The uptake of the new travel smart card named after the NSW state’s gemstone, black opal, appears to be going well with Opal card readers at train stations and ferry wharves fully online. But how come buses are lagging so far behind?
On April 11 2014, news.com.au reported that ‘While it’s progressing ahead of schedule, Ms Berejiklian warns that finishing the rollout across more than 5000 buses “is the most challenging phase, technologically and operationally”.’
Be that as it may (5000 buses means 10,000 Opal readers in total, which is a lot of readers) why hasn’t the government published a timetable for the roll out? A quick glance at the NSW Hansard reveals that neither the opposition, the independents, nor public transport advocate Greens MP Jamie Parker, have taken the NSW Minister for Transport Gladys Berejiklian to task on the question.
So all we know is all we have been told. According to the Opal website ‘The rollout to the entire bus network (both government and privately operated buses) will be completed by the end of 2014.’
Sydney residents who use their Opal card for train and ferry travel during the week, are being forced to purchase paper based MyZone tickets for the bus-leg of their journey, having to dip into their pockets twice to use public transport which by Opal card standards should be free. A basic explanation of how the Opal card works will help bring into focus the unfairness of the current two-tiered system.
After 8 paid journeys during an ‘Opal week’, which starts on a Monday and ends on a Sunday, commuters travel for free. Therefore, if you use your Opal card everyday to and from work, from Friday through to Sunday your card is not charged for riding Sydney’s public transport network. This is irrelevant if you also rely on a bus service that is not included in the Opal trial – which at the moment is limited to private bus operated routes in Berejiklian’s seat of Willoughby, O’Farrell’s seat of Ku-ring-gai, Jonathan O’Dea’s Liberal seat of Davidson, and a handful of government operated routes in Liberal member Gabrielle Upton’s seat of Vaucluse.
By keeping the timetable for the Opal roll out secret, it does not require political genius to figure out that Berejiklian is playing her cards close to her chest. But having finally ushered in the sort of sophisticated public transport ticketing solution the state needs, the Government is in such a politically unassailable position that Berejiklian could easily overrun published timelines without losing too much skin during Question Time.
In the mean time, for those of us bravely answering the emphatic cry to take up the Opal card, the full financial benefits and convenience of using one card to travel across Sydney without a private vehicle, remains a vision splendid – a vision most of us are paying double for. Knowing roughly when the local bus route will be Opal card enabled will go some way toward easing the pain presently being experienced in the hip-pocket.