Sydney still lacks true integrated fares. In Melbourne, a single ticket allows you 2 hours of unlimited travel within a certain zone. You then decide how to get from your origin to your destination, what sort of vehicle or combination of vehicles. In Sydney, passengers are generally penalised financially if they transfer from one vehicle to another (unless it is from a train to another train). Someone travelling from Enmore to Circular Quay would be better off changing at Newtown for a train (as would the network as a whole as it would allow the removal of buses from the CBD), but doing so requires paying for an additional train ticket or upgrading to a more expensive myMulti ticket and so virtually all stay on the bus the whole way.
One possible solution, possible now that the Opal smartcard is being rolled out, is to charge passengers based on the total distance of their journey (point to point fares). It wouldn’t matter which, how many, or what combination of vehicles was used, the fare would remain the same. Alternatively, the existing zonal system used for myMulti tickets could be retained (zonal fares), but set at the same price for single or multimodal journeys. To do so for either the point to point or zonal methods means changing the relative fares of single mode and multimodal tickets. This is a relative change, so it could be an increase in the former, a decrease in the latter, or a combination of both. Further cuts in fares is difficult, due to a falling farebox recovery ratio (explained below using the example of Cityrail).
IPART sets fares so that farebox recovery (what passengers contribute in fares) is roughly 28% of Cityrail’s efficient operating cost, but none of the capital cost. So things like the North West Rail Link, South West Rail Link, and new Waratah trains are paid for entirely by the government, but things like staff salaries or electricity to run the trains are partly paid for by ticket sales and a government subsidy. The efficient costs refers to the total operating costs less any non-fare revenue (government concessions, rental income, etc) received.
This 28% target has not been met in recent years. It was 27% in 2008/09, falling to 25% in 20011/12 (Source: Review of maximum fares for CityRail services from January 2013, IPART Nov 2012, page 13).
There were a number of reasons for the drop. The introduction of myZone in 2010 saw a number of fares cut, but almost none increased. No fare increased was made for 2011, though the following year’s increase was a double up to make up for that. The current government has promised no fare increases above CPI without any improvements in services, and has stuck to the CPI limit since 2011. Also in 2011, an additional discount of 9% was provided on periodicals (monthly/quarterly/yearly tickets).
More recently, the government effectively increased fares for ferries by removing them all from Zone 1 and some from Zone 2 in the myZone system, forcing myMulti users up to a myMulti2 or myMulti3 if they wanted a multimodal ticket. The current Opal fare system also does not include periodicals, which if retained could increase fares for some by hundreds of dollars a year. However, most fares will remain cheaper under Opal than under the the current magnetic stripe tickets, particularly for off peak users.
So if cutting fares further is difficult, assuming a limited transport budget that is not increased, then the government would have to increase fares in order to achieve integrated fares. Recent reports suggest that this is not the government’s priority, and that there remains a preference for charging different fares for different modes due to the varying cost structures of different modes. Some minor improvements have been made – such as integrated fares for a single mode (e.g. ferry to ferry, or train to train while temporarily exiting the station), or the daily $15 cap and weekly free travel after the first 8 trips.
This might be enough for now, but will create problems come 2019 and 2020 when the North West Rail Link and South East Light Rail Line are opened. These two projects will in part rely on feeder buses and passengers transferring to second mode of transport in order to reach their final destination. This integrated network approach is a more efficient one, allowing a higher capacity of passenger movements along a central spine using rail based transport. But it needs integrated fares to be truly successful.
The danger remains that Sydney will get integrated ticketing and an integrated network, but no integrated fares.