The Maze, Design icons

A story of poor design and aggressive enforcement

It took one of Australia’s leading human rights barristers, working pro bono, but a Melbourne commuter has had fare evasion charges dropped.

The Age recently reported the story of a commuter, Lindy Muto, who was fined after she had not properly validated her card. Fair enough, you might say, but Lindy thought she had signed on.

Poor product design

Card readers designed for commuters to validate tickets and sign off at journey’s end were brought in with the ‘Myki’ system in 2009. Some time later, the transport authority introduced another reader that lets you check your card’s balance, but not validate. The problem is: Both readers are very similar!

This is an issue I’ve been planning to write about for some time.

Myki card reader

MYKI on successful       Swipe panel at the bottom

       Display panel on top

       Rectangular shape

       Displays card credit level

       Trip validation function






Myki card reader

MYKI balance check       Swipe panel at the bottom

       Display panel on top

       Rectangular shape

       Displays card credit level

       No trip validation function






This one above is a new ‘improved’ version compared with the initial balance check reader design (below). The earlier one is probably the one that Lindy Muto used. But I don’t think there’s much improvement as the design is still fundamentally similar to the sign-on/sign-off reader and subject to the same user error.

Old myki reader copy










I can only assume it’s poor design, and so worthy of a half paper bag rating from me.

0.5 green bag

There are many ways the transport authority could fix this design problem. Let’s hope they act on it.

Either that or they’re trying to entrap commuters . . .

Aggressive enforcement

Lindy Muto says she is an infrequent train traveller and mistakenly used the balance checker instead of the validation reader on one occasion that day. But she was able to prove she had used the correct reader nine other times that same day.

Her explanation and proof of fare paying bona fides sent to the transport authority did not persuade them to withdraw the $220 fine. Had Julian Burnside QC not taken up the cause, the cost of defending the fine would have been prohibitive. Mr Burnside accused the authority of running a ‘statutory standover racket’.

Maximising compliance with any regulations can be a tricky balance between education, persuasion, ability to comply and enforcement. It relies on a user friendly system (and product) design to support compliance.

In Ms Muto’s case, it seems she knew she had to validate (education) and intended to do so (persuasion). The regulator failed their side of the deal with poor system design (not easily complied with) and unreasonable, inflexible enforcement.

Regulators should not take advantage of the power imbalance between themselves and their users, especially when they share a portion of the blame.