(Backdated. Posted 14/11/2014.)
During the Sydney trip I tried out Opal card, and M got one as well to try.
It’s worth remembering that although the system is provided by Cubic, who built London’s Oyster system, its cost is not insubstantial — $1.2 billion over 15 years. It’s not quite as expensive, but is in the ballpark as Myki ($1.5 billion over ten years).
Obtaining and topping up
I ordered mine online; it arrived by post within about a week. They’re only available online, or via retailers. Not stations.
Same with topping up, which is heavily restricted as to the amounts you can use. At retailers it’s $10, $20 etc. Online it’s only $40, $80, $120…! At least online topup is fast — one hour vs Myki’s “up to 24 hours” (though in practice Myki is often faster).
The cards are free, but with a minimum top-up.
It’s unclear if they will make buying and topping-up more widely available in future or not. One local contact believes they plan to push Auto Topup for most users — this of course is impractical for most tourists.
For now the paper (magnetic stripe) ticket machines remain in use, and presumably will be kept for some time, alongside Opal — perhaps indefinitely as a single use ticket option?
This is what really matters: from the first trip on the airport train on the first day, to the last use late on Saturday night, it was easy. Tap on, tap off (and that’s the language they use). The response times on stations, buses and ferries seemed uniformly fast, unlike Myki (which changed its language from “scan” to “touch” when it became obvious the response times wouldn’t be fast enough for “scan”).
The fare gates and buses still take the mag stripe tickets as well. Suburban stations and ferry stops had standalone readers on poles, which are a lot nicer looking than the Myki or Go Card ones. (Unlike in Brisbane, which has readers on the ferries, Sydney’s are on the wharves.)
The balance/status was shown on each tap on a colour screen… but it doesn’t stay up if you hold the card to it, as with Myki.
The fares are confusing.
Sydney is keeping its segmented fare system, and the base fares are reasonably priced, but the different modes are all charged separately.
Change from bus to bus? Or train to train? Ferry to ferry? All free, as long as the next trip is less than an hour later. (The light rail is not yet on Opal.)
Mix the modes? You get charged again, with no discount. It means the fares can quickly add up — on one day we took all three modes, and it ended up costing about double what similar travel might have
costed cost in Melbourne.
No free transfer between modes has big implications for the network, and helps explain why so many Sydney bus routes run all the way into the city, duplicating trains.
Apparently there are hints that fares will be reformed in the future, but nothing is confirmed.
There are caps to stop costs getting too out of hand. This I found somewhat confusing.
It’s 8 journeys then free for the rest of the week, so if you travel a lot at the start of the week, you’ll find the rest of your travel until Sunday is free. I knew about this one, but expected (rightly) that we wouldn’t get to the 8, even with a fair bit of moseying around.
There’s also a $15 per day cap (a bargain $2.50 on Sundays). We hit the $15 cap on Saturday, via multiple train, ferry and bus trips.
The caps replace most of the weekly/monthly/yearly options on the old ticket system. There have been complaints that a lot of people end up paying more overall under the new system.
I didn’t know (or had forgotten) about the $15 cap, and we ended up unnecessarily topping up our cards as I thought we needed to pay a few more fares on our travels.
But we hit the $15 cap on Saturday, and ended up with balances above the top-up levels, meaning we would have never hit zero if we hadn’t topped-up. So we needn’t have bothered. Perhaps… or not? Unlike Myki the minimum balance to tap-on and keep travelling isn’t zero — it’s the minimum possible fare: $2.10 for buses, $3.30 for trains, and $5.60 for ferries. This reflects that the card itself is free, though you could still drive the balance below zero by then making a trip that’s a longer distance.
So if we hadn’t topped-up, even though we hit the daily cap, I don’t know if we’d have been able to keep tapping-on to travel, because we would have been below the minimum balance.
As it is, I have $20.28 left on my card ready for my next trip to Sydney. It seems you can get an unused balance refunded by returning the card — but only paid into an Australian bank account or via a cheque, so impractical for overseas tourists.
Finally, the web site. It’s good. Obviously it’s relatively new. The Myki web site appears not to have been revamped since its original design probably in about 2007.
The transaction list updated a little slowly for buses, but quickly for trains and ferries (which have fixed readers). It’s a lot more readable because it shows the data by trip, rather than by individual transaction/touch like Myki does.
Over three days (not the most exhaustive test), I found the Opal system reliable and fast (consistently faster than the notoriously inconsistent Myki), but there are very limited top-up options (and it’s unclear if this will be fixed), and fare system leaves a lot to be desired (ditto).