Archive for January, 2014

Opal’s hidden gems

Posted: January 31, 2014 in Transport
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Correction: An earlier version of this post stated that train journey lengths were calculated as the crow flies. This is incorrect. They are only calculated this way for buses and ferries.

Opal, Sydney’s electronic ticketing system, is set to rollout to the entire city by the end of the year. Most people may have heard about the 8 journeys and then the rest of the week is free bonus that it provides. Quite a few also know that Opal fares have been frozen since it was introduced in late 2012, while prices for paper tickets have gone up in line with inflation. But there are a number of benefits that aren’t very well known, some hidden gems. Here are 4 of Opal’s best kept secrets.

1. Journey distances for buses and ferries are calculated as the crow flies rather than actual distance travelled

Fare’s are calculated based on the distance travelled. With paper tickets that is based on the actual distance travelled, so a passenger who takes a non-direct journey from origin to destination (perhaps because they caught a bus that makes a number of detours) ends up clocking up a much longer distance. In the case of buses, it’s calculated based on sections, each 1.6km in length. A 1.8km journey that starts at the end of one section, travels through a second, and then ends at the start of the third section is considered to be 3 sections, and has a more expensive fare than a 2 section journey.

An adult Opal smartcard. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW)

An adult Opal smartcard. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW)

With Opal, journey distances will be calculated as the shortest distance (direct line) from the origin to the destination. In many cases this will bump passengers down into a lower fare band.

2. Free return trips when time spent at destination is under an hour

Quick journeys mean that the return trip is considered a continuation of the initial trip, as long as less than 60 minutes pass between tapping off and tapping on again at the destination. The fare for the overall journey is equal to the fare for the initial trip. The return trip to the origin is effectively free.

3. Off-peak discounts for train travel

Most Opal users would be aware of the 30% discount for train travel during off-peak hours (and all day on weekends). What they may not know is that as long as they tap on outside of peak-hour (7:00AM-9:00AM and 4:00PM-6:30PM) then they are still eligible, even if they then travel during the peak period. So someone arriving at a train station at 6:50AM each morning will receive a 30% discount, regardless of when their train arrives or when they reach their destination. The same applies in the evening.

Note: Morning peak hour for NSW TrainLink services outside of metropolitan Sydney is 6:00AM-8:00AM.

4. Tap off to reverse a tap on

Any tap on can be reversed by tapping off immediately from any readers at that station/wharf/bus/tram. This is designed to allow passengers who tapped on by mistake to undo their action. However, it also means that it allows passengers to pass through the gated parts of the stations and out the other end, tapping off to reverse the initial tap on. This is possible, as the reversal tap off does not have to be on the same reader which was used to tap on. For large stations like Central or Strathfield, the fastest way to reach a certain destination is sometimes through the station itself. It’s also useful for when nature calls and toilets are only available in the gated section of the station.

Comparing Opal to Myki and TCard

Posted: January 29, 2014 in Transport
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The Opal rollout has progressed with little to no major issues. To see exactly how well it has progressed, it can be compared to Sydney’s previous attempt at smartcard ticketing – the TCard, and also Melbourne’s Myki.


The NSW Government initially promised a smartcard ticketing system in time for the 2000 Sydney Olympics. In what became the first of many delays, this did not happen in time for the Olympics and the contract with ERG (now known as Videlli) to develop what was then called the TCard would not be signed until 2002.

A TCard reader. Click to enlarge. (Source: Todd Milton)

A TCard reader. Click to enlarge. (Source: Todd Milton)

Plans for a commuter trial also saw delays, and so the first to trial the TCard were school students in the School Student Transport Scheme (SSTS) that provides free public transport to get to and from school. 285,000 TCards were given out starting in January 2005 for the purpose of collecting data. However, students were still required to show their paper bus pass due to potential glitches in the system and could not board the bus with their TCard alone. In addition, they could not be denied on to the bus if they did not have their TCard. This, along with the originally anticipated glitches meant that by the third year of the SSTS trial, only 12% of students were still using their TCards.

A commuter trial finally began in October 2006, not 2004 as was agreed to in the contract, starting with government STA buses from the Kingsgrove depot that used the King St corridor through Newtown and buses from the private operator Punchbowl Bus Company. Once again, the trial encountered major glitches, and by June 2007 STA drivers boycotting TCard and the Punchbowl Bus Company refusing to extend the trial beyond an initial 6 routes until the glitches were resolved.

