Posts Tagged ‘Ferries’

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: NSW Labor promises feasibility study for Western Sydney Light Rail

NSW Opposition Leader John Robertson committed the Labor Party to a $20m feasibility study into a Western Sydney Light Rail network if it wins next year’s state election. Parramatta Council has been pushing for a light rail network linking Parramatta to Macquarie Park and Castle Hill, and has funded its own pre-feasibility study into such lines. This mirrors the CBD and South Eastern Light Rail, currently under construction, where Randwick Council funded its own pre-feasibility study before the the then Opposition Liberal Party committed itself to a full feasibility study if it won office in the 2011 state election

This also follows revalations that the NSW Government is considering a Western Sydney Light Rail network after the publication of an official government document showing the light rail lines on a map of Parramatta. If this is the case, support for such a network could receive bipartisan support.

Wednesday: Dulwich Hill light rail extension boosts patronage by 30%

Patronage on the Inner West Light Rail Line has increased by an estimated 30% since being extended to Dulwich Hill last week. Although an additional 4 trams were obtained to maintain 10 minute frequencies on the line during peak hour, the increased demand has led to overcrowding and meant some passengers have not been able to board a tram.

Interior of a Sydney tram. Overcrowding is up on the Cityrail network. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Author)

The 30% increase in patronage on the Inner West Light Rail Line has led to overcrowding, similar to that in this image taken in 2013. Click to enlarge. (Source: Author)

It has also dampened the likelihood of school students being given free travel on trams to get to and from school until overcrowding is addressed. An additional 12 trams are currently scheduled to enter service over the next 18 month to replace the original 7 trams used on the line. Peak hour frequencies are set to increase to one tram per 7.5 minutes from 1 July this year, which will ease overcrowding.

Thursday: Real-time data for ferries and trams coming to transport apps

Real-time data, currently available for trains and buses, will soon be expanded to ferries and trams. There is no fixed timetable for when these will become available, but a spokesman from Transport for NSW hopes that they will be rolledout “within the next year”.

Thursday: Mobile phone reception now available on Eastern Suburbs Line

The Eastern Suburbs Line has joined the City Circle and North Shore Line in having mobile phone reception available in its underground tunnels. Sydney’s other major underground rail tunnels, for the Airport Line and Epping to Macquarie Line, were designed to include mobile phone reception for when the lines opened in 2000 and 2009 respectively.

Friday: Opal rolled out to South Coast and Southern Highlands Lines

Opal readers went online in the South Coast and Southern Highlands Lines, with the Blue Mountains and Hunter Lines to go online next week. 165,000 Opal cards have been registered to date. Opal readers are now being rolled out onto buses, starting with the Upper North Shore and Eastern Suburbs.


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).

Transport for NSW’s Opal smartcard begins operating on the 333 bus today. While the bus trial began earlier with the 594-594H bus, this represents the first major bus route to begin operating with Opal, and one that also feeds into the Eastern Suburbs Line on which Opal also currently operates.

Opal brochure stating that the 594/594H and 333 bus routes will form part of the trial for buses. Click to enlarge. (Source: Beau Giles)

Opal brochure stating that the 594/594H and 333 bus routes will form part of the trial for buses. Click to enlarge. (Source: Beau Giles)

This rollout was previously hinted at by the inclusion of the 333 bus route in the Opal brochures (image above), and by the expansion of Opal top-up locations to places along the 333 route to Bondi Beach (image below).

Opal top up locations have begun to pop up between Bondi Junction and Bondi Beach, suggesting the 333 will be the next bus route on which Opal will be rolled out to. All other top up locations are near train stations and ferry stops on which Opal currently operates. Click to enlarge. (Source: Beau Giles)

Opal top up locations began to pop up between Bondi Junction and Bondi Beach well before the 333 was confirmed as the next bus route on which Opal would be rolled out to. All other top up locations are near train stations and ferry stops on which Opal already operated. Click to enlarge. (Source: Beau Giles)

This suggests that Opal top up locations are a good predictor of which routes Opal is set to be rolled out to.

Opal top ups at these locations would be consistent with the next Opal route passing through both Coogee and Randwick (such as the 373, 373, or 314).  But the low number also suggests that this could be some time away.

What has been confirmed is that the next expansion of Opal on the rail network will be on the Northern and North Shore Lines, out to the Central Coast, followed by the Western Line. Both of these are scheduled to occur in the first quarter of 2014. However, based on past experience, Opal’s rollout has generally happened 1-4 months ahead of the initial timetable, so this could occur as early as December (unless Transport for NSW decides to pause the rollout during the Christmas/New Year period).

Opal was initially said to be completely rolled out “by 2015”, but more recent announcements have begun to mention “end of 2014” instead, a sign that the rollout is on or ahead of the initial schedule. Opal was rolled out to all ferries in August earlier this year, while there is still no word on when it will be rolled out to light rail, other than the “end of 2014”.

Opal cards will be extended for trains through to Chatswood and also accepted on all government owned ferries from this Friday 30 August, putting the roll-out 4 months ahead of schedule. Buses will begin accepting Opal cards by the end of 2013, with the roll-out (excluding trams) expected to be completed by the end of next year.

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: Opal website)

“The full potential of the new electronic ticketing system is the ability to travel across ferries, trains and buses by the end of 2014. Planning for light rail is in development.” – Source: Opal Website

Trains were added to Opal on 14 June 2013, 2 weeks ahead of of the scheduled “2nd half of 2013”, while the Chatswood extension comes 1 month before the scheduled “4th quarter of 2013”, and the completion of the ferry roll-out is 4 months before the scheduled “end of 2013”. This means the roll-out to buses (4th quarter of 2013) and both the Northern and Western train lines (1st quarter of 2014) could also begin before their scheduled dates.

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. (Sources: Transport for NSW, Cityrail, modified by author)

Original schedule: 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. (Sources: Transport for NSW, Sydney Trains, modified by author)

However, what remains missing is how Opal will handle multi-modal fares. Transfers on a single mode, such as from ferry to ferry or train to train (including when passengers leave the paid area of the station in the case of the latter) do not have fare penalties applied. This means that someone catching a ferry from Manly to Circular Quay and then another ferry to Balmain just pays the single fare, while someone who catches a train from Bondi Junction to Town Hall and then back again within 60 minutes also only pays a single fare. (It remains uncertain whether transfer penalties between buses will also be removed or if they will be retained as is currently the case.)

What is missing is journeys made up of trips on 2 different modes of transport, where the only fare integration is the daily $15 fare cap and free trips after the first 8, which roughly equates to the existing myMulti fare option. But this means that passengers are financially encouraged to avoid multi-modal trips, even when it is more efficient from a time or cost to the government perspective. This is not ideal, and should be addressed. If not during the current Opal trial, then soon after it is fully rolled out.

Otherwise, it will lead to problems when the North West Rail Link and CBD and South East Light Rail open, both of which will rely on converting existing bus services into feeder buses for passengers to transfer to rail.

Discussion on the need for and how to achieve an infrastructure boom, particularly in light of a fading mining boom, is continuing.

The need for an infrastructure boom was outlined here on this blog last week, and a few days after in an article on The Conversation, by Peter Sheehan from the University of Victoria. In it, Prof Sheehan explains that the mining boom has three phases: (1) rising resources export prices relative to import prices, (2) an expansion in mining capacity via investment in the resources sector, and (3) an increase in the quantity of resources exported. Each of the three leads to the next, later dropping back due to cause and effect. For example, rising prices of iron ore eventually lead to a greater quantity of iron ore exports, which brings iron ore prices back down again. It is the first two phases which have peaked and beginning to drop back down to normal, while the third is starting to pick up steam.

Prof Sheehan predicts that mining investment, the second of the three phases, has just recently peaked at $100 billion in 2012-13, but could fall to about half that in the next two years. Demand management is therefore needed to maintain investment and employment, thus preventing a recession. Given Australia’s infrastructure deficit, which he estimates at $700 billion; he calls for finding ways to commit to $200 billion in infrastructure projects over the next few years, thus filling the expected $50 billion a year hole left by falling mining investment. With state governments lacking significant revenue generating opportunities, he calls for federal government involvement; if not through direct funding then via guarantees. Other funding options include the sale of existing assets to build new ones, known as “recycling assets”; or through the private sector.

The requirements for private sector involvement in building infrastructure was recently discussed by Garry Weaven, Chairman of the investment company Industry Funds Management (the relevant part begins 3 minutes into the 10 minute interview). Mr Weaven’s main concern is about how much risk the private sector bears in relation to infrastructure projects. Recent financial failures such as the Cross City and Lane Cove Tunnels in Sydney or the CLEM7 and Airport Tunnels in Brisbane have made the private sector wary of new toll road projects. He points out that “[these deals have] been put together by syndicates who are only concerned to extract value out of making the deal happen, not out of the long term value of the project”. However, the value he refers to appears to be value to the private investors, rather than to the community. While such projects were a financial failure from the investor’s perspective, the community obtained brand new pieces of infrastructure in each case, often at no cost to the taxpayer due to funding coming from user access fees.

However, Mr Weaven suggests that there are around $50 billion in Australian super funds and foreign pension funds available over the next 5-10 years which could be used for infrastructure in Australia. This would go a long way towards the $200 billion target that Prof Sheehan called for in The Conversation article above. But much of this can only be accessed if investor concerns about risk are addressed.

When asked what could be done to reduce investor risk, Mr Weavan provided a number of possibilities; such as guarantees, cash, equity, or loans. But his focus was on having governments build a project first in order to prove traffic levels with a given toll level, then selling it to the private sector. This is the model that is being used for the NSW Government’s WestConnex toll road, a project that Mr Weaven also praised for being funded by the sale of Port Botany (an example of the asset recycling mentioned earlier).

