Opal Ticket Barriers

4 things to look out for with the new Opal fares

The Opal fare structure is changing starting next Monday (4th September). Here are 4 facts you need to know about the new Opal fare structure:

1. $2 rebate for switching modes

If you have to transfer between different modes of public transport, you’d know you’re being charged a lot more than someone else travelling the same distance on just one mode of transport.

That’s because Opal calculates fares on distance, but doesn’t carry over the distance when switching modes (e.g. switching from a bus to a train).

To solve this, Opal will introduce a “multi-modal” $2 rebate every time you switch between two different modes of transport. For commuters who have half-priced fares (such as child/youth, concession or seniors), this rebate will be $1 to reflect that fares are also half the price.

2. Weekly travel reward, now 50% off

When Opal was first launched in 2012, a travel reward was added to incentivise users to switch. After 8 journeys per week, subsequent trips made on public transport were free (except for the gate fee at Sydney Airport).

Some commuters took advantage of this quirk by accumulating cheap, pointless journeys early in the week to get free trips later in the week. Opal will now block this quirk by making fares half-price after the first 8 journeys, rather than free.

3. $2 rebate won’t work between Light Rail and Ferry

Due to technical limitations, Opal card users won’t receive a $2 rebate when switching from a ferry to a light rail service. It’s not too much of a problem at the moment as it will only affect commuters who switch between the F4 ferry and the L1 light rail service at Pyrmont Bay.

For commuters in Newcastle, the Stockton ferry is considered a bus for fare calculation purposes and so, are unaffected by this technical limitation.

Opal says the issue will be fixed by the time the CBD and South East Light Rail is completed in 2019, when Circular Quay will become a major ferry/train/light rail interchange.

4. Tap off to get the $2 rebate

It’s more important than ever to tap-off correctly. The multi-modal $2 rebate is only applied if you tap-off correctly on your previous trip.

If you forget, not only will you miss out on the rebate — you’ll be charged a full “default fare” AND your journey might not count towards your 8 journeys per week to get half-priced fares.

St Kilda Pier

Frugal Ken: Melbourne day trip

There’s never been a more exciting time to take day trips to Melbourne.

The $18 tickets

Some months ago, I saw on OzBargain that Tigerair was doing one of its typical promotions — $18 flights from Sydney to Melbourne. Having never been to Melbourne at the time, I pounced and bought a ticket. At that price, I thought, I could afford to write it off if I can’t make it.

Promptly, I selected the two cheapest days: a Sunday departure and Wednesday night return.

A change of plans

Months had passed and I had forgotten about my booking. However, last week, the ever reliable Google Now eagerly reminded me of my “upcoming Melbourne trip”. That’s when I looked at my flight details again and realised I had a problem with my return flight on Wednesday. Unknown to me at the time of booking, this semester, I have classes to attend on Tuesdays.

The solution? I’ll do a day trip and take the Melbourne-Sydney XPT train to return. I had already purchased a NSW TrainLink Discovery Pass which allows unlimited travel on the NSW regional train network but had never done the Melbourne/Sydney run.

A quick tip for people who are planning to redeem only part of your plane ticket: all Australian airlines I’m aware of require you to start your journey with the first flight in your itinerary when you booked. In my case, for example, I could not have taken a train to Melbourne and returned on the Tigerair flight.

Saturday night, I booked the last available seat on a packed Melbourne-Sydney XPT and by 5:40AM the following morning — I was off to the domestic airport on the bus route 400 (the route that basically goes everywhere in the Eastern Suburbs).

Maccas for breakfast

As is customary for typical Uni students, I opted for a quick breakfast at the recently refurbished McDonald’s in the T2 terminal. I got myself a tomato and ham pocket which was far slimmer than advertised and a bacon and egg mcmuffin laced with bonus egg shells. Yum.

The flight

As you would expect with budget airlines, the seats are tight. Fortunately, the flight was short and with my slim build the journey was painless enough.

Plus, since I had originally booked the flight with a friend who couldn’t make it, I had a spare seat next to me. That was a nice bonus!

Tigerair Airbus landed at Melbourne Tullamarine Airport
Tigerair Airbus at Melbourne Tullamarine Airport

SkyBus to St Kilda

Those who travel to Melbourne frequently would know that the SkyBus is pretty much the only way to get from Tullamarine to the CBD (alternatively, you could get a cab).

Normally priced at $19 one way, the bus trip costs more than flight itself. However, in an unlikely coincidence, SkyBus was launching its St Kilda Express on the same day. For the week, the company will make the bus service free of charge as an introductory promotion.

The bus arrives once every hour during the weekend and takes you directly to St Kilda. However, the timetable probably requires some tweaking. Upon arrival at the first stop in St Kilda (Barkly Street), the bus arrived 10-15 minutes earlier than scheduled.

Since the bus acted both as pick up to the Airport and set down from the Airport, we had to wait for the timetabled departure so we didn’t miss picking up any passengers.

Weekend myki daily cap

myki travel in Zone 1 is capped at an affordable $6 on weekends. While one can say this is not as good as the $2.50 Sundays on Opal, I would have to say that Melbourne definitely has a more convenient public transport system than Sydney.

The convenience of the tram system and no-penalty multi-modal transfers means I don’t have to think twice about switching between trams, trains or buses for that matter.

“Soggy copper heartland”

For those readers who have been following the NBN debate for some time, you may be aware that the copper network in Williamstown, Victoria might not be that great. The “soggy copper” in Williamstown, as our former communications minister Senator Conroy puts it. nbn has recently began construction in the area, so I thought I’d drop by for a look to see if I can spot some nodes.

