Opal is a contactless smartcard ticketing system for public transport services in the greater Sydney area of New South Wales, Australia. It is valid on all bus, rail, light rail and government ferry services in Sydney and the Central Coast, Hunter Region, Blue Mountains, Southern Highlands and Illawarra areas.[1]

History

Previous systems

Sydney has used a number of automated ticketing systems since the opening of the Eastern Suburbs Railway in June 1979. The current Sydney Automated Fare Collection System (AFC) was rolled out across all CityRail, Sydney Buses, Sydney Ferries and Newcastle Buses & Ferries services between 1988 and 1993, and Western Sydney Buses in 2003. The system featured loose integration between the different modes of transport, a complex fare structure and excluded private operators.

A unified brand for the majority of public transport tickets was introduced in April 2010. MyZone was designed to simplify the fare system and remove one of the stumbling blocks to the introduction of a smart card.[2] The AFC system was retained where it was in use, but tickets could also be used on private buses - and subsequently on the Sydney Light Rail - by presenting a ticket to the bus driver or tram conductor.

Tcard

A replacement for the AFC based on smart card technology, named Tcard, was first announced by the Government of New South Wales in 1996, with the aim of having a system in place before the 2000 Sydney Olympics. The contract was awarded to ERG Group, but was delayed until 2002 due to a lawsuit from the losing bidder Cubic Transportation Systems, which was labelled 'dishonest' by the presiding Supreme Court of NSW judge.[3]

The development and rollout of the system was beset with difficulties, leading the Government to terminate the contract in November 2007.[4] The government sued ERG for $77 million who counter sued for $215m.[5] The claim was settled in February 2012.[6]

Revival

In July 2008, only months after terminating the Tcard contract, it was revealed that the smartcard system project had been revived by the government.[7]

In August 2008 the NSW Government called for expressions of interest for the second attempt at the project, open to other Smart Card providers.[8] In April 2010 the NSW Government awarded the contract to the Pearl Consortium, whose members are the Commonwealth Bank, Cubic Transportation Systems and Downer EDI.[9][10] The system will also replace the various ticket machines used by private bus operators.

In September 2011 the new name for the system was announced as 'Opal', chosen from a selection of 665 names. Transport for New South Wales said Opal was chosen because it was 'uniquely Australian',[11] short, and easy to say. As well as the opal being Australia's national gemstone, the black opal is the New South Wales gemstone symbol.[12]

Rollout

Opal Card Reader installed on a Bus

The Opal card was officially launched as a trial in December 2012, initially available for use on selected ferry services and gradually extended to other modes of public transport, with the card fully rolled out on 1 December 2014.[13]

Ferries

The first stage of the Opal card rollout commenced on 7 December 2012 as a trial on the Neutral Bay to Circular Quay ferry service[14][15] followed on 8 April 2013 by the Manly to Circular Quay service.[16][17] From 30 August 2013, Opal was available on all Sydney Ferries services.[18][19]

Opal was rolled out on Newcastle Ferries' Stockton ferry service on 20 November 2014.[20]

Trains

Ticket gates at Town Hall station

The Opal rollout on train services commenced on 14 June 2013 on the City Circle and T4 Eastern Suburbs lines.[21][22] Opal was rolled out in stages, with the final stations brought online on 11 April 2014.[23]

Buses

A trial rollout commenced on Transdev NSW's routes 594 and 594H on 30 September 2013,[24] followed by Sydney Buses' route 333 on 6 December 2013.[25]

The mass rollout commenced on 14 April 2014 on the rest of Transdev NSW's Region 12 routes.[26] The rollout to all bus services under a Metropolitan or Outer Metropolitan contract was completed on 20 November 2014, with activation on Newcastle Buses' routes.[20]

Light rail

The final stage of the rollout occurred on 1 December 2014, when the Sydney Light Rail was brought online.[27][28][29]

Versions and availability of cards

As of July 2015,[30] the Opal card types, each with their own colour and fare structure are: Adult (black), Student Concession (silver), Senior/Pensioner (gold) and Child/Youth (green). A School Student (blue) card is still to be issued.[31][32] Non-reloadable (single use) Opal cards are set to be introduced at a future date.[33]

Opal cards can be ordered online, over the phone or from more than 1,800 retail outlets, such as newsagents and supermarkets.[34][35] Opal cards cannot be purchased from normal station ticket windows or machines. Transport for NSW also operates a 24/7 phone hotline for customer service, card top-ups, orders and inquiries.

