Posts Tagged ‘Fares’

VIDEO: IPART Public Transport Fares – Highlights (IPART)

If IPART’s recommendations are adopted, it will see fare integration added to Opal. Sydney had this briefly with under myZone, where it was cheaper to buy a myMulti ticket than separate tickets for different modes such as train and bus. But it was still more expensive to buy a myMulti ticket than a single mode ticket for any given journey. IPART resolves this somewhat, opting to calculate the fare as though the most expensive mode was taken the whole way. The result therefore is not a return to myZone, but an improvement on it.

Example of an existing multi-modal journey which will be cheaper under the proposed integrated fare system. Click to enlarge. (Source: IPART.)

Example of an existing multi-modal journey which will be cheaper under the proposed integrated fare system. Click to enlarge. (Source: IPART.)

There will no doubt be some temptation to look for winners and losers in these changes. This is a temptation that should be resisted. Passengers base their travel patterns on the fare structures, not the other way around. Back when Opal was first introduced there were fears that users would pay more. Instead what happened in most cases was that travel patterns changed in order to minimise fares, and so fare revenue dropped while public transport usage rose.

The changes to the travel rewards system, free aver after 8 journeys and the $2.50 cap on Sundays, was a framework that lent itself to “gaming the system”. The proposed changes (passengers pay for their 10 most expensive journeys each week with a $7.20 cap on weekends) are not perfect, but they are a much better method of calculating fares. For those not gaming the system, they will enjoy cheaper travel. Those who do will mostly alter their travel patterns to reduce their total cost.

The imperative now is to look for ways to improve the proposals by tweaking them around the edges, rather than seeking to reject it entirely for going too far or reject it for not going far enough. We have waited too long for integrated fares, let’s not delay further.

NOTE: Apologies for the lateness of this week’s post. It was written up, but then not posted immediately.

Thursday: Opal card fare hack discovered

Opal users can reach their weekly travel reward for $13.86 in under 30 minutes on Tuesdays if they have made 2 journeys on the previous Monday. The “hack”, as it has been dubbed by the Opal Card App developers who discovered it, comes less than 3 months after the Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian encouraged the public to seek ways of cutting their fare costs using their Opal card.

VIDEO: Opal Card Hack

The method requires customers to have already made 2 journeys on a previous day, due to the $15 daily cap. Customers must also travel during off-peak (outside of (7:00AM-9:00AM and 4:00PM-6:30PM) in order to receive the off-peak discount. It also makes use of the fact that Macdonaldtown Station and Erskineville Stations, the two stations that are the closest on the network, are only 350m apart.

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

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

By tapping on at one and tapping off at the other, customers simulate catching a train and making 1 trip. By returning to the original station and tapping on again, a new trip is initiated. However, these 2 trips do not appear to be linked, thus making them independent journeys for the purpose of reaching the weekly travel reward. Normally customers must wait 60 minutes between tapping off and tapping back on in order for trips not to be linked and thus count as 2 separate journeys.

The 2 stations must also be ungated, ruling out any CBD stations as well as major suburban stations.

Thursday: Pedestrian countdown timer trial

The NSW Government is set to trial pedestrian countdown timers at six intersections in Sydney to determine if the timers help improve safety for pedestrians. A yellow countdown timer, displaying the number of seconds left for pedestrians to cross the road, will replace the red flashing “don’t walk” signal.

VIDEO: Putting pedestrian countdown timers to the test

Friday: Real time data comes for ferries and trams

Real time locations for ferries and light rail is being introduced to transport apps, in addition to the existing real time vehicle information previously available for buses and trains. Real time data will be available on six transport apps: NextThere, TripView, TransitTimes+, TripGo, Triptastic, and Arrivo Sydney.

Saturday: Second Harbour road crossing planned

The NSW Government is planning a second Harbour road crossing, linking the Balmain peninsula to the M2 at Lane Cove. The plans, reported by the Sydney Morning Herald and yet to be officially announced, are reportedly contingent on the 99 year lease of the NSW electricity distribution network. It will link up to the Northern extension of WestConnex, which will link up WestConnex to the Anzac Bridge.

Commentary: Why a 2nd Harbour road tunnel is a good thing

WestConnex and its new North-South extension to the Anzac Bridge and Sutherland. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW, Rebuilding NSW Fact Sheet 4, p. 1.)

A new Harbour crossing would begin at the current end of the proposed Northern extension to WestConnex and end at the M2 in Lane Cove. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW, Rebuilding NSW Fact Sheet 4, p. 1.)

Sunday: 60,000 apartments for Parramatta Road

Plans for 60,000 new apartments to be built along the Parramatta Road corridor are set to be released by the NSW Government. One quarter of the new homes would be built in Granville, while a third would be built in Homebush. The plan includes improved bus connections between Burwood and the city, set to coincide with the completion of the M4 East portion of WestConnex parallel to Parramatta Road. Though the existing M4 is set to be widened between Parramatta and Concord, no details have been announced about any public transport improvements in this part of Parramatta Road. Over two thirds of the 60,000 apartments are to be built in this Western portion of Parramatta Road.

