Opal trial

Posted: November 26, 2012 in Transport
Tags: , ,

The Transport Minister, Gladys Berejiklian, announced yesterday that the trial of Sydney’s new electronic ticketing system, Opal, will begin next week on Friday 7 December on the Neutral Bay ferry route. This will be followed by the Manly ferry in the second quarter of 2013, with all ferry routes to be Opal compatible by the end of 2013. The Cityrail network will come next, starting with a trial on the City Circle in the second half of 2013, then buses and light rail. Opal will be fully rolled out by 2015. Transport for NSW has made a video outlining some of the features, which is included below.

Yesterdays announcement included a number of new details on how Opal will function. Fares will be capped at $15 per day, or $2.50 for Sundays, and all trips after the 8th are free each week. Commuters will need to “tap on” when they board and “tap off” when the disembark, and failing to do so means they will be charged the maximum possible fare for that journey (no tapping off is required on the Manly ferry as there are only 2 stops and so the second stop is assumed to be where passengers tap off). This suggests that Opal will be a point to point system for calculating fares, but it remains to be seen what the multi-modal impact will be (e.g. when you catch a bus and a train as part of one journey) and whether you will be charged a single fare for the trip or are penalised with two individual fares (resulting in a higher overall fare) for each leg of the journey. Given that Opal will be restricted only to ferries until mid-2013, it might be a while before this becomes apparent.

The black adult Opal card. Click on image for an image of the 5 different Opal cards. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Only adult Opal cards are available at the moment, with various concession Opal cards to be introduced in future, each distinguished by different colours (the adult Opals are black). There will also be non-reloadable Opal cards to allow single trips, for occassional users and tourists, which suggests that the magnetic stripe tickets will be phased out quite quickly and that Sydney might avoid the teething problems that Melbourne had with its simultaneous operation of Myki and Metcards.

Transport for NSW staff will be signing people up to Opal at ferry wharves, with no word yet on whether it costs anything to buy an Opal card. Opal credit can be added at shops (like those where you can currently buy pre-paid tickets), over the phone, the internet (once the http://www.opal.com.au website goes live), or an automatic top-up (similar to e-tags).

It remains to be seen whether the cautious trial approach that the government is taking is a good one or not. My gut tells me that it’s the right move, and will allow any glitches to be ironed out early without it negatively affecting commuters heavily. That’s the reasoning behind starting with ferries, and even then just the one ferry line at first. And while Opal was set in motion by the previous Labor government, this was a government that started 2 electronic ticketing systems but delivered none. It will be the delivery of Opal that this government will be judged on. If they want to be truly successful, then they will use this as an opportunity to introduced integrated fares as well as integrated ticketing.

Media Reports

Transport card ready to be rolled out in Sydney, ABC

Sydney’s new transport friend not far off, Sydney Morning Herald

Opal card trial to start on ferries after 15-year delay, Daily Telegraph

New Sydney transport ticketing – by 2015, The Australian/AAP

  1. Tony Bailey says:

    It would be nice if someone would define ‘trip’

  2. RichardU says:

    On 3 January, I sent the following email to the Minister. Recently I received a reply with a paraphrase of the contents of the weblink in the reply itself which told me nothing that was not already readily available. The core questions remain unanswered.

    “On the last occasion I have attempted to purchase train tickets at Epping station, two ticket machines both rejected my final undamaged two dollar coin, the only remaining one I had with me. Sorting this out and queueing to buy a ticket at the ticket window meant my wife and I missed the train we were aiming for.

    The barrier gate then rejected my wife’s three minutes old ticket and we had to be assisted through the barrier by the barrier attendant. On our return home the wide gate rejected by wife’s valid ticket saying it had expired. Again we were assisted through the barrier by the attendant.

    Is maintenance of ticketing machinery running down pending the arrival of the Opal card? The current technology should by now be well tested and should be working reliably by now.

    The expensive Opal card system involves wanding on and wanding off accurately to avoid travellers’ cards being debited the maximum amount for a journey. Given this experience, which presumably is not exceptional, how can travellers be assured the Opal wanding system will work reliably?

    How long will it take and how complicated will it be for travellers to adjust their balances where there are malfunctions at barriers as is almost inevitable? After years of CityRail operation, there are many, if not the majority of stations, which do not have barriers, yet Opal requires every station and every passenger to pass a barrier without incident, and presumably assistance. Is this really going to work on the first day and on every day especially at unattended stations? Call me sceptical.

    German public transport systems rely on much cheaper time based systems which facilitate changes of transport mode, speeds loading of buses have far fewer points of failure, lower installation costs and have less need for station staff. They are worth considering.”

  3. Hi Richard, thanks for your comments. Was the response (or link you referred to) included in your comment? It might be interesting to see that too.

    I’ve also had ticket reading errors in the past. Almost every time it’s solved by trying again on a different ticket barrier (or is because I was using the wrong ticket). I can only recall 2 or 3 times in my life when I’ve been rejected 3 times and had to pass via the gate. My experience is that the current machines currently work as well (or badly) as they always have.

    As to the reliability of Opal, it is the same system as the London based Oyster Card and Brisbane based Go Card. You can easily get an answer to that question right now by doing a Google search on how those systems have fared.

    There will be Opal readers at all stations, including those without barriers. Poles for these readers have already started to be rolled out at some stations around the network, though readers have yet to be installed on them.

    The German system referred to is not a ticketing system, it is a fare system. Melbourne also has a time based fare system along with electronic ticketing (Myki). These two issues of fares and ticketing are almost mutually exclusive and should not be mixed up.

  4. Jonathan says:

    Sounds good to me. (From the Opal section of the TfNSW site under FAQ)
    Trip, journey and transfer explained

    A trip is travel on one route, one mode. When you transfer to another route or service, you are commencing a new trip.

    A journey consists of one or more trips on eligible services where transfers between services occur within 60 minutes*.

    A transfer occurs at the end of a single trip. It is a change of transport mode or route, to another service or route, to continue a journey. Transfers made within a standard transfer time of 60 minutes* combine trips into a single journey.

    *60 minutes applies to all services except the Manly ferry service where the standard transfer time is 130 minutes from tap on.

  5. […] The implementation of Opal appears to be on track, with the new smartcard set to expand to the Manly Ferry on April 8, and then to the Eastern Suburbs and City Circle stations in the second half of 2013. Up to now it appears to have proceeded without any major hiccups, and has gotten further in the rollout than the T-Card did. […]

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