The Adult fare card was the first card made available for the public, ordered either online or over the phone. On 6 April 2014, the green Child/Youth card was made available for ordering online or by phone.[36] From 28 July until the end of September 2014, temporary kiosks were set up at major railway stations and shopping centres, to allow customers to obtain unregistered Adult and Child cards for the first time.[37][38] Since 10 August 2014, permanent retail outlets have sold unregistered Adult and Child/Youth cards.[39]

The gold Senior/Pensioner card was made available for ordering online or by phone on 3 November 2014.[40][41] Between 11 November and 5 December 2014, temporary kiosks were set up at shopping centres to allow seniors and pensioners to order their Opal cards.[42]

Concession Opal cards became available to tertiary students on 2 February 2015. Students need to give consent for their tertiary institution to share enrollment details with NSW Transport before they can order a Concession Opal Card online or by phone.[43][44][45] The aim is to have all tertiary institutions online by the end of 2015. To be eligible for the Concession Opal students must live and study in NSW and be enrolled as a full-time student.[46] As at 14 June 2015 the cards were available at over 80 institutions throughout the area in which the Opal Card can be used.[47] As from 29 June 2015 the concession card is available to eligible NSW Job seekers[48][49]

The Concession Opal Card will be available at a later date to all eligible apprentices and trainees.[50]

Retail outlets

Opal Card top up machine at a retailer

Retail outlets began selling adult and child Opal cards from 10 August 2014.[39] Senior/Pensioner cards are not available at retailers.[51] The retailers provide top up services for all cards. Transport for NSW and Cubic plan to have a network of around 2,000 retailers around the state.[52] As of March 2015, there are over 1,800 Opal card retailers across New South Wales.[53]

Top up machines

Three different types of top-up machine, totalling close to 350, will be available for customers during 2015. The first 100 machines to roll out will allow customers to top-up on the spot with a debit or credit card, the second type will include disposable tickets and the third will also accept cash.[54][55]

On 11 March 2015 the first top-up machines became available at Edmondson Park and Leppington stations on the South West Rail Link.[56] Further machines have since rolled out, with 24 being active at stations and wharfs as at 27 March 2015.[57] This is being extended to nearly 100 stations and wharves during July 2015.[58]

Fares

Opal integrates ticketing on all modes of public transport; however, it does not integrate fares. The four fare types are: peak period train, off-peak train, ferry and bus/light rail. Transfers for trips involving multiple services of the same mode of transport are generally free, provided the transfer occurs within 60 minutes of the last tap off. This means the entire trip will be calculated as one fare. Transfers between modes generally attract separate fares for each mode. All fares are calculated based on the distance travelled and are for single trips only - there are no return or periodical options available.In July 2015 the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal was requested to investigate the possible introduction of integrated fares in Sydney with implementation date of 1 July 2016.[59][60]

The following tables list Opal fares as of 4 January 2015:[61]
Train[62] 0–10 km 10–20 km 20–35 km 35–65 km 65 km+
Adult cards (peak) $3.38 $4.20 $4.82 $6.46 $8.30
Adult cards (off-peak) $2.36 $2.94 $3.37 $4.52 $5.81
Other cards (peak) $1.69 $2.10 $2.41 $3.23^ $4.15^
Other cards (off-peak) $1.18 $1.47 $1.68 $2.26 $2.90^
Ferry[63] 0–9 km 9 km+
Adult cards $5.74 $7.18
Other cards $2.87^ $3.59^
Bus or light rail[64][65] 0–3 km 3–8 km 8 km+
Adult cards $2.10 $3.50 $4.50
Other cards $1.05 $1.75 $2.25

^= $2.50 cap applies for Pensioner/Senior cardholders

When tapping on or off at Sydney Domestic or International Airport stations, a station access fee of $13.00 for adult cardholders and $11.60 for other cardholders applies.[66] However, if travelling between the two airport stations a discounted station access fee for all card types of $1.80 applies, and if travelling between either airport station and Green Square or Mascot a fee of $5.20 applies,[67] although the initial balance will need to be higher if commencing from an airport station.