This follows a push by the opposition for these plans to be made public immediately, rather than in 2015.

Monday: New train station likely for Waterloo or Sydney University

The NSW Government is considering building a rail line via either Waterloo or Sydney University as part of its new Sydney Rapid Transit network according to a Sydney Morning Herald report. The line will connect to the currently under construction North West Rail Link via a Second Harbour Crossing at its Northern end near Central Station and to the Bankstown Line at its Southern end near Sydenham Station. Transport for NSW is believed to prefer a Sydney University alignment, while Urban Growth NSW, a government urban development agency, is believed to prefer a Waterloo alignment to support new developments in the area.

Erskineville Station has space on the Western end (right in this photo) for an additional 2 tracks and 2 platforms. This space may or may not be used as part of a new line between Central and Sydenham. Click to enlarge. (Source: Author.)

Erskineville Station has space on the Western end (right in this photo) for an additional 2 tracks and 2 platforms. This space may or may not be used as part of a new line between Central and Sydenham. Click to enlarge. (Source: Author.)

An alignment also exists between Sydenham and Erskineville at add an extra pair of tracks and new platforms at both Erskineville and St Peters Stations. It is unclear whether this surface alignment will be used or if the new line will run entirely underground through to Sydenham.

Thursday: Credit cards could soon be used instead of Opal cards

The Commonwealth Bank is understood to be in talks with the Government to develop the ability to use credit or debit cards to pay for fares instead of Opal Cards. The Opal system was designed with the technical capability to use any contactless credit or debit card (i.e. anything able to use Paywave or PayPass), as well as Opal cards in order to pay a fare. London’s Oyster Card, which is based on the same technology as the Opal Card, has already introduced such a system; meanwhile the Commonwealth Bank was one member of the consortium involved in the design and rollout of Opal.

Monday: Real time train and parking capacity information coming soon

Sydney Trains customers will soon be able to work out how full trains and station car parks are on their smart phones if CEO Howard Collins has his way. Mr Collins explained “we know on a Waratah train how many people are in each carriage by how much it weighs” and that this information can be passed on to customers to more evenly spread customers on trains. Waratah trains account for about 40% of the Sydney Trains fleet. Mr Collins also hoped that similar information could be provided for car parks at train stations.

Real time information could soon also include how full each train carriage is based on their weight. Click to enlarge. (Source: TripView)

Real time information could soon also include how full each train carriage is based on their weight. Click to enlarge. (Source: TripView)

Tuesday: Airport access fee deal for regular airport commuters

Regular users of the airport stations will pay no more than $21 a week under a $10m deal when using their Opal cards. Previously those travelling to and from the airport stations on a regular basis, usually airport workers, paid a $12.60 access fee each time they entered or exited one of the two airport stations. However, customers purchasing a weekly ticket would pay an access fee of only $21 for the whole week, on top of the regular fare. This concession did not exist for Opal users, but now their access fee will also be capped at $21 if using Opal. This was seen as necessary given the retirement of weekly train tickets starting from 1 September. The Government will pay the private operator of the airport line a one off $10m payment as part of the deal.

Wednesday: Majority of Opal rollout on buses complete

More than half the NSW fleet of buses will be Opal enabled, with 2,890 buses accepting Opal cards from 26 August. NSW has around 5,000 buses in its public transport fleet.

Wednesday: Maldon to Dombarton Line back on the agenda

A Registration of Interest for the Maldon to Dombarton freight railway line has been approved to see if there is private interest in building the $667m line. The line would complete the missing link that would connect Wollongong and Port Kembla to the Southern Sydney Freight Line running through Southwest Sydney. This could remove or at least reduce the number of freight trains using the T4 Line through Sutherland and Hurstville, reducing their impacts on passengers trains on that line.

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.

Monday: CBD speed limit will drop to 40km/hr

The speed limit in the Sydney CBD will drop from 50km per hour to 40km per hour in a bid to increase pedestrian safety. About 93% of trips within the Sydney CBD are made on foot and from 2008 to 2014 there were 7 pedestrians killed in the CBD, including 3 this year. The changes will come into effect by the end of 2014 in an area bounded by Hay St, Kent St, Pitt St, and Castlereagh St.

The zone within the CBD in which a 40km/hr speed limit is to be imposed. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

The zone within the CBD in which a 40km/hr speed limit is to be imposed. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Tuesday: Work to begin on Marrickville Station makeover

Two new lifts, a new concourse, and stairs will be installed at Marrickville Station as part of a $32 million upgrade. The upgrade is expected to be complete by the end of 2016.

Thursday: Transport Officers issue 90,000 fines in first year

The number of fines for fare evasion has increased to 90,000 in the 12 months following the introduction of 40 Transport Officers in May 2013. There are now 150 Transport Officers checking tickets and handing out fines to fare evaders. The 90,000 fines handed out compares to 73,260 fines handed out in 2012; but is still less than the 128,800 fines handed out during 2011, the last full year in which the old Transit Officers were in service. The role of the 600 Transit Officers (along with the 300 police in the Commuter Crime Unit) have since been taken over by the 150 Transport Officers, responsible for checking tickets and handing out fines; as well as 600 Police Transport Command officers, responsible for safety on public transport.