Map of the proposed WestConnex alignment showing it connecting to the City West Link. (Source: WestConnex – Sydney’s next motorway priority, Infrastructure NSW, p. 17)

Map of the proposed WestConnex. Click to enlarge. (Source: WestConnex –
Sydney’s next motorway priority, Infrastructure NSW, p. 17)

Such proposals are not magic bullets to every infrastructure project, the devil is in the detail. Indeed, the inability of public transport to operate at a profit means those projects will almost certainly have to be entirely built and owned by the government, though franchising of their operations to the private sector is an option, as currently exists with buses and ferries in Sydney. With this in mind, $50 billion would put a serious dent in the infrastructure Australia needs in coming years.

But it will not pay for all Australia’s infrastructure needs. Nor can state governments pay for the remaining shortfall on their own. The federal government, with its superior revenue raising powers, needs to play a key role in paying for infrastructure. And here it is disappointing to see that Opposition Leader Tony Abbott continue to refuse to fund any urban rail infrastructure projects.

Mr Abbott originally claimed on April 4 that the Commonwealth has “no history of funding urban rail”. This was soon proven to be incorrect, as while the Federal Coalition may have had no history of funding urban rail the Commonwealth Government absolutely did. When asked about it at a press conference in Western Australia last week, Mr Abbott accepted that the current Federal Government had funded urban rail, but that this was the first time a Commonwealth Government had done so. This is also inaccurate, given that Commonwealth funding for urban rail dates back to the early 1990s, when the Building Better Cities program funded such rail projects as the Pyrmont Light Rail or the Y-Link for the Cumberland Line, both in Sydney. Urban planning and public transport were so neglected during the inbetween years of the Howard Government that when the Rudd Government took power in 2007, Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese claimed that he had found “not a single urban planner in the entire Commonwealth Public Service – not one”.

The federal Liberal Party's transport policy consists exclusively of road projects, with no committments to public transport. Click to enlarge. (Source: Our Plan Real Solutions For All Australians, Liberal Party, page 32)

The federal Liberal Party’s transport policy consists exclusively of road projects, with no committments to public transport. Click to enlarge. (Source: Our Plan Real Solutions For All Australians, Liberal Party, p. 32)

Mr Abbott has previously outlined the need for additional infrastructure, and he should be commended for recognising this problem. He also stated his view on Infrastructure Australia’s (IA) role:

“Under the Coalition, Infrastructure Australia would assess all these projects, publish cost benefit analyses for them, and provide a recommended order of priority for Commonwealth funding. If the government varied Infrastructure Australia’s priorities it would need to argue a national interest case for doing so against the yardstick of what makes the most economic sense.”Tony Abbott (April 2011)

However, by failing to argue the national interest in both promising to fund road projects that are not on IA’s priority list and then ruling out the funding of urban rail projects that are on its priority list, Mr Abbott has not lived up to his earlier commitment to lessen Australia’s infrastructure deficit with an apolitical and evidence based approach. This is disappointing, and should be revisited by the Federal Coalition with a view to funding urban rail projects.

Sydney still lacks true integrated fares. In Melbourne, a single ticket allows you 2 hours of unlimited travel within a certain zone. You then decide how to get from your origin to your destination, what sort of vehicle or combination of vehicles. In Sydney, passengers are generally penalised financially if they transfer from one vehicle to another (unless it is from a train to another train). Someone travelling from Enmore to Circular Quay would be better off changing at Newtown for a train (as would the network as a whole as it would allow the removal of buses from the CBD), but doing so requires paying for an additional train ticket or upgrading to a more expensive myMulti ticket and so virtually all stay on the bus the whole way.

Image: Adult Opal smartcard Source: Transport for NSW

An adult Opal smartcard (Source: Transport for NSW)

One possible solution, possible now that the Opal smartcard is being rolled out, is to charge passengers based on the total distance of their journey (point to point fares). It wouldn’t matter which, how many, or what combination of vehicles was used, the fare would remain the same. Alternatively, the existing zonal system used for myMulti tickets could be retained (zonal fares), but set at the same price for single or multimodal journeys. To do so for either the point to point or zonal methods means changing the relative fares of single mode and multimodal tickets. This is a relative change, so it could be an increase in the former, a decrease in the latter, or a combination of both. Further cuts in fares is difficult, due to a falling farebox recovery ratio (explained below using the example of Cityrail).

IPART sets fares so that farebox recovery (what passengers contribute in fares) is roughly 28% of Cityrail’s efficient operating cost, but none of the capital cost. So things like the North West Rail Link, South West Rail Link, and new Waratah trains are paid for entirely by the government, but things like staff salaries or electricity to run the trains are partly paid for by ticket sales and a government subsidy. The efficient costs refers to the total operating costs less any non-fare revenue (government concessions, rental income, etc) received.

This 28% target has not been met in recent years. It was 27% in 2008/09, falling to 25% in 20011/12 (Source: Review of maximum fares for CityRail services from January 2013, IPART Nov 2012, page 13).

There were a number of reasons for the drop. The introduction of myZone in 2010 saw a number of fares cut, but almost none increased. No fare increased was made for 2011, though the following year’s increase was a double up to make up for that. The current government has promised no fare increases above CPI without any improvements in services, and has stuck to the CPI limit since 2011. Also in 2011, an additional discount of 9% was provided on periodicals (monthly/quarterly/yearly tickets).

More recently, the government effectively increased fares for ferries by removing them all from Zone 1 and some from Zone 2 in the myZone system, forcing myMulti users up to a myMulti2 or myMulti3 if they wanted a multimodal ticket. The current Opal fare system also does not include periodicals, which if retained could increase fares for some by hundreds of dollars a year. However, most fares will remain cheaper under Opal than under the the current magnetic stripe tickets, particularly for off peak users.

So if cutting fares further is difficult, assuming a limited transport budget that is not increased, then the government would have to increase fares in order to achieve integrated fares. Recent reports suggest that this is not the government’s priority, and that there remains a preference for charging different fares for different modes due to the varying cost structures of different modes. Some minor improvements have been made – such as integrated fares for a single mode (e.g. ferry to ferry, or train to train while temporarily exiting the station), or the daily $15 cap and weekly free travel after the first 8 trips.

This might be enough for now, but will create problems come 2019 and 2020 when the North West Rail Link and South East Light Rail Line are opened. These two projects will in part rely on feeder buses and passengers transferring to second mode of transport in order to reach their final destination. This integrated network approach is a more efficient one, allowing a higher capacity of passenger movements along a central spine using rail based transport. But it needs integrated fares to be truly successful.

The danger remains that Sydney will get integrated ticketing and an integrated network, but no integrated fares.

Correction: An earlier version of this post showed a map of the proposed Opal rollout as including stations between Granville and Liverpool. This has since been clarified by Transport for NSW as being stations between Strathfield and Liverpool via Regents Park. The map now been corrected.

Sydney’s Opal smartcard will be expanded into the rail network on 14 June 2013. It has currently operated on only 2 ferry routes, to Neutral Bay and Manly, and just 700 cards have been distributed thus far. However, passengers will not enjoy integrated fares, paying a separate fare for a journey involving both trains and ferries rather than a single fare for a single journey.

On 14 June, Opal will operate on limited sections of the ferry and rail network. (Source: Opal website)

On 14 June, Opal will operate on limited sections of the ferry and rail network. (Source: Opal website)

A trial of Opal will initially operate on the Eastern Suburbs Line and City Circle, starting at Central Station. In the fourth quarter of 2013 this will be extended north to Chatswood and expanded to include all ferries. Then in the first quarter of 2014 Opal’s coverage will spread further, first to Strathfield and Wyong, then to Richmond, Emu Plains, and Liverpool (Source: Opal website).

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. (Sources: Cityrail, Transport for NSW, Opal website)

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, and Western Lines. (Sources: Cityrail, Transport for NSW, Opal website)

The expansion of Opal into a multi-modal ticketing system will not be accompanied by multi-modal fares. Opal users who travel on just a single mode of transport will pay less than one who travels on two modes, even if their origin and destination are exactly the same. This penalises passengers for having to make a transfer via higher fares, despite this being an added inconvenience to them. An ideal fare system, one which uses integrated fares, would charge passengers based on the distance they travel, regardless of which and how many modes they use to get there.

The reluctance to integrate fares at this point may be due to the government’s choice to focus on rolling out Opal first, and fixing the fares second. The recent decision, on the advice of IPART, to correct the anomaly on ferries where a myMulti ticket was cheaper than a myFerry ticket supports this view. Fixing the other anomaly that was introduced with myZone, cheap long distance bus tickets for Northern Beaches and Northwest bus services, could be the other prerequisite to introducing full integrated ticketing.

Despite this, the $15 daily fare cap, along with the unlimited free journeys each week after the first 8, together act as a kind of integrated fare. Passengers currently need to determine the best ticket at the start of each week in order to pay the lowest fare, be it single tickets, a weekly, or a myMulti. With Opal they will be able to travel first, and then the cheapest possible fare will be charged at the end of the week. These are definitely improvements, but still retain what remains an unnecessarily complicated fare structure.

Opal cards can be obtained by ordering them online from the website. The smartcard is free, but requires a minimum $40 deposit.

Two years since the last state election and two years until the next one, it’s time to evaluate how the O’Farrell government has performed on the issue of transport. Given the scale of time it takes to implement changes and additions to such a large system (a new rail line take almost a decade from inception to opening), it would not be fair to judge the government on things it has not yet had a chance to reform. At the same time, 2 years is enough to take advantage of low hanging fruit, make operational improvements, and begin the process of changing the direction of the heavy ship that is Sydney’s transport system.

