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Enthusiasm but few takers on Opal launch day

Date

Jonathan Swan

First day of trial of the Opal card, on the Neutral Bay to Circular Quay ferry service. Photo: Peter Rae Friday 7 December 2012.

First day of trial of the Opal card, on the Neutral Bay to Circular Quay ferry service. Photo: Peter Rae Friday 7 December 2012. Photo: Peter Rae

"Good morning!" gushed the man in the Opal-branded polo shirt and cap as another passenger hurried past, avoiding eye contact. "Don't forget to tap on and off with the Opal card," he said to nobody in particular.

The ferry-riders at Neutral Bay wharf seemed unaware they were heralding a new era of transport history – Sydney's long-awaited "electronic ticketing system" that will work across ferries, buses and trains.

The Transport Minister, Gladys Berejiklian, says more than 200 people signed up with Opal cards during the past few weeks, but few showed up on the opening morning.

First day of trial of the Opal card, on the Neutral Bay to Circular Quay ferry service.  NSW Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian  catches the Neutral Bay ferry. Photo: Peter Rae Friday 7 December 2012.

First day of trial of the Opal card, on the Neutral Bay to Circular Quay ferry service. NSW Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian catches the Neutral Bay ferry. Photo: Peter Rae Friday 7 December 2012. Photo: Peter Rae

By 7.30am desperation tinged the Opal man's voice. "I'm excited!" he said as another iPod-wearing passenger grunted past.

At 7.58am he could smile finally. An investment banker named Simon Kidston strode purposefully to the silver terminal and tapped his card on the screen. It worked.

Mr Kidston was the first non-government passenger seen by Fairfax Media to use an Opal card. Ms Berejiklian said about 40 Opal cards were used on the first morning of the trial.

Mr Kidston knows the technology well. He has worked in London where ''smartcards'' have long been used for all forms of public transport. ''It was long overdue,'' he said.

Ms Berejiklian and her staff caught the same ferry as Mr Kidston. The minister gave a quick press conference at Circular Quay.

"Today is a really important day for public transport," she said, brandishing her Opal. "Passengers who used it were really pleased with it."

Her staff nodded enthusiastically. "I'm thrilled about how it's gone this morning and I'm hoping that more people will sign on."

The Opal card is being trialled on the Neutral Bay ferry circuit, and the government says it will be available for all Sydney Ferries' customers by the end of next year. Trains will join the trial from the middle of next year and buses in 2014. Light rail will join some time in 2015. The new system will cost $1.2 billion, which includes installation plus about 15 years of operating costs, Ms Berejiklian said.

Passengers can order Opal cards for free and either load them with money or use them as an automatic debit card, like an e-tag. Trips on the Opal card will cost the same as they do on current tickets, Ms Berejiklian said.

But she will wait until next year to confirm the new fee structure and what incentives or penalties she will use to encourage people to sign up for Opal cards.

The "roll out", Ms Berejiklian reminded us, would be long and complicated, and could not be accomplished by her Labor predecessors.

Embarrassingly for Labor, NSW taxpayers continue to suffer from the previous government's aborted ''T-Card'' ticketing system. The state is still paying more than $300,000 a month in interest on debts of more than $100 million.

72 comments

  • 3 years to roll it out? This is ridiculous. I have been waiting for Sydney to bring in this system since I moved two years ago. Even Perth (a city which is largely non-reliant on public transport) has had the same system already in place for about five years. It is doomed to fail if commuters can use it on only on limited services for such an extended period of time. Very few people will be willing to commit to it if they can only use it on the train and must by different bus tickets...think it through NSW transport.

    Commenter
    Perthgal
    Location
    Newtown
    Date and time
    December 07, 2012, 1:13PM
    • My thoughts exactly! 3 years?? and 1.2 Billion dollars??? This is a proven system and people will commit to it and use it - IF it is done properly. Anyone who has lived in Tokyo, Hong Kong, London.....Perth (!) knows that this would be a huge improvement to Sydney's transport system. But then, the problem was never the technology itself...

