Opal Card: commuters ask questions Reply

by Cecily Huang

A sign of the times

A sign of the times

A 433 bus arrived at Railway Square. Jerry Wang, a new international student from UTS, got on and took out his Opal card, but the driver shook his head, and said, “Sorry, you can not use Opal card on this bus.’” Jerry sighed and searched for coins in his wallet.

The Opal Electronic ticketing project, costing $ 1.2 billion, was officially launched as a trial in December 2012.  Since September 1 this year, 14 paper tickets for  train, bus, and ferry routes are no long be sold.

More than 700,000 Opal cards have been now issued, but the customers can only tap on 2,890 buses of 5,000 buses across Sydney. The aim is that the rest will be on line by the end of this year.

Jerry Wang was lucky, as the driver gave him a free ride this time. However, many Opal cardholders would have to get off to buy paper ticket in a convenient store for pre-paid buses without Opal card installation. It is not yet as convenient as promised by the Government.

Ann, a passenger on 431, said, “I am not getting an Opal card until I can use it on every bus.”

Michael, a bus driver of 431, said, “We have not installed it on this bus. I don’t know why it is so slow in this area.”

In November 2012, Gladys Berejiklian, the Minister for Transport, said, “London has the Oyster, Hong Kong has the Octopus and from next month Sydney will have the Opal card. ”

Opal card mass rollout in Sydney is quite late, comparing to the other cities in Australia – seven years after Perth’s SmartRider, six years after Brisbane’s Go Card, five years later than Melbourne’s Myki, and two years behind Adelaide’s Metrocard.

Beijing opened its first subway line in 1969, 43 years after Sydney’s first stations of St. James and Museum. Beijing started to implement its smartcard, Yikatong on its subway in 2003. Most of public transactions were made using Yikatong by 2006. By 2008, all Beijing taxis were required to accept Yikatong payment.

Hong Kong’s Octopus Card, started in 1997, now can be used in multiple ways, such as with taxis, purchases in shops, fast food and so on.

The NSW Government wants 33,000 monthly, quarterly and yearly ticket buyers to switch to the Opal card. Opal card offer discounts including: off-peak train discount of 30 per cent – after your first eight paid journeys in the week, all further travel is free, and on Sunday you only pay $2.5 for an entire day trip.

However, these discounts do not seem to offer savings to people commuting between home and work during peak hours. Instead, the frequent traveller’s weekly expense on public transportation increases after using Opal card.  According to NSW Labor’s statistics, commuters who previously used MyTrain Yearly, are like to be financially worse off – up to $440 if they travel more than 65 km.

A Transport for NSW spokesman said, “Around 90 per cent of customers will be the same or better off under Opal.”

Registration is optional in other states in Australia and users can easily choose an unregistered card. However, Opal card’s required online registration system allows law enforcement officials to obtain a customer’s personal information including where and when user has travelled without a warrant.

The concerns of many commuters include: the need to be registered; the seeming ability of the government and police to track commuters’ movements once they are registered; and the fact that registration does not offer commuters any real benefits.

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