Part of the reason for the glitches was the unnecessarily complex fare system in place in NSW, with hundreds of different fare options available. This was further complicated at the time by the fact that each private bus operator also ran its own independent fare structure (which would later be streamlined when myZone was introduced in 2010). The government was urged to simplify the fare structure, but refused to do so [6].

The TCard was dumped a few months later in November 2007.

Though never used as a ticketing system, the development of the TCard did provide a silver lining in the form of bus vehicle tracking. Thus, the work done in the development stage formed the foundation for the real time bus tracking and PTIPS (which provides the potential for buses to be given traffic light priority when running late in order to improve on time running).


Like Sydney’s TCard, Melbourne’s myki suffered from delays. Originally announced with a planned completion of 2007, it was soon pushed back to 2009. Myki was introduced onto Melbourne’s entire train network on 29 December 2009, apparently to satisfy the political promise of a 2009 rollout, with myki rolled out on to buses and trams 6 months later.

The rollout was rushed, with then head of Melbourne’s Public Transport Users Association (PTUA) Daniel Bowen finding a number of problems. These included faulty top up machines at the first 2 stations he went to (the first was out of order while the second didn’t accept coins or credit cards), an online top up process that could take up to 24 hours, and slow reader response times of almost 2 seconds (about twice as long as Opal readers in Sydney).

In addition, the website was full of problems, from transaction report pdfs that would not be produced but then unexpectedly be emailed out much later through to incompatibility issues with browsers like Chrome and Safari.

“The simple truth is the government has rushed this thing to the table while it’s still half-baked. After foolishly having promised it by the end of the year, they’ve switched only part of it on, but even that part doesn’t work properly.”Daniel Bowen (January 2010), PTUA President

The rollout’s progress was frozen in mid-2010, months before the November 2010 state election, with no further progress made on expanding myki’s coverage to regional trains or starting the removal of paper metcards. The election resulted in a change of government which then ordered a full review before any further progress could be made. It ultimately decided to continue the rollout, with metcards finally phased out within the Melbourne network by mid-2013.

But by then the damage had been done. Melbourne’s travelling public didn’t trust myki, which had developed a reputation for being unreliable with its long reader response times, difficulties with top ups, and glitches from a rushed rollout. Some went as far as to question whether myki, with its $1.5bn price tag, was ever necessary at all given that metcards had been meeting the requirements of Melbourne’s ticket system for some decades, providing integrated fares and integrated tickets without the need for an expensive electronic ticketing system.


Compared to Myki and TCard, the rollout of Opal has been virtually scandal free. A kind assessment of the reasons for this would conclude that those behind Opal learned from the mistakes of Myki and TCard.

Sydney might be ready for integrated ticketing, but is it ready for integrated fares? (Source: Beau Giles)

Sydney might be ready for integrated ticketing, but is it ready for integrated fares? (Source: Beau Giles)

Mistake 1: The rollout timetable was ambitious and based on political rather than technical considerations.

The TCard contract was signed in 2002 and given a 2005 deadline (3 years) whereas the Myki contract was signed in 2005 and given a 2009 deadline (4 years). Meanwhile, the Opal contract was signed in 2010 and given a 2015 deadline (5 years), despite the technology being far more mature and being trialed in numerous other cities by that stage. Under-promising and over-delivering has brought forward the estimate completion of the rollout to the end of 2014.

Mistake 2: Poor choice of trials.

The TCard trial failed because it required students to continue to use their paper bus passes and did not mandate the use of TCards. Soon only 12% of students were using their TCards due to glitches in the system. By not using their TCards, these glitches became harder to fix, and this was seen when the limited commuter trial continued to see problems. The commuter trial turned out to be the final throes of the TCard.

In Melbourne, Myki was trialled in regional centres, but then rolled out onto the full train network overnight. Not only did the lack of trams and buses mean that Melbourne’s long standing multi-modal integrated fares not apply to Myki, but the large scale trial made it difficult to deal with what soon became large numbers of problems.

The Opal trial began with the Neutral Bay ferry. This was the least patronised route of the least patronised mode of transport. But importantly, it was in Sydney, was a paid service, had readers on the wharves rather than the ferries, and was easy to isolate.

Mistake 3: Long response times for readers.

Myki readers took 1-2 seconds to read a Myki card, about twice as long as that for Opal readers. Read times of over 1 second significantly increase the chances that passengers will not have their card recognised appropriately, risking the wrong fare or a fine for fare evasion. Additionally, it can also cause delays if large numbers of passengers try to pass through limited readers.

