Archive for July, 2014

VIDEO: Sydney Public Transport Is Third World, The Feed (22 July 2014)

Wednesday: 3 new trams for Sydney Light Rail

The first 3 of the 12 new trams ordered for the Sydney Light Rail network arrived this week. These 12 Urbos 3 trams are to replace the existing 11 trams, a mix of Variotram and Urbos 2, currently operating on Sydney’s single light rail line between Central and Dulwich Hill. The 7 original Variotram vehicles date back to the lines opening back in 1997, while the 4 Urbos 2 vehicles were leased as a stop gap measure to provide sufficient rolling stock between the opening of the Dulwich Hill extension and the arrival of the 12 new Urbos 3 trams.

Sydney's light rail fleet. Clockwise from top left: Urbos 3, Urbos 2, Variotram. Click to enlarge. (Sources: Transport for NSW, Transport for NSW, Hourann Bosci.)

Sydney’s light rail fleet. Clockwise from top left: Urbos 3, Urbos 2, Variotram. Click to enlarge. (Sources: Transport for NSW, Transport for NSW, Hourann Bosci.)

Plans to increase peak hour frequencies from one tram every 10 minutes to one tram every 7.5 minutes, as suggested in October 2013, does not appear to have eventuated, with the Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian confirming that “Under the turn-up-and-go schedule, light rail customers don’t need a timetable, with services every 10 minutes in the peak and real-time information at all the stations” (Source: Transport for NSW).

Friday: Central Station partly shut down

Platforms 25 and 25 at Central Station were shut down, as was the Devonshire Street Tunnel that connects Chalmers Street with Lee Street, after these areas were sprayed with aerosol cans.

Members of the public in the area were reported to have subsequently started coughing, with emergency personnel shutting off both areas from public access during the busy evening peak (between around 3:51PM and 6:03PM).

Police arrested the 4 men in relation to the incident, and later charged 1 of them.

VIDEO: Opal Man: The wanderers discover the real flexibility of the Opal card

Monday: Tangara trains to be upgraded

Sydney Trains’ fleet of Tangaras, introduced between 1988 and 1995 and accounting for over a quarter of the Sydney Trains rolling stock, are be upgraded to add another 10 years to their working lives. The trains were originally designed for a 30 year operating life, meaning that without this upgrade the first Tangara could reach the end of its working life in 2018.

Tuesday: Privacy concerns raised over Opal cards

Concerns have been raised over government access to Opal card data, with numerous NSW and Commonwealth Government agencies able to obtain this data without a warrant. Stephen Blanks, President of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, argued that police would be able to collect data even on people who are not suspected of a crime and that warrants are “a reasonable price to pay to protect privacy and ensure these powers are not abused”. A spokesperson for Transport for NSW responded that “Transport for NSW may only disclose information to a law enforcement agency that is necessary for law enforcement purposes, for the investigation of an offence, for the enforcement of criminal law or to assist in locating a missing person” and that unregistered Opal cards would soon be available for those not wanting to link their card to their personal information.

Tuesday: NorthConnex EIS released

The Environmental Impact Statement for the NorthConnex freeway linking the M2 near North Rocks to the M1 near Wahroonga predicts that the current 18 minute trip along this route will blow out to 27 minutes if NorthConnex is not built. If the road tunnel is built, the increase in duration of this trip will be limited and be only 20 minutes. Motorists opting to take NorthConnex will take 5 minutes but pay $7 for the privilege.

Tuesday: Opal rolls out to one third of buses

400,000 Opal cards have been issued, with 1,700 buses set to be Opal enabled in July. There are 5,000 buses in NSW that are scheduled to be Opal enabled by the end of the year, with light rail set to be Opal ready by early 2015.

Opal enabled buses can be identified by stickers on the front. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW)

Opal enabled buses can be identified by stickers on the front. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Wednesday: Existing tolls could be extended to pay for future roads

The NSW Government has confirmed that it will consider selling the right to collect tolls on roads once the existing concession expires in order to fund the construction of additional roads. Leaked reports suggest that the right to toll the M5 for 34 years, between 2026 and 2060, could raise $1.7bn for the NSW Government.

