Opal card

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Opal card
Opal card logo.svg
Location
Launched
  • Adult cards: 7 December 2012
  • Child/Youth cards: 6 April 2014
  • Senior/Pensioner cards: 3 November 2014
  • Concession cards: 2 February 2015
  • School student cards: January 2016
  • Contactless payment trial: 6 July 2017
  • OpalPay: 15 December 2017
Technology
Manager Transport for NSW
Currency AUD
Stored-value Pay as you go
Credit expiry 9 years[1]
Auto recharge Available for registered cards
Validity
  • Ferries: 7 December 2012
  • Trains: 14 June 2013
  • Buses: 30 September 2013
  • Light rail: 1 December 2014
Retailed
  • Online
  • Telephone
  • Retailers
Variants
  • Adult
  • Child/Youth
  • Senior/Pensioner
  • Concession
  • School student
Website www.opal.com.au

Opal is a contactless fare collection system for public transport services in the greater Sydney area of New South Wales, Australia. Operation of the Opal system is managed by the New South Wales Government's transport authority, Transport for NSW. First launched in late 2012, Opal is valid on Transport for NSW's bus, rail, light rail and ferry services that operate in Sydney and the neighbouring Central Coast, Hunter Region, Blue Mountains and Illawarra areas. It is also accepted on train services in the Southern Highlands. Opal equipment was designed from the start to support a variety of cards, but launched with the captive Opal cards.

Opal cards are the standard method of paying for fares on the Opal system. The card is a credit card-sized smartcard which includes a microchip and internal RFID aerial, allowing the card to communicate with readers. The microchip enables value to be loaded onto the card, as well as allowing the journey details to be recorded and the appropriate fare deducted from the stored value on the card. Passengers 'tap on' and 'tap off' any services whenever they travel through the public transport network.[2] Opal cards can also be used to pay for fares on selected third party transport services via a facility known as OpalPay.

History

Sydney has used a number of automated ticketing systems since the opening of the Eastern Suburbs Railway in June 1979. The Sydney Automated Fare Collection System (AFC) was rolled out across all government-run CityRail (train) and State Transit Authority (bus and ferry) services in Greater Sydney between 1988 and 1993. The system featured loose integration between the different modes of transport, a complex fare structure and excluded private operators. By being limited to the services provided by the government agencies, most bus services in the outer western, northern and southern parts of Sydney, plus all bus services of the Blue Mountains, Central Coast, and Illawarra regions were excluded from the system.

A unified brand for the majority of public transport tickets was introduced in April 2010. MyZone was designed to simplify the fare system and remove one of the stumbling blocks to the introduction of a smart card.[3] The AFC system was retained where it was in use, but tickets could also be used on private buses - and subsequently on light rail - by presenting a ticket to the bus driver or tram conductor.

Tcard

A replacement for the AFC based on smart card technology, named Tcard, was first announced by the government in 1996, with the aim of having a system in place before the 2000 Sydney Olympics. The contract was awarded to ERG Group, but was delayed until 2002 due to a lawsuit from the losing bidder Cubic Transportation Systems, which was labelled 'dishonest' by the presiding Supreme Court of New South Wales judge.[4]

The development and rollout of the system was beset with difficulties, leading the government to terminate the contract in November 2007.[5] The government sued ERG for $77 million who counter sued for $215m.[6] The claim was settled in February 2012.[7]

Opal launch

After terminating the Tcard contract, the government quickly moved to reset the smartcard project.[8] It called for expressions of interest for the second attempt at the project in August 2008.[9] In April 2010 the government awarded the contract to the Pearl Consortium, whose members are the Commonwealth Bank, Cubic Transportation Systems and Downer EDI.[10][11]

In September 2011 the new name for the system was announced as 'Opal', chosen from a selection of 665 names. Transport for NSW said Opal was chosen because it was 'uniquely Australian',[12] short, and easy to say. As well as the opal being Australia's national gemstone, the black opal is the New South Wales gemstone symbol.[13]

Rollout

Opal reader installed on a bus
Ticket gates at Circular Quay station

The initial Opal rollout commenced on the Neutral Bay to Circular Quay ferry service in late 2012 and was completed two years later when the Inner West Light Rail was added to the network. During this period, Opal was progressively rolled out to all ferry services operating under a New South Wales Government service contract, Sydney suburban and intercity train services, all bus services operating under a Metropolitan or Outer Metropolitan service contract and on Sydney's light rail line.