Mistake 4: Difficult top ups.

The long (24 hour) online top ups for Myki, which sometimes blew out to days or weeks if there were issues, mean that many Melbourne Myki users refuse to rely on automatic top ups to this day.

In comparison, Opal top ups become available about 1 hour after being made online.

Mistake 5: Complex fare system.

The TCard was introduced into an environment that pre-dated myZone. It was complicated, featuring completely different fare structures for different modes and operators, of which there were a multitude of private bus operators (particularly prior to their amalgamations from 2005 onwards). These no doubt contributed to the glitches that were partly the cause of its failure.

Yet even under myZone, the fare structure for Sydney remains complicated. It retains a separate fare structure for each mode of transport, plus an additional multi-modal fare in the form of a myMulti (but a CBD centric one that is only available as a periodical unless obtaining the very expensive daily ticket). On top of that, there are mode specific discounts, such as travel tens for buses and ferries or off-peak tickets for trains.

This led the director of fares and ticketing at Transport for London, in charge of the Oyster smartcard system on which Opal is based on, to remark that:

 “The fare structure in Sydney is definitely in need of simplification. The system will deliver you any fare structure you want, but it is insane to have a fare structure that complicated because you are putting a lot of risk in the technology in implementing a fare change every single time. But more than that, if your customers don’t understand what these rules are, what is the point of having this fare structure?” – Shashi Verma (July 2011)

It was also supported by ERG’s legal claim against the NSW government, in which it claimed that the failure to simplify the fare structure was a contributor to the demise of the project.

This need to simplify the fares appears to be a major driving force in Opal’s seemingly basic fare structure. For example, it lacks periodical, multi-modal, or multi trip fares (e.g. monthly, myMulti, or travel tens respectively). It replaces these with an 8 paid journeys a week and then the rest are free policy, which acts to mimic the eliminated fares. But this still leaves some passengers worse off, particularly occasional users or anyone using more than one mode (e.g. a bus plus a train).

Most importantly, the new fare structure lacks any form of multi-modal fare. Such a decision is not a technical one, the technology is more than capable of handling multi-modal fares that eliminate transfer penalties. Indeed, it does exactly this with single mode transfers, where passengers can now catch 2 buses consecutively and pay a fare as though they had travelled from their origin to their destination on a single vehicle. Instead, this decision is a policy one.

So despite having few problems from a technical perspective, the Opal is not entirely without issues. The only question that remains unanswered is if multi-modal fares will happen after the Opal rollout is complete, or whether the government has merely put that into the too hard basket. If it is the latter, then Opal’s $1.2bn price tag will be quite high for an integrated ticket that is not accompanied by integrated fares.

Opal rolls out to Wyong on Jan 31

Posted: January 23, 2014 in Transport
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Opal, Sydney’s electronic smartcard ticketing system, is to be rolled out to all stations as far as Wyong on Friday 31 January. This will add the Inner West, Northern, North Shore, and Central Coast Lines to the Eastern Suburbs Line and City Circle, as well as part of the North Shore Line through to Chatswood, to the list of stations where Opal can be used.

Stations to which Opal will be rolled out on 31 January. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Stations to which Opal will be rolled out on 31 January. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Opal currently also operates on all ferries and the 594 and 333 bus routes, and is on track to be rolled out to the entire transport network by the end of the year. Cards can be obtained only via the Opal website. Plans for Opal cards to be available from retailers in “early 2014” have been pushed back to “late 2014”.

The next stage in the rollout will be on the Western Line, where Opal readers have currently been installed out to Granville and Carlingford Stations. These stations, as well as others out to Penrith and Richmond, are currently scheduled to have Opal reader installed and operational by the end of March.

24 hour transport

Posted: January 21, 2014 in Transport
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The Victorian Opposition announced on Sunday that if elected it would introduce a $50m trial of all night public transport for Melbourne on Friday and Saturday nights for one year. Daniel Bowen wrote a good summary of it, and it’s worth reading for more details.

The main selling point of the proposal appears to be all night running of train services. Melbourne, like Sydney, currently shuts down its train network overnight and runs rail replacement nightride buses instead. However, as the previous link points out, shutting down the rail network is quite common around international cities (listing Paris, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Amsterdam as examples). Those that do run all night tend to do so at 15-30 minute frequencies (Chicago, New York, and Berlin are given as examples here, while London will soon join that list). Meanwhile, the proposal is only for hourly services, which Daniel Bowen criticises for being too infrequent for the trial to be successful. The danger, he argues, is that it will fail if the trial is not with 15-30 minute frequencies. In other words, it should be all or nothing.