Sunday: Paper tickets to be phased out and replaced with Opal

A number of paper tickets are set to be retired on 1 September, with all paper tickets set to be retired at some point in the future. Most tickets set to be retired later this year are periodical train tickets (monthly, quarterly, and yearly) which, due to heavy discounting, are often cheaper than Opal fares.

All magnetic stripe paper tickets are to be retired, replaced by Opal cards, with the first set of paper tickets to be retired from 1 September this year. Opal has been rolled out onto the entire train and ferry network, and most tickets to be retired on 1 September are train tickets.

Paper tickets set to be retired or maintained after 1 September 2014. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Paper tickets set to be retired or maintained after 1 September 2014. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

The move is likely to negatively affect train passengers currently using periodical tickets, which are set to be phased out entirely on 1 September for adults, leaving them with 2 options: obtain a return ticket each day or move to Opal. Periodical ticket users have previously complained that this could mean increased fares for them, with fare comparison website Opal or Not showing a commuter from Parramatta to Central will pay $5.71 per week more with Opal than with a myTrain quarterly ticket. The Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian has countered this by arguing that this is not a fair comparison as “customers pay hundreds or thousands of dollars up front for travel they may not take, for example when on annual leave, or if sick”. She adds that periodical tickets only “represent about four per cent of all tickets sold” and that “the Opal card offers cheaper fares, with around 90 per cent of customers the same or better off financially under Opal”.

Pensioner Excursion Tickets will also be retained for now, albeit no longer sold onboard buses; while most concession tickets are being kept, with only periodical concession tickets on trains to be retired on 1 September. An Opal card for children has been released, with the Pensioner Opal card to be rolled out later this year. A concession Opal card had been previously mentioned, but now no longer appears on the Opal website.

The news comes as Opal is set to be rolled out to another 96 buses operated by Forest Coach Lines in Sydney’s North from 10 June.

Commentary: Are paper tickets worth keeping?

The government’s decision to completely phase out paper tickets, and to begin their retirement while Opal is still being rolled out is both surprising and risky.

It is surprising as the occasional user or short term visitor to Sydney may still require access to paper tickets for a single or infrequent trip that does not warrant putting down the $40 deposit required for an Opal card. By comparison, Melbourne’s Myki card requires a $7 $6 deposit, which is then fully refundable.

It is also risky in that it forces some passengers from periodical to Opal fares, which for many will create a feeling of being worse off. The Minister is correct in saying that these tickets are a very small minority, and that some will actually still be better off due to passengers having to pay up front for their periodicals even if some days are unused due to illness or holidays. But it remains risky.

A less risky approach may have been to increase the price of periodicals over a few years at a much faster rate than Opal (and other paper tickets) until eventually all passengers moved voluntarily to Opal. At that point, retiring paper tickets would become much easier. It’s also somewhat ironic that this is a problem of the government’s own making – it announced back in 2011 that it would heavily discount periodical tickets to encourage their use. Now that it has decided to remove this heavy discounting, this stop gap solution to a problem has become its own problem.

None of this is to say that the end goal of a paperless transport ticketing system is a bad one. Removing these 20th century methods of fare payment and replacing them with Opal will reduce dwell times for buses and improve passenger movement through congested stations. It will also provide much needed data for the government, which will help to better direct the limited transport budget to where it is most needed. So while unpopular, decisions that help to move more quickly in the right direction should be welcomed rather than criticised.

In that sense, today’s announcement is either an example of foolhardy decision making or of true leadership. Take your pick.

Lachlan Drummond took a ride on the Inner West Light Rail line from Dulwich Hill to Chinatown and back on its first day of operation. Below is his account of the extended line plus his take on what was done well and what could have been done better.

PART ONE – My experience in the new line

Dulwich Hill Station

I started my journey at the Dulwich Hill end of the new line.

Sadly there is no cross-platform access from the Sydney Trains station. If you want to go from heavy rail to light rail, you have to exit the station, walk around the corner, and back down some stairs. Annoyingly, there is no footpath along the side of the road, so you have to walk down the street to get to the entrance. It’s a ridiculous situation and the council should act to fix this as soon as possible.

However, once I was on the platform, the station was well lit and covered. An electronic sign informs us when the next tram will arrive.

I didn’t have to wait long for a tram, because they come every fifteen minutes, even in the off-peak. Luckily for me, one of the brand new trams from Spain arrived right on time at 1:05PM, so I got to have a look.

The New Trams

As you can see from the video above, the new trams are very spacious. They have much fewer seats than the existing trams on the network, which means there is a larger amount of standing capacity. These Trams will be great for high capacity in peak hour.

Interestingly, the new trams have buttons on the outside of the doors, and you can actually press them to open the door from the outside.

Interior of one of the new Urbos 2 trams. Click to enlage. (Source: Lachlan Drummond.)

Interior of one of the new Urbos 2 trams. Click to enlage. (Source: Lachlan Drummond.)

The ride was very smooth on the new track. There were almost no bumps anywhere. You shouldn’t have a problem standing the whole way, it’s a very pleasant ride indeed. The drivers and the tickt inspectors were all friendly and efficient.

