Why the Opal Card could be a bad thing.

Sydney is introducing a smart card for public transport use, like Myki in Melbourne, go card in Brisbane, Octopus card in Hong Kong and the Oyster card in London (among many others). While this is supposed to make it easier for travellers because they can top up the cards at their convenience there are a few little stings in the tail.

The SMH says that thousands will pay more because they will lose the discount associated with buying weekly, monthly, or quarterly tickets. The NSW Government says that this is balanced by every 8th journey being free. However, all the journeys made in one trip whether one bus to work or a bus, train and ferry to work will count as one journey and so as 1/8th of a free journey. So people using only one mode of transport will benefit, those that aren’t as well serviced by public transport will miss out.

Women are also more likely to be impacted by this change as studies conducted into public transport use have found that women use public transport more than men. There are a variety of reasons behind this, but mostly because women still bear the brunt of care and housework which necessitates multiple trips to collect and drop off children, shop and undertake household tasks. This won’t hold true for all households of course, but is true of many. The study linked above also controlled for race/ethnicity and still found that women made more public transport trips than men.

There was a very good article floating around recently (which I can’t find) about how cities were set up for people who make a single trip to work and then go home again, mostly men; while women were more likely to move around again collecting or dropping off kids, shopping and other tasks that seem to fall predominantly to women.

So what this means with the Opal card is that in general women are likely to pay more because of the discounts disappearing. In real terms it seems that the convenience of the Opal card is meant to gloss over the fare increases behind it. This will impact more upon single mother homes.

Labor’s transport spokeswoman, Penny Sharpe, said: “Commuters will feel ripped off when they are charged for two trips if they catch a bus and then a train, yet these trips will only count as one for the eight-trip discount.”

“Behind all the spin there will be significant fare rises for many commuters,” Ms Sharpe said.

Structural inequality, we haz it.

Categories: gender & feminism, Life, parenting, Politics

Tags: , , ,

21 replies

  1. It’s not every eight trip, it’s every trip after eight in a week (defined as Monday to Sunday).
    Benefits to:
    – occasional train travellers
    – one way train journeys offpeak
    – tourists and multimodal daytrippers (the $15 daily cap)
    – people who have the time to make lots of short trips on monday (if you take one trip per hour on monday, you can have free travel the rest of the week!)
    – you can’t give a friend a trip off your travelten anymore
    – multimodal commuters (the travelpass seems to have gone)
    – unimodal work commuters (no quarterly tickets)

  2. I have been looking forward to it. My 3 day a week commute for part time work is not quite cost effective for buying a weekly after work and on part time pay penny pinching I can’t justify springing for the extra bit to buy the weekly. Which is a loss in time in that I must buy my rail ticket the morning of the journey and arrive at the station allowing time for unexpected queue length or running up stairs if the platform ticket machine is out of order. I also felt that this pre-Opal set-up must really disadvantage part-timers who change from bus to train – someone out there has to catch an earlier bus than their full-time equivalent so that they can queue for a train ticket at their connection instead of waltzing straight to the platform.

  3. Thanks Hildy for the correct info.
    @Robyn – it will certainly make things easier for many travellers if it works (I have tried Myki in Melbourne and been unimpressed) but the sneaky fare rises could be problems for some.

  4. Thanks Mindy for the thoughtful post. The article you were looking for might be this one: http://m.theatlanticcities.com/commute/2013/09/how-design-city-women/6739/

  5. That seems like a bit of a mean way to do it. They introduced a travel card here (Adelaide) last year, and when it came in each trip was the same price as the discount fares on our old ‘multi-trip’ tickets (which had ten trips on them). On our old tickets you could get on an unlimited number of public transport services (bus, train or tram here) within two hours, and this has remained the same on the new card. The only downside to the new cards I’ve found is that it’s much less transparent when they increase fares.

  6. One of the downsides to the MIKI (Melbourne) is that in our household of 3 there are 3 different types of MIKI, so no sharing. I usually walk our young son to and from school and the other day it was raining and we needed to catch the tram home. Where was the small one’s card…in his mum’s purse. No way to actually pay cash anymore so there was a choice, walk home (45 mins) in the rain or not pay on the tram. The old system allowed a passanger to register a card twice to pay for a “friend” MIKI does not allow this.
    The really silly issue is, being a regular commuter (for work) betwen Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane(for work), none of the transport cards work in other than the state of issue. My (car) toll transponder gets me through all 3 states quite seamlessly but the 3 State Governments cannot manage the same process.

