Gold Opal card still not quite the ticket

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Scene from a NSW government ad campaign to encourage pensioners to buy Gold Opal cards.

Seniors and pensioners can finally tap on and tap off on NSW public transport with the launch of the Gold Opal card last week, but seniors working 20 hours a week or more and students remain empty-handed.

The Gold Opal card became available to NSW seniors, pensioner concession cardholders and NSW war widows last week, online or over the phone, with travel capped at $2.50 a day but NSW seniors who work 20 hours a week or more who hold a National Pensioners Card, not a NSW pension card, will be left out in the cold.

Gabriel Donleavy, Chair of the National Seniors NSW Policy Advisory Group, welcomed the arrival of the Gold Opal card but said he was disappointed the Gold Opal was not extended to all of the state’s pensioners.

“When you buy a ($2.50 concession) ticket at the station or in a shop you can present your National Seniors Pension Card but if you’re trying to buy an Opal card online you must have a NSW Pension Card,” Mr Donleavy said.

“It’s discriminating against the over 60s who are still working twenty hours a week. Why would you do that for the richer seniors who are working? Because you want to encourage them onto public transport and out of their cars.”

But Transport NSW said the decision was out of its hands and laid the blame for discriminating against pensioners working more than 20 hours a week at the NSW government’s feet.

“Later in the rollout, interstate customers with a seniors card will be eligible for a Gold Opal card. These customers can continue to buy paper Pensioner Excursion tickets,” a Transport NSW spokesperson added.

The anomaly appears even more short-sighted when Treasurer Joe Hockey’s move in the May budget to extend the retirement age to 70 by 2035 is considered.

Many pensioners will be working later in life, and longer hours, particularly if they have to wait longer to access their pension and superannuation or have few savings.

NSW Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian said seniors and pensioner concession cardholders would still be able to buy $2.50 paper pensioner excursion tickets well into the future but the government has previously stated that it has a long-term commitment to a paperless ticket system.

“Let me assure everyone that the gold senior/pensioner Opal card is not compulsory, and rest assured that the paper pensioner excursion ticket will continue to be available on Monday, November 3, and well into the future,” Ms Berejiklian said on Friday.

More than 7,000 people bought Gold Opal cards online or over the phone on the first day of the card’s release.

Ms Berejiklian added that some journeys would cost Gold Opal card holders even less than $2.50 per day.

For example, a bus trip of less than three kilometres would only cost $1.05 and a train trip of less than 10 kilometres outside peak hour would cost $1.15.

A NSW Transport spokesperson said concession Opal cards for students were ‘on track’ to be launched next year but she did not reply when asked whether domestic students from outside NSW or foreign students would be eligible for the travel cards.

Pensioners can buy an Opal cards by calling 136 725, or visiting www.opal.com.au. Like other Opal cards, the Gold Opal can be topped up at retailers or automatically.

Pensioners can top up the cards with a minimum $2.50 or link their cards to their bank accounts.

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