Seeing The Sights

From an urban geography point of view, the line is picturesque and quite interesting. It winds through cuttings, road bridges, parks, old Industrial sites (some of which have been gentrified), and over some major roads. Particularly spectacular are the old mills near the Lewisham West and Waratah Mills stations, and the huge cutting and Tunnel between Leichhardt North and Lilyfield.

In between these the train goes past back fences, parks and some very quiet suburban streets.

Unlike the Sydney Trains network, where towns and shops sprung up next to train stations, this line barely hides its origin as an old goods line. Many of the stations look like they have been put at the end of a tiny suburban street, or next to someone’s back fence. Importantly, however, the Tram does go past several potential Greenfields development sites, so this will help with patronage and other infrastructure.

(Note: If you want to “see the sights” on the new line, you will get a much better view on one of the “older” trams, because they have full floor to ceiling windows. The newer trams have smaller windows).


The new stations are bright, well lit, covered, and all of them have electronic signs that show when the next train is coming.

Some stations are very nicely decorated with pictures overlaid into the metalwork. At one of the stations (either Marion or Taverner’s Hill from memory) there’s a picture of the last tram that ran in the area in 1958, which is a nice touch. At Leichhardt North, some beautiful orange art works have been painted onto the walls.

Sydney's light rail will be extended to Dulwich Hill and feature new trams in red livery. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Dulwich Grove Station. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Importantly, all light rail stations on the new line are Wheelchair accessible. This includes both the new Dulwich Hill light rail station (which has an elevator) and the Lewisham West station. The heavy rail stations in these areas do not yet have disabled access, so if you need to get a train to the city, head to the tram stop.

Journey Times

From Dulwich Hill station it didn’t take very long at all before I was at some of the stations near Leichhardt. It only took ten minutes to get to Taverners Hill, and thirteen minutes to get to Leichhardt North.

After Leichhardt North, the tram snakes through a tunnel, then a spectacular old cutting, and underneath the City Westlink to Lilyfield. A new stabling facility has been built there.

Interestingly, enough space seems to have been left next to the renovated Lilyfield station for another light rail line to go down towards White Bay and Balmain. This will no doubt please many local activists and politicians.

From Dulwich Hill to John Street Square and The Star is about 25 minutes. When we pulled in to the front door at Paddy’s Markets at Haymarket, at 1:39PM, I had counted 34 minutes.

I spent a short time shopping before getting on the tram again at 2:28PM at Capitol Square station (just after Central – the one next to George Street). I arrived back at Dulwich Hill at 3:03PM.


While the majority of people on both trips seemed to be Joyriders like me who got off at Dulwich Hill, many people did seem to be already using the line for the purpose in which it was made, which is a big positive.

On the way in, one gentleman got on the Tram with his bicycle in Dulwich Hill, and got off at Lilyfield. On the way back, several people got off the tram at the new stations. Marion station in particular seemed to be popular.


Overall I was pretty impressed with the service. Notwithstanding some missed opportunities (see PART TWO below), the service overall it was efficient and useful. I believe that people from the Leichhardt and Haberfield areas in particular will find the new service very useful.

Perhaps most poignantly, a lot of elderly people who got on for a joyride seemed genuinely excited that Trams had finally returned to the Inner West after 55 years. Many of them would have seen the last trams leave the area in the late 1950s.

The real test will be whether they, and others, use this line every day. I hope so, because light rail has a lot of potential to solve some of Sydney’s trickiest transport problems.  In the next part below, I’ll deal with the question of whether it’s worth your time to use the new line.

PART TWO: Who is the line useful for?

Perhaps the biggest question facing the new Light Rail extension is to see how many people use it.

The O’Farrell government has been saying that it takes 40 minutes on the new line between Dulwich Hill and Central, and about 30 minutes from Lewisham West.

It was obvious from my journey that most people won’t use the line in this way, especially not in peak hour.

It takes less than twenty minutes to get to Central on the heavy rail line from Dulwich Hill. Light rail can’t beat that. Nor does light rail currently go further into the city (though that will change when the CBD – South East line is built).

However, if your destination is closer to one of the several light rail stops around Haymarket, Darling Harbour and Pyrmont, you will certainly save time when you consider walking time from Central.

Trips The Light Rail Will Be Very Useful For

1. If you live in the Leichhardt/Haberfield area, and need to travel to Pyrmont, Haymarket, South George Street or Central Station.

The light rail won’t get stuck in traffic, but the peak hour buses might (even though on paper the 438 bus is a few minutes quicker to Railway Square from the corner of Marion Street and Norton Street).

Secondly – if you live or work really close to a light rail station, you might to do a lot less walking.

2. If you need to make a north-south trip between Dulwich Hill and Leichhardt/Lilyfield, or to go further down to The Fish Markets, Pyrmont, The Star Casino or Haymarket.

There’s really no contest on these trips, in my view. The light rail takes between 10-13 minutes to go from Dulwich Hill to the Leichhardt stops. It comes every ten minutes during the peak, and every fifteen minutes during the middle of the day, which is more frequently than most of the buses (including the 412). It’s a clear winner, and if they build a spur line to Balmain and White Bay, it will be a big boon to the nightlife of that area.