Decent frequencies are important in case a bus is missed and passengers are left waiting for the next one. This could occur either because a passenger arrives at the bus stop late or because the bus is full. Replacing nightride buses with trains may resolve the second problem, but only higher frequencies will resolve the first.

So how does Sydney compare?

While Sydney shuts down its trains overnight, it retains a strong overnight transport network made up of rail replacement nightride buses as well as regular bus services that run all night. In particular, additional services were recently added so that there would be a bus every 10 minutes between Kings Cross and Central Station between 1AM and 5AM on weekends. These were boosted as one part of a response to the alcohol fueled violence that has been getting mentioned a lot in the media. The NSW Opposition’s response to alcohol fueled violence involved a similar call to run trains all night on weekends between Kings Cross and Central, while committing to investigate doing the same on other lines too.

Much of Sydney enjoys 30 minute frequencies early mornings on weekends, with nightride buses running every half hour out to Blacktown, Macarthur, Hurstville, Bondi Junction, and Gordon. Virtually the rest of the rail network maintains hourly buses all night.

Nightride bus network with weekend frequency: 10 minutes (purple), 15 minutes (blue), 30 minutes (green), 60 minutes (orange). Click to enlarge. (Source: Sydney Trains.)

Nightride bus network with weekend frequency: 10 minutes (purple), 15 minutes (blue), 30 minutes (green), 60 minutes (orange). Click to enlarge. (Source: Sydney Trains.)

Areas not served by rail generally retain existing bus services overnight, many of them half hourly frequencies again. Buses go out to Bondi Beach at 15 minute frequencies until 2:30AM, then 30 minute frequencies for the rest of the night. Buses to Mona Vale operate at 30 minute frequencies. Past Mona Vale through to Mona Vale, as well as to Coogee Beach, Maroubra Junction, and Castle Hill buses initially run at 30 minute frequencies, reducing to 60 minute frequencies somewhere between 2AM and 4AM. Past Maroubra Junction through to Little Bay bus services run at 60 minute frequencies. And buses to Abbotsford run all night, but with a 2 hour gap between 3AM and 5AM.

All night bus network on weekends. Frequencies: 15 minutes until 3AM then 30 minutes (blue), 30 minutes all night (green), 30 minutes until 2AM-4AM then 60 minutes (yellow), 60 minutes all night (orange), all night but with a 2 hour gap from 3AM to 5AM (red). Dashed lines indicate express service which does not stop. Click to enlarge. (Source: Open Street Map, author.)

All night bus network on weekends. Frequencies: 15 minutes until 3AM then 30 minutes (blue), 30 minutes all night (green), 30 minutes until 2AM-4AM then 60 minutes (yellow), 60 minutes all night (orange), all night but with a 2 hour gap from 3AM to 5AM (red). Dashed lines indicate express service which does not stop. Click to enlarge. (Source: Open Street Map, edited by author.)

Other than the train shutdown, Sydney’s current overnight network appears to be exactly what Daniel Bowen recommends for Melbourne.

Update (11:27AM, 16 Jan 2014): Confirmation has come through that Thornleigh station now has Opal readers installed. That means the entire Northern portion of the T1 lines are ready for Opal use.

Opal readers have been installed in all but one station on the Inner West, Northern, North Shore, and Central Coast rail lines; suggesting that Opal cards will soon be usable on this sector of Sydney’s rail network. The current schedule has Opal being rolled out to these lines by the end of March, though the rollout has recently been running 1-4 months ahead of schedule. Following this, Opal is set to be rolled out to the Western Line, also with a March deadline.

After the initial trial on the Eastern Suburbs and City Circle Lines, Opal will then be rolled out progressively onto the North Shore, Inner West, Northern, Western, and South Lines. Click to enlarge. (Sources: Transport for NSW, Cityrail, modified by author)

After the initial trial on the Eastern Suburbs and City Circle Lines, Opal will then be rolled out progressively onto the North Shore, Inner West, Northern, Western, and South Lines. Click to enlarge. (Sources: Transport for NSW, Cityrail, modified by author)

A map of locations with Opal readers installed, created by Robert McKinlay, shows that only Thornleigh station currently lacks Opal readers. All past expansions of Opal’s coverage have occurred on a Friday, so the next expansion of its coverage could potentially occur as soon as Friday next week or even tomorrow.

