JavaScript disabled. Please enable JavaScript to use My News, My Clippings, My Comments and user settings.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

The Opal card is no gem, Gladys Berejiklian

Date

Paul Sheehan

A "fiasco": The rollout of the Opal system.

A "fiasco": The rollout of the Opal system. Photo: Kate Geraghty

Every Herald reader should know about the Guangzhou Metro because it provides an insight into the mind-boggling mediocrity of Transport for NSW, for which we all have to pay, including those who don't use public transport.

In 1992, the Guangzhou Metro did not exist. Construction began in 1993 and Metro Line 1 began operating in 1997. There are now nine interconnected lines and 164 stations, providing more than 2 billion passenger journeys a year in one of the largest cities in China.

Last year, I bought a ticket card from a machine at one at Guangzhou Metro stations and it was easy.

During the 20 years it took Guangzhou to go from having no metro system to operating one of the largest in the world, with a simple-to-use automated travel card system, the NSW transport bureaucracy achieved nothing, while spending millions on bureaucrats studying the issue.

This obdurate commitment to impracticality transcends politics. It defeated the Greiner, Fahey, Carr, Iemma, Rees, Keneally, O’Farrell and Baird governments, eight governments that could not conquer the culture of Transport NSW and state rail on the issue of ticketing.

In Hong Kong, the Octopus card was introduced for mass transit in 1997. It has proved so successful and intuitive that 95 per cent of the population use the card. It became the model for the Oyster Card used on the London Metro.

The Octopus card was introduced 17 years ago. NSW Transport has been talking about its own card for longer. The problem is the same as it has ever been: an iron-bottomed, process-fixated, micro-managing bureaucracy unable to implement what most major cities now take for granted.

If the government wants to outsource and privatise the entire ticketing process the public will not care. They want to buy cards at railway stations and bus terminals. They want a simple fare structure that can be used across the system. They want cards that are easy to top up. As they have in Melbourne.

Card machines in stations. Simple fare structure. Transportable across the system. Easy to use, even for tourists and occasional users.

In the past month, I have bought a Metro card at a ticket booth in a New York subway station and topped it up on machines in subway stations; I bought a BART card from a ticket machine in a San Francisco subway station and topped it up at other ticket machines; I bought a Myki card at a train station in Melbourne and topped it up at Myki machines.

But, oh no, that’s not good enough for Sydney. Instead, in the past week, we have seen all the people with new Opal cards who, having waited a week to have the card mailed to them after applying online – more bureaucracy – got on a bus only to discover that a new Opal card does not work on a bus. They had to go to a railway station, and run it through an Opal machine, before the card will activate. This is absurd.

Thousands of others have had to line up to buy Opal cards at the one of the grossly inadequate number of venues where card machines are installed. The bureaucrats have no intention of fixing this problem. They want people to buy Opal cards online. The front-page headline of the Herald on Monday, on a story describing the rollout of the $1.2 billion Opal system, used the term "fiasco".

Instead of providing an intuitive card system that builds on the one that exists, the NSW Minister for Transport, Gladys Berejiklian, wants to push customers to buy Opal cards online. She wants people to have "registered" cards. She wants to maintain a complex fare structure, which grinds commuters who travel at peak times so that they not only have crowded public transport they also have to pay the highest prices for the privilege.

Everyone knows that Minister Berejiklian is dedicated to the job and devotes more hours to the transport mission than anyone in the state. But the political reality she has to deal with is that not having ticket machines for the Opal card at railway stations and bus terminals is a political problem because it is so contemptuous of commonsense and utility.

It has always been the problem that instead of installing an existing card system that works the NSW transport bureaucracy wanted an advanced system with a complex fare mix. So it took 20 years to get nothing. Now it has finally made a billion-dollar move that creates more problems for consumers.   

This goes way beyond teething problems. It illustrates the disconnect between the bureaucracy and its customers. It is also a failure of political direction. Gladys, your Opal is no gem.

Twitter: @Paul_Sheehan_

269 comments

  • Too true. But it does pose the question - why are our expectations so low here? Why is there not more public outrage about this and other public transport inadequacies such as the hopeless intercity rail system in Australia?

    Commenter
    We demand better
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    July 30, 2014, 11:38PM
    • The question "why" is the right one. My understanding is that there are 38 different transport companies across Sydney making up our "public" transport system.

      So problem #1 dividing a single fare across the city between the companies and getting them to agree - also, we expect a discount in long-trip fares, so the different legs have to be charged as a set, so its not a wave-on wave-off transaction like the Octopus card (the only one I'm familiar with).

      Problem #2 is we are used to the concept of weekly tickets, where tickets are purchased in advance in bulk - and is operates only on single transactions - so it won't support weekly tickets. So again its not a wave-on wave-off transaction.

      Problem #3 is it is heavily subsidized in parts, so getting a fair fare system is a bitch.