  7. bryan: the toll operators didn’t do that of their own accord, I think they were forced by governments to do so (originally, even in Sydney, the idea was that you’d have a transponder for every toll road). So it’s extra weird that they then don’t do it for their own public transport infrastructure.
    angharad: Sydney public transport pricing has always required separate payment for any change of mode, and for that matter, any change between buses except at a very few transfer stops for a very limited number of bus routes.Therefore multimodal trips and even trips that involve two buses have been financially penalised for no good reason whatsoever relative to trips of identical distance without changes. The Opal card appears to be introducing the idea that a single “journey” can comprise multiple changes on a single mode, which is an advantage for many people who uses buses at the moment. (They are keeping a distance charge, but a 4km trip will be $3.50 whereas 2x2km trips would be 2x$2.10=$4.20, so with per bus pricing the person travelling 4km on 2 buses would be penalised, but on the new fare model, they will pay the same.)
    They are, however, treating switching modes as an entirely new journey for fare purposes. Apparently this is to avoid subsidising ferry passengers too heavily (ferries are expensive, and the present state government is not really a fan of their being public infrastructure at all), but if that’s so, it’s not clear why they can’t cut down to two modes for Opal trip purposes: ferries, and not-ferries. (Unfortunately, switching modes is NOT an entirely new journey for the purposes of the 8-journeys-and-then-travel-is-free system. Sneaky.)
    Both Sydney’s current fare structure and the new Opal fare structure are enormously complex from the point of view of planning one’s spending. I hope the Opal system gives the government enough travel data to radically simplify it while keeping revenues more or less the same and most individuals’ total spending also more or less the same. (You can perhaps imagine how that is a difficult goal, though.) The complexity of the pricing is supposedly a major factor in why the first attempt at such a system failed entirely.
    I’d love to see the light rail pricing when it comes out. It’s presently more expensive per km than trains (and perhaps should be, as it is one line that needs entirely separate infrastructure.) Unless they drop the single fare prices quite a lot, many passengers are going to change from paying $22 a week (the weekly price) to nearly $40 a week (8x$4.90, the present single fare).

  8. Given the update to the information in the post as regards free journeys, I genuinely can’t tell the impact on women vs men. I can see one group might be advantaged: people who are somewhat regular users but who use a lot of different routes and modes. This may include some mothers (with daycare/school/errand/after-school runs to different places). If you use rail, this has been really annoying: unless travel the same route over and over, there are no discounted fares, presently.
    But buses are already partly set up for this model (there are non-expiring 10 trip passes that can be used on all routes of similar length), and the discounts associated with those passes will disappear in favour of the discount for people who make 8 or more journeys in a week. And buses are the mode of transport that serves less well-off suburbs.

  9. We had all these arguments when GoCard was introduced. There were some teething problems, but overall it has been great. We do have single journeys across modes (within two hours), and you can still buy tickets on most buses (some peak-hour buses don’t have ticketing). Automatic top-up is the best thing since sliced bread. Our household is car free (by choice), and we have four active cards (one full-fare adult, one student, one disability concession, one senior). We used to keep a spare for visitors, but now there are short-term cards available. Because I commute to work, and have made my nine trips by Friday, all my weekend travel is free, even if I head to the Sunshine Coast for the weekend.
    My advice is to embrace the technology, provide feedback about the aspects you don’t like, and lobby to have a fair fare structure.

  10. If it’s anything like the GoCard, it’s going to be a bad, bad thing. Since the GoCard came in, the price of public transport has risen so rapidly that Brisbane is now the third most expensive city in the world for public transport after London and Oslo. Yup, public transport is more expensive in Brisbane than it is in New York, Hong Kong, Sydney, Paris, Rome, San Francisco, Vancouver, Berlin and all the other great cities of the world… I mean come on, BRISBANE.
    And they’ve wangled it so that it punishes everyone. Commuters are forking out more than ever for journeys that support the infrastructure of the city. Tourists are slammed with ridiculous costs to get around a city that is not exactly a world draw card. Infrequent transport users are burdened with a GoCard that they must keep topped up “just in case” (that has the risk of expiring) or they’re slugged with paper tickets that are up to 60% more expensive than GoCard fares.
    And more and more people are back to driving where they should be encouraged to take public transport. We have more cars on the road, and more pollution in the air. It is cheaper to pay for parking in the CBD than it is to commute.
    The whole thing is a rort to gouge more money out of the public while providing them with less. Until public transport is seen as vital infrastructure, not a profit machine, nobody wins.
    I’m sorry to hear Sydney is being saddled with it too.

  11. If the Sydney system is anything like the Myki, people will end up paying less for public transport, because their card doesn’t work. Free trips for everybody!

  12. Given that using smart cards for all or parts of public transport is now common in numerous parts of the world (including most of the major cities Kath mentions), I’m not sure that it’s the technology that cause the problems, so much as how it is managed and the state’s investment in public transport. Cost aside, it does work fabulously in London, particularly I think for tourists, and less queues!

