NSW Govt launches Opal card on ferries


blog If you live in Sydney, at this point, it’s become rather hard to believe that the State Government will ever be successful in bringing the city’s public transport ticketing system up to a modern standard. It’s still paper cards dipped into a machine here, despite the fact that cities such as Hong Kong, London, and heck, even Melbourne, have had smartcards for public transport for yonks. However, the new Coalition Government over the weekend shone a ray of light into the situation, with the new Opal smartcard being launched on Sydney ferries, to start with. Perhaps the ghost of Tcard is finally being banished, some 13 years after it was was originally slated to be introduced. I’m not holding my breath just yet, however. The full media release from this weekend:

“Minister for Transport Gladys Berejiklian today introduced public transport customers to the Opal card and the new electronic ticketing system that will transform the way they move around.

Ms Berejiklian said the Opal card would launch with a customer trial from 7 December on the Neutral Bay ferry route. It would then be rolled out across greater Sydney for all Sydney Ferries, train, bus and light rail customers through to 2015.

“London has the Oyster, Hong Kong the Octopus and from next month Sydney will have the Opal card,” Ms Berejiklian said. “The Opal card will transform the way people get around, making public transport more convenient and seeing the end of ticket queues and fumbling for coins.

“Bringing electronic ticketing to Sydney has been a long time coming – the former Labor Government promised it for the Sydney 2000 Olympics – but the Liberals & Nationals Government has been working hard behind the scenes to get to this point. While the Opal card will eventually transform the way we move around, the roll out is complex and we are taking our time – we have learned from overseas that progressive roll outs work best and we expect there may be some hiccups along the way.”

Public transport customers using the Opal card will ‘tap on’ at the start of their trip on each mode and ‘tap off’ at the end, with the Opal card working much like an e-tag. The Opal card is expected to be available for all Sydney Ferries’ customers, at more than 40 wharves from Parramatta to Manly, by the end of next year, with the roll out to trains starting on the City Circle in the second half of 2013.

Ongoing fares for the Opal card will be detailed next year following the ferry trial, but Ms Berejiklian announced three key incentives will be in place to encourage uptake of the Opal card and greater public transport use. These incentives are available for Opal card customers as the electronic ticketing system is progressively rolled out across ferries, trains, buses and light rail.

The incentives include: A weekly reward providing free travel after eight paid journeys in a week – for example a customer using their Opal card paying for two journeys a day to and from work from Monday to Thursday will be eligible for unlimited free travel on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays; A $2.50 daily cap on Sundays for Opal card customers– travel all you want and it will cost no more than $2.50 per-person; A daily travel cap of $15 from Monday to Saturday – helping tourists and one-off users travel affordably using an Opal card.

There is no change to paper tickets or other fare products at this time. Come 2015, 42 ferry wharves, more than 300 train stations and more than 5,000 buses and light rail will have Opal equipment operating in Sydney, the Hunter, Central Coast, the Illawarra, Southern Highlands and the Blue Mountains.”

Image credit: NSW Government


  1. Having just spent a week in Perth where everything is tap on/off, it makes you realize how poor we have it on Sydney. It’s great the government is announcing it, however after countless failed attempts,I think it’s safe to say most Sydney residents have adopted the motto of “I’ll believe it when I see it”. Another 2+ years before we see this on buses is too long though, if the NSW government really wants to earn the brownie points they need to speed this timeline up!

  2. If it’s anything like Brisbane’s Go card, then it should be good… except it won’t be. Without overhauling the ticket pricing system, I think it’s destined to fail.

    How can you expect it to work when you pay differing amounts to get from A to B, depending on whether you’re catching a train or a bus?

    • $15/day limit. While I dont have to commute any more, I used to travel from Wollongong to Sydney every day. Weekly ticket was just under $60, that covered you for everywhere. In effect, this is no different, except I have to remember to swipe my card when I get on the train.

      For long distance its not too bad because you’re going to hit that $15/day limit pretty fast. As soon as you get a bus, or come home, etc etc. For the Sydney commuter its a little different. Some people get 2 buses and a train to get to work, which they can put out of their minds with a weekly that covers a ring region centering on the CBD.

      Now, that 3 service trip will quite possibly hit that $15 limit, meaning their weekly fares probably increase. Its no longer just about how far you travel but also how many services you use. Good or bad, you choose. There wouldnt be too many people in that category, but in the end I cant see it being cheaper. For plenty it’ll be the same, but there will be losers in this.

      • If you make 8 paid journeys in a week, then you travel free for the rest of the week.

        Hmm… maybe if you just took 8 bus journeys of one stop each on your way to work (ie. lowest cost journey)…

        oh wait…

        • Missed the 8 paid journey thing. So, I used to live in the eastern suburbs of Sydney (Rose Bay to be precise), where the journey to work was a relatively simply bus then train. If the 8 journey limit was in play, thats 4 trips each day which covers the 8 trip rule by Tuesday, so free travel from Wednesday to Sunday.

          Hmm… That sounds like its a little too easy to game the system…

  3. Melbourne has Myki, it works well 99% of the time with only one large flaw.

    Next year if you are new and haven’t purchased a Myki (or a tourist jut arriving), you won’t be able to catch a tram or a bus without going to a shop that sells them first. Train stations sell myki cards but you cannot get them on board a bus or a tram.

    Also: If the Opal uses NFC make an app for people with the newer smart phones with a NFC chip in them, so they can avoid an extra card.

    • Myki has had its share of debacles, but unlike the Tcard, it was actually implemented, which is certainly something to say in State Government IT.

      • I’m not saying I dislike Myki, I use it every weekday. I just hope Opal’s implementation runs smoother and learns from Myki’s mistakes and (small) shortfalls.

        • Melbournes system works well when you know it. If you’ve never used it, it can be confusing finding a place to start. Where do you get a tram ticket? What trams go where?

          Ask a local, they look at you like you have two heads.

          Its all logical once you know what to do, but that initial phase can be offputting. From that angle, Sydney’s setup isnt all that bad – its clearly advertised what goes where, where you buy tickets, etc etc.

    • err BPAT, make that SOME train stations.

      The other serious flaw for a frequent interstate travelloris, that unlike my Toll RFID which works in Vic, NSW and Q’land, none of the state based transport cards work in other than the capital cities of that state.

      A combined card would have been a godsend for those who travel for work.

  4. The essentially time based system in use in German cities is much cheaper to administer and involves only one swipe when first used. It is simpler, far less ambitious in terms of the amount of data it needs to work and could have been in place years ago. Drivers accept no money and buses load and unload very quickly.

    Change of transport mode is not discouraged and public transport can act more like a proper network. Transport Planer Jarrett Walker devotes a chapter of his book to and dines out on Sydney’s crazy bus routes http://goo.gl/yEdl9

    If you can self serve your groceries why not your use of public transport? German cities recover more of public transport costs than Sydney public transport, so one would think it would be worth at least looking at what they do.

  5. Melbourne has a single ticketing system across bus trams and trains, it’s all 2 hours or daily, any vehicle during the paid period.
    Much simpler.
    It’s all good until you use it frequently, at which point you have to buy another card to use as your frequent trip card, where you prepurchase blocks… Etc. I could go on.

    • The Munich system is even better tickets: can be bought for several days and cover more than one person! The whole system is designed to reduce the number of interactions travellers have with the ticketing system.

      Many stations in Sydney, even busy, recently re-furbished ones, don’t have ticket barriers after all these years, so are these new high tech ones going to appear comparatively over night? And work at all times?

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