Mode Rollout commenced Rollout completed
Ferry 7 December 2012[14][15] 30 August 2013 (Sydney)[16][17]
20 November 2014 (Newcastle)[18]
Train 14 June 2013[19][20] 11 April 2014[21]
Bus 30 September 2013[22] 20 November 2014[23][18]
Light rail 1 December 2014[24][25][26][27]

Withdrawal of paper tickets

Single trip ticket machines were rolled-out during 2016. Opal replaced all pre-existing paper tickets, with these tickets being withdrawn in stages, with the process completed on 1 August 2016:[28]

  • 14 tickets (mostly periodicals) were withdrawn on 1 September 2014.[29]
  • 11 Newcastle-specific tickets were withdrawn on 20 November 2014.[30]
  • On 1 January 2016 all other paper tickets were withdrawn except single and return tickets for trains, ferries and light rail and single bus tickets.[31][32][33][34]
  • The last remaining tickets were withdrawn on 1 August 2016. Single trip Opal tickets serve as their replacement.[28]

Services that accept Opal

The Opal network comprises:

It will also be valid on the Sydney Metro and Newcastle Light Rail when these services begin operation.

Card and ticket types

Reusable Opal cards come in five different types, each with their own colour. These are: Adult (black), Child/Youth (green), Senior/Pensioner (gold), Concession (silver), Employee (Silver) and School (light blue).[35][36][37] Reusable Opal cards can be ordered online or over the phone. Adult and Child/Youth cards are also available from retail outlets, such as convenience stores, newsagents, supermarkets and at Service NSW centres.[38][39]

The Adult fare card was the first card to be released, becoming available in December 2012. On 6 April 2014, the Child/Youth card was made available.[40] These cards had to be ordered either online or over the phone. From 28 July until the end of September 2014, temporary kiosks were set up at major railway stations and shopping centres, as unregistered Adult and Child/Youth cards were made available for the first time.[29][41] Opal retailers have distributed unregistered Adult and Child/Youth cards since 10 August 2014.[42]

The Senior/Pensioner card was made available for ordering online or by phone on 3 November 2014.[43][44] Between 11 November and 5 December 2014, temporary kiosks were set up at shopping centres to allow seniors and pensioners to order their Opal cards.[45]

The Concession card is available to eligible apprentices, trainees, tertiary students and job seekers.[46] Concession cards became available to tertiary students on 2 February 2015. To be eligible for the Concession Opal, students must be enrolled full-time at a participating institution.[47] Students need to give consent for their institution to share enrolment details with Transport for NSW.[48][49][50] As of 14 June 2015 the cards were available for students at over 80 institutions.[51] The Concession Opal became available to eligible NSW job seekers from 29 June 2015.[52][53]

The School card covers travel to and from school only. No fares are charged when using this card. Owing to the light rail's heritage as a privately run enterprise, free travel for school students was traditionally not available on this mode. The School Opal was introduced on light rail from July 2016.[54]

An Opal card is available for holders of a free travel Vision Impaired Person’s Travel Pass. The card can be used to open ticket gates at stations and ferry wharves without requiring staff assistance.[55]

The Employee card gives certain public service employees (e.g. NSW Police) free travel on all public transport.[citation needed] It is not generally available to the public.

Single trip tickets and contactless payments

Single trip Opal cards introduced in 2016, showing front and reverse sides
An Opal reader with a sticker promoting the direct payment trial and warning about card clashes.

Non-reusable (single trip) Opal tickets can be bought at some top up machines or from bus drivers. These tickets are available in Adult and Child/Youth forms.[56] Single trip Opal bus tickets are not available for sale on some bus routes, requiring passengers to use an Opal card when boarding these buses. These services are known as PrePay or Opal only routes. In addition to these routes, some bus stops (for example, bus stops within the CBD) are also PrePay/Opal only at certain times of the day.[57][58]

The reusable Opal cards and single trip tickets are augmented by a trial of a new system supporting direct contactless payments from debit and credit cards. This allows passengers to tap on or off using their card or a mobile device linked to their card's account, thereby removing the need to use an Opal card or ticket. The trial began on 6 July 2017 on the F1 Manly ferry service, initially only for holders of Mastercard contactless cards.[59] On 12 March 2018, the trial was expanded to include all Sydney Ferries and Sydney light rail services, and support for Visa and American Express cards was also added.[60][61] The technology is based on a system developed by Cubic Transport Systems on licence from Transport for London.[62][63] All passengers are charged the price of an adult Opal single trip ticket.[59]

Fares

Opal integrates ticketing on all modes of public transport; however, it does not fully integrate fares. The four fare types for reusable cards are peak period train, off-peak train, ferry and bus/light rail. All fares are calculated based on the distance travelled and are for single trips only. Opal single trip tickets use the same fare types as the reusable cards but offer no off-peak train fare and are more expensive than the equivalent reusable card fare.