Though Opal’s rollout has proceeded without any major technical issues, it has come under criticism for its fare structure. The lack of travel ten tickets, periodical fares, or multi-modal fares, along with off-peak train fares that no longer allow train users to return during the afternoon peak as long as they obtain their ticket after the morning peak will mean that some passengers will be worse off under Opal compared to existing paper tickets. Those using monthly/quarterly/yearly tickets, occasional bus or ferry users, or passengers making journeys involving more than one mode (e.g. bus plus train) are those most likely to be worse off.

However, Opal also provide a number of potential benefits. These include calculating trip distances as the crow flies rather than as actually traveled, which reduces trip length and thus the fare; free transfers within a single mode such as bus to bus or ferry to ferry; off-peak rail fares on weekends; a $2.50 fare cap on Sundays; cheaper fares compared to a standard non-Opal ticket; and removing the need to obtain the correct ticket before traveling.

Correction to previous 2 posts on fares

Posted: January 15, 2014 in Transport

Due to a calculation error, some corrections have had to be made to the previous 2 posts, published last week (The cost of transport and fare setting) and earlier today (Follow up to fare setting). The error involved mixing up the average length of trips for buses and ferries (they were swapped around the wrong way), and a rounding error for train fares per passenger km.

An error has been made. This image was procured without obtaining the necessary permission, for comedic purposes.

An error has been made. This image was procured without obtaining the necessary permission, for comedic purposes.

The adjustments show that the operating cost per passenger km is actually the same for trains and buses, but remains higher for ferries. Meanwhile, the fares paid per km now see a much greater disparity between buses and trains. As a result, the initial conclusion that multi-modal fare integration between only buses and trains remains, given that the have almost identical operating costs per passenger km (previously there was a small disparity).

However, this will become harder to achieve politically, given that the increased disparity in fares per passenger km mean having to increase train fares by 50% relative to bus fares. This could be achieved by a combination of bus fare reductions and/or train fare increases, and this in turn could be achieved by the removal of discounts for trains (such as the heavily discounted periodical tickets) or expansion of discounts to buses (such as the off-peak travel discount currently available on trains only).

As before, the second post discusses many of the limitations of the assumptions that underlie this conclusion. Although the figures have changed slightly, the arguments and ideas discussed in those posts, along with the comments, which have proven to be very interesting in their own right, remain worthy of consideration.

Follow up to fare setting post

Posted: January 15, 2014 in Transport
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Correction: A calculation error was made in the initial post. These errors have been corrected (original figures shown struckout). The graphs have also been corrected. While these figures still support bus plus train fare integration, given the similar cost per passenger km for those 2 modes, it does make achieving this appear more difficult given that there is no longer a small gap in the fare charged per passenger km for those same modes. Therefore, doing so remains the most likely outcome, but would now require a large (circa 50%) increase in train fares relative to bus fares.

A post published here last week about fare setting resulted in a fair amount of interesting discussion, enough to warrant a follow up, starting with a recap.


When setting fares, one of two approaches can be taken: a cost based approach and a distance based approach.

The first approach is to require fares to represent the cost of providing the service. The more expensive it is to provide that form of transport, the more expensive the fares should be. This uses price signals to encourage passengers to travel on the mode of transport which costs the least to provide. The average cost of transporting a passengers a single km on each of the different modes works out to: $1.27 $0.96 on a ferry, $0.79 on a train, and $0.59 $0.79 on a bus. This suggests that, given a similar length journey, fares for buses and trains should be equal, while ferries should be about 115% 22% higher than for buses and trains, and fares for trains should be 34% higher than for buses. However, the average fare for a passenger traveling a single km on each of the different modes works out to: $0.41 $0.31 on a ferry, $0.17 $0.23 on a bus, and $0.13 $0.15 on a train. Thus, ferry fares are 141% 35% higher than buses (too high: they should only be 115% 22% higher), while train fares are actually 24% 35% lower than buses (too low: they should be 34% higher the same). Thus, in order to properly represent operating costs, ferry fares would need to be cut by 11% 9% and train fares would need to be raised by 57% 53%, with bus fares remaining steady.

2014-01-15 Operating cost per km

The second approach requires fares to represent the distance traveled by passengers, effectively integrated fares. Two people traveling 1km on public transport should be charged the same, regardless of which or how many modes of transport are used. This ensures that passengers use the most efficient and effective route to reach their final destination, rather than prioritise one that minimises transfers. As previously mentioned, the average fare for a passenger traveling a single km on each of the different modes works out to: $0.41 $0.31 on a ferry, $0.17 $0.23 on a bus, and $0.13 $0.15 on a train. Thus, in order for fares to be the same for traveling the same distance, ferry fares would need to be cut 59% 35% and trains would need to be raised 31% 53%, with bus fares again remaining steady.