Disappointingly, there was no NBN nodes in sight despite the area being in build. I did spot some recently remediated Telstra pits though.

XPT return

This was the first time I’d done Sydney to Melbourne trip. Surprisingly, the train was basically fully booked. As a regular commuter on the North Coast Line, this was an unusual sight — I rarely see a fully booked train.

On time and as expected, the train departed at 8 from one of the few platforms in Southern Cross station which had dual gauge lines (Platform 1).

The budget

So how much did this day trip cost me? Just over $50 🙂

Melbourne Day Trip Budget

Few things to note there:

  • Since I’d booked a return flight — I paid an extra $18 for a flight I never redeemed.
  • I have a NSW TrainLink Discovery Pass which means my train ticket was “free”.
  • SkyBus: St Kilda Express was free this week; would have normally cost $19.


Costs aside, it was really nice to have a day off to relax a bit and explore the beautiful city of Melbourne.

2016 Senate Election tibits

Every election, the AEC releases what are effectively digitised versions of every single “formal” Senate ballot paper in the election.  This year, NSW’s dataset is a 1.06GB CSV file.

Since the Senate voting rules have changed, I thought I’d have a bit of fun and take a look at how well Australians (specifically NSW voters) followed these new rules.

‘Below the line’ vs. ‘Above the line’ voting

First off, let’s look at below the line vs above the line voting.  The new rules suggest voters place at least 12 boxes below the line or 6 boxes above the line.  I use the word “suggest” because incomplete votes are still “saved” under new savings provisions which came with the changed rules.

Let’s take a look at the NSW breakdown of formal Senate votes:

  • Below the line*: 185,387
  • Above the line*: 4,234,502
  • Unspecified**: 72,310

* For the purpose of this summary, ballots considered ‘below the line’ if they do not contain numbers marked ‘above the line’.  Ballots considered ‘above the line’ are the inverse. ** Unspecified ballots are ballots saved by various ‘savings provisions’ and are still considered formal votes.  For example, these could include ballots where the voter placed ‘1’ above the line and 2-6 below the line.

Voting below the line

The new voting rules made it easier for voters to vote “below the line”.  Not only did voters not have to fill in every single box on the paper, the savings provisions are more generous than ever making more incorrectly filled ballots considered “formal”.

The missing ‘1’: Right off the rank, there is a data anomaly from these generous savings provisions.  There were more below the line voters which had placed a ‘2’ in their ballot paper then voters who had placed a ‘1’ below the line.  Around 2,054 “below the line” ballots neglected the ‘1’ compared to 608 voters who neglected the ‘2’.

Voting only ‘6’ below the line: Many voters also got confused with the 6 “above the line” or 12 “below the line”.  Around 2.5% of NSW below the line ballots were only filled to the number ‘6’, rather than the ’12’ which was prescribed by the AEC^.

Overall compliance: Having said all of that, 96.7% of NSW “below the line” voters followed the instructions correctly and placed a number ’12’ below the line.

Beyond 12 below the line: However, the subsequent drop-off was huge.  Only 48,505 ballots had the number ’13’ below the line, compared with 179,196 for the number ’12’.

It was reported that many voters were advised to 12 numbers below the line, and 12 only, which could have played a role in the substantial drop-off.  However, it could also be the case that the majority of voters only want to do the “bare minimum” in terms of filling out a ballot.

Only about 26% (48,505) of below the line voters placed a ’13’ below the line. 4,332 ballots (2.34% of below the line ballots) had all 151 boxes filled in.

^ N.B. I am using the number of voters who placed a ‘6’ minus the number of voters who placed a ‘7’ anywhere below the line as a proxy for the total number of votes below the line. Further analysis is required to determine the exact number of voters who placed exactly 6 numbers below the line.

Voting above the line

Only 1 above the line: Despite a vocal campaign from the AEC to make voters aware of the changed Senate voting rules, around 6% of above the line voters continued to simply place a single ‘1’ above the line^. This was the previous above the line voting method.

Beyond 6 above the line: As with the below the line vote, there was a substantial drop off beyond the minimum number of boxes prescribed to be filled. 3,766,149 (3.8 million) voters placed a ‘6’ above the line compared with a mere 224,416 ballots with a ‘7’.

Compliance (BTL vs ATL): Interestingly, above the line voters were not quite as acute in following the AEC instructions with only 89% of above the line voters managing to place a ‘6’ above the line (compared with 96.7% BTL voters complying with the 12 number ‘rule’).

^ N.B. Derived from the number of ballots with a ‘1’ above the line minus the number of ballots with a ‘2’ below the line. This is merely a proxy. Further analysis is required to determine the exact number of voters who placed exactly 1 number above the line. Excludes ballots with both below and above the line numbering (i.e. unspecified)


Here are a few take outs:

  • Most voters continued to vote above the line
  • A substantial number of voters continued to only place ‘1’ above the line when voting, meaning their votes were immediately exhausted after their first nominated group or candidate
  • Most voters are doing the bare minimum when voting for the Senate (i.e. only filling in 6 ATL or 12 BTL).

If I had more time, I’d analyse the exact number of numbers per ballot (rather than the pseudo counting I have going on at the moment). I’d also convert ATL votes into BTL votes, which would then allow preference flow simulations to see exactly which votes ended up making the quota for the 12 NSW Senators we elected. But alas, too much data and too little time on my hands 🙂