The following tables list Opal fares for reusable cards and single trip tickets as of 2 July 2018:[64]

Train 0–10 km 10–20 km 20–35 km 35–65 km 65 km+
Adult cards (peak) $3.54 $4.40 $5.05 $6.76 $8.69
Adult cards (off-peak) $2.47 $3.08 $3.53 $4.73 $6.08
Other cards (peak) $1.77 $2.20 $2.52^ $3.38^ $4.34^
Other cards (off-peak) $1.23 $1.54 $1.76 $2.36 $3.03^
Adult single trip $4.40 $5.40 $6.20 $8.20 $10.60
Child/Youth single trip $2.20 $2.70 $3.10 $4.10 $5.30
Bus or light rail 0–3 km 3–8 km 8 km+
Adult cards $2.20 $3.66 $4.71
Other cards $1.10 $1.83 $2.30
Adult single trip $2.80 $4.40 $5.80
Child/Youth single trip $1.40 $2.20 $2.90
Ferry 0–9 km 9 km+
Adult cards $6.01 $7.51
Other cards $3.00^ $3.75^
Adult single trip $7.40 $9.20
Child/Youth single trip $3.70 $4.60

^= $2.50 cap applies for Senior/Pensioner cardholders

A surcharge is levied when using the two privately operated stations serving Sydney Airport:

Airport station access fee[65] Adult cards Other cards
Domestic or International Airport to/from all other stations $14.30 $12.80
Domestic or International Airport to/from Green Square $8.40 $8.40
Domestic or International Airport to/from Mascot $6.00 $6.00
Domestic to/from International $2.00 $2.00

As there are no return or periodical options available, reusable Opal cards include a number of caps to reduce the cost for frequent travellers:

Fare caps[66][67] Adult cards Other concession
cards
Senior/Pensioner
cards
Daily Mon-Sat $15.80 $7.90 $2.50
Sunday $2.70 $2.70 $2.50
Weekly $63.20 $31.60 $17.50
Weekly Airport
Station Access Fee
$29.00 $26.00 $26.00


Other key discounts include:

  • A transfer discount of $2.00 for Adult cards and $1.00 for other cards when transferring between modes (halved when on half-fare discount)
  • A half-fare discount for the remainder of the week when 8 journeys in that week have been completed

Fares generally increase on the first Monday in July with an average 2.2% increase in 2018 and 2.4% in 2017 for regular fares and daily and weekly caps also increased, except for Senior/Pensioner cards. The transfer discount did not change.[68][69][70]

Being a distance-based system, Opal users are required to tap on and tap off on all modes (apart from the F1 Manly Ferry) to ensure the correct fare is charged. If a user does not correctly tap off after tapping on, a default fare will be charged, corresponding to the maximum fare on that mode of travel. However, a lower default fare applies if it is not possible to reach the maximum fare on the route for which the tap on took place. The default fare will be charged after a time-out period of five hours from the initial tap on or if the user changes modes or taps on at a gated station.

Trains offer cheaper fares for travel during the off-peak. Standard peak times for trains are between 07:00 to 09:00 (for Sydney Trains stations), 06:00 to 08:00 (for intercity stations) and 16:00 to 18:30 (for all stations) on weekdays. Starting a journey outside of those peak times will attract a 30% discount compared to the peak fare.

Transport Officers and NSW Police, who randomly patrol services, are equipped with portable card readers and mobile phone based readers.[71]

Trips, journeys and transfers

Fares are categorised in two ways: a trip is a single unit of travel, from tap on to tap off; a journey is a collection of 1 or more trips taken within a short space of time of each other. Trips will be counted as one journey if a passenger taps on for a new trip within 60 minutes of tapping off from their previous trip (on the Manly ferry the time limit is 130 minutes from tap on). Trips are used to calculate fares. Fares for consecutive trips involving the same mode of transport are combined so the passenger is charged as if they have taken just one trip, from its origin to ultimate destination. Journeys involving transfers between modes generally attract separate fares for each mode. The exceptions are the rail-replacement shuttle bus serving the Newcastle CBD, which is classified as a train and the Stockton Ferry (also in Newcastle), which is classified as a bus.[72][73] A journey can consist of a maximum of eight trips.

