I don't advocate any form of fare evasion.
The structure of the penalty system makes it relatively easy to pay nothing except the occasional fine if caught. Even the escalating scale of fines introduced a few years ago has failed to stem the tide.
In addition to new thinking on what can be done to combat this it is time for the question to be asked "Is this fare evasion or simply ignorance or unfamiliarity with our system?"
Some is endemic and intentional avoidance of payment. There is a culture problem in Melbourne where getting something for nothing is somewhere between a national sport and a given right.
There is a small number of hard-case "Can't pay won't pay" people who simply refuse to pay anything and for whom the occasional fine is merely an inconvenience. Attitudes such as "Public transport should be free" don't cut it - the service has to be paid for somehow.
Then there are all those who may be trying to do the right thing but are unaware of what the right thing is, become confused, are unfamiliar perhaps because they are visitors or irregular users yet become unintentional fare evaders and thus statistics because they have not done something (such as touched on) or done it wrongly (such as bought or used the wrong fare).
Information is available but many people seem to have difficulty digesting it. The fares and travel document is unwieldy in its length and does not present clear, concise user information. This is not a pop at Myki - the same was equally true with Metcard. There is no quick-reference document such as a laminated credit-card sized basic guide bullet-pointing the essentials. The Myki card itself is bare and could contain the same basic essentials printed for handy reference.
Bus / tram stop fares and ticketing information is minimal where it is displayed at all. With no-one on board trams to help and with no-one on a bus bar the driver who is usually pressed for time and would rather finish punctually than answer a myriad detailed enquiries what is the poor user to do? Hop on and hope for the best? That is what many do - then find themselves reported for an infringement. That is hardly the most welcoming approach from the "World's Most Liveable City" neither is it customer-friendly in a city which prides itself on its great customer service.
The small timetable panels usually have a lot of white space which could be used to display simple messages such as "You must prepurchase a Myki and load value before travelling - no cash taken on board." And "Touch on every time you board". Touching off is a more complex scenario since the need to do so varies by mode and your individual trip. It's not hard but the information isn't there where it's needed at the moment.
It could be argued that Melbourne's public transport is setting people up to be unintentional fare evaders by failing to inform.
When we look at patronage decline this historically goes in peaks and troughs. It is too early to suggest whether or not there is any significance in Myki now being the only ticketing system and some former users finding it too complex or simply too much trouble. There are also other influences in play such as a slight downturn in the numbers in employment for example.