August 1 is D-Day for public transport passengers who have not yet bought an Opal card, with the threat of fines of up to $550 if passengers do not possess an Opal card or a single use ticket before travelling, as criticisms of the new regime roll in.
While NSW Transport has promised leniency for passengers boarding without a ticket or an Opal card – they can receive a caution rather than an on-the-spot fine – there have been complaints that there are insufficient ticket and top-up machines and stories of long queues or of machines being broken.
How much leniency ticket inspectors are able to show is open to question. Transport NSW has a list of unacceptable excuses on its website which includes: “I’ve lost my ticket”, “I was running late” and “I didn’t know what kind of ticket to buy.”
Interestingly, putting your feet on the seats or littering can incur a fine of up to $1,100: twice the cost of the maximum penalty for fare evasion.
A spokesperson for Transport NSW said transport officers had been told to exercise restraint in the early stages of the new system.
“From next week staff will educate customers who genuinely appear to have not realised that paper tickets were being retired on 1 August. They will explain all customers require an appropriate Opal card or Opal single trip ticket to travel.
“Staff as usual will use discretion when dealing with customers who are genuinely confused on the arrangements for travelling, however customers need to understand that fines apply to those people trying to rort the situation to evade paying their fare.”
The Opposition has claimed that the Baird Government is “picking on pensioners and seniors” by not allowing them to access discounted single use tickets. The single tickets that are sold cost at least 20 per cent more than using an Opal card.
While it’s simple to buy Opal cards for adults or children from retailers, the Gold Opal card for discount travel for seniors, pensioners or those on income support must be ordered online and can take up to 10 days to arrive in the post.
Shadow Transport Minister Jodi McKay said the government had not done enough to communicate how long it took to get an Opal card.
“There will be plenty of pensioners out there who won’t have got the message that today is the last day they have to apply for an Opal card,” Ms McKay said.
“The government is removing choice and forcing pensioners to go online to top up their card when for many older people they like the convenience of going to a booth to pay cash.”
Shadow Minister for Ageing Sophie Cotsis said Premier Mike Baird was forcing pensioners to get a Gold Opal card, event thought it could easily sell them a $2.50 single use ticket, the concession price.
“When it comes to our public transport system, pensioners and seniors are being left disadvantaged. The government is making it harder for seniors and pensioners to travel in NSW,” Ms Cotsis said. “This means that pensioners who use public transport infrequently or who leave their Gold Opal Card at home will be forced to pay a higher price for a single use ticket. It’s not fair.”
NSW Labor is demanding the government makes discounted tickets available from machines for concession card holders and to give people longer to get an Opal card.
Other concerns have arisen from non-governmental organisations, who say that doing away with paper tickets could penalise homeless people because they need to apply for a Gold Opal card online and get it delivered to a secure address.
Some organisations used to give those in need single bus or train tickets or the $2.50 all-day concession fare but this is no longer possible.
Meanwhile with the demise of paper tickets, the Tourism and Transport Forum Australia is renewing its push for a tourist Opal card, similar to those available in cities like London, Paris and Stockholm to make things simpler for visitors.
CEO of TTF, Margy Osmond said tourist tickets should be tied into discounts for entry into major tourist attractions, such as Taronga Zoo.
“Visitors, holidaymakers and business delegates are not your average city commuter. They are here for a limited period and are looking for a transport solution that is easy to understand and takes the confusion out of loading travel cards with money,” Ms Osmond said.
“In other cities across Australia and the world, local transport agencies have developed dedicated tourist travel cards that make it easy to hop on a train, bus, tram or ferry to see the sights.
“They also provide the opportunity to be packaged as part of a broader tourism experience with access or discounts for major attractions, exhibitions and cultural institutions included with the card.”
For its part, the NSW government is heralding the final roll-out of Opal cards and the banishment of paper tickets as a thumping success.
NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance said eight million Opal cards had been issued since their introduction in December 2012, with 350,000 sold in the last month, as passengers became aware of paper tickets stopping.
“Today is the start of a new and exciting chapter in our public transport system,” Mr Constance said. “Once you get your Opal it’s in your wallet or purse and you don’t have to worry about it again.”
He said that customers who left their cards at home by mistake could still buy a single trip ticket for trains or light rail stations or ferry wharfs, or on board buses and that there were more than 2,000 retail outlets where people could buy adult or child Opal cards.
“The best way to beat the queues at top up machines is to set your card to auto top up via your debit card or download the Opal Travel App so you can top up on the go on your mobile phone,” Mr Constance said.