  13. Oh good, I was afraid I was the only person who couldn’t work this stuff out.
    One win is the removal of the “buy a concession ticket for your bike” rule. Apparently the new system couldn’t cope with yet another random policy (they’d have to sell concession cards to anyone who asked, I’d have to swipe twice to travel once). From their FAQ: What is the policy as an Opal card user for travelling with a bike? … You just need a valid Opal card for yourself.
    So that will knock 1/3 of the price off most of my travel (I ride to/from work but take the train when I’m tired or sick), but I doubt I’ll ever reach the 8 trips a week except when I’m sick.
    I do hope that I can break the 8 trip mark by riding my bike between alternate stations on the train. If so, that would be brilliant (ie, train from Central to Redfern, ride 600m to Mcdonaldtown, train to Newtown, ride to Erskineville (300m) or Petersham (500m), etc). The trains are frequent enough and my ride to work crosses enough lines that it might not be much slower to hit 8 trips on day one, then travel free the rest of the week 🙂

  14. I’ve lived in Melbourne and Myki was great for me – my train use is sufficiently random that their “always use the cheapest fare” option saved me a lot of faffing with prices and buying tickets. Plus the across the board discount (and the mobile fare checking people couldn’t check Myki for a long time, and the battery life is still miserable so it’s still fairly safe even now :). It takes a lot of the mental effort out of public transport. That plus a smartphone with a journey planner makes random PT use pretty much a no brainer.

  15. Sydney’s public transport will never make any sense until someone accepts that the only way to deal with the current pricing structure is to blow it up, and pretend it never happened.
    We need to look at places where public transport works, look at their pricing structures and start from scratch. We need to get over the ridiculous idea that ferries are some sort of luxury – they take massive pressure off the harbour crossings and are an essential part of our infrastructure. We need to average all the costs across the whole system, and make sure people are paying sensible fares from everywhere. And we need to get over the idea that it needs to be profitable, or even pay for itself.
    Until we build a system that works properly, and can carry enough people, it will run at a loss. Recognising that simple fact might even inspire someone to invest in building a cost effective public transport network. /rant

  16. Moz, as best I can make out from the fare information, using an Opal card again within 60 minutes means it counts as one “journey” for the purposes of the 8 trip rule. You’d therefore have to put a full day into short trips with long gaps between them to be eligible for the free travel for the rest of the week.
    In addition, due to the long gaps between each trip, you’d also be charged separately for each one, $2.31 each if you do them off-peak, so nearly $20 and 8+ hours of mucking around to get free travel for the rest of the week.
    Most ways I’ve come up with to game the system like that seem to have been anticipated in the fare rules.

  17. I’ve used a Go card and a Myki card. With the Go card, I was mainly around Surfer’s, doing a maximum of five zones of travel and found it to be economical and easy to understand. The fact that there’s no daily maximum was a bit poo, and I got charged for four trips one day because the “tickets” only last an hour (or was it two? I don’t remember). Most importantly vs. Myki; touch on was FAST. The old paper ticket system was a lot slower, and even Melbourne’s old Metcard system was slower by a smidge.
    Myki is a bit of a disaster. Kamco, the company who designed it, tried to put too much power in the cards themselves rather than trust in the speed of the previous Metcard reader/server links. Something’s gone wrong with the whole design process, and a Myki touch on takes around a second. Where with Metcard I had a rhythm down where I could stick my card in a barrier at a train station, retrieve it and not break stride before exiting the barriers, Myki’s touch off speed is slow enough that that’s no longer possible. I do hope there’s a Myki 2 coming out soon where the touch on is faster. The automatic extension of a 2-hour ticket into a daily while only charging you the difference between the two is very nice, though.
    Bryan: I’m pretty sure that if you go to the Myki info centre in Southern Cross Station, you can get two child concession cards tied into the same account; one for you to keep on you and one for your wife.

  18. Kath,
    Bit of a stretch to blame the fare increases on GoCard. Might have been other factors involved perhaps? Increases might have been worse without the GoCard efficiencies?

    • Ha! Nope, the GoCard is a massive rort the state government put in place to try to hoodwink the public into thinking that they were getting a good thing, while jacking the prices up steadily. We are now paying up to 60% more on trips than we were on paper tickets, there are no incentives to make more trips or use public transport over cars. Shiny technology was supposed to make us believe we were getting something special… not all of us are that blind.
      And the MyKi people are lucky, if the GoCard system fails, they slug you with a $10 fee and you have to jump through hoops to have it rectified.

  19. Kath: often the same thing happens with Myki. It’s a coin flip whether the Kamco’s back office will accept that a card broke from standard use. Replacement fees can run to $15 if the card is deemed damaged rather than defective, IIRC. I’m guessing that TransLink decided to dispense with both the coin flip and the pretence of fairness.
    Also, much like the Go card, Kamco’s original plan was to charge for replacement Mykis. When the state government was threatened with a lynching at the next election over it, the policy was loudly and swiftly changed to a direct swap-over.

  20. Gah, just re-read that last comment of mine above. s/the Kamco/Kamco and s/charge for replacement Mykis/charge to replace expired Mykis

%d bloggers like this: