OPINION | The NSW Government’s Opal Card Changes Target Those At The Bottom

Do you remember when the Opal card first came out and then NSW Minister for Transport Gladys Berejiklian told us "I want people to beat the system,” as reported in The Sydney Morning Herald in September 2014. Well, sure enough, it looks like they will be closing said loopholes.

When the Opal card was first launched it was not viewed favourably. This encouragement to ‘cheat the system’ was viewed as an obvious ploy to make the inevitable price hikes more palatable. 

Berejiklian reassured us that this wouldn’t be the case. "I want people to find the savings because they are there to be had." 

So people have been finding them. On the internet forum Reddit, users have figured out that given every ride after your first 8 in a week are free and that there is a $15 price cap for each day, you can take 8 short trips costing $2.10 in one day and have used up the 8 rides needed to meet the weeks quota in $15. This makes all rides for the rest of the week free and puts your weekly transport cost at just $15. 

There have been two main techniques to accomplish this proposed hack. The first being to walk/jog/ride between closely located MacDonald and Erskineville stations, tapping on and off until you reach 8 trips. The second using the same process between The Star light rail station and Pyrmont light rail station, with only 200m distance between them. 

This extra effort takes a little time but can save users more than $100 a month. 

This has become a common practice for some students and young people, those who could do with the savings the most. 

In draft reports released just before Christmas, the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal is proposing a fare structure that will charge passengers for each journey, then credit them at the end of the week for any trip they took other than their 10 longest trips.

Therefore making this hack impossible. So much for wanting us to beat the system.

An analysis of 12,000 journeys by the comparison service Finder suggested that 68% of travellers will be worse off under the proposed changes, not just effecting the hackers.

However the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal stand by their report describing the analysis as "misleading as they don't take account of all elements of the reform package”

The Opal card is often hit with criticism, but the system isn’t all bad. It’s very convenient to just swipe through. My main gripe with the Opal card is that it feels sneaky. Any government system that proposes you abuse the system, is clearly wrong.

Transport NSW has built an unnecessarily complex pricing system for the Opal card and we are forced to use it; with almost all paper tickets now removed, only single and return trip tickets are available, as of January 1st this year. 

The Opal card is obviously a rip off of London’s famous Oyster card; I lived in London for years and loved the Oyster card system. The main difference between the two is that, unlike the Oyster card, the Opal card is incredibly convoluted.

When you board a bus in London you will pay £1.50 for any trip, no matter how long. There is no “tap off” when you exit, allowing passages to leave the bus quickly and smoothly. There is also no risk that you will forget to “tap off”. When this happens on Sydney busses, passengers are charged for the longest trip possible.

Now that your ticket isn’t prepaid, the tiered ticketing system on Sydney buses also makes it difficult to know how much you are paying for your ride. The pricing tiers are 1-2 sections, 3-5 sections and 6+, with no clear definition of what a section is (unless you log onto their website, it’s there in the fine print). Once on the bus or whilst waiting for the bus it is difficult to figure out how much you might be paying for your trip. 

London’s trains have all pricing zones marked clearly and are highly visible at every station and on the train; it’s very easy to figure out how much your ride will cost. However on Sydney’s trains you are required to log on to an online fare calculator, provided you have a smart phone with internet and data, to find out how much your trip will cost.

I understand that Transport NSW are using a pre-existing fare structure, but given that tickets are no longer prepaid, the failure to make ticketing prices obvious can leave passengers with a nasty surprise at the end of their trip. 

The Opal card’s complex and inconspicuous pricing system makes it difficult to know how much you are paying for a ticket now and easy for the government to change fare prices and structures in the future, without anyone really noticing.

It’s a shame this genius hack will most likely be put to rest, but perhaps rather than encouraging people to work the system, the government should just develop a system that works for the people? Isn’t that the idea of ‘public’ transport?

Published on Crave


The Opal Card amongst other public transport ticketing cards. (Photo: Beau Giles)

The Opal Card amongst other public transport ticketing cards. (Photo: Beau Giles)