Changes to fare calculation

Since 5 September 2016, a discount has applied when changing modes during a journey.[74]

The government has stated that once the CBD and South East Light Rail opens in 2019, passengers will pay a single fare for a journey involving the use of both light rail and buses, although this was before the introduction of the transfer discount.[75]

Once a journey count of eight is reached during the week (Monday to Sunday), all subsequent travel is half-price for the rest of that week. This discount was changed from free travel to half-price travel on 5 September 2016.[74] When an Opal customer completes eight trips on the same mode of transport (even within the 60-minute transfer), a new journey commences. The number of trips required to force the creation of a new journey was increased from four trips to eight trips in March 2016 to reduce the number of short trips made simply to complete a journey and reach the journey limit.[76][77][78]

Topping up

Opal Card top up machine at a retailer

Placing money onto an Opal card is known as topping up. As of January 2016, there are over 2,000 Opal card retailers that provide top up services across New South Wales.[79] There are also top up machines at railway stations, light rail stops, and ferry wharves. Opal cards may also be linked to a credit or debit card, allowing users to top up their balance online or by phone.[80] When linked to a credit or debit card, Opal cards can be configured to automatically top up the balance when it falls below a pre-set amount (auto top up), currently $10.

IPART fare review 2015

In response to a reorganisation of bus routes in the Sydney central business district that led to increased modal interchange, in July 2015 the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) was requested to investigate the possible introduction of integrated fares in Sydney, with a proposed implementation date of 1 July 2016.[81][82]

In December 2015, IPART proposed the following changes and invited public comment:[83][84]

  • Charging a single fare across modes based on the most expensive mode taken during the journey.
  • Increasing the off-peak discount on trains from 30% to 40%.
  • Basing train fares on the straight-line distance from origin to destination - instead of track distance - for consistency with other modes.
  • Increasing the per kilometre rate so that fares for longer distance journeys would increase relative to those for shorter distance journeys.
  • Charging for all journeys made during the week, then keeping the fares for the 10 most expensive journeys and refunding any other journeys made during the week. This proposal would replace the scheme where passengers pay for their first 8 journeys, then all subsequent travel is free.
  • Replacing the $2.50 Sunday cap with new caps of $7.20 for adults, $5.40 for concessions and $3.60 for children that would apply on both days of the weekend.
  • Increasing the weekday daily cap from $15 to $18.
  • Increasing the weekly cap from $60 to $65.
  • Setting the Senior/Pensioner Opal Card cap at 40% of the concession fare. This would initially place the cap at $3.60.
  • Pricing paper tickets at 40% more than Opal fares.

The final recommendations were released in May 2016 and differed significantly from the initial proposal as a result of Transport for NSW advising that some aspects of the initial proposal would be difficult to implement. The major changes were: replacing the proposal to charge a single fare across modes for an entire journey with a discount when passengers switch modes on the same journey and replacing the proposal to charge for the 10 most expensive journeys made during the week with a 50% discount on travel after the first eight journeys in the week.[85] On 26 May the government announced that both of these modified recommendations would be taken up. The changes took effect on 5 September. IPART's other proposals were not taken up.[86]

IPART fare review 2018

In July 2018 IPART was requested to carry out a further review of fares as from 1 July 2020. This is to include a recommendation on fares for On Demand bus services operating in the metropolitan and outer metropolitan regions under the control of Transport for NSW. This review is to be submitted no later that 20 February 2020.[87]

Infrastructure

Top up machines

Second generation (cash accepting) top up machine

Over 350 top up machines are installed at railway stations, light rail stops and ferry wharves throughout the Opal area.[28][88][89] The first generation machines can only provide top ups with a debit or credit card. Second generation machines provide top ups and can also sell single trip tickets. There are two types of second-generation machines - the difference between the types is the ability to accept cash in addition to electronic payment. On 11 March 2015 the first top up machines became available at the recently opened Edmondson Park and Leppington railway stations.[90] This had been extended to nearly 100 stations and wharves by July 2015.[91] In 2016 the second generation machines are being installed with 58 of the credit card only and 118 of the cash and credit card machines installed as at 23 June 2016.[92]

Opal readers

Opal reader on a standalone pole

Opal readers are used to tap on or off. They are installed atop existing ticket barriers, or mounted on a stand-alone pole at railway stations, light rail stops or ferry wharves. Buses are the exception, with readers installed on the bus itself. The rollout of Opal technology has seen a new style of gates introduced at a number of major stations.[93] When tapping on or off, all readers display the current balance of the card or an error message if the tap failed to work. Tap offs also display the fare deducted for the trip. A trip that is part of an existing journey will display "transfer" when tapping on.

