Correction: An earlier version of this post showed a map of the proposed Opal rollout as including stations between Granville and Liverpool. This has since been clarified by Transport for NSW as being stations between Strathfield and Liverpool via Regents Park. The map now been corrected.
Sydney’s Opal smartcard will be expanded into the rail network on 14 June 2013. It has currently operated on only 2 ferry routes, to Neutral Bay and Manly, and just 700 cards have been distributed thus far. However, passengers will not enjoy integrated fares, paying a separate fare for a journey involving both trains and ferries rather than a single fare for a single journey.
A trial of Opal will initially operate on the Eastern Suburbs Line and City Circle, starting at Central Station. In the fourth quarter of 2013 this will be extended north to Chatswood and expanded to include all ferries. Then in the first quarter of 2014 Opal’s coverage will spread further, first to Strathfield and Wyong, then to Richmond, Emu Plains, and Liverpool (Source: Opal website).
The expansion of Opal into a multi-modal ticketing system will not be accompanied by multi-modal fares. Opal users who travel on just a single mode of transport will pay less than one who travels on two modes, even if their origin and destination are exactly the same. This penalises passengers for having to make a transfer via higher fares, despite this being an added inconvenience to them. An ideal fare system, one which uses integrated fares, would charge passengers based on the distance they travel, regardless of which and how many modes they use to get there.
The reluctance to integrate fares at this point may be due to the government’s choice to focus on rolling out Opal first, and fixing the fares second. The recent decision, on the advice of IPART, to correct the anomaly on ferries where a myMulti ticket was cheaper than a myFerry ticket supports this view. Fixing the other anomaly that was introduced with myZone, cheap long distance bus tickets for Northern Beaches and Northwest bus services, could be the other prerequisite to introducing full integrated ticketing.
Despite this, the $15 daily fare cap, along with the unlimited free journeys each week after the first 8, together act as a kind of integrated fare. Passengers currently need to determine the best ticket at the start of each week in order to pay the lowest fare, be it single tickets, a weekly, or a myMulti. With Opal they will be able to travel first, and then the cheapest possible fare will be charged at the end of the week. These are definitely improvements, but still retain what remains an unnecessarily complicated fare structure.
Opal cards can be obtained by ordering them online from the www.opal.com.au website. The smartcard is free, but requires a minimum $40 deposit.