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.
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.
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