Non-adult Opal cards have their own distinct 'ding' when tapping on or off, in addition to having a light mounted atop a train station or ferry wharf barrier lit up, allowing for Transport Officers and police to identify and enforce correct fares.

The design of the cigar-shaped Opal poles won the Transport category of the Sydney Design Awards, the Australian International Design Award and the Powerhouse Museum Design Award.[94][95][96]

Supporting products and services

Transport for NSW operates the Opal website and a 24/7 phone hotline for customer service, card top ups, orders and inquiries. It provides an "Opal Travel" app for Android and iOS devices. The app includes a trip planning facility, allows Opal card top ups and provides access to Opal card data.[97] Android devices that include near field communication hardware can scan an Opal card to access live data, including the card's balance, tap status (tapped on/off), weekly travel reward status, top up status and card number.[98]

Beginning in January 2018, an Opal Park & Ride trial scheme was introduced at selected commuter car parks.[99] Passengers are able to park their cars for free for up to 18 hours if they take public transport and use the carpark using the same Opal card.[100] The scheme is intended to reduce the number of spaces used by those who aren’t catching public transport.[99]

Transport for NSW also sells a number of mobile phone case accessories that incorporate a pocket for the Opal card.[101]

OpalPay

First introduced in December 2017, OpalPay is a facility allowing Opal cards to be used to pay fares on a number of privately-owned services that operate independently from Transport for NSW's contracted services and on on-demand minibus services.[102] Fares on these services are set by the owner of the service and Opal's regular discounts do not apply. Concession fares are accepted on some services.[103][104] OpalPay can be accepted on:

Reception and usage

By June 2016, 7.7 million cards had been issued. The most widely used card types (in descending order) were Adult, Senior/Pensioner, Child/Youth and Concession.[107]

Two billion trips had been taken on the Opal network by May 2018. An average of 13 million trips were taken each week and there were more than 3.7 million Opal cards in active use.[108]

Transport for NSW has stated that customers forget to tap off after about 3% of journeys, so they are charged the default fare.[109]

The Opal electronic ticketing system has won a range of awards reflecting excellence in design for its unique card reader poles used at ungated ferry wharves, light rail stops and railway stations. In addition, the project and its implementation were recognised for excellence by Infrastructure Partnerships Australia. On 12 March 2014, Opal was awarded Australia’s 2014 Smart Infrastructure Project of the Year.[110][111]

The introduction of Opal caused debate over the different fare structures of Opal and the former MyZone paper tickets. Despite being cheaper than single cash fares, Opal single fares were more expensive than the bus and ferry TravelTens, and Opal provides no equivalent to the all-you-can-use MyTrain or MyMulti periodical tickets.[112] An unofficial fare comparison site called Opal or Not claimed that more than half of all the public transport trips it compared were more expensive using Opal than with paper tickets.[112][113] Transport for NSW disputes the site's findings, calling it "riddled with errors" and stating that only 7% would "potentially" pay more, but refused to release the analysis behind that figure.[112]

In addition, the initial lack of transfer benefits was criticised. Corinne Mulley, the chair of the Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies, described the launch of the card as a "missed opportunity" since, at the time, Opal retained many of the "interchange penalties" of paying for transfers, and Opal was more expensive than MyMulti for some multi-modal commuters.[114] Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian rejected the criticism, stating that "we believe that customers should pay for the mode they are using".[115]

Privacy

Significant privacy issues have been raised, as Opal travel information is available to government departments without a warrant.[116] Among those who have expressed concerns have been New South Wales Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Coomb, the Combined Pensioners and Superannuants Association of NSW, and the University of Sydney.[116]

During the Opal card customer trial period, all Opal cards were required to be registered with the customer's personal information. This allowed for feedback and issues to be recorded against an individual's account. Registered cards offer the ability to protect the balance and transfer it to a new card, if a card is lost, stolen or damaged. Data is made available to other NSW government departments and law enforcement agencies.[117] Concerns about privacy have been repeatedly raised in the mainstream media, with commentators questioning the extent to which user data can be accessed by authorities.[118][119][120] Since July 2014, unregistered adult and child/youth Opal cards have been available.[121] In December 2014, University of Sydney delayed collaboration with the new Opal card system, citing privacy concerns,[122] whereas Macquarie University, University of New South Wales and Australian Catholic University had already agreed to provide the "student data" to the card network.

See also

References

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External links

  • Opal card website - NSW government
  • Opal card webpage on the Transport for NSW website - NSW government
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