Point to point vs zonal ticketing

Posted: September 2, 2011 in Transport
Tags: , , , , ,

Sydney may be introducing integrated ticketing with its long awaited electronic ticketing system, but that’s a different concept to integrated fares. Integrated ticketing means that you can travel everywhere, on different modes of transport, with only a single ticket. Integrated fares is when you pay the same amount for traveling from A to B, regardless of how many modes of transport you use to do it.

For example, Sydney currently has integrated fares within the Cityrail train network. If I want to travel from Parramatta to Liverpool, then I pay the same price for a ticket, regardless of whether I take a direct train, or if I take a train to Granville and then change there for a train to Liverpool. But if it’s 2 buses, or a train and a bus, then currently I pay for the privilege of being inconvenienced. Not only that, but the cost of getting from one place to another is different depending on whether I catch a train, bus or ferry.

Integrated fares solve this problem. There are two basic types of integrated fare systems, distance and zonal.

Point to Point
Passengers pay a fare based on the total distance travelled, i.e. The distance between A and B. The mode of transport and the number of modes does not matter, only the distance. This is conceptually simple, and fits in easily with Sydney’s current fare system, which is primarily a distance based one.

Section guide for Sydney Buses

Sydney Buses uses a point to point system for determining fares. Each route is broken down into sections, and the number of sections you travel through determines the fare. (Source: TransportInfo)

Tagging off from one leg and then tagging on to another one within a short period (say within one hour) would be considered a continuation of the same journey. Transport interchanges in some cities, such as Perth or Zurich, have bus stops located within train station gated areas, thus speeding up the time it takes to change from one mode of transport to another. This is possible as journeys there are considered continuous, regardless of the number of modes used.

The challenge comes from measuring the distance. With an electronic ticketing system, passengers must “tag on” at the start of each leg of their trip and “tag off” at the end. This already happens with trains where there are ticket gates, and at the start of bus trips. But if a passenger forgets to tag off, then they are charged the maximum fare. On buses, it can also cause delays from passengers having to tag off as they disembark. This is less of a problem at the terminus location of a bus, where the bulk of passengers tend to get off, as they would be charged the same whether they tagged off or not (it being the maximum fare already).

Recent newspaper reports suggest that this is the reason the previous government abandoned it’s T-Card project, as the bad press from passengers forgetting to tag off and being charged extra would bode poorly for them politically. This remains a problem, particularly since you could be charged extra and not even notice, given the electronic nature of the payment.


The myMulti tickets are currently based on 3 zones in Sydney, radiating outwards from the CBD. A myMulti ticket allows unlimited travel within the zones it covers on all modes of transport. (Source: TransportInfo)

The myMulti tickets are currently based on 3 zones in Sydney, radiating outwards from the CBD. A myMulti ticket allows unlimited travel within the zones it covers on all modes of transport. (Source: TransportInfo)

Sydney currently uses a very limited zonal fare system for its myMulti tickets. Sydney is split up into 3 different zones, with unlimited travel allowed in certain areas depending on which ticket you purchase.

It’s currently far from perfect, for two main reasons. First, you cannot buy a ticket covering a single zone unless it also covers any other zones closer to the CBD. This is fine if you want just a myMulti1 to travel thorough the inner city or a myMulti2 if you want to travel from say Epping to the Easter Suburbs. But if you wanted to go from Castle Hill to Liverpool via Parramatta (all within Zone 2), then you must buy a myMulti2 (which covers both zones 1 and 2), despite the fact that you are remaining in a single zone. Second, myMulti tickets are only available as weeklies or longer. There is technically a daily myMulti ticket, but it is only available for all three zones and at $20 is quite expensive.

Melbourne currently uses a zonal system, using 2 zones, one for the CBD and inner city, the other for the outer suburbs. There is a buffer zone inbetween, so anyone travelling a short distance that would otherwise cross the zonal boundary doesn’t cop a big hit. Commuters pay either for Zone 1, Zone 2 or Zones 1+2.  You have 2 hours of unlimited travel (or 3 hours for Zones 1+2), the equivalent of a single. Instead of a return, you receive unlimited travel for the full day.

Melbourne zone map

Melbourne’s train map showing the two zones. Yellow is Zone 1, blue is Zone 2. The bit between the two that contains both blue and yellow is the buffer zone where both Zone 1 and Zone 2 tickets are valid. The tram network is contained entirely within Zone 1. (Source: Metlink Melbourne)

The easiest way to implement a zonal system in Sydney would be to use the 3 zones currently in place. Commuters remaining in a single zone would only need to pay for a single zone, with buffer areas between zones to avoid the problems raised in the previous paragraph. The big losers would be users of short bus trips, as the shortest trip would be an entire zone. However, as most people who take short trips are doing so on the back of another trip (which means the second, shorter trip would already be paid for) or are making a quick return trip (in which case the return journey could be made before the 2 hours expire).

It appears that the current plan is a point to point method for calculating fares. While both the point to point and zonal methods have problems, either would be better than the antiquated system currently in place.

  1. […] Point to point vs zonal ticketing 2 September 2011 (2,058 views) […]

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