This is a long post, so here is the summarised version:

  • The good: The government has committed to a Second Harbour Crossing, Gladys Berejikliian is a good Transport Minister, the rollout of integrated ticketing (Opal) is on track, there will be a big increase in train services later this year, the South West Rail Link is running 6 months ahead of schedule, the creation of an integrated transport authority (Transport for NSW) will allow an integrated transport network, the government has prioritised public transport ahead of roads, the government learned from the PPP mistakes of the past, and new transport apps are making getting around easier.
  • The bad: Overcrowding on Cityrail is up, on time running on Cityrail is down, no congestion charging, and no committment to a second Sydney airport.
  • The uncertain: Integrated fares, sectorisation of the rail network to untangle it, and driverless trains??

The most important parts at this point in time, in my opinion, are a Second Harbour Crossing (good), integrated fares (uncertain), sectorisation (uncertain), creation of Transport for NSW (good), Opal (good), overcrowding (bad), on time running (bad), Transport Minister (good). our good, two uncertain, two bad. The two bad points could be improved with the October 2013 timetable changes, if some hard decisions are made, whereas the two uncertain points will require a decision some time this year. It will be worth revisiting this in 12 months time to see if the government delivers on those four points, but until then I would rate the government as a B overall (on a scale of A to F). This is giving them some benefit of the doubt, based on a good overall performance in other areas. Without the benefit of the doubt, bump that down to a C.

This is obviously quite subjective, so I welcome your thoughts and feedback in the comments section below.

Capacity improvements

The best way to improve capacity into dense employment centres, like the CBD, Parramatta, or Macquarie Park, is with rail, preferably heavy rail. It is pleasing to see, therefore, that the government has committed to a Second Harbour Crossing, a new light rail line down the CBD through to Randwick, and the North West Rail Link (NWRL), in addition to the South West Rail Link (SWRL) and Inner West Light Rail extension, both commenced under the previous government. The Second Harbour Crossing in particular, expensive and opposed by some as necessary given the cost, will result in a 33% increase in capacity across the network by adding a fourth path through the CBD.

The decision to dump the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link (PERL) is unfortunate, but was the right call as the priority right now is with the projects listed above. Similarly, the decision to build the NWRL with smaller and steeper tunnels, thus preventing existing double deck trains from using them, could be seen as short sighted. However, it also guarantees that the line will remain separate from the Cityrail network, opening up the possible benefits of a new operating model that has a lower cost to operate and therefore can provide more frequent services (see: Private sector involvement). It also has the benefit of lower construction costs, which would be very beneficial should the Second Harbour Crossing go under the Harbour, as seems likely.

  • Conclusion: A committment to expand the rail network, a Second Harbour Crossing in particular, will improve capacity by 33%. The decision  to make the NWRL tunnels narrower and steeper remains controversial.
  • Grade: B

Service quality

The Cityrail network, which forms the backbone of transport in Sydney, is under a lot of pressure at the moment. Overcrowing is up, while on time running is down. February was one of the worst months in Cityrail’s history, with 5 major disruptions during peak hour causing a suspension of services, which often spilled over onto other lines in the network. You have to go back 4 years to find operational figures this bad. It urgently needs additional train services to ease overcrowding and a more simplified network to improve reliability.

Interior of a Sydney tram. Overcrowding is up on the Cityrail network. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Author)

Interior of a Sydney tram. Overcrowding is up on the Cityrail network. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Author)

Part of the cause of these problems is the network that the government inherited. But 2 years in, it is now incumbent on the government to fix it. So far, this has meant 63 new services per week in 2011, and then 44 new services per week in 2012, for a total of 107 new services per week. This is a good start, but baby steps at best. What is really needed is an increase on the scale of the 2005 timetable, which cut 1,350 weekly services. Previously there have not been enough train drivers or rolling stock to do this, and it remains uncertain whether it’s possible now. Older, non-airconditioned trains may need to be used if the government does not order more Waratah trains to increase capacity.

Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian has continually pointed to October of this year as the moment that a new timetable, re-written from the ground up, will be introduced that features a streamlined network with additional services. But few details have been officially released, though some proposed changes have been leaked. Once that is implemented, it would be worth revisiting this issue. Service is also still better than the horror years of 2003-05. These two factors give the government a slightly more favourable rating than would have otherwise been the case.

There have been some minor improvements that are worth mentioning in passing. Quiet carriages have been introduced and phone reception is now available in the CBD’s underground rail tunnels.

  • Conclusion: Overcrowding and reliability are at 4 year lows in the rail network, though there have been minor improvements such as quiet carriages and phone reception. Overall, it’s a poor result.
  • Grade: D

Ticketing and fares

The major issues here are the Opal rollout and integrated fares.

The implementation of Opal appears to be on track, with the new smartcard set to expand to the Manly Ferry on April 8, and then to the Eastern Suburbs and City Circle stations in the second half of 2013. Up to now it appears to have proceeded without any major hiccups, and has gotten further in the rollout than the T-Card did.

There remains little detail on integrated fares other than that cabinet will consider fares at some point in early 2013. This is a potential game changer, and it seems likely that it could be implemented once Opal is fully rolled out.

The government has made a committment to not increase fares beyond CPI unless service levels improve, and has also incorporated the light rail into myZone. Both are positive, though the former is problematic in that it will erode the ability of fares to recover operating costs, as fares only account for about a quarter of the cost to operate Sydney’s transport network.

  • Conclusion: Good progress on Opal, but not on integrated fares. Limiting fare increases and putting the light rail on myZone are also some good minor improvements.
  • Grade: C

Transport Minister

Gladys Berejiklian has been a good Transport Minister for 2 reasons: she supports public transport and she is a strong advocate of it.

She strikes the right balance between public transport (trains, buses, ferries, trams) and private transport (cars, roads). It’s worth pointing out that, despite numerous claims that this government is pro-car and anti-rail, the current government spends more than half of its transport capital works budget on public transport. It’s also worth remembering that private motor vehicle trips will continue to play a key role in providing mobility to Sydney residents, and therefore the road network should still be expanded. But the focus should be on public transport, as it currently is.

As an aside, this support for public transport is unusual for a politician from the conservative side of politics. But both Ms Berejiklian and the Premier Barry O’Farrell are not your traditional hard conservatives, both more accurately described as moderate pragmatists. They both seem to recognise that congestion is costing the NSW economy money and the best way to improve the situation is to focus on public transport.

The Victorian Liberal Government’s top transport project is a road tunnel under the CBD, while the recently elected WA Liberal Government rejected the opposition’s 75km expansion of the rail network in favour of a short airport rail link and light rail for the inner city with a greater focus on improving the road network. Across the Tasman, the Auckland Transport Blog speaks favourably of conservatives in Australia (though really it’s more a comment on NSW, because as seen this is not a view necessarily shared by Liberal Parties in other states):

“I guess this is what happens when you have a centre-right government that isn’t completely insane in its ideological dislike of public transport…I do wonder why centre-right politicians in Australia don’t seem to have the same ideological dislike of public transport as seems to be the case in New Zealand.”Mr Anderson, Auckland Transport Blog (23 December 2012)

The other, and arguably more important, reason why Ms Berejiklian is a good Transport Minister is her strong advocacy. It’s not enough to support something if the cabinet or Premier overrule you. And Ms Berejiklian has demonstrated an ability to get her agenda through the cabinet where it’s been needed. She got cabinet to support an expensive Second Harbour Crossing, despite opposition from Infrastructure NSW Chairman Nick Greiner and took the light rail issue to cabinet 3 times until it accepted her preferred option of George St light rail over the CBD bus tunnel. These two major items, along with numerous other minor ones, were not a fait accompli, and are a testament to Ms Berejiklian’s influence.

  • Conclusion: Gladys Berejiklian is supporter of and effective advocate for public transport
  • Grade: A

Funding, costs and scheduling

Public transport projects in NSW seem to come in over budget and behind schedule all too often. That appears to have been partly continued. The Inner West Light Rail extension has been delayed by 18 months and its cost blown out by $56m, while the cost of the South West Rail Link (SWRL) went from $688m to $2.1bn. However, the SWRL is running ahead of schedule: the new Glenfield Station was completed 4 months ahead of schedule, while the new line is on track to open 6 months early. While this project was started by the previous Labor government, it’s delivery has been overseen by the current Liberal government and that’s what matters. The North West Rail Link has seen some blow outs in costs, but these are tens of millions of dollars in a multi-billion dollar project, so here it’s too early to make any judgement.

On the revenue side, the government has spoken about value capture as a way of funding infrastructure improvement, where property owners whose land values increase because of government built infrastructure contribute to the cost of building it. This is welcome, but no action has yet been taken. It has also openly committed to making users of any new or improved freeways pay tolls to contribute to their construction. This move to a user pays system, where the users of motorways pay for them rather than all taxpayers whether they use them or not, is a welcome one. What is unfortunate, is that the government has refused to introduce congestion charging, as pricing roadspace would allow a more efficient use of it, reducing congestion and the need to build more roads.

  • Conclusion: Cost blowouts and delays remain, though a possible early finish to the SWRL is a welcome surprise. Tolling and funding is a mixed bag, but mostly positive.
  • Grade: C


The two big reforms made by the government in the area of governance are the creation of Transport for NSW, which brought all transport related departments and agencies under the one umbrella, and the splitting of Railcorp into Sydney Trains and NSW Trains.

