Opal secretly adds extra distance to CBD fares

This is why your train fares may be more than you think

Update: we now know how TfNSW calculates this increment… but there are still massive problems.

If you travel to and from a CBD station using an Opal card, Transport for New South Wales (TfNSW) may have been charging you a little extra every time you tap off.

It has been a relatively well kept secret until now, but the final IPART report into public transport fares revealed and recommended the removal of a hidden feature, known as the Opal ‘CBD Increment’. The report states that:

“the ‘CBD increment’ [adds an] extra notional distance to the distance travelled for rail trips that start or finish in the CBD”

Excerpt from IPART final report (Page 13)
Excerpt from IPART final report (Page 13)

I came across this issue after finding inconsistencies with distance calculations when building my Opal calculator, a easy-to-use tool to compare current Opal fares with those set to start in September. To my surprise, after exhaustive research, I’ve been unable to find any mention of this “CBD Increment” on the Opal or TfNSW website.

Even TfNSW doesn’t know this exists…

Reaching out to TfNSW to enquire about this, they seemed just as baffled as I was. After two phone calls, no one thus far has been able to explain to me what this CBD Increment is for, or how much extra distance is being added to each CBD trip. Although, they have promised to escalate my issue and come back to me with more information (this was two weeks ago).

What I know for sure is that this increment does exist. Having tested a few trips myself for research, it appears the distance increment is quite random.

Some affected trips

Here are a number of trips to the CBD which cost more than what you would expect if the fare was based solely on track distance:

CBD Destination From Station Track dist.
Expected Fare Actual Fare
Town Hall Ashfield 9.6 $3.38 $4.20
Summer Hill 8.3
Artarmon 9.2
Tempe 8.1
Wolli Creek 8.6
Arncliffe 9.8
Turella 9.9
Meadowbank 19.5 $4.20 $4.82
Auburn 19.9
Berala 19.6
Macquarie University 19.9
Macquarie Park 18.7
Turramurra 19.7
Riverwood 18.8
Museum Tempe 7.7 $3.38 $4.20
Arncliffe 9.4
Wynyard Tempe 8.9 $3.38 $4.20
Summer Hill 9.2

Note: these are a small selection of trips selected to test the CBD increment. It is not an exhaustive list of stations which are affected. Track distances are based on track information provided by TfNSW through its Open Data exchange.  Prices listed are Adult peak fares.
Some trips with track distance within the tolerances listed also appear to be unaffected by the CBD increment. I’m unable to to discern a pattern at this point in time.

A trip from Ashfield to Town Hall (a CBD station) has a total track distance of ~9.6 kilometres — just shy of the 10 kilometre fare band which will cost $3.38 for an Adult during peak time. However, when travelling on the train between these two stations, TfNSW charges for the higher 10–20km fare band, costing $4.20.

Will this stay?

Despite IPART’s recommendation, Transport for NSW has not indicated whether or not it will retain the CBD increment when the proposed fare changes come into force in September.

I’m still awaiting a response from TfNSW about my enquiry about this existence of this ‘CBD increment’. Let’s see what they say if and when they respond… I’ll update this post when that happens.

Kenneth Tsang

I'm the author of jxeeno™ blog and co-founder of HSCninja.com. I'm a bit of an #NBN and public transport geek. You can normally find me juggling work and my studies at UNSW where I'm currently completing a degree in Geospatial Engineering.

  • Sydney Pedestrian

    Hi jxeeno, see paragraph 5.2.3 at page 56 of the Issues Paper (page 64 of the PDF) at http://www.ipart.nsw.gov.au/files/sharedassets/website/trimholdingbay/issues_paper_-_finding_the_best_fare_structure_for_opal_-_public_transport_fares_in_sydney_and_surrounds_-_july_2015.pdf

    An arbitrary 3.21km distance is added to all train trips that run through the CBD. There is absolutely no basis for this and, as you have stated, it is likely to bump a lot of trips up in to the next fare band making the advertised pricing misleading!

    • tsangk

      Ah, thanks for that! The reference on page 56 also points to a 107 page handbook where it is explained in a bit more detail (gateway stations for different lines, etc).

      Have to say, this is far from transparent… hiding details in a 107 page handbook that barely anyone reads. The fare structure seems to have a lot of unnecessary complexity.

      To top it all off, as you say, there’s no mention of these arbitrary additions on the Opal website where the fare tiers are listed. It sure does seem like misleading advertising.

  • Joel

    TfNSW do in fact know about this. I was emailing them back in August/September about this problem! Reference number 5163828.