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Rival cities leave Sydney smartcard in the dust

Date

Asher Moses

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NSW's Opal card.

NSW's Opal card. Photo: Kate Geraghty

As Sydney residents trial new transport smartcards, other cities are moving fast on ticket systems that won't need them.

But while one analyst says the Opal cards are "10 years too late" due to the rise of mobile phone and contactless credit/debit card payment systems, other experts say that after a long history of electronic ticketing debacles in NSW the government is right to play it safe with a mature and tested technology first.

Guy Cranswick, an analyst with Australian firm Intelligent Business Research Services (IBRS), said the Opal smartcard was "old technology and already being replaced around the world".

NSW Minister for Transport Gladys Berejiklian holding the Opal card at a tap on/off terminal at Neutral Bay.

NSW Minister for Transport Gladys Berejiklian holding the Opal card at a tap on/off terminal at Neutral Bay. Photo: Kate Geraghty

Cranswick published a report in October looking at mobile ticketing, focusing particularly on the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority in the US which earlier this year rolled out a smartphone app-based ticketing solution.

He also pointed to Transport for London's decision to support "swipe and go" contactless credit/debit card payments from next year. TfL has also trialled mobile payments using NFC chips built into the latest smartphones but said earlier this year the technology wasn't fast enough for the Tube.

Cranswick believes that if electronic ticketing is to be rolled out for the whole network in 2015 the government must test new technologies beyond smartcards, which he says will be cheaper for the taxpayer and more mature by 2015.

"The fact that they're introducing Opal now it's gotta be at least 10 years too late and why they haven't refigured that this is no longer the technology to be using is extraordinary," he said.

Professor Corinne Mulley, the University of Sydney's chair in public transport, said the previous TCard fell over because of the complex fare system but now that the new MyZone fares had been introduced the government could move forward with "tried and tested" smartcard technology.

"I don't think I would agree [with Cranswick] ... other countries and other cities are looking for additional ways of making it possible for people to pay their fares [but] I believe these are largely on top of a smart card system rather than to substitute for it," she said.

Professor Mulley said the real test for smart card technology in NSW would not be on December 7 when it is rolled out for the Neutral Bay ferry but when it is adopted across different operators and for multi-modal journeys.

Harold Dimpel, CEO of Australian mobile payments firm mHITs, said mobile phones were not yet ready for mass transit ticketing while smartcards were "ubiquitous and reliable and appeal to the lowest common denominator".

He said smartphones had been adopted for concert and airline ticketing but "for mass transit the key thing is quick scanning and quick authentication and nothing beats the simplicity of these short-range smartcard products".

Dimpel added mobile phone ticketing would likely come in phase two but the government right now was "appealing to something that's old school and they know will work because possibly it's a political hot potato if they stuff it up".

Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian said Sydney had waited for more than a decade for electronic ticketing that works and the Opal cards could be updated to support mobile and other payment technologies down the track.

"The Opal Card is compatible so that one day these technologies could be used, however our focus is rolling out the Opal card system properly first so that all customers – no matter what age – can use it," she said.

130 comments

  • Spot on. Australian governments are many years behind when it comes to taking up technology that could make their lives easier and not just the lives of citizens. And the problem starts at at the top. Our candidates running for 'leadership' positions either have no or little interest incorporating Technology into a vision for their state or country, Why is that? Let's not spend the next 10 years stuck here talking now shall we?

    Commenter
    lala
    Location
    melbourne
    Date and time
    November 26, 2012, 3:25PM
    • Technology was never the main problem with the T Card. It was always the complexity of the different separate pieces of Sydney's transport infrastucture and their kaleidoscope of fare pricing and getting the various powers that be to cooperate with each other for the common good. If they can get that to work then transitioning from the opal card to something that incorporates smart phone technology or anything else, for that matter will be a breeze!

      Commenter
      chipin
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      November 26, 2012, 4:50PM
    • this Opal card is already 10 year old technology, I trust they will NOT implement it. Labor promised a smartcard system for the 2000 Olympics, and like everything else they did they failed to deliver.

      As the news article mentions NFC (aka RFID) is the emerging technology, and you can use your own phone to access it. Lets wait a couple of years til the technology matures, or else implement a system that is upgradable to NFC with zero or a very small cost.

      Let not throw many more millions of dollars at something that is already past its use-by date!

      Commenter
      peter
      Date and time
      November 26, 2012, 5:17PM
    • In essence I am saying Australian governments lack foresight when it comes to emerging trends as well as the project management skills to properly implement anything.

      Commenter
      lala
      Location
      melbourne
      Date and time
      November 26, 2012, 5:28PM
    • Peter
      Ever flown and watched the "smart people" who use a mobile phone generated boarding pass? When they can get on as fast as a paper pass it might be time to look at other options over a smart card Perth has a card system ($10 deposit) How many smart phones have NFC? Apple 5 does not
      The real problem is the system to drive whatever device is used

      Commenter
      Peterwalker58
      Date and time
      November 26, 2012, 6:45PM
    • Yeah the airlines that promote passengers to use their mobile phones to "scan" to get on the plane are just so efficient. The technology is so advanced time stops for at least 2 minutes while some apple fanboy dicks around trying to get it to work. Who votes we get that (apparently the latest technology) on transport systems now?

      Commenter
      aletheia
      Date and time
      November 26, 2012, 7:53PM
    • Public transport should be free. Imagine the cost of implementing this, then policing fare evaders then adding in the cost of vehicle transport congestion ($5b per year in Sydney alone) and you will find that if we had a free and frequent public transport system the economy would more than compensate for the lost fares. Of course governments cant see past the incoming money.
      I also find it strange that cars can be leased pre tax but my public transport ticket is paid for post tax (there it costs a lot, lot more)

      Commenter
      Franky
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      November 26, 2012, 8:39PM
    • I can imagine the headlines if the government introduced a system that couldn't be used if you didn't have a smart phone like an iPhone or Android, and imagine if it required NFC as no existing iPhone would work with it! From this article I can't see why Opal is "no longer the technology to be using" - even London will only add credit or debit card access using the same readers as their equivalent of Opal (called Oyster). It would be great to look at ideas like this for NSW as an addition, but we would still need Opal.

      Commenter
      DavidT
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      November 26, 2012, 9:12PM
    • "looking at mobile ticketing, focusing particularly on the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority in the US which earlier this year rolled out a smartphone app-based ticketing solution."

      I'm sorry but not everyone uses a mobile phone. Poor people and pensioners very often do not use mobiles. A ticketing system based on apps would lock them out of the transport system. The state government should think first before implementing a system only those with mobiles can use.

      Commenter
      Spectator
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      November 26, 2012, 11:05PM
    • "...I'm sorry but not everyone uses a mobile phone. Poor people and pensioners very often do not use mobiles..."

      Implement 2 systems... one for mobile apps device for smartphone holders, the other use smartcard for people who don't have smartphones.....

      That will solve 2 technologies....the old and the new technology......

      Commenter
      mobild apps
      Location
      darlinghurst
      Date and time
      November 27, 2012, 9:07AM

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