Discounts

Opal offers a number of mechanisms to keep users' costs down. Former Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian - who managed the roll out of the card - backed commuters who are able to get the best deals out of their Opal card.[68]

Daily costs are capped at $15 for adult cards, $2.50 for pensioner/senior cards and $7.50 for other cards. A $2.50 cap for all cardholders applies on Sundays. Additionally, weekly costs are capped at $60 for adult cards and $30 for other cards. Once a journey count of 8 is reached during the week (Monday to Sunday), all subsequent travel is free for the rest of the week.

Trains offer cheaper fares for travel during the off-peak. Standard peak times for trains are between 07:00 to 09:00 (for Sydney Trains stations), 06:00 to 08:00 (for intercity stations) and 16:00 to 18:30 (for all stations) on weekdays. Starting a journey outside of those peak times will attract a 30% discount compared to the peak fare.

Weekly airport station access fees (which are calculated separately and not subject to other caps) are capped at $23 for adult cards and $20.50 for other cards. This cap was introduced on 1 September 2014.[69][70][71]

Eligible apprentices, trainees and TAFE NSW students can apply online for a concession Opal Card.[72]

Transfer System

The definition of a transfer varies for each mode of transport.

  • Trains: transfers only allowed at the same station or at stations within the "City" designator (CBD stations plus Central and Kings Cross). Up to three transfers (four trips per journey).
  • Ferries: no transfers allowed, except at Circular Quay. Transfers at other wharves result in a new fare/new journey.
  • Light rail: transfer can occur at the station of tap off plus three additional stations in each direction. Maximum three transfers (four trips per journey).
  • Buses: up to three transfers are allowed, regardless of location (four trips per journey).

Transfers between different modes of transport attract a new fare, but the journey count will not be incremented. Transfers can occur for up to 60 minutes from tap off, except when transferring from Manly Ferries where it is 130 minutes from tap on.

Exceptions to the general transfer rules are the rail-replacement shuttle bus serving the Newcastle CBD, which is classified as a train and the Stockton Ferry (also in Newcastle), which is classified as a bus.[73][74]

An unannounced feature exists in the calculation of trips leading up to a completed journey. Whenever an Opal customer completes four trips on the same mode of transport (even within the 60 minute transfer), a new journey commences. This allows for the eight journey discount to be applied after a number of short trips, typically between close stations.[75][76]

Once the CBD and South East Light Rail opens in 2019/2020, passengers will pay a single fare for a journey involving the use of both light rail and buses.[77]

Default Fares

Being a distance based system, Opal card users are required to tap on and tap off on all modes (apart from the Manly Ferry) to ensure the correct fare is charged.

If a user does not correctly tap off after initially tapping on a default fare will be charged, corresponding to the maximum fare on that mode of travel. However a lower default fare applies where it is not possible to reach the maximum fare on the route on which the tap on took place. On Sundays, the default fare is $2.50. The default fare will be charged after a time-out period of 5 hours from initial tap on, or if the user changes modes or taps on at a gated station

Top up

The balance on all Opal cards can be topped up through retailers and via the Opal hotline. Valid denominations for retailer top-ups range from $10 to $120 for adult cards, $5 to $60 for child/youth cards and $2.50 to $60 for senior/pensioner cards.[78] Opal cards may also be linked to a credit or debit card, allowing users to top up their balance online. In this case, the minimum top-up value is $40 for adult Opal cards, $20 for child/youth cards and $10 for gold senior/pensioner cards. When linked to a credit or debit card, Opal cards can be configured to automatically top up the balance when it falls below a pre-set amount (auto top-up), currently $10.

