Have visitors who spend billions of dollars in Sydney each year been left behind by the city’s popular public transport wonder ticket, the Opal Card?
Australia’s peak national tourism and transport lobby group, the Tourism and Transport Forum (TTF) seems to think so.
The highly influential business body is pushing the state government to release a dedicated Opal Card for visitors that combines unlimited public transport with tickets to Sydney’s major tourist attractions.
It’s an interesting idea, not least because it illustrates that government projects that are successful in one part of the community can quickly lead to heightened expectations in other sectors.
Sydney commuters have not only learned quickly to tap-on and tap-off using their new cards, but also embraced the fare discounting regime that rewards greater regular usage thanks to a sustained advertising and community engagement campaign that accompanied the rollout.
But for visitors to the NSW capital , especially first timers, it can be difficult to guess how and when they might use the pre-paid ticket and what that might cost, not to mention trying to figure out how and where to reload it.
Most times, visitors just want to jump on a ferry, bus or train quickly and with a minimum of fuss.
To bridge the gap, the TTF is now agitating for one, three and five-day Opal cards to remove the confusion it says tourists and travellers to Sydney confront when trying to figure out their ticket to the city.
Chief Executive of TTF, Margy Osmond, said although the Opal card had been “a stunning success” its full potential to whizz visitors around the city more efficiently had not yet been fully unlocked.
“The old system was based around ten trips per week – one for getting to and from work each day – but the TravelTen also presented an easy-to-grasp product for visitors,” Ms Osmond said.
“By contrast, the Opal card is encouraging people to use public transport outside of these ten trips: to get around on the weekend, to go to the shops, and to travel to meetings. It is not currently very easy for non-residents to buy or understand.”
That may smooth sales of the tap-and-go ticket, however the TTF believes there’s also space on the smartcard’s chip to integrate tickets to major Sydney tourist attractions like Luna Park or Taronga Zoo.
That functionality could also be extended to locals too.
“A more sophisticated system of integrated ticketing should also be considered,” Ms Osmond said.
“Simplifying access to these attractions would make life easier for visitors and bring NSW up to world’s-best practice.”
Transport NSW said that Opal cards were currently available on the spot at 1,800 retail outlets, including at all 7-elevens and Sydney Airport, as well as online.
And last year, NSW Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian announced a trial of 350 ticket machines, due to start this year, which will eventually sell disposable tickets and allow people could pay cash – perfect for visitors.
A Transport NSW spokesperson said many tourists commented on how easy it was to get an Opal card.
“Before Opal, tourists had to try and figure out which paper ticket to buy depending on where they were travelling, which mode of transport they were catching and what time of day it was. With Opal, locals and visitors only need to get a card once to travel on trains, buses, Sydney Ferries and light rail,” the spokesperson said.
“The Opal card itself is free, unlike other cities such as Melbourne where a Myki card costs $6.00 or London where an Oyster card requires a 5 UK Pounds deposit before you can put any value on it and travel.”
Other Australian states and cities are already in on the combination menu for transport tickets.
Victoria has a ticket aimed at tourists to Melbourne and regional Victoria: the myki.
The myki visitor value pack includes a myki card preloaded for one day’s travel in zones 1 and 2 and discount offers to 15 Melbourne and regional attractions, such as the Melbourne Aquarium. It can also be used on some bus routes from Melbourne Airport. The full fare pack costs $14, including $8 myki money for travel, while the value pack for concession, child or seniors costs $7 and includes $4 myki money for travel.
Buying one is also pretty straightforward because myki cards are sold at hotel concierges and accommodation providers, the Melbourne Visitor Centre, SkyBus terminals and at Melbourne Airport and Southern Cross Station.
Queensland has the Translink SEEQ Card, aimed specifically at visitors, which allows tourists to travel from three to five consecutive days on all Translink bus, train, ferry or tram services around South East Queensland that costs $79 to $129 full fare or $40 to $65 for children. It also includes offers on accommodation and various tourist attractions.
However Perth’s SmartRider and Adelaide’s Metrocard, like Sydney, are yet to develop specific travel smartcards for visitors.
TTF reckons that a tailored Visitor Opal could also offer different and unique products customised to the needs of visitors – for example, unlimited travel across the network for set periods of time.
The group thinks one, three or five day unlimited passes would encourage visitors to see more of Sydney and spread the benefit of their visit right across the city and nearby regions, like the Blue Mountains, that are also plugged into Opal.
“However, as a first step, the Opal card should be available for both public and private ferry services in order to enhance the offering of an Opal visitor product and encourage a fair, competitive environment.”
“Specific Opal products for business events like conventions or exhibitions should also be introduced. The availability of unlimited transport for the duration of an event would significantly improve Sydney’s offering in what is a very competitive international market.
“This type of temporary, event-specific travel card is already under consideration in Queensland, where a G20 GoCard was distributed to attendees and media delegates to facilitate their stay and promote the event.”
Visitors to Sydney should find travelling on public transport much simpler when new Opal card machines come into some train stations, ferry wharves and light rail stops from next year.
NSW Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian has responded to earlier criticisms that passengers cannot top up or buy Opal cards from a train station window but must instead buy them online or at a nearby store, by announcing a test run of about 350 new machines over the next year.
The new Opal card machines will initially only allow top up facilities using existing Opal cards with debit or credit cards but it will be possible later to buy disposable tickets and pay cash using the machines – ideal for tourists and other visitors to Sydney.