2016 saw the phasing out of concession foils common to uni students around the Greater Sydney region. Students commuting within the Opal-enabled network were no longer given a concession foil sticker. A student identification card and Concession Opal card would suffice as concession proof on the network.
However, the sticker foil still remained for those of us who wanted to travel on NSW TrainLink’s regional services. As part of the fare rules, students must present their booked ticket with their Tertiary Student Concession Card or ID Card with a valid foil.
According to the Transport for New South Wales website, the tertiary concession foil will be phased out for good next year. Starting 1st April 2017, tertiary students will have to order a Transport Concession Entitlement Card to prove their concession entitlement when travelling on regional services.
Currently, this card is available to Job Seekers, Approved Centrelink Customers and Ex-Defence with Disability. More information about the card’s availability will be made available from February 2017.
Timetables are set to become more dynamic with on-demand complementary shuttle services
Yesterday, the Minister for Transport announced that Transport for NSW will trial “on-demand” public transport next year as part of their Future Transport Roadmap. A number of media outlets reported “New South Wales Government to scrap bus timetables” based on initiatives promised to “transform the mass transit network”.
As one would expect, a flurry of fury followed after the announcement. Punters complained of the inability for current buses to stay within their current timetables as it is. How are they to deliver services quality “without a timetable”?
I don’t think the media did a great job at explaining what the plans were. So, let’s break it down. There are two parts to this puzzle:
Timetables are becoming more dynamic
On-demand services are being introduced
The truth is, timetables aren’t going way but are becoming more flexible. There are also additional on-demand services to help make the trip to timetabled services more efficient.
Hub and spoke model
You may have heard of the hub-and-spoke model. That’s where commuters take a short service close to their homes to a major transport hub to reach their final destination.
This reduces the number of low demand, point-to-point services required to get commuters to and from their destinations whilst still maintaining flexible route options.
The challenge with the current system is that spoke services (the short hops between homes and hubs) have long routes within the suburbs to get to as many pick up points as possible. This means that it could take a long time for commuters to get from their home to the hub regardless of whether all the pick up points have passengers.
On-demand spoke services
The on-demand trial that was being mentioned is about improving commuter connections to and from transport hubs. As the Future Transport Roadmap says:
The future of personalised transport will involve customers being able to book flexible, on-demand local services to make first- and last-mile connections to and from mass transit hubs.
On-demand services would complement existing “spoke” bus routes with routes being optimised for booked demand.
Imagine the resident living in the middle of the suburbs, around a 15 minute drive from the train station. Currently, the options may be for the resident to drive their car to the station and commute to work. However, parking spots are limited.
Catching a bus is also an option. However, the closest bus stop may be a 10 minute walk away and only runs during peak hours. Worse still, it’s a bus service which is route is long and stops at many locations within the suburb before reaching the train station.
The on-demand public transport model tries to solve this. A commuter can “book” what is effectively a shuttle service between their home and the closest train station in advance. The route and times for this on-demand service will be generated continuously based on who’s booked a service.
Dynamic timetabling in trunk routes
It’s something that Sydney Trains have been doing for years. Despite having seemingly static timetables, Sydney Trains timetables are generated at least once a day to account for things like track work, special events and “operational issues”.
Some bus routes are also brought in especially in time for special events. For example, an example I know well is the Central to Moore Park shuttle during major sporting events.
The promise made in the Future Transport roadmap is that these dynamic timetables will reach more modes of transport (including buses). These timetables will also extend in reach, modelling patterns based on weather, demands based on day of week.
Using the supply/demand insights, develop an algorithm that optimises the timetable for day-of-week, weather and planned/unplanned events
It’s also about being able to generate new routes and increased frequency when new demands arise. With the Opal data that Transport for NSW has on their hands, they could potentially generate new high demand, point-to-point routes to cater for new businesses opening up or when new developments are built.
Don’t stress: timetables aren’t going away. They remain very important for the operation of transport services.
The good news is that the timetables will likely be adjusted more frequently based on demand on each route at particular times.
On-demand services will likely complement existing spoke services to make them more efficient and convenient for commuters.
Hopefully, this will less crowded services and quicker journey times into the future.