Thursday: Gladys Berejiklian outlines past wins and future vision

The Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian has announced that shorter buses will soon arrive in Sydney and hinted at light rail from Parramatta to Macquarie Park. These will have the benefit of being able to easily navigate through some of Sydney’s smaller streets. She also suggested that a light rail line running from Westmead to Macquarie Park via Parramatta was her prefered route when she stated that it was important that light rail connect the health and education precincts. The NSW Government has committed $400m to light rail around Parramatta, but has not yet identified a preferred corridor.

Friday: Opal system glitch causes crash

Opal’s online system crashed, preventing users from receiving an accurate statement of their travel histories. The Opal website itself has also been inaccessible at points throughout the week. Travel transactions themselves have been logged correctly on Opal readers and cards themselves, and will be reflected correctly when the glitch has been resolved.

Gladys Berejiklian should be called the Minister for Change rather than the Minister for Transport, while her main mission should be to drive change. This is how Ms Berejiklian described her role to the Future Leaders Sounding Board, which was launched on Thursday at the Powerhouse Museum by the Committee for Sydney.

Ms Berejiklian used the forum to outline her quick wins strategy, emphasised how she has made her department more customer focused, explained how Opal is changing the way people travel, hinted about a light rail line from Parramatta to Macquarie Park, described how Sydney Rapid Transit will increase CBD rail capacity, and announced that shorter buses are coming to Sydney.

The Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian used the Powerhouse Museum's Transport Exhibition as a backdrop to her speech outlining her achievements and future vision. Click to enlarge. (Source: Author.)

The Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian used the Powerhouse Museum’s Transport Exhibition as a backdrop to her speech outlining her past wins and future vision. Click to enlarge. (Source: Author.)

She framed her quick wins strategy around her desire to be seen as driving change, as it was designed to demonstrate a willingness to change. It included the introduction of real time transport apps, quiet carriages, and mobile phone reception in CBD rail tunnels.

The Transport Minister described Sydney’s transport system as not being customer focused enough when she became a Minister. Customers were previously referred to as passengers, but Ms Berejiklian said “if you pay for something you are a customer”. Meanwhile, customer service was not one of the key performance indicators that customer facing staff were judged on. Both of these have now been changed.

“Transport access is a lifestyle choice” Ms Berejiklian said, adding that good access to and use of public transport “is now a first choice rather than a last choice” for Sydney residents. She pointed to Opal’s free travel after the first 8 journeys as having led to an increase in public transport usage on weekends. “This will put pressure on me to put on more weekends services and that’s good” she said. Opal could also provide real time information on crowding on transport services, which was not possible under the previous ticketing system that only collected ticket data from point of sale rather than actual customer entries and exits.

Speaking about light rail in Parramatta, she said that it was important that it connect to the health and education precincts in the area. This may have been a hint that the Westmead to Macquarie Park alignment, the only one to pass through both Westmead Hospital and the University of Western Sydney’s Parramatta campus, is the preferred alignment. The NSW Government has committed $400m in funding for a light rail line from Parramatta for an as yet undecided route.

Looking towards the future, she said the proposed Sydney Rapid Transit network set to link Rouse Hill to Bankstown via the CBD will add 3 much needed stations in the city centre, while confirming it would eventually be extended to Hurstville. Meanwhile, Sydney’s new double deck buses will soon be joined by shorter buses that are more manoeuvrable around Sydney’s smaller streets.

Wednesday: Guardian services to be axed

Guardian services on Sydney Trains, with their guaranteed Transit Officers onboard select late night trains, are to be abolished. The government will replace them with roving police from the Police Transport Command. The Shadow Transport Minister Penny Sharpe has criticised the decision, arguing that police are under resourced to protect rail customers. According to Ms Sharpe “the Police are supposed to have 481 officers – they currently only have 401 and around 40 of those are seconded from other areas”.

Thursday: NRMA argues against bus lanes for Parramatta Road

Motoring lobby NRMA has warned against removing traffic lanes from Parramatta Road once the WestConnex freeway is opened, arguing that surface road space may be required should the M4 East tunnels be blocked in order to prevent congestion. Current plans for WestConnex involve removing traffic lanes on Parramatta Road and converting them to bus lanes or bike/pedestrian paths.

Artists impression of Parramatta Road at Five Dock after WestConnex is completed. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Artists impression of Parramatta Road at Five Dock after WestConnex is completed. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Sunday: Opal readers installed at light rail stop

Opal readers have been spotted on the previously installed mounts at Central Station. This suggests that Opal will soon be rolled out to light rail, quite possible well ahead of the current “early 2015” timetable. It also suggests that Opal readers will be off vehicle rather than on vehicle, as is the case with ferries and trains.