If you need to go from Dulwich Hill to The Star Casino or Pyrmont (or Vice versa) the Light rail will drop you at the door in 25 minutes. From Leichhardt it’s only 15 minutes.

If you want to go to Chinatown, the light rail will drop you right next to the front door of Paddy’s Markets in 35 minutes from Dulwich Hill, or about 20-25 mins from Marion, Hawthorne or Leichhardt North.

Missed Opportunities

On the flipside, I see two main missed opportunities on the new line.

1. This line has great potential as an interchange service, but it hasn’t been fully utilised.

Given that it only takes about 15 minutes to travel to Lewisham or Dulwich Hill stations from Central on the heavy rail, many people could potentially interchange to the light rail to complete their journey to stops like Dulwich Grove, Arlington, Waratah Mills, Taverner’s Hill or Marion. This would be particularly handy for people who get the heavy rail from the city circle stations.

However without integrated fares, or direct platform to platform interchanges, this is more difficult than it should be.

To go from Lewisham Heavy rail to Lewisham West Light Rail is apparently a 500 meter walk. On ABC702 radio yesterday, a transport planner revealed that a developer had proposed to place a shopping mall nearby which would have cut the journey to a mere 200 meters. This would have made interchanges much easier.

The Dulwich Hill tram and train stations are not designed for an easy interchange from one to the other. Click to enlarge. (Source: Lachlan Drummond.)

The Dulwich Hill tram and train stations (tram station shown in above image) are not designed for an easy interchange from one to the other. Click to enlarge. (Source: Lachlan Drummond.)

In the case of Dulwich Hill, they should have redesigned the stations so that a platform to platform interchange was possible. At the moment you have to walk out of one station, around the corner, and into the other. Yet I’d fancy myself to throw a tennis ball onto the platform of the Dulwich Hill heavy rail station from the light rail platform – that’s how close it is.

2. Not building the Greenway and cycle path was silly.

There is great potential for cyclists to use the line both to and from work, or for other journeys. Bringing your bicycle on the bus is usually impractical, and many heavy rail trains into the inner west are too crammed in the peak. But there is plenty of room on the new trams. Hawthorne station in particular is right next to the park and would be ideal for cyclists from the Haberfield area.

Opal’s hidden gems

Posted: January 31, 2014 in Transport
Tags: ,

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
Tags: , ,

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.

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
Tags: , , , ,

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.

Coogee and all suburbs South of Maroubra would lose direct bus access to the CBD outside of peak hour if the bus network redesign proposed as part of the CDB and South East Light Rail (CSELR) Environmental Impact Study (EIS) were implemented. The new network would instead operate with feeder buses to light rail interchanges at Kingsford and Randwick where passengers would make a cross platform transfer to a tram in order to continue their journey into the CBD.

Proposed changes to the bus network in SE Sydney once light rail begins operating in 2019. Click to enlarge. (Source: CSELR EIS Technical Paper 1 - Traffic Operations - Part B, p. 130)

Proposed changes to the bus network in SE Sydney once light rail begins operating in 2019. Click to enlarge. (Source: CSELR EIS Technical Paper 1 – Traffic Operations – Part B, p. 130)

Some buses will terminate shortly after these interchanges, but the majority will be re-routed to form cross-city links to destinations like Edgecliff, Sydney University via Redfern/Central, or Sydenham via Mascot. A few bus routes (such as UNSW express buses or the 373) will be elimiated entirely when their proposed routes would overlap entirely with another proposed route, while the M10 and M50 metrobuses will lose the Eastern Suburbs portion of their route.

Peak hour express buses that operate via the Eastern Distributor in the morning and Elizabeth Street in the afternoon will continue as normal, and the bus road along Anzac Parade and Alison Road will be retained to allow them to continue to travel through that portion of their route separated from private car traffic.

How increased frequencies can allow a transport network based on transfers to operate better than one based on direct services. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Queensland Government)

How increased frequencies can allow a transport network based on transfers to operate better than one based on direct services. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Queensland Government)

The new network operates will operate on the basis of connections involving trips on multiple vehicles, rather than direct journeys on a single vehicle, and will be hindered if frequencies are insufficient or if fare penalties remain for transfers for bus to tram or vice versa. However, if these two obstacles are not in place, then it will provide an improvement on the existing network, which provides good connections for anyone travelling to or from the CBD during peak hour, but often falls short for anyone making a cross-city journey or travelling outside of peak hour when frequencies generally drop to half hourly.

When the Southeast light rail line is completed at the end of this decade there will almost certainly be an increase in patronage along the Anzac Parade to CBD corridor. Whoever is transport minister at the time will point out that the number of bus plus tram passengers in the first few months after opening is higher than the number of bus passenger in the equivalent number of months before opening. They will then say that this is due to trams being faster, more reliable, frequent, and having a higher capacity than buses. The newspaper headlines will declare that this correlation has been caused by trams, and the (wo)man on the street will declare his (or her) support for trams as “much better than buses”. Except it’s not quite true.