Transport for NSW’s creation is a game changer. By centralising planning into one department, rather than independent “silos” in separate departments that rarely communicate with each other, it will allow transport in Sydney to be fully integrated as one network, rather than a collection of separate networks. This extends to things like timetables and fares, but also adds roads to the mix – changing a transit department into a true transport department. All of this which will allow commuters to get from A to B much more easily than is currently the case. It will make examples like the following a thing of the past:

“For example, a customer could travel from St Ives to Sydney, via a private bus to Turramurra, a Cityrail train and walking along the city streets… The journey requires 2 separate tickets and therefore revenue streams, which never meet. The two vehicles are owned, maintained and driven by vastly different staff working for different silos.

The station facility is provided by Cityrail. If they’ve thought to accommdate the bus in the design of the facility, it would be the exception rather than the norm. The timetabling, if it is done at all, would be by a third silo in a distant building, remote from the reality of what’s happening.” – Riccardo, Integrated transport planning – what is it really? (11 June, 2011)

The Transport Master Plan put a great deal of emphasis on moving towards an integrated network, one where it would be much more common practice to take a feeder bus to a transport interchange and then take train, tram, or another bus to your final destination, with all coming frequently and all day, in order to maximise mobility. This would be a big improvement on the current network design, which is designed more around a single seat trip to the CBD than on connections to get you from anywhere to everywhere. However, this will be difficult to implement without integrated fares (discussed above), as currently commuters are penalised for making a transfer as though it is a premium service, when really it’s an inconvenience.

Evidence of the benefits of centralised planning can be seen in the recent decision to house metrobuses in separate depots in order to minimise dead running. This was not previously possible, as planning was done at the depot level, and so shifting buses from one depot to another was not feasible.

A Metrobus on George St in the Sydney CBD. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Author)

A Metrobus on George St in the Sydney CBD. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Author)

The changes to Railcorp are not set to occur until July 1 of this year, so the jury is still out on that.

  • Conclusion: The creation of Transport for NSW, centralising the planning function and creating a true transport department.
  • Grade: A


NSW has had no lack of plans in recent years, if anything it’s had the problem of too many plans but not enough action. When it comes to just planning, the government had 2 competing visions: the Transport Master Plan from Transport for NSW and the State Infrastructure Strategy from Infrastructure NSW.

To its credit, every time the two plans disagreed, the state government sided with the Transport Master Plan every time. That means it has committed to building a Second Harbour Crossing for the rail network and light rail down George Street rather than the ill-fated bus tunnel idea.

It also dogmatically refused to commit to a light rail line to Randwick until a feasibility study was completed, but then got totally behind the project once it was completed and put before cabinet.

That is not to say that there aren’t concerns about the planning process. For example, the government has committed to the Second Harbour Crossing before having done enough work into it to name a cost or set a timetable for its completion. It was this sort of behaviour that contributed to the $500m spent on the aborted Rozelle Metro by the previous government.

  • Conclusion: The government has sided with Transport for NSW, rather than Infrastructure NSW, leading to a greater focus on public transport, rather than private transport. However, it has a mixed history of committing to projects before having done its homework.
  • Grade: B

Private sector involvement

The failure of PPPs like the Airport Line as well as the Cross City and Lane Cove Tunnels mean that government’s should approach private sector involvement with caution. But that does not mean that it should avoid it entirely.

In NSW, the government has opted to adopt the WA model, rather than the Victorian model. In WA, the government plans and owns the network, but puts the operation of various lines or regions out to tender, allowing competitive practice to drive down costs while maintaining a minimum contractual level of service. The government then pays the operator, but keeps all fares, ensuring that the operator can increase profits only by operating more efficiently, rather than by cutting service. The Victorian model sees the operators keep farebox revenue, which is then topped up by a government subsidy. The disadvantage of the Victorian model is that the operator can increase profits by cutting services with low patronage, even if these services are part of an overall network such as feeder buses.

The chosen model has proven successful in NSW, having been used on the bus network for almost a decade. It allowed the government to put some bus contracts out to tender, resulting in $18m of annual savings for the tax payer. It has also recently been expanded, when Sydney Ferries being franchised last year. The NWRL is also planned to be privately operated, while the Sydney light rail line was recently re-purchased by the government but will remain operated by a private company.

Sydney Ferries were franchised in 2012. (Source: Author)

Sydney Ferries were franchised in 2012. (Source: Author)

The decision to turn the NWRL into a completely separate and privately operated line, but one where commuters still pay the same fare as if they were on a Cityrail train, has the potential to finally stem the bleeding in Cityrail’s costs, perhaps through the use of driverless trains that would allow very high all day frequencies.

The recently introduced unsolicited proposal process has also allowed a proposal for an M2-F3 link to be constructed by the private sector at no cost to the taxpayer. While the outcome is uncertain, the process has been shown to work, and is a great way to increase the stock of infrastructure in Sydney. (Setting aside the involvement of this process for another Sydney Casino, which has raised some controversy.)

  • Conclusion: The government has learned from the bad PPPs of the past and appears to be using private sector involvement as a means, rather than as an ends.
  • Grade: A

Second Sydney airport

The current government has not only ruled out the preferred site of Badgerys Creek for a second airport, it has ruled out a second airport altogether, suggesting that a high speed rail line to Canberra airport could be used as a substitute. Not only is this unlikely to happen, given the high costs involved, but it means passing up on the opportunity to bring jobs to Western Sydney and revitalise its economy, which currently has a huge jobs shortfall that is only predicted to increase.

Current and proposed Sydney airports. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Google Maps)

Current and proposed Sydney airports. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Google Maps)

Given the lack of support for a second airport, it is then disappointing that the government has not sought to reduce or elimiate the access fee for users of the airport train stations in order to ease the ground transport congestion around the airport, cited as the biggest constraint on Sydney’s Kingsford-Smith Airport at the moment.

  • Conclusion: The government does not support a second airport, and has not done enough to improve the capacity of the existing airport.
  • Grade: F

Transport apps

The makers of transport apps have seen an increase in the amount of transport data available to them. This has allowed for Google Transit to expand to all forms of public transport (previously it was just light rail and the monorail), and has also now included bike paths (though it seems Google did this on its own, rather than with help from the state government). More recently real time bus data was provided for STA buses, and will hopefully later be extended to all buses and also trains.

  • Conclusion: The government has been proactive in improving transport information to commuters by involving third party developers.
  • Grade: A

Opal trial

Posted: November 26, 2012 in Transport
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The Transport Minister, Gladys Berejiklian, announced yesterday that the trial of Sydney’s new electronic ticketing system, Opal, will begin next week on Friday 7 December on the Neutral Bay ferry route. This will be followed by the Manly ferry in the second quarter of 2013, with all ferry routes to be Opal compatible by the end of 2013. The Cityrail network will come next, starting with a trial on the City Circle in the second half of 2013, then buses and light rail. Opal will be fully rolled out by 2015. Transport for NSW has made a video outlining some of the features, which is included below.

Yesterdays announcement included a number of new details on how Opal will function. Fares will be capped at $15 per day, or $2.50 for Sundays, and all trips after the 8th are free each week. Commuters will need to “tap on” when they board and “tap off” when the disembark, and failing to do so means they will be charged the maximum possible fare for that journey (no tapping off is required on the Manly ferry as there are only 2 stops and so the second stop is assumed to be where passengers tap off). This suggests that Opal will be a point to point system for calculating fares, but it remains to be seen what the multi-modal impact will be (e.g. when you catch a bus and a train as part of one journey) and whether you will be charged a single fare for the trip or are penalised with two individual fares (resulting in a higher overall fare) for each leg of the journey. Given that Opal will be restricted only to ferries until mid-2013, it might be a while before this becomes apparent.

The black adult Opal card. Click on image for an image of the 5 different Opal cards. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Only adult Opal cards are available at the moment, with various concession Opal cards to be introduced in future, each distinguished by different colours (the adult Opals are black). There will also be non-reloadable Opal cards to allow single trips, for occassional users and tourists, which suggests that the magnetic stripe tickets will be phased out quite quickly and that Sydney might avoid the teething problems that Melbourne had with its simultaneous operation of Myki and Metcards.

Transport for NSW staff will be signing people up to Opal at ferry wharves, with no word yet on whether it costs anything to buy an Opal card. Opal credit can be added at shops (like those where you can currently buy pre-paid tickets), over the phone, the internet (once the website goes live), or an automatic top-up (similar to e-tags).

It remains to be seen whether the cautious trial approach that the government is taking is a good one or not. My gut tells me that it’s the right move, and will allow any glitches to be ironed out early without it negatively affecting commuters heavily. That’s the reasoning behind starting with ferries, and even then just the one ferry line at first. And while Opal was set in motion by the previous Labor government, this was a government that started 2 electronic ticketing systems but delivered none. It will be the delivery of Opal that this government will be judged on. If they want to be truly successful, then they will use this as an opportunity to introduced integrated fares as well as integrated ticketing.

Media Reports

Transport card ready to be rolled out in Sydney, ABC

Sydney’s new transport friend not far off, Sydney Morning Herald

Opal card trial to start on ferries after 15-year delay, Daily Telegraph

New Sydney transport ticketing – by 2015, The Australian/AAP

Three things came up in the news in the previous week which are worth touching on just quickly – a new Cityrail timetable, the report by Canberra Airport recommending the construction of high speed rail between Sydney and Canberra rather than building a second airport in the Sydney basin, and the NSW Budget Estimates hearings.

New Timetable

A few extra train services are being added to the timetable. (The associated Transport for NSW press release says it is 44 services per week, while the Telegraph reports 36 new services per week, but I count only 34.) It includes 4 new services each day (weekdays only) to the Illawarra/Eastern Suburbs Line as well as 2 new services each day (weekdays and weekends) to the Blue Mountains Line (all the way to Bathurst, which until recently was served by buses rather than trains). This is on top of the 63 new services per week introduced last year, bringing it up to about an extra 100 train services per week since the Coalition won the 2011 election.