VIDEO: Opal Man is Transport for NSW’s newest advertising campaign for the Opal card

Tuesday: Woman on train filmed being abusive and racist to other passengers

A woman on a Central Coast train was filmed abusing other passengers, including children, after asking the children to give up their seat so that she could sit down. Another passenger then offered his seat to the woman, but she did not take up the offer and instead called the police. The video, uploaded to YouTube by user Kareem Abdul, shows the woman calling the police about the incident before she begins calling other passengers “bogan” or “gook” (a derogatory term aimed at an Asian woman on the train) as well as mocking an Asian woman and asking her “what’s wrong with Hong Kong, why did you come to this country”. At the time of writing, the video has over 800,000 views.

The woman later apologised for her actions, claiming that she had a “rotten day”. It also emerged that the name “Sue Wilkins” that she gave on the phone to the police was not her actual name.  She was later arrested by police over the incident and taken to Wyong police station.

Transport for NSW issued a statement over Twitter, stating that they would work with police to keep customers safe.

Tuesday: Sydney Trains turns 1 year old

Sydney Trains had its first anniversary, following the creation of Sydney Trains and NSW TrainLink on 1 July 2013 from the old Railcorp and CountryLink. Sydney Trains CEO Howard Collins spoke to radio station 2GB about his 12 months on the job in which he cited clearer train and station announcements as one of his successes. He also called for more capital investment in the rail network, and urged that it be continued investment rather than one off investments.

The news was followed with an announced $33m refresh of 28 stations across the network, on top of 19 stations already announced that are to be refreshed. This will involve a deep clean and overhaul of facilities, including upgraded toilets, new furniture, energy-efficient lighting, repainting and landscaping. The move has received criticism for including stations which have just been upgraded in recent years, such as Newtown (2013), North Sydney (2008), or Seven Hills (2008). The 28 stations include: Ashfield, Auburn, Cabramatta, Fairfield, Rockdale, Macquarie University, Bankstown, Mount Druitt, Liverpool, Edgecliff, Campsie, North Sydney, Rhodes, Chatswood, Hornsby, Epping, Eastwood, Artarmon, Westmead, Gordon, Newtown, Campbelltown, St Peters, Sutherland, Seven Hills, Sydenham, Turramurra, and Milsons Point.

Tuesday: Road tolls increase

Tolls on most Sydney freeways increased, with the biggest increase found on the M7 where the maximum toll rose 19c to $7.56. License fees for 3 and 5 year drivers licenses also increased by $4.

Wednesday: Opal Man campaign introduced as Opal rolls out to almost 1,000 buses in a month

A new advertising campaign involving “Opal Man” (see video at the top of this post) has been introduced, with 5 actual Opal Men deployed to various stations on the network to encourage individuals to get their Opal card. 360,000 Opal cards have now been issued, with over 15,000 more cards issued every week.

Opal Man is the new TV advertising campaign for the Opal Card. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Opal Man is the new TV advertising campaign for the Opal Card. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

The rollout will see Opal readers enabled on 600 Hillbus buses on 30 June as well as a further 300 buses in South West Sydney and Hurstville on 14 July and 16 July respectively. A total of 5,000 buses across NSW will be Opal enabled by the end of the year, with light rail set to be Opal enabled in early 2015.

The purpose of this post is to provide some information on the history of the Opal rollout in Sydney since its introduction and to speculate on its future over the coming 12 months. It does not cover anything before Opal was introduced in December of 2012, but for those who are interested then the post Comparing Opal to Myki and TCard is well worth a read. For the purpose of clarity, some things have been simplified, for example only the rollout within Sydney is covered and when Opal was extended to multiple lines/routes in a short period of time they have been lumped together. Rollout information was gathered from Transport for NSW Media releases.

Opal’s Past


Opal was introduced on 7 December 2012 on the Neutral Bay Ferry, with 200 people signing up for the initial trial. By 25 March 2013, 550 Opal cards had been registered. It was later expanded to include the Manly Ferry on 8 April 2013, and finally all ferries by the 30 August 2013.


However, take-up of Opal cards did not begin to gain traction until the rail network begun to be Opal enabled. The City Circle and T4 Line to Bondi Junction were the first to become Opal enabled on 14 June 2013. This was later expanded to Chatswood on 30 September 2013; then along T1 to the Central Coast via Strathfield, Macquarie Park, and Gordon on 31 January 2014; to Emu Plains a month later on 28 February 2014; and finally the entire Sydney Trains network the subsequent month on 28 March 2014. This was the moment that Opal take-up rates began to take off. In its first full year (2013), about 38,000 Opal cards had been registered. By 28 March 2014, just 3 months later, this had risen to 150,000 and by 23 June 2014 it had more than doubled to 340,000.

Opal card take-up and number of trips made - both total trips and free trips after daily/weekly travel cap reached. Logarithmic scale used. Click to enlarge. (Source: Author, data obtained from Transport for NSW media releases.)

Opal card take-up and number of trips made – both total trips and free trips after daily/weekly travel cap reached. Chart goes through to 23 June and does not include 30 June Hillbus rollout. Logarithmic scale used. Click to enlarge. (Sources: Author, data obtained from Transport for NSW media releases.)

However, this was slower than Transport for NSW had projected, with leaked documents showing that it had expected to reach the 150,000 figure by mid-February, at which point the actual figure was only 80,195.


The first bus route to be Opal enabled was the 594/594H route on 30 September 2013. This is a long route that goes into the Sydney CBD, but is also quite lightly patronised, making it a good first choice to test out Opal. It was soon joined by the more heavily patronised 333 route on 2 December 2013, then by routes serviced by buses from the Kuring-gai depot (14 April 2014), Waverly depot (28 April 2014), Forest Coach Lines (10 June 2014), and Hillsbus (30 June 2014).

Buses are the first mode of transport to have mobile Opal readers installed. Trains and ferries have Opal readers installed at stations and wharves which have fixed line connections, whereas the readers on buses are on the actual vehicles and transmit travel information via the mobile network. This means information is updated quite promptly compared to other smartcards, such as Melbourne’s Myki where Myki readers on trams and buses do not transmit their information until they reach a wifi spot back at the depot.


In 2011, Sydney had 443,000 bus users, 366,000 train users, and 27,000 ferry users each day (Source: Bureau of Transport Statistics, Public Transport Users in Sydney, p. 1). Opal has now been rolled out to the entire train and ferry network, and only a small part of the bus network, which suggests a captive market of just under 400,000 daily users. As of June 2014, the take-up of Opal cards reached 300,000. Not all holders of Opal cards would be daily users of the transport network, which suggests that there are over 100,000 users that have not yet taken up an Opal card.

This is likely due to a combination of a lack of awareness, concession holders and seniors whose Opal card have yet to be released, and a fare system that makes some users worse off under Opal compared to traditional magnetic stripe tickets. The issue of awareness is likely to take some time to flow through the system while concession and senior Opal cards is discussed at the end of this post.

The stumbling block in terms of fares for the take up of Opal is that there are 3 users who were worse off under Opal: ferry passengers, periodical ticket holders, and multimodal travellers.

Ferry passengers: When myZone was introduced in 2010, the new myMulti tickets gave unlimited ferry travel. This meant that a myMulti1 was actually cheaper for a regular ferry user than a myFerry Travel Ten. Opal fares were cheaper than the Travel Ten, but still more expensive than the myMulti, leading to a very low usage of Opal by ferry users (as low as 5% at one point). The Government responded by removing all ferries from the $46 myMulti1, and removing longer distance ferries such as the Manly ferry from the $54 myMulti2. The backlash from commuters led to a discount being offered, where ferry users were given a $52 weekly cap, rather than the normal $60 weekly cap, until 29 June 2014.

Periodical ticket holders: Shortly after the 2011 NSW election, the Government announced a 9% discounts for periodical tickets: monthlies, quarterlies, and yearlies. The purpose was to encourage pre-payment and reduce waiting times to obtain tickets. However, this also meant that these tickets tend to provide a bigger discount than Opal can, and switching to Opal can mean paying more. Even factoring in days lost to time off for holidays/being sick, it is still generally cheaper to go with a periodical ticket rather than Opal largely due to the 9% discount. This appears to be the thinking behind the retirement of periodical tickets from 1 September 2014 – it will force public transport users (train users in particular) to make the switch to Opal by making it the de facto cheapest option.