      Commenter
      LOK
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      December 07, 2012, 1:38PM
    • Yes that's too long.
      Also it's going to cost the same as a normal ticket?
      What if you wanted to buy a monthly ticket?
      Or a weekly?
      Doesn't say how you would be able to do that at all?
      Who would want to commute using single tickets only?!

      Commenter
      Angantyr
      Date and time
      December 07, 2012, 2:18PM
    • As this government has learnt, Sydney Transport does not lend itself to an Opal Card.
      I was a respondent in the original tender and like Opal, told the government that Sydney's ticketing was too complex for a single card solution.
      No city in the world has as many ticketing variations as Sydney.
      Since before Askin, politicians on both sides have been using ticketing to buy votes from special interest groups. That is why it is cheaper to get to Sydney from Muswellbrook than Chatswood if you belong to the right group.
      No politician wants to bite the bullet and do away with special interest's special tickets. So an automated ticketing system is still years away.

      Commenter
      Steve
      Date and time
      December 07, 2012, 2:57PM
    • @Perthgal, actually I have to say it's a good idea to start small first, iron out bugs and glitches before extending it out. As you say, Perth is largely non-reliant on PT whereas Sydney is fairly reliant on it. 3 years seems long but it's not really. @Lok, $1.2 billion seems a lot but it does say it's for installation AND 15 years of operating costs. Myki in Melbourne alone cost $1.5 billion to get it up and running and doesn't even factor in the operating costs.

      Commenter
      Amused
      Date and time
      December 07, 2012, 3:11PM
    • Three years? The card is a total waste of time unless all services are included from word go. We will now have to have a opal card plus another card to use buses or use the travel pass system. It is going to be a disaster at the exit and entry gates when some of them are opal and some still the old system to deal with people who are using the old system.

      Commenter
      Tom Harper
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      December 07, 2012, 3:14PM
    • Agantyr,
      there won't be such a thing as weekly or monthly tickets - there won't be a discount for buying in bulk as there is now. This is one of the reasons why our ticketing system is so complicated. so let's make it more efficient - the same rate for adults, students, pensioners during the same time period. Possibly a different rate for off peak times. The charges are incurred at time of travel, you can't prepurchase a number of trips or time period.
      Simplify the ticketing regime and it will work as well as every other city it has been used in for the past 20 years (I was using an Octopus card in HK 20 years ago).

      Commenter
      David
      Location
      commuterville
      Date and time
      December 07, 2012, 3:32PM
    • @Amused - both waste your breath. You've got all the elite's of large scale technology project management on here.

      Commenter
      nef
      Location
      sydeny
      Date and time
      December 07, 2012, 3:39PM
    • Perth too had an ever extending trial period in which a very limited number of passengers were issued with the first cards. Problems with the cards (including not having them available on day one), card readers and the charging system meant that the early adopters kept receiving bulk refunds for extended periods due to accounting and charging errors (effectively free transport). This lasted over a year but meant that the system was reasonably reliable by the time they turned it lose on the general public. Sounds like Sydney is finally taking notice of experience elsewhere, though at great cost. in the learning process.

      Perth's system still has major problems but the ticketing system isn't one of them.

      Commenter
      JT
      Location
      Cottesloe
      Date and time
      December 07, 2012, 3:57PM
    • @Steve Precisely. Also was in early discussions about the Sydney transport card and the complex fare structures and special ticketing was a complete joke. I belive that the OPAL card system is being done by Cubic, who did the current railway ticketing system. I understand that there were more than a few problems with that along the way too.
      The long rollout timeframe without immediate incentive (such as discount tickets) will not induce very many to take it up unfortunately. There are a lot of railway stations and turnstiles, and lots of buses to be fitted with the readers and charge points.

      Commenter
      Maxx
      Date and time
      December 07, 2012, 4:16PM

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