2014-01-15 Fares per km

The previous post concluded that if integrated fares was the goal, then it would be easier to achieve fare parity for trains and buses, given the smaller disparity in fares similar operating cost per passenger km than compared to that between ferries and buses/trains.

Update: The following paragraph was added at 3:03PM, 15 January 2014

However, doing so would require a 50% increase in train fares relative to bus fares. This does not necessarily mean a change in the base fare. For example, much of this is possible via the removal of heavily discounted periodical fares for trains, which account for 45% of train users, that appears to be occurring with the rollout of Opal.


This conclusion is based on certain assumptions which do not always hold up well, some of which have been pointed out in comments to the earlier post.

2014-01-14 TandemTrainRider

The post assumes that the fare per km and cost per passenger km are constant within each mode. In reality, these vary wildly based on things like total distance (short trips have higher fares per km than long distance ones), availability of concessions (children/pensioners/students pay a lower fare than working adults), geographic location (highly patronised inner city services cost less per passenger km than sparsely patronised outer suburban services due to costs being divided among a greater number of passengers), etc. As a result, claiming that fares cannot be integrated because one mode costs more than another overlooks the fact that each mode is made up of a number of routes, some of which will have higher costs and some of which will have lower costs.

[tweet 421381662245543936 align=’center’]

The figures used also only consider operating costs, and not any capital costs. This is most significant for trains, which require a large up front investment in the form of railways, often underground, whereas for buses and ferries these costs are often small or nil. It could be argued that these are sunk costs: they have already been made and cannot be reversed, so should not be considered in decision making. It is also the case that rail operating costs (2013: $4.0bn) are many times the size of its capital costs (2013: $1.6bn) according to Railcorp (p. 8) But given the billions being spent on expanding and maintaining the rail network, it remains difficult to eliminate capital costs entirely from consideration.

David Caldwell made a strong case in favour of including ferries in any multi-modal fare integration in one of the comments to a post he wrote about Opal back in 2012. It’s too long to replicate in its entirety here, and the post itself is even longer, but both are definitely worth a read.

2014-01-14 Alex

Finally, there is also the possibility that different modes of transport may retain their differing fares, but with only a single flag fall per journey. The dual standard currently applied by Opal is worth noting here as currently two trips made one after another are considered a single journey for the purposes of reaching the 8 journey per week level after which all travel is free, yet each trip within that journey has a separate fare. Each of those fares has a flag fall component (akin to the $2.50 flag fall paid to a taxi driver for merely boarding the taxi) and a distance component (which increases roughly in proportion to the distance traveled). It would be quite achievable to remove the flag fall, but retain separate fares for different modes.

The argument here that Treasury would be opposed due to the loss of fare revenue is valid. But Treasury has already appeared to have lost that fight on single mode fare integration, given that the fare for two bus trips is now calculated as though only one was used. However, this was likely achieved because the distance component of bus fares is the same for all buses, and so it would be difficult to extend this to other modes until two or more modes have similar fare calculation methods.

That is why the previous post recommended that buses and trains adopt similar fare bands. This is easiest for buses and trains because the disparity in fares between them (24%) is much lower than that for ferries and buses (59%).

Correction: A calculation error was made in the initial post. These errors have been corrected (original figures shown struckout). The graphs have also been corrected. While these figures still support bus plus train fare integration, given the similar cost per passenger km for those 2 modes, it does make achieving this appear more difficult given that there is no longer a small gap in the fare charged per passenger km for those same modes. Therefore, doing so remains the most likely outcome, but would now require a large (circa 50%) increase in train fares relative to bus fares.

Achieving multi-modal fare integration requires a journey to charge the same fare regardless of which or how many modes of transport were used to make it. Doing so would mean charging the same fare per km for different modes. While this is very easy for single mode integration (and is why Opal is allowing single mode fare integration), and relatively easy for bi-modal fare integration on buses and trains, the main obstacle appears to be ferries. One possible solution would be to exclude ferries from multi-modal fare integration.

A more detailed analysis of the figures behind this proposal is found below.

Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport Overview - Volume Eight 2013, NSW Auditor General, p. 38.)

Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport Overview – Volume Eight 2013, NSW Auditor General, p. 38.)