Criticism

The different fare structures of Opal and the existing MyZone paper tickets have occasioned debate. Despite being cheaper than single cash fares, Opal single fares are more expensive than bus and ferry TravelTens, and there is no equivalent to the all-you-can-use MyTrain or MyMulti periodical tickets.[79] Corinne Mulley, the chair of the Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies, has described the card as a "missed opportunity", since it retains many of the "interchange penalties" of paying for transfers, and Opal will be more expensive than MyMulti for some multi-modal commuters.[80] Former Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian rejected the criticism, stating that "we believe that customers should pay for the mode they are using".[81]

On an unofficial fare comparison site Opal or Not, over half of all compared public transport trips were found to be more expensive using Opal than with paper tickets, leading to widespread dissatisfaction with the Opal fares policy.[79][82] Transport for NSW disputes the site's findings, calling it "riddled with errors" and stating that only 7% would "potentially" pay more, although they have refused to release the analysis behind this figure.[79] Labor's transport spokeswoman Penny Sharpe said the government should set up its own similar website to Opal or Not to allow commuters to make their own comparisons.[79] Financial planning app Pocketbook found that from a sample of 4,383 commuters, the majority are paying more when using the Opal card compared with paper tickets. Transport for NSW disputes the findings, but has declined to provide analysis showing the cost impact of the Opal smartcard on commuters.[83]

Significant privacy issues have been raised, as Opal travel information is available to government departments without a warrant.[84] Among those who have expressed concerns have been New South Wales Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Coomb, the Combined Pensioners and Superannuants Association of NSW, and the University of Sydney.[84]

Usage

As of 13 July 2015, close to 3.2 million cards had been issued, 355,000 of those being Gold Senior/Pensioner cards. Also, more than 50% of all registered Opal customers had set their cards to be on auto top-up.[85] Transport for NSW has stated that customers forget to tap off after about 3% of journeys, so that they are charged the default fare.[86]

Card readers

Opal Card Reader on a standalone pole

Card readers are installed atop existing ticket barriers, or mounted on a stand-alone pole at railway stations, light rail stops or ferry wharves. Buses are the exception, with readers installed on the bus itself.

Concession fare Opal cards have their own distinct 'ding' when tapping on or off, in addition to having a light mounted atop a train station or ferry wharf barrier lit up, allowing for Transport Officers and Police to identify and enforce correct fares.

Transport Officers and NSW Police, who randomly patrol services, are also equipped with portable card readers. Ticket Sellers on the Light Rail services are also equipped with the portable card readers and will check passengers have tapped on.[87]

Opal cards can communicate offline to NFC-enabled devices with the Transport for NSW's "Opal Travel" app.[88] Information that is available through NFC scanning include the Opal card balance, tap status (tapped on/off), weekly travel reward status, top-up status, and card number.[89]

Advertising and accessories

On 2 July 2014, the state government launched a new ‘Opal Man’ campaign to encourage more customers to sign-up to the benefits of Opal ahead of the retirement of 14 paper tickets on 1 September.[90]

Transport for NSW also sells a number of mobile phone case accessories that incorporate a pocket for the Opal card.[91]

Awards

The Opal electronic ticketing system has won a range of awards reflecting excellence in design for its unique card reader poles used at ungated ferry wharves, light rail stops and railway stations. In addition the project and its implementation was recognised for excellence by the leading national infrastructure industry organisation, Infrastructure Partnerships Australia.

On 12 March 2014, Opal was awarded Australia’s 2014 Smart Infrastructure Project of the Year.[92][93] The locally designed Opal card reader with its unique cigar-shaped design won the Transport category of the Sydney Design Awards;[94] the Australian International Design Award;[95] and the Powerhouse Museum Design Award[96] all within a few months of its launch.

Privacy

During the Opal card customer trial period, all Opal cards were required to be registered with the customer's personal information. This allowed for feedback and issues to be recorded against an individual's account. Registered cards offer the ability to protect the balance and transfer it to a new card, if a card is lost, stolen or damaged. Data is made available to other NSW government departments and law enforcement agencies.[97] Concerns about privacy have been repeatedly raised in the mainstream media, with commentators questioning the extent to which user data can be accessed by authorities.[98][99][100] Since July 2014, unregistered adult and child/youth Opal cards have been available.[101] In December 2014, University of Sydney delayed collaboration with the new Opal card system, citing privacy concerns,[102] whereas Macquarie University, University of New South Wales and Australian Catholic University had already agreed to provide the "student data" to the card network.