However, word is that it is the next timetable change, coming at the end of 2013, that will deliver real changes to service levels on the Cityrail network and will also involve a complete re-write of the timetable from the ground up. This is when the Liverpool turnback platform and Kingsgrove to Revesby track quadruplication are set to be completed, allowing for a significant increase in the number of trains operated. This is particularly the case for trains that use the City Circle, which currently is not being used to its full capacity during either the morning or afternoon peak.

Canberra High Speed Rail

A report released by Canberra Airport suggests that High Speed Rail (HSR) could enable Canberra Airport to function as Sydney’s second airport, eliminating the need to build a second airport in the Sydney Basin. Given the $11bn price tag of HSR, compared to $9bn for a second airport, and a total travel time of 57 minutes into the Sydney CBD, the plan appears to be quite reasonable. However, Alan Davies points out that the $11bn figure comes from the federal government’s HSR feasibility study, which found that:

“the report says there’s only a 10% chance that estimate wouldn’t be exceeded. No one uses that figure – the preferred estimate is $19 billion because at least there’s a 90% chance it won’t be exceeded” – Alan Davies (10 Oct, 2012), The Urbanist

A HSR link was also quickly rejected by the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, who said it was “some time away” from being viable.

Hopefully one or both the state and federal government will bite the bullet and accept the conclusion of the both the Joint Study on Aviation Capacity and the Infrastructure NSW report, which recommend a second airport be built at Badgerys Creek. This location provides improved transport links and employment opportunities for the growing Western Sydney region. It’s an unpopular decision, but it’s the right one.

Budget Estimates

The Transport Minister, Gladys Berejiklian, fronted the state budget estimates hearing on transport on Tuesday. Major information arising from that hearing included points below.

Heavy rail:

The portion of the hearings that made the headline news was about non-air conditioned trains being kept on, despite these being scheduled to be phased out by the end of 2014 once all the Waratah trains are delivered. It comes from the following question and answer:

“Are you planning beyond 2014 for the C and K sets and other non air-conditioned sets to have to remain on the network to meet the timetable changes…Mr Wielinga are you confident that the C, K and S sets are not going to remain on the network beyond the rollout of the Waratahs?” – Penny Sharpe (9 Oct, 2012), Shadow Transport Minister

“No. We are being as flexible as we can be. The question that needs to be asked is: How many additional services do we want to put on? If our customers are seeking additional services and we want to increase that above what is programmed at the moment, we will use whatever rolling stock is available to us to provide those customer services.” – Les Wielinga (9 Oct, 2012), Director General of Transport for NSW

Some confusion remains as to what this means, primarily due to Ms Sharpe’s questions, and whether she was asking only about non-air conditioned trains, or about the old silver sets (each given a letter classification, with C and K being air conditioned, while L, R, and S are not air conditioned). This led to the following back and forth on Twitter:

What could potentially be happening is that all non-air conditioned trains are being withdrawn from service, but kept warehoused for use in case of emergency, should a situation arise in which Cityrail was short on trains. In these cases, a non-air conditioned train is better than a cancelled train. Mr Wielinga’s response would be consistent with such a scenario. Or alternatively, it could just mean that increased numbers of services each day means that some non-air conditioned trains will be kept on in regular service in order to meet timetabling requirements.

Ms Berejiklian was asked if a second harbour crossing that is not in the form of an under-harbour tunnel was being considered, but she did not directly address the question (page 30). She instead pointed out that 15 different options had been considered for Sydney’s rail network once the Northwest Rail Link (NWRL) is completed, but these were high level options (such as converting the existing harbour crossing to single deck metro, rather than building a new one, or maintaining double deck rolling stock on the entire network) that did not include specific alignments. She did, however, reaffirm that a second harbour crossing will be built (page 14).

A figure cited by the Sydney Morning Herald of $4bn of extra work which would be required to handle the NWRL once it is completed is not new money, and these costs are already budgeted for.

The narrower tunnels on the NWRL, large enough for single deck rolling stock but not double deck rolling stock, will result in cost savings. However, the cost savings are less than the cost of refitting the existing Epping to Chatswood section of the line to run the single deck trains (page 29). The real savings would occur when building new tunnels, most potentially an under-harbour tunnel, as single deck trains can handle steeper gradients than the heavier double deck trains.

Light rail:

The Greenway – a pedestrian and bicycle path, which was originally part of the Dulwich Hill light rail extension before being deferred, would have costed $37m to build (page 34), compared to the cost of the light rail extension of $176m. The $176m figure includes $24m for rolling stock (page 16), and was revised upwards from $120m under the previous Labor Government, which (along with the delay in its completion) Ms Berejiklian says is because the previous government had not done any geotechnical work, considered where the rolling stock would be acquired from, etc.

A final decision on George St light rail will be made in the final transport plan (page 33), to be released by the end of the year.


Opal is on track to be rolled out on ferries in December of this year.

The Director General of Transport for NSW, Les Wielinga, was never a full director of Infrastructure NSW, he was only ever a temporary “guest” (page 9). Mr Wielinga also argued that the differing conclusions made by his organisation (Transport for NSW) and Infrastructure NSW was due to each taking a different approach, and so different solutions were inevitable but that he also did “not think this is a problem”.

There are many things missing from the Draft Transport Master Plan. While defining it by what it doesn’t have, rather than what it does, would result in a never ending list, there are some major omissions that deserve some specific mention. They are, in no particular order:

Integrated fares

While integrated ticketing is being introduced with the rollout of Opal, allowing commuters to use just one ticket to get around Sydney, there is nothing in the transport plan suggesting that they will be charged an equal fare regardless of which (or how many) mode (or modes) of transport they use to reach their destination. In other words, if you are going from point A to point B, then it shouldn’t matter which way you get there, you should be charged the same fare.

At the moment Sydney does not have integrated fares. In fact, if you use 2 vehicles (unless it’s trains or you have a weekly MyZone ticket) then you are charged a premium fare despite the fact that having to make a transfer is a reduction in the quality of your journey. This has led to many anywhere to anywhere bus routes all over Sydney, as commuters refuse to pay extra to change from one bus to another, resulting in the available buses being spread thin and leading to low service frequencies.

Sydney currently has a radial bus network, as seen on the left. Proposed changes to a radial and circumferential network that emphasises transfers, as seen on the right, would improve connectivity but also require integrated fares. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Transport Master Plan, page 55.)

The transport plan seeks to change this model, moving to a grid (or cobweb) style network that requires transfers, but provides both frequency and connectivity. However, to work effectively, integrated fares are required to ensure that commuters are no worse off for having to transfer. This currently does not appear to be in the plan.

The Parramatta to Epping Rail Link
The O’Farrell government went to the 2011 election promising to prioritise the Northwest Rail Link (NWRL) ahead of the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link (PERL). Initially, this meant deferring the PERL until 2036, with a NWRL completed in 2019 and a Second Harbour Crossing completed some time in between. But when the Sydney’s Rail Futures plan was completed in the middle of this year it was missing any mention of the PERL, the first indication that this project had been dropped altogether.

Forward planning (unless it’s roads)

The Master Plan lists 3 new freeways that it would like built (an M4 East, an M5 East duplication, and an F3 to M2 link) plus another 3 new freeways for consideration beyond the 20 year scope of the plan (an F6 linking Waterfall to the airport, an Inner West Bypass between the M4 East and M5 East, and a freeway linking the M4 East to the M2). It then also recommends that the government begin planning reserving land in outer suburban areas so that freeways can be built there many decades into the future. This is fantastic forward planning, and should be commended as it will avoid huge tunneling costs in the future that we are contemplating today.

The transport plan has recommended reserving corridors for future roads, but does not include a similar recommendation for reserving corridors for future rail lines. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Transport Master Plan, page 140.)

And yet when it comes to public transport, no such recommendations are made. Where is the action on reserving land for future rail lines, light rail corridors, bus rapid transit, etc? This included in the 20 year rail plan, so why is it missing from the transport plan? Why has it been removed?

It’s hard to imagine a transport plan since the height of the automobiles golden age back in the 1950s that has felt so biased towards roads and away from public transport. Previous plans have ended up seeing more roads built than public transport, but at least they made an effort at planning for public transport before abandoning those plans. This one just skips that step entirely!

UPDATE (9 September 2012): Some further reading reveals that planning has been included for reserving corridors for both roads and public transport. The following diagram illustrates the locations of the corridors. The report, at 370 pages, was quite long and limited time meant I was unable to go through it in as much detail in the days following its release and I unfortunately missed this.

Transport corridors, both road and public transport, that are being investigated or reserved for future transport infrastructure projects. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Transport Master Plan, page 197.)

Funding and costings

There are some details on this, but it tends to be broad statements with some token details around the edges. For example, costings for individual projects are not included, although a figure of $100 billion over the next 20 years has been mentioned in the media. If this is accurate, then it is actually within the scope of the existing transport capital expenditure budget, which is equal to $25 billion over the next 4 years (Transport Master Plan, page 323), or roughly $125 billion over the next 20 years with some simple estimation.

The report has some interesting ideas. These include: increasing parking levies inside activity centres to discourage car use while funding public transport, reforming car registration to take into account road use (code for km based fees, rather than a flat fee regardless of how much you use the road), reforming public transport agencies (e.g. the creation of Transport for NSW, franchising Sydney Ferries, and splitting Railcorp into Sydney Trains and NSW Trains), allowing more commercial sites into existing transport interchanges, and capturing value created from transport investment. The last one is probably the one with the greatest scope to raise additional revenues, and one that I have written about previously.