      If Mr Sheehan wants to advocate that the Government take it all over (as it has done in China) to sort out the mess, he's welcome, but the voters (us) would chuck out any Government who attempted that. Does he think the Government can make up a fare system and jam it down everyone's throat? Does he have another suggestion?

      The technology is easy. The bitch is democracy.

      Commenter
      engunear
      Date and time
      July 31, 2014, 6:26AM
    • Last time I checked London had a democracy engunear, and they can make it work, as can the US, so I'm not sure what your point is?
      PS the Govt already controls it and decides the fares. So again, your point?

      Commenter
      PP
      Date and time
      July 31, 2014, 7:14AM
    • typical of Gladys's entire term as "yes Minister". Nothing is done properly, She's Mrs 40%", just do anything so you can put a tick in the box come next election. Doesn't matter if it doesn't work, doesn't matter if it costs more (we'll sack some more people to pay for it).

      Just like the Norwest rail link, that only has 40% sized tunnels for half its distance now, instead of the whole length, and will have ugly and noisy "monorail" type above ground structure for the last half of it, What tunnels they do build are too small to take the standard NSW trains used on the rest of the network, so will be totally separate and un-connectable with the rest of the rail network.

      Same as all the car tunnels and tollways that they build. Totally congested after barely a few years use, and require closures (and more congestion) while they upgrade them (instead of building them the right size first time), not only they then charge motorists to use them, they funnel traffic into them by CLOSING the existing FREE above ground roads, or turn them into bus lanes or bike lanes.

      Totally useless and clueless minister!

      Commenter
      peter
      Date and time
      July 31, 2014, 7:16AM
    • This is because it's run by a government department and not a private business with many competitors. Governments are more interested in giving workers "work-life balance" than achieving commercially sound outcomes that satisfy consumers.

      The same can be said for All other government run "businesses".

      Privatise them and make them compete in a marketplace. Soon you'll have trains when you want, on time, more stations, less break downs and satisfied consumers.

      Commenter
      Bender
      Date and time
      July 31, 2014, 7:58AM
    • Absolutely this system is rubbish. I don't want to give my details to the government to assist with their surveillance. I don't want to have to buy a ticket on-line or have to register just to ride a bloody bus. This is absurd. I just want to be able to buy a ticket, with the ease and simplicity that I currently enjoy.

      Commenter
      David
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      July 31, 2014, 8:10AM
    • @engunear

      There are plenty of other places with semi-privatised transport systems that manage it just fine (London for one example)

      Private companies operating public transport? Hmm, not really. They're all franchises who are paid a fee by the government for putting the buses on. They do not operate as truly separate, private enterprises managing their own ticketing and fare structure. Fares are collected by the state, and the link between farebox revenue and payments to private transport operators is a tenuous one at best because most of the money comes from a direct subsidy anyway, and there is no link between the fares collected by (say) Transdev and the payments to Transdev from the government - it is a separate contract. So that is no obstacle to cleaning up the fare structure (especially the multi-modal issue)

      Similarly with weekly tickets. These systems are perfectly capable of operating on a single journey basis or having weekly tickets loaded on to them. Again, Oyster in London is an obvious and easy example and has been doing it for over 10 years. It's easy

      Problem 3? You're absolutely right that it's heavily subsidised, which is why the fare structure should be organised to maximise the use of a fairly fixed capacity and collecting as much revenue as possible - regardless of idiotic and artificial constructs about modes "subsidising" each other. Again this is really easy, again other systems manage it just fine

      All your 3 "problems" exist(ed) in exactly the same way in London pre-Oyster and have turned out not to be problems at all. And London is not the only example, there are dozens of others, it really isn't hard.

      The only barrier to making Opal more effective lies in the myopia and incompetence of the bureaucracy that runs our transport

      Commenter
      pjh
      Date and time
      July 31, 2014, 8:17AM
    • Its so simple people, the government wants us to drive our cars instead of taking public transport. I made that decision to drive instead of catching public transport 6 years ago and have never looked back. This new opal card system is just designed so that law enforcement and other organisations can monitor your every move, Then there is the issue of the overcrowded and carriages without airconditioning in summer. Seriously guys do you want to be squashed in the carriages with people that obviously don't shower themselves with no aircon in 35 degree heat?

      Don't kid yourselves, drive your cars and you won't regret it. The government will never improve the public transport. Even if the roads are congested at least you are in your private vehicle with aircon.

      Commenter
      Peter
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      July 31, 2014, 9:41AM
    • @Bender

      And who is a privatised State Rail going to compete with?

      Commenter
      Nathan
      Date and time
      July 31, 2014, 9:43AM
    • We've become used to the ineptitude of staff working for Sydney trains fueled by the grossly overpaid and numerous managers that work at Transport NSW - perhaps they will rename it again in a year or two, institute another review from a consultancy company and come to the same conclusion - we have too many lazy, inept and overpaid people working there compared to overseas transport entities which are run far more efficiently and with staff who are better qualified.

      Commenter
      Nicholas
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      July 31, 2014, 9:47AM

More comments

Comments are now closed
Featured advertisers