Retirement of paper tickets

Opal is replacing most paper tickets. The pre-existing tickets are being retired in stages:

  • 14 tickets (mostly periodicals and adult tickets) were retired on 1 September 2014.[37]
  • 11 Newcastle-specific tickets were retired on 20 November 2014.[103]
  • On 1 January 2016 all other paper tickets will be withdrawn except single and return tickets for trains, ferries and light rail and single bus tickets, (both adult and concession).[104][105][106][107]

Future developments

The Opal card will be rolled out to the North West Rail Link, CBD and South East Light Rail and Newcastle Light Rail as these projects are completed.

Integration with other cards

On 16 October 2014, Commonwealth Bank announced it is working to combine tap-and-go cards with Opal transport ticket system.[108]

See also

References

  1. ^ Opal card Transport for NSW
  2. ^ Hall R & West A "Inner-city commuters hit by hefty fare shake-up" Sydney Morning Herald 2 February 2010
  3. ^
  4. ^ "NSW ends TRG Tcard contract" The Australian 9 November 2007
  5. ^ "Court orders government to hand over Tcard documents" Sydney Morning Herald 9 June 2010
  6. ^ "NSW taxpayers 'spared $200m loss' as Tcard trail aborted" Sydney Morning Herald 17 February 2012
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  8. ^ "NSW revives failed Tcard project" ABC News 3 July 2008
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  10. ^ "London's Oyster creator scores Tcard contract" Sydney Morning Herald 11 April 2010
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  12. ^ "New name's the ticket for Sydney transport" ABC News 13 September 2011
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  16. ^ "A new voyage for Opal card" Daily Telegraph 25 March 2013
  17. ^ Opal card trial extends to Manly Transport for NSW 25 March 2013
  18. ^ Opal card rollout on Sydney Ferries Transport for NSW
  19. ^ Opal smartcard comes to more Sydney commuters Sydney Morning Herald 30 August 2013
  20. ^ a b Opal card rolling out as 11 paper tickets in Newcastle retired, Transport for NSW, Retrieved 19 November 2014
  21. ^ Opal roll out begins for train customers Transport for NSW 2 June 2013
  22. ^ The end of ticket queues: Minister announces Opal trial Sydney Morning Herald 2 June 2013
  23. ^ Gladys Berejiklian says Opal available at all city, intercity stations April 11 Daily Telegraph 26 March 2014
  24. ^ Opal card trial for bus customers begins Transport for NSW 26 September 2013
  25. ^ Opal Card starts on popular 333 Bondi bus Transport for NSW 2 December 2013
  26. ^ Opal available on all trains from today as bus rollout kicks off Transport for NSW 11 April 2014
  27. ^ Opal card use on Sydney light rail starts on December 1 Sydney Mornng Herald 23 November 2014
  28. ^ Opal to go live on light rail months ahead of schedule Transport for NSW 24 November 2014
  29. ^ Opal rollout extends to light rail Transport Info NSW 25 November 2014
  30. ^ Order an Opal Card Opal Card Retrieved 30 July 2015
  31. ^ Opal card type images, Transport for NSW
  32. ^ Types of Opal cards Opal
  33. ^ Opal terms of use Opal
  34. ^ Opal Cards now available from 1,000 retailers including 7-Eleven and Woolworths Transport for NSW 10 August 2014
  35. ^ How do I top up my Opal card? Transport for NSW 28 July 2014
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  37. ^ a b Opal card pop-up kiosks now located at 28 major Sydney stations Transport for NSW 28 July 2014
  38. ^ Opal cards available at 1,000 retail outlets, shopping centres and even more pop-up kiosks Transport for NSW 4 August 2014
  39. ^ a b Opal cards to be sold at 1000 stores as paper tickets go, Sydney Morning Herald
  40. ^ New Gold Opal Card with $2.50 daily cap available for seniors and pensioners, Transport for NSW, Retrieved 30 October 2014
  41. ^ Government Gazette of the State of New South Wales Number 95, NSW Government Gazette, 31 October 2014
  42. ^ Opal rolls out to more than 450 buses in Northern Sydney as Senior/Pensioner information kiosks start Transport for NSW 9 November 2014
  43. ^ Concession Card Launch, Opal Announcement Retrieved 2 February 2015