Despite not having to switch modes in my regular commute to work, with the introduction of new Opal fares this week, I thought I’d try to take advantage of the new multi-mode rebate to see if I can shave a few dollars off.
Previously, my work commute involved taking a bus from UNSW Kensington to Town Hall direct (typically, the M50). The distance between these two stops is roughly 5 km — which falls into the 3-8km fare band of $3.50. This single bus trip takes around 30 minutes assuming relatively smooth traffic which is rare nowadays thanks to the light rail construction in the Kensington area.
Instead, I thought I’d break up my trip into a lower fare band bus trip plus a new train trip. Choosing my bus routes carefully, I can see that the 370 bus can take me from UNSW to Green Square station in ~2.6km ($2.10 in fare terms). Changing to a train service from Green Square to Town Hall, I’m charged $2.36 off-peak. Subtract the $2 rebate, and I come out on top: $2.46 one way.
A return trip to work each day would save me $2.08:
UNSW to nr Town Hall Station
New multi-mode route
UNSW to Green Square Station
Green Square to Central
Central to Town Hall Station
Now, the caveats. Firstly, the 370 bus can be quite unreliable. If the bus is on-time, the total journey time is basically the same (± 2 mins) albeit with a bit more walking. However, buses which are 15 minutes late or don’t show up at all are not uncommon.
Secondly, the cheaper fares only apply for off-peak times. In my case, applying peak-time train fares, the journey is only 2c cheaper. That’s probably not worth the extra effort walking through Green Square and Central Stations and potentially missing connections.
So there you have it. Even if you don’t normally switch modes, you might want to explore various multi-mode route options to see if you can save a few bucks or even save a few minutes in your daily commute. You never know what you might find!
Note: For the purpose of this blog post, I’m assuming adult Opal fares even though I’m eligible for concession fares. Fares and any savings would be halved when considering concession 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.
A few people have written in about the CBD Increment since my blog post went live this morning. As it turns out, this CBD increment is “well documented”… in a 107 page handbook known as the Sydney Trains and NSW Trains Fares and Ticketing Customer Handbook.
I’ve tried looking all afternoon, and cannot find a link from either the Opal website nor on any portion of the Transport for NSW website discussing Opal or fares generally. It is, however, linked to from the Terms and Conditions page about paper tickets.
For those curious, the direct link can be found here. The part you’re looking for is page 74.
Basically, any train trip that traverses through or starts and ends at a CBD station (Central, Town Hall, Wynyard, Circular Quay, Martin Place, Kings Cross, St. James and Museum Stations) will incur an extra 3.21km distance in their trip.
There is one extra caveat though. Regardless of which of the CBD stations you get off at, TfNSW will calculate the end of your trip to a “Gateway Location” based on which line you came from… before adding the extra 3.21km. Let me elaborate:
CBD Gateway Station Table
the Sydney Harbour Bridge
Redfern Station, or Airport Line
Eastern Suburbs Line
If you’re travelling from Macquarie University to any CBD Station, you will be charged the fare distance from Macquarie University to Wynyard (the Gateway Station for via Sydney Harbour Bridge) plus the extra 3.21km increment.
If you’re travelling from North Sydney to Newtown, you also have to add the increment. You will be charged the distance fare from North Sydney to Wynyard (the Gateway Station for via Sydney Harbour Bridge) plus the extra 3.21km increment. In addition, you will pay for Central (the Gateway Station for via Redfern Station) to Newtown. Note, that the increment is only charged once.
The idea behind the CBD increment is so that periodical tickets (e.g. weekly tickets) can be sold as a “city ticket” meaning passengers can get off any any of the CBD stations with the same ticket.
However, this doesn’t make sense for the Opal system where fares are advertised on a distance basis. It’s misleading and disingenuous to advertise that Opal train fares are based on “track distance” when in fact, it’s based on a psudo-distance hidden away in a 170 page handbook.
A suitable analogy, in my opinion, is a grocer selling apples and oranges at $3.99/kg. However, hidden away in a 107 page handbook, the grocer says that oranges incur an extra 1 kg increment that can be found the aisle that sells milk. Surely, this is considered misleading advertising.
