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Opal card rollout for train commuters a big success

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Jacob Saulwick

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Opal Card rollout passes big test

Long queues and angry commuters were expected but the retirement of the first group of paper train tickets has been a success for Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian. Jacob Saulwick reports.

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Just before 9am on Monday, Fergus Gammie, the point man at Transport for NSW for the Opal card project, was wearing a wry smile as he stood next to the northern exit of Town Hall station, watching the steady procession through the gates.

For Gammie, a deputy director-general of Transport for NSW, the morning could hardly have gone better. Suited-up commuters were happily tapping their Opal cards and moving on with their day. Predictions of peak hour chaos, never too far from the mark in Sydney, would have to wait for another time.

With the "retirement" of 14 paper tickets, Monday morning had been billed as the first big test for the Opal, the $1.2 billion ticketing system being progressively rolled out across the Sydney.

The Transport Minister, Gladys Berejiklian, had issued warnings about long queues through the city.

Berejiklian's fear was that commuters who had missed the message would hold up ticket lines, trying to buy weekly and monthly train passes to which they were no longer entitled.

She was also concerned that a spike in the number of people using the Opal at busy city stations would slow down the exits.

But the queues, like the Y2K bug, did not eventuate.

At multiple train stations across the city attended by Fairfax Media reporters, the great majority of commuters used their Opal cards with little fuss.

Ticket sellers often faced few customers, and it was as smooth a commute as a transport minister could hope for.

Berejiklian and her team running the Opal project still have a lot to do. As the morning went on, complaints piled on from students upset that there was still not an Opal card available for them. There are also no easy Opal options for tourists, pensioners, and other concession card holders.

The minister has also always said that Sydney's buses, half of which are not enabled for the Opal yet, will be the most challenging technical aspect of the smartcard project.

And the very success of the Opal project, meanwhile, will bring its own challenges. Scores of Sydney Trains ticket sellers have already been made redundant. On the evidence of Monday morning, it may not be long before Berejiklian attempts to cut staff numbers deeper, potentially prompting an industrial battle with rail unions.

But for the moment the minister can enjoy a morning's success. She had issued the warnings, and life went on pretty much as normal, but this time with more electronic tickets.

The former Labor government at one stage promised a smartcard in time for the 2000 Olympics. It comprehensively failed to meet that deadline, but Labor did sign the contract for the Opal card in 2010.

That contract is now being delivered by Berejiklian and her hand-picked team of transport executives. The complaints, and the plaudits, will go to them.  

25 comments so far

  • Yes please focus more on the buses.

    I was using an Opal card for awhile now, while I accepted the fact I pay 4 dollars more a week for the convenience, its not cool to be unable to use any of the buses from Castlereigh street to Newtown because Opal isnt availble for them yet. Instead, I had to trek to the nearest station, townhall, which was 2-3 blocks away and boarded a train to Macdonaldtown and walked ten minutes to get to my destination for a good friday night out. Thats not conveinece at all when I could have boarded the bus right away and be dropped off right in front of the venue I was heading for.

    Commenter
    Rjboo
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    September 01, 2014, 12:46PM
    • Read the Tele bit of a different story extra costs Opal not toped up straight away as promised etc.

      Commenter
      HoppyPete
      Location
      Wenty
      Date and time
      September 01, 2014, 3:16PM
    • You could have just bought a paper bus ticket for the journey, they are still available.

      Commenter
      Brian
      Location
      Kensington
      Date and time
      September 01, 2014, 10:20PM
  • Bought my yearly paper ticket last week to save $550 over the year. Will be forced to go on Opal next September. The posters at the stations should read, LOSE and SAVE with Opal.

    Commenter
    Rex
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    September 01, 2014, 1:44PM
    • Re that $500 you "save" buying a yearly ticket, most people won't use it for 4-5 weeks due to leave and public holidays, so there is $300 down the drain, maybe a week or two of sick leave, there's another $100 gone. If you had put the same money aside in the bank, and just drew down $60 per week, you might have got a few dollars interest as well. So how much worse off are you really on the new system?

      Commenter
      Brian
      Location
      Kensington
      Date and time
      September 01, 2014, 10:29PM
  • People moaned when we did not have Opal.

    People now moan that we do have Opal.

    People moan about advertising the existence of Opal.

    People moan.

    I love my Opal Card.

    Best Regards,

    The Bear with the Opal Card

    Commenter
    TBear
    Location
    Sydney - Opal Cave
    Date and time
    September 01, 2014, 1:46PM
    • My regular bus trip cost $3.68 using MyBus3 Travel Ten. With this I can transfer and move around quite easily. I tried the Opal card and got stung $2.10 for the first leg, then $3.70 for the second. That $2.12 each way increase, times ten trips a week means $21.20 extra a week on my original $36.80 ticket! 57% increase! Think I'll skip public transport and go back to sitting in my car. It now cost less and don't have to deal with smelly people every day. Good work NSW Govt! I don't understand why you don't have a honeymoon period for the first 2 years of $2 max fares just to get the punters onside. But no, got to get greedy and piss of and already pissed off commuter community.

      '

      Commenter
      Jerry
      Date and time
      September 01, 2014, 1:58PM
      • Are you sure you calculated that correctly?
        There is no $3.70 fare for opal, it's $3.50 for bus section2. Also, transfers made within a standard transfer time of 60 minutes combine trips into a single journey for same modal travel so you shouldn't be paying for 2 legs of the journey, it should be combined into one fare calculated based on distance traveled.
        You also get capped after the 8th journey, so the rest of the week is free. So lets say you get on the highest bus band, opal should be costing you $36 max for the week (plus you have the extra perk of free travel on any mode of transport after that).

        Commenter
        penny
        Date and time
        September 01, 2014, 6:45PM
      • penny is correct, the fare costs are capped after a certain number of trips in a period of time.

        it gets confusing if you only look at the screen upon tapping on and off, because the prices change from the screen to the online account's recollection of events. and it takes a few hours for the website to update sometimes.

        if you get one of the opal apps on your phone, it should show all updates with the newer cost of travel. which can sometimes feel punitive, especially off-peak and peak train rates being a lot higher than the old prices, sic. etc.

        for weekend travel, it sucks,

        for daily commute, it probably saves a bit. eventually.

        just remember to tap off, as i've been on a few buses where the tap off reader at the middle of the bus, wasn't turned on, and got pinged the full fare.

        nothing quite as irritating as being the 4th or 8th person, walking all the way to the front of the bus to tap off and exit all the way back to the middle, while the driver just waits for everyone to do the entire circuit.

        Commenter
        toliman
        Date and time
        September 02, 2014, 3:35AM
    • So we are supposed to be all "happily tapping their Opal cards'! You are mistaken, its more likely that many of us are showing clenched teeth instead. I am much less than happy with being forced into using the Card with its higher cost for the much reduced service that came with the new timetable. Yeah, thanks Gladys!

      Commenter
      KrankyKat
      Date and time
      September 01, 2014, 1:58PM

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