Opal cards will be extended for trains through to Chatswood and also accepted on all government owned ferries from this Friday 30 August, putting the roll-out 4 months ahead of schedule. Buses will begin accepting Opal cards by the end of 2013, with the roll-out (excluding trams) expected to be completed by the end of next year.
“The full potential of the new electronic ticketing system is the ability to travel across ferries, trains and buses by the end of 2014. Planning for light rail is in development.” – Source: Opal Website
Trains were added to Opal on 14 June 2013, 2 weeks ahead of of the scheduled “2nd half of 2013”, while the Chatswood extension comes 1 month before the scheduled “4th quarter of 2013”, and the completion of the ferry roll-out is 4 months before the scheduled “end of 2013”. This means the roll-out to buses (4th quarter of 2013) and both the Northern and Western train lines (1st quarter of 2014) could also begin before their scheduled dates.
However, what remains missing is how Opal will handle multi-modal fares. Transfers on a single mode, such as from ferry to ferry or train to train (including when passengers leave the paid area of the station in the case of the latter) do not have fare penalties applied. This means that someone catching a ferry from Manly to Circular Quay and then another ferry to Balmain just pays the single fare, while someone who catches a train from Bondi Junction to Town Hall and then back again within 60 minutes also only pays a single fare. (It remains uncertain whether transfer penalties between buses will also be removed or if they will be retained as is currently the case.)
What is missing is journeys made up of trips on 2 different modes of transport, where the only fare integration is the daily $15 fare cap and free trips after the first 8, which roughly equates to the existing myMulti fare option. But this means that passengers are financially encouraged to avoid multi-modal trips, even when it is more efficient from a time or cost to the government perspective. This is not ideal, and should be addressed. If not during the current Opal trial, then soon after it is fully rolled out.
Otherwise, it will lead to problems when the North West Rail Link and CBD and South East Light Rail open, both of which will rely on converting existing bus services into feeder buses for passengers to transfer to rail.