However, other than these few points (not many for a plan this big), details on funding and costing remain general in nature and are lacking in specific details, examples or case studies much beyond saying “we will investigate this further”.

Light rail to Sydney University or to Barangaroo

Although the government has not decided what it will do with the results of the Light Rail Feasibility Study yet, the study has been completed, and this is evident by inclusion of details of light rail in the Master Plan. It suggests light rail for George Street in the CBD and a line on or under Devonshire St that then goes along Anzac Parade to UNSW. But gone is any mention of light rail to the University of Sydney or, more importantly, to Barangaroo. It is true that Barangaroo will have a new walkway to connect it quickly with Wynyard Station, and that it will sport a new ferry wharf. But it will be intriguing to see why the decision has been made to not extend the light rail line through to Barangaroo via The Rocks.

Bus priority

This has been talked about ever since the Unsworth Review into buses back in 2004. With most buses now equiped with GPS tracking teachnology, it is possible to work out when a aprticular bus is running late. In order to get that bus back on time, priority can be given to it at traffic lights, giving that bus a green light earlier than would normally happen. To ensure buses don’t run earlier than the timetable, this would only happen when a bus is late. This would be a huge improvement in reliability for Sydney’s bus network, and it’s unfortunate to see that little progress has been made in the last decade on implementing this.

Congestion charging

This has been ruled out by the government, despite such measures having worked well in places like London or Singapore. The idea behind it is that by charging road users a premium to use CBD roads during peak hours it will encourage some car users to travel at other times or to take public transport, thus giving those who do pay a faster trip with less traffic. It would also help to fund public transport. Instead, we have a situation where it is free to use surface streets which causes noise and pollution as well as danger for pedestrians (remember that 93% of CBD trips are on foot). Meanwhile, if you want to use the Eastern Distributor or Cross City Tunnel, you are charged. It really should be the other way around.

However, the government is looking at raising the parking levy, a tax on parking spaces in the city (I think it only applies to off-street parking). This would be a bit like a congestion charge, but would only discourage trips by people travelling into the CBD, while doing nothing to discourage trips through the CBD. And it is the latter that should be discouraged the most, as it congestion caused by people who aren’t even going into the CBD.

A second Sydney airport

The Premier Barry O’Farrell has made a strong stand on this. He doesn’t want a second airport in Sydney, and is not planning for one. This is a bit like when the Wran Government sold off land intended for the M4 East in an attempt to prevent the construction of that freeway. And while this seems to have delayed its construction, now we find ourselves with a government looking to pay $10-$15 billion to build that freeway in an underground tunnel instead, which has the effect of sucking funds away from public transport projects. Similarly, not planning for a second airport will not remove the need for one, it will only increase the problems and costs of one when it is eventually built.

Project priority and a timetable for completion

Some idea of priority is given in terms of whether a project is short term (0-5 years), medium term (5-10 years) or long term (10-20 years) in nature. But this is quite vague, and only applies to some projects. Road projects in particular, have no sense of priority at all, and await Infrastructure NSW’s report before some idea of which order they will be built in will happen.

Some of the smaller transport stories from the last 2 months. In chronological order:

Moorebank intermodal freight terminal (23 April)

The Federal government is to build a $1.6bn freight terminal in Moorbank in Sydney’s Southwest. The site will connect to a freight rail line with a direct link to the Port Botany, Chullora and Enfield industrial areas as well as the Southern Sydney Freight and Northern Sydney Freight Lines currently being constructed. The end result will be an estimated 3,300 truck trips taken off roads and onto rail each day.

Moorebank Intermodal

The proposed Moorebank Intermodal freight terminal will be located in Southwest Sydney, with rail access to take trucks off the road. (Source: Department of Infrastructure and Transport)

The decision to go ahead with this project has been criticised by Qube Logistics, a group headed up by Chris Corrigan, which wanted to build and operate such a site itself. The advantage of Qube’s proposed terminal would be that it could be built at no cost to the taxpayer. However, the government site is both larger and closer to the freight rail line and it would also avoid the problem of a player in the logistics industry (Qube Logistics) owning a key piece of infrastructure and thereby being able to deny access to its competitors.

Crowding on trains is increasing (3 May)

Morning peak hour trains have an average of 1.23 passengers per available seat, an increase on 1.19 in the last year. According to the Cityrail report, the most crowded trains are on the Bankstown Line and the Western Line carries the most passengers, with only trains from the Eastern Suburbs and Blue Mountains having spare seats on average.

Train patronage March 2012

Train patronage March 2012. (Source: Cityrail)

Sydney Ferries will be privately operated starting July (3 May)

Veolia Transdev and Transfield Services will take over operation of Sydney Ferries as soon as next month. Ownership and planning of ferries, as well as the setting and collection of fares, will remain with the government and the Sydney Ferries brand will remain unchanged. Making ferries operate under a franchising model will bring them into line with the system used for the private bus network aswell as the light rail line, both of which are (mostly) publicly owned but privately operated. If this change results in a reduction in the cost to the government of operating the ferry network then expect speculation on whether the government will look to expand franchising to Sydney Buses and the rail network (particularly CountryLink).

Railcorp to be split into 2 entities (15 May)

Railcorp will be split into Sydney Trains (which will run the suburban part of the Cityrail network) and NSW trains (which will run the intercity part of the Cityrail network and the entirety of the CountryLink network). As part of this, 750 back office staff will be offered voluntary redundancies in order to cut costs and responsibility for cleaning will be put into a new subsidiary unit in order to improve cleanliness on trains and at stations. Nationals backbencher Andrew Gee denies that this is a step towards privatising CountryLink/NSW Trains. However, this would not appear to extend to a franchising of NSW Trains, as is being done with Sydney Ferries, particularly if the ferries plan is a success financially.

Quiet carriages made permanent (23 May)

After a trial of so called quiet carriages, they are to be made a permanent feature of Newcastle and Central Coast trains. A trial will now be done on the Blue Mountains and South Coast Lines.

1,200 new park and ride spots (29 May)

An additional 1,200 car parking spaces will be built at stations in order to encourage train use, as well as improvements to transport interchanges such as lifts, kiss and rise zones, and bus interchanges. Big winners are Sutherland (300 spaces), Oak Flats (230 spaces), Lindfield (240 spaces), and Gordon (160 spaces).

I sometimes wonder if park and ride is the most cost effective way of improving train patronage. For example, each new parking spot in Oak Flats costs $25,000, and is quite reasonable. But the cost for the other 3 stations ranges from $123,000 to $275,000 per parking space. (These amounts are inflated as they include the cost of other improvements, but are a good rough guide.) Above a certain price it surely must make sense to re-direct that money towards funding feeder buses rather than parking spaces.

A couple of smaller updates that probably wouldn’t warrant a dedicated post, so I’m doing them all together

Freight rail upgrade progressing

The first stage of works on Sydney’s freight rail lines has been completed, with an upgrade and reconfiguration of the rail yard at Port Botany now finished. This forms part of a greater overall freight rail network, that will both take trucks off the road and segregate freight trains from commuter trains. It will link up to the existing freight rail network around Chullora/Enfield and eventually be linked to the Southern Sydney Freight Line and Northern Sydney Freight Line, which will connect freight from Sydney through to Melbourne and Brisbane.

Sydney Freight rail map

Outdated map of freight rail lines, current and proposed, in Sydney. This map is a few years old, but gives you a good idea of what the network looks like. (Source:

Opal rollout starts in CBD stations

New Opal card readers are being installed in rail stations in the CBD (photos at Central and Wynyard) aswell as ferry stops. The Opal card is set to begin on ferries later this year before eventually rolling out to trains, buses and light rail.

Hobart and Canberra show interest in Sydney’s monorail.

Both Hobart and Canberra have mentioned potential interest in purchasing the Sydney monorail when it is finally dismantled by the NSW government following its purchase of the company that owns the monorail. The Canberra bid seems a bit dire, and almost seems like a light rail proposal with “light rail” crossed out and replaced with “monorail”. Hobart, on the other hand, with its compact CBD and lack of major public transport infrastructure, might possibly have a case. Why they would want to go with a 25 year old piece of technology that needs significant upgrade and repairs is beyond me, but if they want to buy it then they are more than entitled to.

On the topic of the monorail, a great Sydney based parody of the classic Simpons monorail song has emerged. I can’t embed it here, so check out the Sydney Morning Herald website to see it for yourself.

On Friday, the state government agreed to pay $20 million to buy Metro Transport Sydney (MTS), the company that owns the monorail and light rail. Now back in public ownership, the government plans to tear down the monorail as part of its redevelopment of the Entertainment Centre, while also making it much easier for the government to go forward with its planned expansion of the light rail system (by removing the need to negotiate with and come to an agreement with the private owner of the existing light rail line). Considering that the Entertainment Centre redevelopment will cost $550 million and the light rail extension into the Inner West plus CBD will cost $500 million, the $20 million cost to buy the company outright does not seem excessive.

In announcing the deal, Premier Barry O’Farrell said that:

The monorail is not integrated with Sydney’s wider public transport network and has never been truly embraced by the community… the NSW government cannot justify costly upgrades like the purchase of new vehicles required to keep it running. This decision paves the way for the development of a world class Sydney International Convention, Exhibition and Entertainment Precinct. – Barry O’Farrell (23 March 2012)

Mr O’Farrell points out that the problem with the monorail is that it doesn’t go anywhere people want to go. There was actually one time in my 20 years living in Sydney when I was in Pitt Street Mall and wanted to go to the Convention Centre side of Darling Harbour in which I realised the monorail would take me from where I was to where I wanted to go. Though for $4.90, it was quite an expensive trip and I may have been better off walking. So I think the Premier is right on the money with his analysis.


