A NSW public transport advocacy group has lambasted Transport for NSW for shoving seniors and pensioners “to the end of the queue’’ while they wait for the Gold Opal Seniors/Pensioners card to be rolled out.
Action for Public Transport’s spokesman Jim Donovan said he didn’t understand why the Gold Opal Card, which offers benefits like cheaper off-peak travel and free journeys, was still not available for seniors and pensioners.
Opal Cards were rolled out for adults, children and young people from December 2012, starting with Sydney Ferries and followed by trains and buses, although they are still not yet accepted on some bus routes or on light rail.
The smartcard is intended to finally deliver Sydney and surrounds an integrated public transport ticketing solutions after a decade-long attempt to introduce the ill-fated Tcard was scrapped after and landed the then Labor government and supplier ERG at loggerheads in court.
But with conspicuous progress being made for mainstream travellers, the elderly, less able and less wealthy are getting impatient with why they are still waiting to get an Opal smartcard.
“We understand the only reason is that it got put to the end of the queue,” Mr Donovan said.
“I don’t know why, as it would be the card requiring the smallest amount of programming given the fare, which is a flat $2.50, unless you can make it less on particular short trips.”
The tap-on, tap-off electronic travel cards offer 30 per cent cheaper off-peak travel and free travel on any transport mode after completing eight paid journeys in a week. The cards are currently only available to adults paying full fare, children and young people.
Students still cannot buy concessionary Opal Cards yet either.
Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian has given assurances that the Opal Gold Senior/Pensioner card will be released “by the end of 2014” and that daily fares will remain capped at $2.50 once the card comes in.
Short trips may cost less than $2.50 since Opal fares are calculated on distance travelled.
“When the Gold Senior/Pensioner Opal card is made available, customers will have the choice to either use Opal or keep buying paper Pensioner Excursion Tickets (PET). I really want to make that very clear – the choice is yours,” Ms Berejiklian said.
“You will not need a credit card or access to the internet to use your Gold Senior/Pensioner Opal card. The Gold Senior/Pensioner Opal card will not cost anything to get, and customers will be able to manually top it up with cash if they want to,” she said.
She said Opal Cards for pensioners and seniors would have “a much smaller start-up and minimum top-up value than the adult card,” but exact costs have not yet been released.
People buying Adult Opal Cards must load them with $40 when they first buy them and children and young people start with $20.
A Transport NSW spokesperson said the staged roll out was planned from the start.
“We have always said the roll out of Opal will be progressive and the Gold Seniors/ Pensioner Opal card and Concession Opal card will be released later in the roll out when more services are activated with Opal,” the spokesperson said.
“Opal is now on all suburban and intercity trains, Sydney Ferries and more than 1,750 buses. By the end of the year Opal will be available on 5,000 buses and light rail will follow in early 2015.”
Amelia Christie from the Combined Pensioners and Superannuants Association told Government News that older people were anxious about Opal Cards, partly because they didn’t know when they were being introduced, how they worked or where to buy and top them up.
“We’ve had quite a lot of concern about Opal from people because they don’t know how it affects them and how to go about it,” Ms Christie said.
“A lot of it is the unknown because it hasn’t come out yet. The crucial thing is that people can speak to someone about it and get all the details. They want to get details from an actual person and they can’t seem to get that from transport staff.”
Opposition transport spokeswoman Penny Sharpe said staff at train station counters were often asked about Opal cards but were forbidden to help.
The government has promised that 1000 retail outlets, near stations, will sell Opal Cards from next Sunday and customers will be able to pay cash. Pop-up kiosks will begin selling them soon.
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