Patronage will almost certainly be higher, and it will be caused by better speed/reliability/frequency/capacity. But only the last of those 4 (capacity) is an inherent benefit of light rail. Speed is a function of things like stop spacing, on board vs off board fare payments, and top vehicle speed. Reliability is a function of things like exclusive rights of way and grade separation. Frequency is a function of how many vehicles are available and the demand for transport along that particular corridor. All of these are just as applicable to buses as they are to trams. In other words, you don’t need a $1.6bn upgrade to light rail to achieve them.

Source: Sydneys Light Rail Future, page 10

(Source: Sydneys Light Rail Future, page 10)

Take the dot points on the bottom half of this table which the government uses to sell the benefits of trams:

  1. The first point is frequency. Ironically, frequency is actually hindered by tram’s higher capacity, as one tram is able to carry as many passengers as multiple buses, and so the higher number of buses required to carry the same number of passengers will (all else equal) result in higher frequencies for buses than trams.
  2. The second point is reliability. A reliable service can be provided through the use of bus lanes and grade separation at intersections (i.e. a bridge over the intersection or a tunnel underneath it). Both of these are in place in the Northwest T-Way for buses between Parramatta and Rouse Hill.
  3. The third point is speed. Both buses and trams are capable of the 80kn/hour top speed along this route. So the actual determinant of average speed is things like widely spaced stops and off vehicle fare payment. The former can be achieved by buses through express or limited stop services, while the latter has been achieved at busy bus stops through the purchase or validation of a bus ticket before entering the bus, and will soon be universal once Opal is introduced. All door boarding can also increase speed through reduced dwell times, but can be done on buses as well as trams.
  4. Points four through six could just as easily be implemented on buses
  5. The points on improved amenity on the right are all to do with the fact that the light rail vehicles are new. But new buses also share these features, such as low floors, air conditioning, real time information, etc.

All this leaves capacity, which is a real and tangible benefit of light rail over buses. Trams carry more people per vehicle, and as there is only a certain number of vehicles of any type that can run on a particular corridor before that corridor (road or rail) becomes congested and capacity becomes limited, putting trams on a busy corridor can increase its capacity (just as replacing light rail with heavy rail can increase capacity there). Jarrett Walker at Human Transit spoke of this concept as getting causation the wrong way round: high patronage causes the roll-out of trams, rather than the roll-out of trams causing high patronage.

Despite all this, and to undermine the entire argument made so far, the higher capacity of trams does actually allow the government to focus its attention on that particular corridor and implement many of the things mentioned earlier. For example, the new light rail line will have an exclusive right of way for its entire alignment 24/7, something that would not be possible with just buses as they require multiple corridors to achieve the same capacity. For this reason, the move to convert the Anzac Parade bus corridor into a tram corridor will still provide tangible benefits that could not be achieved with buses alone.

The Environmental Impact Study for the CBD and South East Light Rail is due to be completed by the end of this year, finalising the project before construction begins. Enough details have been released about the project that a fairly complete picture can be drawn of what it will look like and how it will operate.


Trams will operate along an overhead wire free zone starting from where the pedestrianised zone beings at Bathurst St and continues all the way to Circular Quay. Along this portion of the alignment trams will be powered by onboard batteries which are recharged with overhead wires at each stop. Overseas experience suggests batteries could allow for up to 2km of travel at a time before recharging (Source: George Street Concept Design, 2013, City of Sydney, p. 27). This will also allow limited operation should there be a short term power outage, but will also prevent trams on the Inner West Line from operating on George St (though these trams would still be able to travel to Kingsford and Randwick). This move is supported by the City of Sydney on the basis that “it will ensure that…space is preserved for pedestrians [and respect]…the streetscape of George Street and its heritage buildings”; but opposed by advocacy group Action for Public Transport, commenting that “this system would add unacceptably to initial and running costs, would detract from reliability, and would probably not supply enough power for the air-conditioning”.

Artists impression of Circular Quay with trams. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW)

Artists impression of Circular Quay with trams. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW)


The trams on the CSELR will also be longer than the Inner West ones, being 45m long compared to the current 30m long trams, which have a capacity of 300 passengers and 200 passengers respectively. These longer trams mean that the 45m CSELR trams will not be able to operate on the Inner West line at all.

The net effect is an effective segregation of the two lines, forcing them to operate independently.

Tram stops at Central Station (Chalmers St) and Moore Park will be double the regular length, allowing 2 trams to load an unload simultaneously, with turnback sidings allowing shuttle services from Central to the Moore Park sports stadiums to provide a high capacity transport connection for special events like double headers. The Central Station and Circular Quay stops will also have a third platform.  Meanwhile, the UNSW stop (probably the busiest stop outside of the CBD and special events) will be on UNSW property itself, preventing the need for students and university staff to cross the road unless they need to reach the smaller Western campus end of UNSW.

Rawson Place will be closed off to cars and turned into a bus and tram interchange. Buses leaving the CBD will pass through Rawson Place itself, allowing a cross platform transfer, while inbound buses will stop on the Western side of Pitt Street, from which the tram stop will be a short walk away. This avoids the need to cross the road in order to transfer from bus to tram or vice versa.