Multimodal travellers: Arguably the biggest drawback of Opal is its lack of integrated fares. While it is an integrated ticket – the only ticket a public transport user needs, it lacks fully integrated fares – the same fare from Point A to Point B regardless of which or how many modes of transport are used. To it’s credit, Opal has provided integrated fares within modes for the first time – someone catching two buses sequentially will be charged only a single fare rather than two. But continuing to charge a separate fare for each trip made on a different mode means many users will pay extra on Opal compared to a myMulti ticket. The future of this issue is covered further towards the end of this post, and has been covered in quite some detail by David Caldwell at his blog (well worth reading for some detailed background information).

Opal’s Future


Having to install Opal readers on each bus, generally progressing depot by depot, means the rollout for buses is much less predictable from a user perspective than the ferry or train rollout was. One bus is not necessarily assigned permanently to one specific route, and a bus route is often serviced by multiple depots. So unlike with trains and ferries, where users of particular stations and wharves began to be able to use their Opal cards, in the case of buses an Opal card can be used if that particular bus is Opal enabled (as shown by the ‘Opal Bus’ sticker on the bottom right of the bus). As a result, the weekly NSW Government Gazette often indicates that Opal can be used on more routes than have been announced by Transport for NSW. This is because the former includes all routes on which any bus may be Opal enabled, while the latter includes all routes on which all buses are Opal enabled.

Opal enabled buses can be identified by stickers on the front. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW)

Opal enabled buses can be identified by stickers on the front. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

The bus rollout is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2014.

Light Rail

The rollout of Opal to light rail is currently scheduled for 2015, with the rest of the transport network set to be completed by the end of 2014. This coincided with announcements that new trams would be delivered during 2014 to cater for the Inner West Light Rail extension to Dulwich Hill and the increased demand that it created. It suggested that Opal readers would be installed on the trams themselves and, with the original Variotrams almost 20 years old, speculation was that readers would only be installed on the new trams. This appeared to explain why Opal would not be available on trams until 2015.

However, poles for Opal readers have been spotted at multiple tram stops, which suggests that Opal readers will be installed at the tram stops themselves. This may not preclude them from being installed on the vehicles too, one possibility would be that only the busy stops have Opal readers installed. But it does raise the probability of having off-vehicle Opal readers.

Seniors and Concession Opal Cards

Opal cards for Seniors will arrive later in 2014. Already buses have stopped selling Pensioner Excursion tickets, requiring pensioners to pre-purchase their tickets. Supporters of the move argue that pensioners could just buy 2 tickets, keeping a spare for getting the bus in cases where no retailer is available nearby, and then purchase a replacement ticket for the next day while they are out; particularly given the change was announced months ago. Critics argue that the move is premature, given that Opal cards will become available for Seniors in a few months, and that this change should be delayed until they are made available.

No specific timetable has been made for Concession Opal cards, though they are most likely going to be issued by the relevant educational institution like current concession cards are. Whether institutions are just given a stack of Opal cards to hand out, if they issue dual student card/Opal card hybrids, or something else is unknown. It appears that they will not be rolled out until the entire network is Opal enabled at the start of the next academic year. High school students between the ages of 16-18 will be able to use the Child Opal card.


The retirement of yearly tickets on 1 September 2014 means that the earliest date for retiring all paper tickets is 1 September 2015. This is the stated end goal. Changes to ferry, train off peak, and periodical fares mean that Opal fares are now the cheaper option for those who currently use those ticket types; this will be a big incentive in pushing these people to adopting Opal.

But there still remains one type of fare that often remains cheaper with paper tickets than with Opal: multimodal fares. This will prove to be the government’s biggest challenge. Transport advocates in Sydney have called for integrated multimodal fares for a long time, but governments have done little more than take baby steps in that direction. It’s not the Opal technology that is preventing this, but political will and a decision on who will bear any economic cost (the government or the travelling public).

So far the government has announced that trams and buses will enjoy integrated fares, with users charged a single fare based on the origin and destination of their journey. This is to prevent fares from increasing on the CBD and South East Light Rail which will force bus users to interchange to complete their journey. The North West Rail Link too will require users to transfer from a bus to a train, with buses from North West Sydney to the CBD to be converted into feeder services for the new rail line. It would appear logical that a similar fare integration would also be extended to heavy rail too, which would then mean that the 97% of public transport journeys not using ferries would enjoy fare integration. Given the similar per km fare cost for bus and train trips at the moment, this would also be relatively easy to do.