollout of a $57.8 million system that will allow credit card and mobile phone payments is complete.

Transport Minister Rita Saffioti announced the launch of a pilot program testing 30 machines across major Perth stations like East Perth, Claisebrook, Glendalough and Perth where the Public Transport Authority will test their compatibility with existing Smartrider cards.

Transport Minister Rita Saffioti with the new ticket machines.Credit: Hamish Hastie

The full rollout of the machines will be completed by June next year when public transport users will be able to pay for their travel with credit cards, mobiles and wearable devices.

Saffioti said the new machines would simplify Perth’s public transport network for more casual users of the system like tourists and address issues around cash handling that has long been a bugbear of bus drivers.

“Bus drivers don’t like handling cash, that’s the feedback we’ve had from the unions. It sometimes creates points of conflict in relation to when people have big notes and there’s no proper change and so forth,” she said.

Despite a vocal social media-driven movement to boycott cashless businesses, the number of transactions using cash continues to collapse in Australia. According to the Reserve Bank of Australia the share of in-person transactions made with cash in the three years to 2022 halved from 32 per cent to 16 per cent.

Saffioti said no decision had been made about a cash ban, but she said many venues like stadiums already had one in place and the government would consider it if it meant less conflict and delays on buses.

“In many venues and many places already, you can’t use cash,” she said.

“It’s something that’s happening across society anyway, as I said, there’s been no final decision.

“We’re trying to listen to, in particular, bus drivers themselves, they have long called for ‘no cash’ and we’ve been trying to work with them over this interim as we work towards these credit card payments.”

The new validators are similar in design to the old Smartrider terminals and Saffioti said about 4000 would be rolled out progressively at train stations on buses and at ferry terminals to make sure commuters were comfortable with the change.

The system was first flagged in the 2021-22 budget but Saffioti said the rollout had been delayed because of global supply chain issues making it challenging to get components for the new machines.

Saffioti said Smartriders would continue to be needed for concessions to be applied, but she flagged that there may be discounts applied to travel for people who chose to use their credit cards.

Patronage up

Perth’s public transport network seems to be recovering from its COVID-19 lull in patronage after recording a 20.65 per cent increase in total boardings from 102.2 million last year to 123 million this year.

However, those figures are still significantly below the peak of 149.7 million passengers who used the network in 2012-13.

Saffioti said the state’s continued dip in international student numbers continued to hurt patronage figures.

She expected patronage to edge closer to those peaks and predicted increasing petrol prices would push more people onto buses and trains.

“Public transport is a cheaper alternative and also with our capped fares up to two zones means that those in particular in the outer suburbs and those that can use public transport are able to in a much more efficient and cheaper way than using a car,” she said.

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