The Pensioner Excursion Ticket dilemma

Posted: September 10, 2014 in Transport
Tags: ,

VIDEO: Anger about pensioner tickets no longer being sold on buses (Seven News)

NSW Government changes to the sale of Pensioner Excursion Tickets (PET) have been described as “very difficult” and “unnecessary” following the discontinuation of their sale on the government operated State Transit buses on 1 June this year. As a result of the changes, pensioners must now pre-purchase a PET prior to boarding a State Transit bus, as the pensioner Opal card has not yet been released.

The Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian has dismissed these descriptions, arguing that the changes will affect only a very small number of pensioners.

“The vast majority of seniors and pensioners already buy their tickets before they board the bus – so the change will only affect a small percentage of customers.”Gladys Berejiklian (24 April 2014)

The issue stems from the consoles used on board buses to both read and sell magnetic stripe tickets. These were removed from State Transit buses once Opal readers were activated, replaced with new consoles that had to simultaneously accept both the new Opal cards and the old magnetic stripe tickets. A side effect of this appears to be that they can no longer sell PETs onboard the bus. Private buses never adopted magnetic stripe ticket readers and continue to sell PETs onboard.

A datafare console (right) with an Opal reader (left) and a green magnetic stripe ticket reader (bottom). Click to enlarge. (Source: Author.)

A datafarer console (right) with an Opal reader (left) and a green magnetic stripe ticket reader (bottom). Click to enlarge. (Source: Author.)

The first 2 bus routes to trial Opal, the 594/594H and the 333, were unaffected by this. The former was privately operated and so continues to sell PETs onboard, while the latter was prepay only and never sold PETs in the first place. It was not until the Opal bus trial expanded to other State Transit buses from 28 April that it began to become an issue.

This presented a choice of which technology to roll out first: pensioner Opal cards or Opal readers on State Transit buses.

Rolling out pensioner Opal cards before the entire network is Opal enabled risked having pensioners with an Opal card board a non-Opal enabled bus expecting to be able to use their Opal card. While this was unavoidable for regular Opal card users, it is even more problematic for pensioners who have always been able to travel on a single ticket.

Waiting for the Opal rollout to be complete before releasing pensioner Opal cards risked having pensioners being unable to purchase a PET onboard an Opal enabled bus. This was the option taken by the government, requiring pensioners to pre-purchase their tickets at a train station or retailer. In fact the government went beyond that, ending the sale of PETs on all State Transit buses from 1 June 2014, rather than just the Opal enabled ones, in order to reduce confusion.

Pensioner Opal cards will be made available later in 2014. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Pensioner Opal cards will be made available later in 2014. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

A different perspective is that had the Government gone with the first option, it would now be facing criticism from Opal card holding pensioners boarding non-Opal enabled buses and discovering they have to pay an extra fare. Until all 5,000 buses in NSW have Opal readers installed, an Opal card will not provide the coverage that a PET does.

Yet another perspective is that of the Transport Minister: this has all been blown out of proportion. PETs are still being sold, just not on State Transit buses. Those residing near a retailer will face few problem, as will those in areas serviced by private buses or any non-bus public transport. For those remaining, if they obtained a second PET for the next day they needed to travel, and then used any subsequent trip to purchase an additional PET from a retailer, they would always have a PET ready to go just like many Travel Ten holders do.

Failing that, there’s always the option of going back to just describing it as unnecessary and very difficult.

  1. Alexsg says:

    Given that the PET has a standard price it should not have been too difficult to provide an interim arrangement for their sale on the Opal-equipped buses, if necessary manually. It’s not as if the numbers would be huge.

    Conversely Opal PETs could have been rolled out and pensioners/seniors required to show it and their seniors card when boarding a non-Opal bus and be given a zero-cost ticket. This is what happens now on the light rail and on private buses when you produce a PET (though you don’t need to show the seniors card).

    I am intrigued however as to whether the Opal version of PET when it eventually appears will have the same flat pricing structure or whether there will be a pricing incentive to discourage peak hour use.

  2. Jeremy says:

    There is another option – the pre-encoded PETs; the same stock used by private buses and newsagents; could be sold on STA buses. STA has not given a reasonable excuse for why they are not doing this. Any excuse they come up with would ring hollow given the private drivers can handle it.

  3. fishzle says:

    I would think a decision was made to make one change (the article) instead of 2 changes (the options presented by Alexsg and Jeremy).

    I think an assessment would have been made about training requirements, cash handling, and other complexities around the ticketing situation and rather than have something complex and interim, the decision was made to go with something permanent and wear the complaints until the transition to a full-opal system was complete.

    The current state of play puts pressure on all involved to complete the Opal rollout, as every week where the rollout is late increases the number of complaints for the Transport Minister.

  4. Matt Adams says:

    Good article. It only affects a few people and is in my view a minor issue. Not difficult to buy a few PETs at a time when you are near a retailer.

    In my area – a few pensioners have discovered it benefits them – they are now instead buying two $1.10 tickets for their short journey to the shops – costing them $2.20 a day (I know they should be buying a TravelTen for $8.80 and saving even more)

    The other point I would make is that I suspect many of these PET users will also be averse to auto top-up on Opal, and so will have to get used to topping up the Gold Opal at one of the 1000+ Opal retailers (in this sense getting them to buy a few PETs in advance from the same retailers is good training)

    As for Jeremy’s point on pre-encoded PETs – this would then mean the STA needed to tally both cash and PET card balance at shift change etc, something they have not done before and may not be compatible with systems etc – seems a lot of effort for what will be under 6 months of transition — and we would be having the same argument when they are withdrawn from sale.

  5. Simon says:

    Poor dears – have a small amount of bother obtaining their ludicrously discounted tickets.

  6. MrV says:

    Anger or faux anger?
    Seems like the government has taken the right approach. The underlying problem with these sort of complaints is it portrays senior citizens as unable to change or adapt, which is not accurate.
    Having bus drivers also doing cash handling has always been a big waste of time and delay.

    What more can they do, run ‘buses for the bewildered’?

  7. JC says:

    @MrV asks what more can they do? Proper planning and project management.

  8. mich says:

    Better planning would have resulted in large tracts of Sydney not being completely devoid of any “convenience stores’

  9. mich says:

    And as for the poor old pensioners being ‘unable to adapt’ or ‘bewildered’, it seems to me that should be a charge levelled against the lazy busdrivers, for whom selling a bus ticket is apparently all too difficult, poor things.

  10. Bob says:

    I doubt anywhere else in the world provides the huge discounts which PET ticketholders enjoy in NSW. The longer this inequity persists, the more difficult it will be to repair. We need a far sighted and courageous Transport Minister and Premier to fix it.

  11. Simon says:

    In the AM peak, yes. But other places do offer free off peak (or after 9am) services to seniors/pensioners, e.g. WA.

  12. Maddog says:

    My local news agency just refused to sell me any pensioner cards saying they have been told to promote OPAL cards instead. Given the current problems with OPAL cards charging the wrong fee ( as shown on TV) it seems ludicrous (even unlawful) to strong arm anyone to use a yet to be perfected product.

  13. Simon says:

    ^ Douche. They should withdraw them from sale completely. Might need a price increase first though.

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