The monorail over Pyrmont Bridge. (Source: Mark Yashinsky)

Public ownership of the light rail will make it easier to integrate it into the greater transport network, including a better alignment of its fares, which are currently much higher than those of other transport modes (albeit with light rail now included in the myMulti ticketing system). The headlines have all been about the monorail, but this is the real long term impact of the decision to purchase MTS, particularly considering the potential size of the light rail network the government is considering. Transport minister Gladys Berejiklian explained it as follows:

There were provisions in the contract that would have meant we would have had to negotiate any potential links in the future, in fact I think even the contract stated any extensions could not touch the existing light rail line. This means we have that option now to extend the light rail network and to make it completely integrated, not have a stop start system. – Gladys Berejiklian (23 March 2012)

Proposed light rail extensions

Potential future light rail network. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: NSW Long Term Transport Masterplan Discussion Paper, page. 50)

The curious thing about this move is that the Liberal Party is generally known as the party that favours the market and privatisation over government control, yet it has chosen to take back ownership of a private company. Veolia is being retained as the operator of the light rail, though I expect that once this contract expires the operation of the light rail will be put out to tender rather than handed over to a government department or agency. This is the model the government is seeking for ferries, with public ownership but a private operator, and the model that has been rumoured it is seeking for any future metro rail network.

I’ve included links to all the major media coverage below. Many are quite similar, so if you’re after something with more depth, I recommend listening to the 2 interviews under the radio section, particularly the Frank Sartor one as he tends to be more opinionated and speculates a lot more.

Print media reports

Last stop: Sydney’s monorail to be scrapped – ABC News

Monorail to be pulled down – Sydney Morning Herald

Monorail goes, but look what we get – Sydney Morning Herald

NSW monorail to be pulled down – Australian Financial Review

Last stop for Sydney Monorail – Daily Telegraph

Radio media reports

Monorail to be pulled down – ABC Radio 702

Interview with former Sydney Lord Mayor Frank Sartor – ABC Radio 702

Interview with Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian – ABC Radio 702

Last rides for Sydney’s monorail – ABC Radio National

Television media reports

The finalisation of the new transport master plan for NSW is one step closer, with the release of a discussion paper outlining the current context and key challenges for transport in NSW. The next step is public consultation on the masterplan, which will be considered and incorporated into the actual masterplan that is to be finalised later this year. To make a submission, you can contact Transport for NSW on by 27 April.

The key points raised in the discussion paper (relating to commuter transport in Sydney – I have skipped over freight and rural transport), along with the page references are covered below. The main points that I thought were missing, and will mention in my submission, are congestion charges for driving in the CBD and bike share, both of which I discuss briefly below.


There are a number of corridors in Sydney which will see capacity constraints over the next 20 years. These include (1) CBD to Northern Beaches, (2) CBD to Inner West, (3) CBD to the airport, (4) airport to South-West Sydney, and (5) Macquarie Park to the Northwest Growth Sector (pp. 39-40).

Corridor capacity constraints over next 20 years

Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: NSW Long Term Transport Master Plan Discussion Paper, page 40.)

530,000 new jobs will be created in Sydney in the next 2 decades, 50% in Western Sydney and 20% in the global economic arc covering the Macquarie Park -Chatswood-St Leonards-North Sydney-CBD-airport are (p. 34).

When deciding what should be done in order to meet transport needs, the first priority should be small enhancements to existing infrastructure (such as track duplications, platform extensions, creation of bus lanes, improved timetables, better interchanges, etc) to deal with bottlenecks/pinchpoints rather than expensive construction of new infrastructure. Where this cannot be done, new infrastructure should be the solution (p. 41). All current projects across Sydney are also displayed:

Current transport projects 2012

Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: NSW Long Term Transport Master Plan Discussion Paper, page 14.)

Integrated transport system

To be successful, the transport system in Sydney needs to be a single integrated network, rather than a patchwork of competing networks that do not allow for an easy and simple trip from point A to point B. To this extent, the NSW government has created a new transport authority: Transport for NSW (seemingly modelled on Transport for London) which puts customers at the centre of planning and decision making (p. 3). It also accepts that an integrated public transport system uses buses and light rail to compliment and support the heavy rail system, rather than compete with it (p. 3).

Roads and driving

The freeway network in Sydney still has a few missing links, including the M4 East between Strathfield and Sydney Airport/Port Botany/Sydney CBD, a connection between the Sydney Orbital on the M2 and the F3 at Hornsby, and the Sydney Orbital on the M5 and the F6 in the South (p. 46).

The discussion paper was noticeably silent on the issue of congestion pricing for the CBD, which has been used in places like London to reduce traffic congestion and act as a source of revenue for public transport.

Heavy rail

The Cityrail network is quite extensive, with half of all residents living within 2km of a train station and half of all jobs being within 1km of a train station (p. 58). But while coverage is quite extensive, the network is fast approaching capacity constraints, and the discussion paper says a few things about how the heavy rail network can be made to run more efficiently:

One way of tailoring services to customer needs is to separate services so that the high frequency all-stop services can operate on different tracks to the express services. This can be achieved through improved timetables linked to the development of new rail infrastructure projects. Timetables need to be customised to the different needs and priorities of customers. Increasing the frequency of trains will reduce crowding and speed up journey times. Increased service frequencies will enable those making short trips within inner Sydney, such as on the Inner West, Illawarra and Bankstown Lines, to ‘turn-up-and-go’ without needing to consult a timetable.

Sydney has a highly complex rail network. Fifteen outer lines feed into eight inner lines, which in turn feed into six lines converging through the Sydney CBD. This results in constraints where rail lines converge. Further consideration about how to separate major lines is required.

Automatic Train Protection and Automatic Train Operation systems can be used to automate acceleration and deceleration of trains as well as manage the distance between them. These systems increase safety and can enable increased capacity on each line. Automatic Train Protection is currently being introduced to the rail system and a trial of Automatic Train Operation [i.e. driverless trains] will be undertaken to test the capacity that could be gained. These systems will support the improvements in timetables to increase frequency and reduce journey times. (p. 43)

Single deck metro style trains and a second harbour crossing are also discussed, almost to the point where it seems like a certainty that these change will be occurring and that the only question is when, not if (p. 45).

Rail infrastructure construction timeline

The SWRL, NWRL and City Relief Lines appear to be the next 3 major expansions to the Cityrail network. After that it’s a question of which order a second harbour crossing or metro conversion will occur, not whether either or both will occur. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: NSW Long Term Transport Master Plan Discussion Paper, page 45.)

Light rail

Any new light rail lines constructed in the inner city will be designed to fit in and compliment the bus and train network rather than to compete with it. As a result, it will replace a number of bus routes and see a redesign of the bus network to fit in with light rail (p. 49).


There is currently a significant amount of congestion in the CBD caused by buses, particularly around Wynyard (from the Harbour Bridge) and Circular Quay (via the CBD). A short term solution of re-routing some lines is provided (p. 48), though nothing is mentioned about long term solutions (though this is likely to involve replacing buses from the Northwest with trains on the Northwest Rail Link and buses from the Eastern Suburbs with light rail). Nor is there any mention of re-organising bus routes to have them travel through the city (as many metrobuses currently do), rather than merely terminating at one end of it, which could potentially eliminate about half the buses travelling through the CBD itself.


The ferry system is to be privatised, starting with new private routes that were recently announced, then followed by franchising out the government owned Sydney Ferries to a private operator (p. 51).

There was no mention of any other possibilities of privatisation, such franchising out any potential future metro style rail network or for private operation of the Northwest Rail Link, both of which have been rumoured in the press.

Cycling and walking

Both cycling and walking are also said to need to be promoted, but nothing is mentioned about integrating it with rail as was mentioned with buses and light rail (p. 5). Significant work has been put on constructing large (and expensive) park and ride facilities to allow commuters to drive and park their car to the local train station, but relatively little for cyclists to ride their bike and store it before getting on the train, which could significantly increase the catchment area around train stations for people who live too far to walk, have limited bus connections and/or do not to drive to the station for whatever reason.

Also not mentioned is bike share (p. 52). Such a scheme was implemented in Melbourne (600 bikes) and Paris (20,000 bikes), but to a much lesser extent in Melbourne than in Paris and therefore never quite reached a critical mass for it be as successful as it was in Paris (click on the link to read Alan Davies’ article about it at The Melbourne Urbanist). Obviously, one challenge to bike share in Australia is the mandatory helmet laws. That aside, imagine how much easier it would be if you could ride your bike to the train station, leave it in a locker, catch the train into the city, then hire one of the bike share bicycles to get you to your final destination. (A similar outcome can be achieved by transporting bikes on buses/trains, but this only works if few people do it and is therefore not scalable to being done by large numbers of people.) This leads to an increase in the area which you can get from and to the train station at both ends of your journey, making public transport a much more attractive option. Jarrett Walker over at Human Transit refers to this as the “last mile issue” and has some interesting further reading on the topic.

An announcement by Cityrail states that a new timetable will come into operation later this month on 23 October, adding an additional 63 train services each week. The biggest winners are in Western Sydney, who see 3 new peak hour services plus 1 new off-peak service each weekday on the Western Line and 4 new services each day on weekends for the Blue Mountains Line, which together account for 28 new services. Southwest Sydney miss out, with no new services for Liverpool or Campbelltown.