  44. ^ Tertiary students tap on with Opal from today Transport for NSW 2 February 2015
  45. ^ Tertiary students tap on with Opal Sydney Morning Herald 1 February 2015
  46. ^ Guidelines for Issuing NSW Tertiary Student Concessions Transport for NSW January 2015
  47. ^ Transforming ticketing for tertiary students Opal Card 13 July 2015.
  48. ^ Opal for job seekers Opal Card retrieved 29 June 2015
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  50. ^ Concession Opal card starts rolling out for university students Opal tickets 18 December 2014
  51. ^ Gold Senior/Pensioner Opal card now available Transport Info NSW 30 October 2014
  52. ^ Cubic Collection Point Issue 21 Cubic
  53. ^ Opal card retailer list Opal
  54. ^ Opal top up machines to be rolled out from early 2015 Transport for NSW 10 December 2014
  55. ^ Opal top-up machines coming to NSW train stations, ferry wharves, light rail stops Sydney Morning Herald 10 December 2014
  56. ^ Top up machines now available Opal website retrieved 11 March 2015
  57. ^ Top Up Machines Transport NSW Information Retrieved 27 March 2015
  58. ^ More choice, more convenience: An extra 60 Opal top up machines to go live Transport for NSW 13 July 2015
  59. ^ Sydney bus upheaval prompts Opal card fare review Sydney Morning Herald 17 July 2015
  60. ^ Finding the best fare structure for Opal Ipart 21 July 2015
  61. ^ http://www.transportnsw.infos/en/transport-status/news/2014/fare-increases.page
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  66. ^ Sydney Airport Station Access Fee Opal Ticketing.
  67. ^ Opal Fares App, accessed 12 March 2015
  68. ^ "Transport Minister backs commuters who beat the Opal man", Sydney Morning Herald 8 September 2014
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  70. ^ Opal extends to Inner West and Rockdale State Transit bus services, Transport Info NSW, Retrieved 30 September 2014
  71. ^ NSW Government signs $10 million agreement ensuring regular airport customers can save under Opal Transport for NSW 19 August 2014
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  79. ^ a b c d http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/takeup-of-opal-card-low-as-site-shows-trips-are-more-expensive-20140305-346kl.html
  80. ^ http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/fares-fair-for-some-but-opal-is-not-the-ticket-for-all-20131011-2vdum.html
  81. ^ http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/opal-smartcard-debuts-on-sydney-buses-20130926-2ufpj.html
  82. ^ Opal or Not Opal or Not website Retrieved 7 November 2014
  83. ^ http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/transport-for-nsw-disputes-opal-card-fare-analysis-20141003-10pvv7.html
  84. ^ a b Student Opal card privacy concerns limit university participation Sydney Morning Herald 29 December 2014
  85. ^
  86. ^
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  89. ^
  90. ^ Latest Opal roll out hits South West Sydney as new Opal Man campaign launches Transport for NSW 2 July 2014
  91. ^ Transport for NSW - Online Shop
  92. ^ http://www.nsw.gov.au/news/opal-wins-national-infrastructure-award/
  93. ^ http://www.minister.infrastructure.gov.au/wt/releases/2014/March/wt035_2014.aspx
  94. ^ http://sydneydesignawards.com.au/SDA2013/entry_details.asp?ID=12334&Category_ID=5275
  95. ^ http://www.gooddesignaustralia.com/awards/past/entry/opal-card-ticketing-reader/?year=2013
  96. ^ http://cts.cubic.com/AboutUs/News/News/tabid/434/ID/276/Cubic-Opal-Card-Systems-Reader-Wins-Third-Award-Now-Featured-at-Sydneys-Powerhouse-Museum.aspx
  97. ^
  98. ^
  99. ^
  100. ^
  101. ^
  102. ^
  103. ^ 11 paper tickets no longer sold in Newcastle from 20 November Transport Info 3 November 2014
  104. ^ Time to tap into Opal - majority of paper tickets to be phased out Transport for NSW 4 August 2015
  105. ^ Most paper tickets no longer sold from 1 January 2016 Transport NSW Info 4 August 2015
  106. ^ From 1 January 2016 no longer sold Opal Card Retrieved 4 August 2015.
  107. ^
  108. ^

External links

  • Opal card website - NSW government
  • Opal card webpage on the Transport for NSW website - NSW government