The Rawson Place tram stop will serve as a bus-tram interchange. Transfers can be made here without having to cross any street. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW)

The Rawson Place tram stop will serve as a bus-tram interchange. Transfers can be made here without having to cross any street. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW)

Outside of the CBD

The route across South Dowling Street, Moore Park, and Anzac Parade has yet to be determined, with a cut and cover tunnel or viaduct being the two options. The advantages of a tunnel are the lower visual impact and maintaining full use of Moore Park. The advantages of a viaduct are a shorter construction time and grade separation over South Dowling Street. The government has a preference for the tunnel option, but has also taken feedback from the public on the two options before making a final decision.

The two options for crossing South Dowling Street are a cut and cover tunnel (top) or a viaduct (bottom). Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW)

The two options for crossing South Dowling Street are a cut and cover tunnel (top) or a viaduct (bottom). Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW)


Upgrading the Anzac Parade corridor will increase the passenger capacity in each direction from the current 10,000 passengers/hour to 15,000 passengers/hour. It does this by replacing some buses (the equivalent of 4,000 passengers/hour with trams that carry 9,000 passengers/hour), which will now not continue past Kingsford and Randwick. They will instead be rerouted as orbital routes that do not reach the city, and instead continue towards destination like Bondi Junction or Green Square. Anyone continuing into the CBD will get off their bus and onto a tram, either by crossing the platform at Kingsford or walking across High Cross Park at Randwick.

The Kingsford interchange (left) includes a bus stop in-between the outer tram stops, allowing a cross platform transfer from bus to tram or vice versa. The Randwick interchange (right) includes a tram stop on an existing park, with bus stops on either side of the park, allowing for bus-tram transfers without having to cross the street. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW)

The Kingsford interchange (left) includes a bus stop in-between the outer tram stops, allowing a cross platform transfer from bus to tram or vice versa. The Randwick interchange (right) includes a tram stop on an existing park, with bus stops on either side of the park, allowing for bus-tram transfers without having to cross the street. Click to enlarge. (Sources: Left – Transport for NSW, Right – Transport for NSW)

Buses and fares

Some buses will be kept on. In particular, preliminary details of the bus redesign suggest that all peak hour express buses that travel via the Eastern Distributor will be maintained, largely as they service the Northern end of the CBD rather than the Southern end. In addition, at least one bus lane will be retained on the existing Anzac Parade busway. Some buses that travel via Cleveland and Oxford Streets will also be retained as these corridors are not served by light rail.

One lane will be retained for use by buses on the existing Anzac Parade busway. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW)

One lane will be retained for use by buses on the existing Anzac Parade busway. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW)

Transport Sydney understands that fares for light rail will be calculated as though they are buses, meaning that there should not be a fare penalty for passengers changing from bus to tram or vice versa. This would prevent current bus users from having to pay more once light rail begins operating and many passengers are forced to make a transfer from bus to tram.

Development and the construction period

The improvement in transport infrastructure will be followed by higher housing densities, with the NSW Government designating Randwick (and Anzac Parade South, to which the light rail line could easily be extended into) for increased dwelling construction, including 30,000 new dwellings for Kingsford. This issue was prominent enough for the newly elected local MP to campaign about it at the recent September federal election.

The years of construction are also likely to see significant strain on the existing transport network, with George Street closed down and bus lanes removed long before trams begin operating. With construction set to take 4 to 5 years, it could prove to be a protracted period of pain. The government is set to announce a revised bus network for this construction period by the end of the year, around the same time it released the Environmental Impact Study. It then has until the end of the decade to come up with a second bus network redesign for when the light rail finally comes online.

Opal will be rolled out onto buses starting on Monday, 3 months ahead of the initial “end of 2013” deadline set by the government. This follows the ferry roll-out which was recently completed 4 months ahead of schedule. The first bus route to use Opal will be the 594/594H from Hornsby to the CBD. The Herald reports that the next bus route is likely to be “an inner-city service run by the government-owned State Transit”.

Opal roll-out as of 30 August 2013. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW)

Opal roll-out as of 30 August 2013. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW)

Fares for buses will follow the current 3 band structure, but be calculated on a straight line point to point basis, rather than the actual distance traveled by the bus. Importantly, for the first time the fare penalty for transferring from one bus to another will be removed, with passengers paying a fare as though they had caught a single bus for the entire journey regardless of how many individual bus trips they used to reach their final destination.

Bus fares under Opal. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW)

Bus fares under Opal. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW)

A source within Transport for NSW has informed Transport Sydney that light rail will be brought in under the bus network for fare calculation purposes. This will mean that passengers who currently take a bus into the CBD from South East Sydney will not pay any extra for transferring from a tram to a bus (or vice versa) once the CBD and South East Light Rail begins operating in 2020. However, it remains uncertain whether this will extend to M2 buses that are converted into feeder buses for the North West Rail Link when it opens in 2019.

Fare changes

There are three main changes to the existing fare structure with Opal: single mode integration, a fare cap, and simplification.

