Transport experts and the Australasian Railway Association have praised changes to Sydney’s Opal smart ticketing system, despite the removal of free trip incentives for frequent travellers.
In an unpopular change, travellers who log eight trips in a week on Opal will now receive their remaining trips that week at half price, rather than for free.
The previous system, which rewarded frequent travellers with free trips, was exploited by ‘Opal runners’ who would try to log eight short trips early in the week, to save money on travel in the long run.
Changes were put in place to prevent Opal running, but transport minister Andrew Constance said the free trips had to be removed to help raise more revenue to fund the increasing cost of public transport to the state government.
“[Half price journeys after eight trips] still provides an incentive to catch public transport while ensuring we recoup some of the costs of providing extra services,” Constance said on September 5, the first day of the new Opal regime.
The new regime features a $2 discount per journey for travellers who transfer from one mode to another (e.g. from bus to train).
The discount has been widely praised by industry and experts.
“With billions of dollars being invested in new metro and light rail lines, the new ‘transfer discount’ is all about encouraging the maximum use of all transport options as new services are delivered,” Constance said.
Dr Geoffrey Clifton, a lecturer at Sydney University’s Institute for Transport and Logistics, said the new regime was more fair than the last.
“Despite the doomsayers, many commuters will find themselves better off today as fares have been cut for people who make transfers,” he said.
“Those of us who work from home one day a week and use the car on weekends will also be better off, or no worse off than before.
“Some people will be worse off and that is unfortunate,” he conceded, “but the new system is fairer than the old one.”
Dr Clifton’s colleague, Professor Corinne Mulley, also conceded that while “inevitable,” the removal of free travel was a negative aspect of the changes.
“Fulltime workers are likely to be worst hit I suspect,” Mulley said. “It may also have an impact on Saturday patronage.
“[But] I think it is good to recognise the interchange penalty which means that passengers now can use more modes in making the most effective journey for them.”
ARA boss Danny Broad weighed in, saying the transfer incentive “allows commuters greater opportunity to use the best available mix of transportation options to reach their destination”.
“Users of public transport are clear about their desires,” he said. “They want a safe, reliable and affordable public transport system that is interconnected, thereby offering greater choice.”