The Victorian government has called for tenders to deliver the new smartcard ticketing system for public transport in the state, which is set to be in use by 2007.
Speaking at Melbourne's Federation Square, Transport Minister Peter Batchelor announced the "next generation" ticketing system will be used across metropolitan and regional bus, train and tram networks. Regional areas are set to be the first to receive the technology.
The card will be similar to a pre-paid phone card in that it stores value in accordance with the customers' account, according to the Minister, and is also re-loadable.
"It would be a significant step forward in the development of a flexible, user-friendly and efficient system for Victoria's public transport network," he said.
The smart card only needs to be scanned for half a second, according to the Minister, and "can be used from inside a wallet or handbag".
"Instead of juggling coins with one hand as you line up to buy a ticket, Smartcard can be preloaded with monetary value and scanned near a scanner as you get on and off a bus or tram, or as you enter and leave a railway station," said Batchelor.
The Minister said regular transport users have the option of re-loading their smart card via credit or debit cards on dedicated machines, online or via telephone, or with cash at train stations.
"Alternatively, users can purchase disposable Smartcards using cash at a station, or on board a tram or bus. An attractive choice for casual users and tourists," he said.
The Minister adds that a key feature of the new card will be its ability to automatically find the lowest fares for regular and casual users.
"With Smartcard, there will be no need for customers to plan their travel for the day or week before purchasing tickets, because the new system will be programmed to read the number of trips over a period of up to a month to work out the cheapest possible fare," he said.
"The new Smartcard system will use the current fare and zone structure, while allowing for future ticketing options to be explored."
The Smartcard ticketing system has been successfully deployed in a number of cities globally, said the Minister, including London, Washington, Hong Kong, Seoul and Singapore. It is also being introduced in Sydney, Brisbane and Perth, he said.
Tenderers have been given eight weeks to make a submission to the Transport Ticketing Authority -- which is also overseeing the design, procurement and delivery of the project -- with evaluations expected to be completed early next year. According to the Minister, the contract will run for a period of 10 years.
"We expect the new system will cost less to operate than the existing system [AU$55 million per year], but the final costs will be determined through a competitive tender process," the Minister said.