Opal creep: average fares rise 10 per cent since ticketing overhaul

Passengers using their Opal cards at Hurstville station.
Passengers using their Opal cards at Hurstville station.

The average Opal fare that passengers pay for using NSW's public transport has risen by 10 per cent since an overhaul of ticketing just over a year ago, delivering revenue of about $30 million a week to the state government, internal figures show.

While a regulated fare rise in July was kept to inflation, the figures obtained by Fairfax Media under freedom of information laws show commuters have actually paid more for their travel since the changes to the fare structure in September 2016.

Opal card users at Sutherland station.

Opal card users at Sutherland station.

The average Opal fare has risen by 10 per cent to $2.37, from $2.16 in the five weeks before passengers' entitlement to free travel after eight paid journeys in a week was replaced with half-price fares. The increase in the average fare includes the 2.4 per cent rise imposed by the government on July 3.

In the three weeks to November 19 – the most recent period for which figures were released – the government collected an average of almost $30 million a week, a 16 per cent rise on the weeks immediately before the fare structure overhaul.

The details about the rise in the cost of travel comes as Sydney commuters experienced a chaotic week on the city's rail network. Despite the major disruptions, the government has rejected calls for passengers to receive fare refunds.

A recent report by the NSW Auditor-General also shows that the revenue collected over any week from Opal fares has altered considerably since the changes.

While average Opal revenue on Mondays to Thursdays rose by up to 25 per cent in the year to June, revenue surged by 62 per cent on Fridays, 78 per cent on Saturdays and 108 per cent on Sundays, according to Transport for NSW data.

That change is likely to reflect both commuters gaining half-price fares after eight paid trips in a week – instead of free trips previously – and an increase in public transport patronage.

Opal card holders get a $2 rebate when they switch transport modes. Photo: Michele Mossop

Opal card holders get a $2 rebate when they switch transport modes. Photo: Michele Mossop

The data showed the total value of half-price or free travel by passengers using Opal cards fell by $22 million to $300 million in the 12 months to June.

Labor leader Luke Foley said the latest figures confirmed that average fares had increased by more than five times the rate of inflation.

"Whether it is electricity bills, tolls or transport, the cost of living under the Berejiklian government continues to rise, meanwhile wage growth is at anaemic levels," he said.

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But Transport for NSW said the Opal card continued to be a "convenient and affordable way" for people to travel on public transport.

The agency cited a PricewaterhouseCoopers analysis that found the average Opal fare of $2.37 at present was "still significantly less" than the average public transport fare in 2012 of $3.41.

"The 2016 changes and an increase in patronage contributed to a small increase in weekly revenue and also a small increase in the average fare," it said.

"The changes were also designed to disrupt the various versions of Opal running, a form of fare rorting, taking place at light rail stations and between some train stations."

One major element of the changes in late 2016 was a reduction of the fare penalty faced by commuters who use multiple modes of transport – for instance, changing from a bus to a train.

That reform had long been recommended by transport experts, and means commuters gain a $2 "transfer discount" against the cost of paying twice when they switch transport modes.

The rebate is $1 for holders of Opal cards for seniors, pensioners, children and other people eligible for concessions.

The state's Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal has estimated that only a quarter of the cost of public transport is covered by passengers.

Transport for NSW told the Auditor-General that the fare structure change did not appear to have impacted overall public transport usage.


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