In 2013, trains were the mode of transport with the highest cost per trip: the average trip incurring operating costs of $13.07 to provide, of which $2.57 is paid for by way of fares. Ferries were the next most expensive: those figures being $8.49 and $2.77 respectively. Buses were the cheapest mode of transport: at $3.02 and $1.44 respectively.

NOTE: The figures above are for 2012 for ferries (as the franchising of Sydney Ferries means the 2013 figures are not comparable). Meanwhile, only government STA buses are included for the buses figure, these account for 71% of trips in NSW and serve the dense inner city parts of Sydney therefore cost less per trip than private bus operators due to the higher patronage levels. All following figures include both STA and private bus operators.

The trouble with these figures is that they do not take into account trip lengths. For example, the average train trip was 16.7km, while the average bus ferry trip was 8.9km and the average ferry bus trip is even shorter at 6.7km. So all other things equal, the average train trip would cost more to provide and should result in a higher fare than a bus ferry trip, the same again for buses ferries compared to ferries buses.

2014-01-15 Operating cost per km

Controlling for trip length provides the cost of providing transport for each mode by km. The relative cost of trains falls to reach parity with buses and ferries swap, while buses ferries remain the cheapest most expensive mode of transport per passenger km. Transporting a passenger 1km costs $1.27 $0.96 on a ferry, $0.79 on a train, and $0.59 $0.79 on a bus.

2014-01-15 Fares per km

Meanwhile, the long average trip lengths for trains means that passenger contributions to covering costs via fares drops substantially for trains, to the point that it falls below that of buses. The fare paid by passengers to travel 1km is $0.41 $0.31 on ferries, $0.17 $0.23 on buses, and $0.13 $0.15 on trains. This disparity is important if inter-modal fare integration is to be introduced, as fares for any given distance should be roughly equivalent between buses, trains, and ferries in order to achieve it.

This would allow passengers to be charged a similar fare for travelling the same distance, regardless of which or what combination of modes of transport they use. Opal will see transfer penalties within modes (e.g. bus to bus or ferry to ferry) eliminated, but not between modes.

2014-01-09 Farebox cost recovery per km

However, when looking at what proportion of operating costs are covered by fares, ferries recover only slightly more than buses, despite operating costs and fares being much more per km. As a percentage of total operating costs, farebox cost recovery for ferries is 32.6%, for buses is 28.7%, and for trains is 19.8%.

Ferry passengers pay almost two and a half one and a half times as much in fares to travel 1km than bus passengers ($0.41 vs $0.13 $0.31 vs $0.23), yet their contribution to operating costs is only slightly more (32.6% vs 28.7%). Meanwhile, ferry passengers pay over three times twice as much in fares to travel 1km than train passengers ($0.41 vs $0.13 $0.31 vs $0.15) yet their contribution to operating costs is only one and a half times as much (32.6% vs 19.8%). This is a very expensive way of achieving a similar cost recovery.

That is the main opposition within the transport bureaucracy to multi-modal integrated fares: ferries cost more to operate per km than buses and trains, so passengers should pay more per km to use them (and they do). So if fares are to be integrated, there are two ways of making ferry fares the same as for bus and train fares: (1) ferry fares can be cut, or (2) bus and train fares can be raised. It has to be one or both, it cannot be neither.

The former would cost the government in the form of foregone fares. This is because fares (for all modes of transport and for both public and private operators) are collected and retained by the government. It is particularly problematic given the fare cuts and freezes brought in as part of myZone and Opal, along with limiting fare increases to inflation since 2011, have already reduced potential fare revenue.

The latter would be unpopular, and the government seems reluctant to do this while it is rolling out Opal in the fear that it will be tarring what has otherwise been a fairly successful rollout. The last thing it needs is for the public to associate Opal with fare increases. But with farebox cost recovery falling as low as it is, particularly for trains, it would be unlikely that the government would not seriously consider this option in the coming years.

However, as the discrepancy in fares applies more to ferries than to buses and trains, where fares and are similar enough, one option would be to remove Opal’s transfer penalties between buses and trains, leading to integrated fares for passengers who take both trains and buses. This would require equivalising fares for both trains and buses (including the off-peak discount currently only applied to trains), then considering a journey made up of consecutive train and bus trips to be a continuous trip with a single origin and destination. This would then be used to calculate the fare. This is only possible under Opal’s fare system, as it has eliminated periodical train tickets and travel ten bus tickets which each complicate the fare calculation process.

2014-01-09 Fare by trip length

A quick look at the fares for all modes of transport shows that all fares other than those for ferries are actually quite similar at various trip distances. This would make fare integration for all non-ferry modes achievable without significant difficulty. It would also importantly allow for passengers in the catchment area of the North West Rail Link (NWRL) to not face a transfer penalty once the NWRL begins operating and they are required to catch a feeder bus before catching a train the rest of the way.

Note on figures used in this post:

Most figures were obtained from the Transport Overview – Volume Eight 2013, NSW Auditor General (pp. 31, 38) and Household Travel Survey 2010/11, Bureau of Transport Statistics (pp. 14, 39). All figures were for the year ended 30 June 2013, except for: (1) ferries where a shift to franchised operation made the 2013 figures not comparable and so 2012 figures were used, and (2) average trip lengths where the most recent figures available were for the year ending 30 June 2011 (average trip lengths for ferries were estimated with the available data).


Happy New Year. 2013 has been an eventful one. This blog received almost 138 thousand hits during a year in which:

In the coming year, we can look forward to the opening of the Inner West Light Rail extension to Dulwich Hill and the completion of the Opal rollout (currently scheduled for the end of 2014). Meanwhile, expect the major parties to begin to announce their transport plans ahead of the next state election in early 2015, with things like a Second Harbour rail crossing, a Western Sydney light rail network, Bus Rapid Transit for the Northern Beaches, and potentially plans to privatise the state owned electricity transmission network as a means to pay for all the much needed infrastructure all likely to feature prominently.

But until then, here are some of the major events and stories from the past year, as posted, shared and commented about on this blog —

Posts with the most hits

  1. Draft 2013 timetable (part 1): Introduction 20 May 2013 (7,959 hits)
  2. 2013 timetable re-write (part 3): Untangling the network 22 February 2013 (4,844 hits)
  3. What the 2013 timetable might look like 13 May 2013 (3,908 hits)
  4. Draft 2013 timetable (part 2): AM Peak 22 May 2013 (1,430 hits)
  5. WestConnex plan finalised 19 September 2013 (1,296)

The new timetable drove a lot of traffic to this blog over the previous year, particularly when a draft of the timetable was leaked in May.

Posts with the most comments

  1. 17km Macquarie Park light rail proposed by Parramatta Council 30 August 2013 (50 comments)
  2. How might the NWRL work? 16 October 2013 (49 comments)
  3. Should the North West Rail Link be a metro? 8 February 2013 (47 comments)
  4. How might the CBD and SE Light Rail work? 9 October 2013 (46 comments)
  5. North West Rail Link – policy or politics? 11 June 2013 (43 comments)

The clear thing in common here is the North West Rail Link (NWRL), which tends to generate a lot of discussion back and forth in the comments section. The post on the Macquarie Park light rail was the most commented on post and not actually about the NWRL, but the comments soon shifted towards discussing the NWRL.

Posts with the most activity on social media

  1. All Day Challenge (October 2013), 1 October 2013 (89 shares on Facebook and 3 tweets on Twitter)
  2. Draft 2013 timetable (part 2): AM Peak 22 May 2013 (43 shares on Facebook and 8 tweets on Twitter)
  3. The worst sort of NIMBY 25 September 2013 (27 shares on Facebook and 6 tweets on Twitter)
  4. Opal running 4 months ahead of schedule 28 August 2013 (31 shares on Facebook 2 tweets on Twitter)
  5. Western Sydney makes its case for an airport of its own 15 February 2013 (11 shares on Facebook and 9 tweets on Twitter)

This probably understates the level of sharing over Twitter as tweets are only counted once, regardless of how many times that one tweet may be re-tweeted, whereas Facebook shares are each counted uniquely. That said, the most shared posts have tended to be driven by shares on Facebook rather than tweets on Twitter.

Most searched terms

  1. westconnex (635 searches)
  2. cityrail map (323 searches)
  3. westconnex map (257 searches)
  4. transport sydney (170 searches)
  5. sydney train map (170 searches)

WestConnex was by far the biggest generator of hits from web searches, with the home page being the destination rather than the post itself (preventing those posts about WestConnex from ranking higher) and reflects the fact that the car remains the primary mode of transport for Sydney residents. This is in contrast to activity in the comments section and social media, both of which are more likely to be transport enthusiasts, neither of which had WestConnex in their respective top 5 for the year.

This does perhaps provide a reminder to some advocates of public transport (the writer of this blog included) that there remains some disconnect between them and the regular person on the street when it comes to enthusiasm for public transport and dislike of cars or roads.