This is well short of the 135 new services that the current Liberal government promised when they were in opposition (and promised to do so “within months”), which will now cost four times as much as anticipated and even then not happen for another two years while additional staff are trained and the long delayed Waratah trains arrive to boost the available rolling stock available. I do take issue with the argument that rolling stock capacity constraints is put forward as an excuse. While this may be the case during peak hour, when most trains would be in service, there should remain significant free capacity during the off peak periods, and this is also when there is spare infrastructure capacity on the network by way of free slots on the rails to run trains. One example is the Cumberland Line, which the current government promised to run trains on all day while in opposition. Many stations along this line have only 2 off-peak services per hour and running half hourly all stations services along the Cumberland Line would ensure these stations had 15 minute services all day to either Parramatta or the city (and linking them to major interchanges to allow for easy change overs to another train or bus, should that help to speed up their journey). The other issue I take with the government not meeting it’s pledge of 135 services is that those additional 135 services were described at the time as being cautious and conservative, which was meant to differentiate them from the over-promising and under-delivering Labor government.

UPDATE (25 March 2012): I was probably a bit too harsh on the state government, so I’ve retracted one piece. It turns out they really promised only to introduce 6 new services per day “within months” and managed 4. Not technically fulfilling their promise, but close enough. From what I hear the next major timetable overhaul will come in 2014 when the Kingsgrove to Revesby quadruplication is complete and the maximum capacity of the City Circle will be lifted from 12 or 14 trains per hour up to 20. That will be the time to pass judgement on their promise.

Even when the full 135 services are introduced, it will still mean many fewer services in place than was the case before the 2005 timetable changes that axed hundreds of services and slowed the trains to get them to run on time. It should be pointed out, that this change in 2005 was a necessary one. It did get the trains running on time, where previously service cancellations and 20 minute delays were common and expected. Governing transport is not easy, as a number of ministers from the previous Labor government have outlined. John Watkins, a former Transport Minister under NSW Premier Bob Carr, recently outlined some of the practical difficulties of running the transport department, including an attack on the state Treasury. David Borger, a former Roads Minister under NSW Premier Kristina Keneally, also spoke of the challenges in managing transport from a government perspective, in his case his criticism was aimed at the now defunct Roads and Traffic Authority.

Nightride map

Nightride services are being extended to Richmond and Carlingford on weekends as part of the timetable changes. (Source: Cityrail)

Also included in the timetable changes are an additional 25 Parramatta and 140 North Shore ferry services and 91 new nightride buses, including services to Richmond and Carlingford for the first time.  However, it should be pointed out that these new services to Richmond and Carlingford are on weekends only (defined as Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights through to the following morning) and in the case of Richmond, the timetable shows services from the city terminating one station early at East Richmond! (The timetable shows citybound services departing from Richmond, so I’m hoping this is just a typo.) My experiences with catching nightride buses, which replace trains roughly between the hours of midnight and 5AM, are that they tend to be quite packed, and that these additional services will help to improve both capacity and frequency, which often is as low as hourly (or half hourly on weekends).

John Bradfield’s plan for Sydney’s underground rail lines through the city included a Harbour Crossing, a City Circle line and an Eastern Suburbs line. The first was completed with the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1932, but the Great Depression and World War 2 put the others on hold until after Bradfield’s death. The rise of the motor car after World War 2 meant these other two lines were not completed till 1956 and 1979 respectively. The City Circle was actually mostly completed in the early 30s, with Town Hall/Wynyard on the Western end of the CBD and Museum/St James on the Eastern End. Eventually, these were united in 1956 with the construction of Circular Quay Station.

Circular Quay 1908

Circular Quay in 1908. (Source: The Sydney Tram - a pictorial review, Howard R. Clark, 1988)

Circular Quay 1923

Circular Quay in 1923. (Source: The Sydney Tram - a pictorial review, Howard R. Clark, 1988)

Before this, Circular Quay was a significant interchange between ferries (it was and still is the major ferry terminus in Sydney) and trams. This can be seen in the photos above. The state government had been phasing out trams in the 1940s and 50s, replacing them with buses, the final tram running from Circular Quay down Anzac Parade to La Perouse in 1961, only 5 years after Circular Quay Station was completed. You can see footage of this last tram in the video below. The removal of trams from Sydney’s streets is regretted by many today, particularly by those pushing for their return, but it did have one benefit in this case. Bennelong Point, on the Eastern end of Circular Quay, was used as a tram shed up until 1961. Now a vacant lot, it was decided to build a great cultural icon there in place of the old tram sheds. The result was the Sydney Opera House. Should trams ever return to Sydney, I highly doubt that the Opera House will make way for the tram shed that used to be there.

The Cahill Expressway was later built over Circular Quay Station, allowing cars travelling Southbound on the Harbour Bridge to bypass the CBD when travelling to its Eastern end. There have been proposals to move the Cahill Expressway underground in order to reclaim it as public space (such as this proposal) or a bus interchange (to relieve the struggling Wynyard bus interchange).

Today, Circular Quay is the only station on the Cityrail network (to my knowledge) that provide free wifi. Ironically, the ferries (which are located right next to the station, and whose wifi you could probably connect to from within the station) also have free wifi, and from what I hear provide a much better connection.

Sydney may be introducing integrated ticketing with its long awaited electronic ticketing system, but that’s a different concept to integrated fares. Integrated ticketing means that you can travel everywhere, on different modes of transport, with only a single ticket. Integrated fares is when you pay the same amount for traveling from A to B, regardless of how many modes of transport you use to do it.

For example, Sydney currently has integrated fares within the Cityrail train network. If I want to travel from Parramatta to Liverpool, then I pay the same price for a ticket, regardless of whether I take a direct train, or if I take a train to Granville and then change there for a train to Liverpool. But if it’s 2 buses, or a train and a bus, then currently I pay for the privilege of being inconvenienced. Not only that, but the cost of getting from one place to another is different depending on whether I catch a train, bus or ferry.

Integrated fares solve this problem. There are two basic types of integrated fare systems, distance and zonal.

Point to Point
Passengers pay a fare based on the total distance travelled, i.e. The distance between A and B. The mode of transport and the number of modes does not matter, only the distance. This is conceptually simple, and fits in easily with Sydney’s current fare system, which is primarily a distance based one.

Section guide for Sydney Buses

Sydney Buses uses a point to point system for determining fares. Each route is broken down into sections, and the number of sections you travel through determines the fare. (Source: TransportInfo)

Tagging off from one leg and then tagging on to another one within a short period (say within one hour) would be considered a continuation of the same journey. Transport interchanges in some cities, such as Perth or Zurich, have bus stops located within train station gated areas, thus speeding up the time it takes to change from one mode of transport to another. This is possible as journeys there are considered continuous, regardless of the number of modes used.

The challenge comes from measuring the distance. With an electronic ticketing system, passengers must “tag on” at the start of each leg of their trip and “tag off” at the end. This already happens with trains where there are ticket gates, and at the start of bus trips. But if a passenger forgets to tag off, then they are charged the maximum fare. On buses, it can also cause delays from passengers having to tag off as they disembark. This is less of a problem at the terminus location of a bus, where the bulk of passengers tend to get off, as they would be charged the same whether they tagged off or not (it being the maximum fare already).

Recent newspaper reports suggest that this is the reason the previous government abandoned it’s T-Card project, as the bad press from passengers forgetting to tag off and being charged extra would bode poorly for them politically. This remains a problem, particularly since you could be charged extra and not even notice, given the electronic nature of the payment.


The myMulti tickets are currently based on 3 zones in Sydney, radiating outwards from the CBD. A myMulti ticket allows unlimited travel within the zones it covers on all modes of transport. (Source: TransportInfo)

The myMulti tickets are currently based on 3 zones in Sydney, radiating outwards from the CBD. A myMulti ticket allows unlimited travel within the zones it covers on all modes of transport. (Source: TransportInfo)

Sydney currently uses a very limited zonal fare system for its myMulti tickets. Sydney is split up into 3 different zones, with unlimited travel allowed in certain areas depending on which ticket you purchase.

It’s currently far from perfect, for two main reasons. First, you cannot buy a ticket covering a single zone unless it also covers any other zones closer to the CBD. This is fine if you want just a myMulti1 to travel thorough the inner city or a myMulti2 if you want to travel from say Epping to the Easter Suburbs. But if you wanted to go from Castle Hill to Liverpool via Parramatta (all within Zone 2), then you must buy a myMulti2 (which covers both zones 1 and 2), despite the fact that you are remaining in a single zone. Second, myMulti tickets are only available as weeklies or longer. There is technically a daily myMulti ticket, but it is only available for all three zones and at $20 is quite expensive.

Melbourne currently uses a zonal system, using 2 zones, one for the CBD and inner city, the other for the outer suburbs. There is a buffer zone inbetween, so anyone travelling a short distance that would otherwise cross the zonal boundary doesn’t cop a big hit. Commuters pay either for Zone 1, Zone 2 or Zones 1+2.  You have 2 hours of unlimited travel (or 3 hours for Zones 1+2), the equivalent of a single. Instead of a return, you receive unlimited travel for the full day.

Melbourne zone map

Melbourne’s train map showing the two zones. Yellow is Zone 1, blue is Zone 2. The bit between the two that contains both blue and yellow is the buffer zone where both Zone 1 and Zone 2 tickets are valid. The tram network is contained entirely within Zone 1. (Source: Metlink Melbourne)

The easiest way to implement a zonal system in Sydney would be to use the 3 zones currently in place. Commuters remaining in a single zone would only need to pay for a single zone, with buffer areas between zones to avoid the problems raised in the previous paragraph. The big losers would be users of short bus trips, as the shortest trip would be an entire zone. However, as most people who take short trips are doing so on the back of another trip (which means the second, shorter trip would already be paid for) or are making a quick return trip (in which case the return journey could be made before the 2 hours expire).

It appears that the current plan is a point to point method for calculating fares. While both the point to point and zonal methods have problems, either would be better than the antiquated system currently in place.