Sydney Trains: the world’s your Opal?

Opal_card_adult_largeOK, so Sydney now has the Opal card to use across the entire Transport NSW train, bus, ferry and light rail network – whoopee! Finally, we’re just like every other modern city in the world! But what’s with the whacked pricing?

Opal may have introduced the convenience of electronic card-based ticketing and automatic payments, but the logic applied to ticket pricing is utterly ludicrous – not to mention that it’s, quite possibly, all-but unchanged from pre-Opal pricing. While those living ~75km or more from their destination benefit from the capped journey cost of $8.30, there’s little or no incentive for anyone living within relatively short distances of where they want to go to get there by train.

Example 1: I catch the train home from Town Hall station. The total station-to-station distance is 11.84km. The cost of that trip during peak time is $4.20 – or $0.35/km.

Example 2: I leave work and travel from Town Hall station to Sydenham, where I go for one or two (or a few) (or ten) refreshing beverages with a friend. Three hours later I catch another train home from Sydenham. The first trip, taken during peak time, costs $3.38, while the second one, outside of peak time, costs $2.36. The total station-to-station distance across the two trips is still 11.84km, but because I get off the first train and later join another train to complete my journey, the total cost increases to $5.74 – or $0.48/km.

But wait – there’s more. If I somehow manage to get off the first train, meet my friend, inhale a few drinks and catch the second train while it’s still peak fare time, as long as I leave enough time between leaving the station (aka “tapping off”) and returning to it (aka “tapping on”) so that the system doesn’t think I’m just making a connection, then the second trip will also cost $3.38, further inflating the cost of the total journey to $6.76, or $0.57/km.

Opal_card_pensioner_largeThe inequity doesn’t end there, either. Sydney Trains somehow believe it’s fair to charge me at a rate of $0.39/km for my first 8½km journey, but at a rate of $1.02/km for the second 3.3km journey.

In a nutshell, the closer I am to where I want to be, the greater the penalty I pay for the convenience of using Sydney Trains.

Part of me wants to protest loudly at the prejudice of it all and insist that Sydney Trains’ entire ticket pricing schedule should be laid out on a per kilometre basis, so that everyone pays for the distance travelled, whatever that distance happens to be. But then, another part of me thinks, “hang on a minute: of course that’s how it is! Of course you have to pay more! Of course those who live further away pay less per kilometre than you do!”. I guess it’s a bit obvious, to some extent – of course that’s the way it works. Or is it? Or, more to the point, why should it be?

If Sydney Trains can see fit to cap the cost of a single ticket at $8.30 – thus guaranteeing that someone travelling to, say, the International Airport from, say, Wollongong, Katoomba or Newcastle does so at a rate of between 5c and 11c per kilometre – then why can’t they also guarantee that I don’t pay $1.33/km to go the two stations from my home to the Airport? It’s even worse when the utterly absurd International and Domestic Airport “Station Access Fee” is added to the equation: while is still only costs travellers from Wollongong, Katoomba or Newcastle between 13c and 28c per kilometre, I’m charged an appalling $6.45/km to reach the same destination. In which universe is this in any way likely to encourage me not to add to Sydney’s already horribly congested roads? If it was just me, there mightn’t be any debate, but if I was heading to the airport with just one other person the choice between a cab or a train would be a no-brainer.

Opal_card_child_largeSo I get free trips everywhere for the rest of the week once I’ve used my Opal card 8 times, do I? Excellent news for anyone who either religiously takes the train to and from work more than four times a week or takes train trips to and from any other destination more than four times a week and who also doesn’t then have their routine thrown out by weather, illness, offsite work activities, rostered days off, annual leave, family commitments or anything else that might prevent them taking the eight trip minimum required to bag those freebies. Even Opal’s 60 minute interchange rule conveniences me right out of any way of rorting the system during the working day, despite Gladys Berejiklian claiming that she wanted everyone to be able to “beat the system”. No, it seems the average traveller will have to be satisfied with their two “free” trips per week, despite the fact that anyone who routinely travels within a fairly limited area is more likely to be penalised than rewarded.

And let’s not even get started on Opal users who take buses, ferries and light rail and are now actually paying more than they used to! I’ll stash that one away for another rant.

So thank you, Sydney Trains, and thank you, Gladys Berejiklian. Opal may seem a pearl to anyone who lives a long way from where they work, but for those who don’t suffer the tyranny of distance it’s not quite the gem you sold us.

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