Currently (unless using a myMulti ticket), passengers pay a different fare in going from A to B depending on which mode of transport and how many vehicles they use. If they use a single mode of transport, such as buses, then this penalty will be removed. This represents integrated fares, but only for a single mode of transport. The main impact will be seen on buses, where taking 2 buses to get from A to B is more expensive than taking just one, even when it is both faster for the passenger and cheaper for the government from a cost perspective to do so. Trains effectively already have single mode fare integration as passengers can change trains without leaving the gated area of the station, while ferries and trams make up only a small fraction of public transport trips in Sydney. Fare penalties will remain for multi modal journeys, such as one involving both train and bus.

The fare cap is designed to replace discounts currently received for weekly and travel ten tickets. Instead of receiving these discounts directly, passengers will only be required to pay for their first 8 journeys each week, with all subsequent journeys being free. There is also a daily cap of $15 per day, or $2.50 on Sundays. This will have a similar effect to the current discounts, though not for occasional users or passengers with periodical tickets (monthly, quarterly, or yearly tickets).

That these changes disadvantage some users is because it also brings in simplification of fares. This was something that the head of ticketing in London, whose Oyster Card operates on the same system as Opal, recommended back in 2011. This decision to leave some users worse off is a tough but ultimately necessary one that needed to be made in order to simplify the dogs breakfast that Sydney’s fare structure has turned into.

Card balance and value storage

Opal cards do not work like credit cards. A credit card is basically a holder of an ID number, which the vendor then uses to find your account online in the cloud which has all of your account information. If Opal did this then it would require a lengthy connection process to a central server somewhere each time you tapped on or off, far too long considering the number of passengers who pass the Opal card readers at any one time, leading to long delays. It would also be complicated for buses and trams which, unlike the readers at train and ferry stops, do not have a fixed connection to the servers. (They could be connected via a wireless connection, but this is slow, expensive, and unreliable.)

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

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

Instead, Opal cards have value stored on the actual card itself. This allows the tapping on and off process to proceed quite quickly. The information on the card reader is then downloaded to the central server to provide the user’s online account with all of their travel information, including the fare for each journey. This information is downloaded quite quickly for fixed card readers (i.e. train stations and ferry stops) and less frequently for mobile card readers (i.e. buses and trams), probably once a day once the vehicle returns to the depot.

This also means that any value added to an Opal card has to also make its way onto the card itself. If topping up credit at a train station, for example, the card can be scanned right there and the value loaded up instantly. If, on the other hand, value is added remotely via the internet then this information needs to be pushed down to Opal readers across the network, from where the value is added to the card next time the passenger taps on or off. As with before, the fixed readers should receive this information almost instantly, while for mobile readers it might take up to 24 hours.

UPDATE (2 October 2013): @TheOpalUser has discovered that Opal card balances are updated about 20 minutes after tapping on the card reader on the bus. This suggests that the card readers are connected constantly and thus it shouldn’t take 24 hours unless the mobile network is not working.

[tweet 384558031637188609 align=’center’]

All of this also means that if an Opal card is lost or stolen, the owner can cancel it and still retain their balance on the card as the system would have a record of the balance as of the last time the card was tapped on or off.

Roads Minister Duncan Gay has hosed down rumours that the government might eliminate the toll on the Cross City Tunnel following earlier news of it entering voluntary administration for the second time in a decade. Mr Gay told the Sydney Morning Herald (link unavailable) that buying back the road and then not charging a toll was “just an urban myth; that’s not happening”. However, he did not rule out the possibility of buying it back and reducing the toll or paying the new owner a concession to cut the toll.

The motivation for this comes from the 5 to 6 years of construction through the CBD for light rail on George Street and the desire to divert as much traffic away from the city centre in order to minimise disruptions. Such a buyback could also fit in neatly with the introduction of a congestion charge, which could provide offsetting revenue to eliminate the Cross City Tunnel’s toll, thus incentivising surface traffic to re-route underground. However, this is not the current government’s policy, and something it has rejected despite the concept of a congestion charge being raised by both Transport for NSW and Infrastructure NSW.

Video: Gatepass could be removed at Airport stations, Seven News

Meanwhile, the NSW opposition has succeeded in establishing a Legislative Council inquiry into the removal of the airport station access fee. The $2.60 access fee was lifted for Mascot and Green Square stations in 2010, resulting in an estimated 50% increase in patronage. Removing or reducing the much higher $12.30 fee at the airport stations would be expected to also raise patronage. The possibility of this occurring has grown due to the rising proportion of access fee revenue going to the government, which is set to receive close $50m from it next year alone.

A stations access fee of $12.30 is currently payable for anyone travelling to or from the airport stations. Click to enlarge. (Source: Sydney Trains)

A stations access fee of $12.30 is currently payable for anyone travelling to or from the airport stations. Click to enlarge. (Source: Sydney Trains)

However, this remains an opposition and cross bench led inquiry, and the reduction or removal of the access fee is not currently supported by the government, who point out that any money raised goes into general revenue and has already been accounted for in the budget. Despite this, construction of the M5 East expansion as part of WestConnex in the latter part of this decade would be assisted by even a temporary cut in the access fee in order to reduce the already high congestion around Sydney Airport when construction of WestConnex makes it even worse.