Test of city's ticket to ride will decide if Opal is Coalition's trump card
The Opal card. NSW Minister for Transport Gladys Berejiklian announced today the trail of the new electronic ticketing system and revealed the Opal card. 25th November, 2012. Photo: Kate Geraghty
''We have waited too long,'' said Gladys Berejiklian, squinting into the sun by the Neutral Bay ferry wharf. In her hand was the source of the delay: a small black card she promised would ''change the way we use public transport''.
So long as you don't mind waiting longer still for the revolution. Sydney's electronic ticketing system, first promised for the 2000 Olympics and then, after various wranglings, by 2014, will now be fully operational some time in 2015, the Transport Minister said.
''We are taking our time,'' she said on Sunday while announcing the long-awaited Opal smartcard's first trial will start on the Neutral Bay loop on December 7. The full ferry network will remain out of the loop until the end of next year.
Trains will join the trial from mid to late 2013, and buses in 2014. The light rail system will join some time in 2015.
Ms Berejiklian called this a ''progressive rollout'' - the fact the pace was not more progressive was due to Sydney's ''clumsy and complicated'' system, she said.
''You know what, the previous government promised it for 15 years and nothing happened,'' she said.
''We know how important it is, not just for convenience but also to make sure that our public transport system is efficient and becomes world class. It's something we should be proud of.''
That the Opal will help deliver such pride is not immediately apparent. The adult card is black with bright lettering, like a 1980s corporate foyer. The multicoloured ''o'' somehow represents the different modes of transport. If you squint, it almost looks like an ''a'', promising to be ''a pal'' - the first friend you might ever make on public transport.
Unfortunately, concession cards - in grey, gold, green and blue - will not be available until some time next year.
As part of the Opal trial, public transport users will travel free after paying for eight journeys in a single week. The maximum daily fare will be capped at $15 from Monday to Saturday and $2.50 on Sundays. Fares will otherwise remain the same.
The Opal name was uniquely Australian, Ms Berejiklian said, in an unintended slight to opal producers in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Turkey, Indonesia, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Ethiopia and Mars (where NASA has discovered opal deposits).
The tortured history of Sydney's smartcard suggests there will be problems to come.
''I'm not expecting this to be smooth sailing from here on in,'' Ms Berejiklian said.
She tapped her demonstration card on an Opal machine repeatedly for the media at the wharf, where there were more people waiting for sailing craft than for any old ferry.
The card worked well eight times in succession. On the ninth tap, a red cross appeared on the screen and an ominous bell tolled.