Like the grocer, Opal advertises different fares based on track distance bands with no reference to this psudo-distance calculation. Like the grocer, it hides the CBD increment in a lengthy handbook stored in a part of the website that doesn’t talk about Opal fares. Does this mean that CBD Opal fares constitute as misleading advertising?
While I personally don’t mind to pay extra for travelling through the busy CBD area, I think Transport for NSW needs to be transparent about it. Fiddling with the distance travelled certainly doesn’t look great.
Just my two cents. Keen to hear people’s thoughts.
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”
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:
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.
Commuters travelling more than 10 journeys per week will pay on average $255 more per year.
In a classic pre-Christmas news dump, the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) released its draft report into the review of public transport fares in Sydney and surrounds.
The review’s aims were clear — to remove the penalty commuters currently endure when switching between different modes of transport. In doing so, the revenue will decline and to plug this revenue hole — a raft of changes about fare caps and rewards have been introduced.
After reading the “thrilling” 106 page report, what becomes immediately apparent after reading the report is that it’s not easy for your average Joe to compare fares and see how it may affect them.
So, knowing me, you’d probably guess that I’d build some fandangled app to do it… and I did: opalcompared.com.
The rest of this blog post will be split into two main sections, for different audiences:
a findings (based on some 12 thousand calculations done by visitors) section
a technology section (on how the app was built)
During the short time since the launch of Opal Compared, it had accumulated over 12,000 weekly journey calculations. Through this, a few interesting trends had started to emerge:
(A small note: the statistics are based on a snapshot of around 12,000 Adult Opal fare calculations made on Opal Compared up till about 27th December 2015)
Travellers with over 10 journeys per week will have the highest fare increase
Probably summed up perfectly in this chart below, the more journeys you take on a weekly basis — the higher the average fare increase. The less journeys you take, the more you save.
Source: Opal Compared (opalcompared.com)
The point where the average crosses over is at exactly the 10 journey mark. Commuters who travel more than 10 journeys per week will on average pay $4.90 more per week (or $254.80 per year — if you budget on an annual basis). Those who travel less will likely pocket a healthy discount of $3.49 per week on average.
This baffles me. The proposed Opal fares seem counter-intuitive since the proposed fare changes will disincentivise people from using public transport.
It simply doesn’t make sense to reward those commuters who contribute the least to revenue. Shouldn’t IPART be looking on setting fare structures that reward those commuters who travel the most, encouraging more people to use more public transport thus increasing revenue?
How I can potentially save $30 off a single one-way trip using an Opal card
If you live in or travel frequently to regional NSW, one way to travel to and from Sydney is to ride on one of NSW TrainLink’s regional train or coach services. Services may be sparse and are still rarely packed. North Coast services are a bit lengthy compared with a road trip on the Pacific Highway, but fares are generally cheaper than fuel for one person.
This week, I travelled home to Taree on the Grafton XPT NSW TrainLink service from Sydney (Central) – the trip took 5.5 hours and cost $46.80 – one way. But on the way up to Taree, stopping by Broadmeadow and Dungog, I realised that there is potential to save even more!
If I swapped out part of my journey to use regular Intercity TrainLink services (the ones within the Opal network), I can potentially save around 70% of a regular one-way ticket. A single one-way trip from Sydney to Taree costs $46.80, where as a single one-way trip from Broadmeadow to Taree costs $25.02. Further shortening the trip from Dungog to Taree only costs $18.56. Compare that cost difference with the maximum train fare on an Opal card which is $8.30 (peak) or $5.81 (off-peak).
This could mean your $46.80 fare could be reduced almost by half to $24.37 (Sydney to Dungog on Intercity services, Dungog to Taree on Regional services). The deal is even better if you’ve reached your weekly travel reward cap of 8 journeys or travel on a Sunday when Opal fares are capped at $2.50 – where the minimum cost would be $18.56 and $21.06 respectively.
Central to Taree
Central to Broadmeadow
Broadmeadow to Taree
Central to Broadmeadow
Broadmeadow to Taree
Central to Dungog
Dungog to Taree
Central to Dungog
Dungog to Taree
Central to Dungog
Dungog to Taree
Central to Dungog
(weekly travel cap)
Dungog to Taree
So, if you don’t mind waiting at a station to change trains, you could save over half of your transport costs travelling to regional NSW.