Why doesn’t Opal auto top up work at the airport?

Have you ever tried to catch a train from one of Sydney Airport’s train stations, and encountered a ‘balance too low’ error despite having auto top up enabled on your card?

The Airport stations are one of the ‘quirks’ when it comes to Opal.

Auto top up is triggered when balance drops below $10; the default fare is taken when you tap on and amended at tap off.

For example, if your current balance is $14 on the card, and you tapped on at Central, it’d drop your balance by $8.40, bringing it to $5.60 and triggering an auto top up with the balance being under $10.

Of course, you need the minimum balance to tap on in the first place, which is minimum fare (+airport fee at airport), or $13.40+3.38=$16.78.

If you arrive at the airport and attempt to catch the train home with a balance of $14, literally tapping on anywhere else on the network would trigger auto top up, but because you don’t have the minimum to tap on at the airport, it won’t let you through and so can’t trigger the automatic top up.

Luckily, there’s plenty of Opal top up machines at the airport and you’ll be on your way in no time.

Single trip Opal tickets

Soon you’ll be able to buy single trip Opal tickets from top up and ticket machines across greater Sydney at a train station, ferry wharf or light rail stop near you

You can use either card or cash to purchase a single trip ticket, or top up your opal card (though the preset amounts remain, you can’t topup your Opal card with four 50c coins for example, it’s still $10, $20 etc)



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Opal: The future of transport: Contactless payment with credit and debit cards →

Opal.com.au, 19 April 2016

Customers will be using their credit and debit cards in 2017 to trial a new way of paying for public transport fares.

The NSW Government has committed to a customer trial in 2017 with the Minister for Transport and Infrastructure Andrew Constance saying NSW is proud to be leading this Australian first.

“Contactless payment with credit and debit cards would offer customers another easy to use and convenient option for travelling,” Mr Constance said.

Only a few major mass transit systems, similar in scale and complexity to Sydney’s, have introduced contactless payments. London’s Oyster card system is a well-known example, where they only finalised their rollout in late 2014.

Contactless payments are a major advancement in ticketing technology. It gives customers another option for paying fares whether they are regular commuters or visitors to Sydney.

Critical work needs to be undertaken in the first stage of this project such as finalising partnerships, working with the finance and contactless payments sector, developing the software and then in 2017, undertaking a customer trial.

Further detail on the project will be announced as plans progress.

Opal: Opal app updated for customer top ups →

Opal.com.au, 18 April 2016

Opal customers will be able to top up on the go thanks to the new and improved Opal Travel app version 2.0.

In addition to being able to top up on the move, the new version has a number of other improvements that will make it even easier for Opal customers.

Minister for Transport and Infrastructure Andrew Constance said it is clear customers are keen to use their mobile phone as part of the transport experience, with over 300,000 downloads of the older Opal Travel 1.3 version app.

“With this new app, travelling with Opal just got even easier. With a few presses on the screen, customers can check their balance, top up and plan their travels for the day,” Mr Constance said.

The new features of the Opal Travel 2.0 app enable customers to:

  • Set their Opal card to auto top up and never queue or manually top up again
  • Top up through the app and within 60 minutes collect the value at the next tap on
  • Find the nearest Opal retailer if they want to acquire an Opal card or top up
  • Plan the quickest and most convenient trip and estimate what the fare will be
  • Easily check those additional Opal cards linked to a single profile so the kids or family members are ready to go

The new app, developed by Transport for NSW in partnership with Outware Mobile, also improves the experience for special access customers by offering a voice screen reader compatible feature, as well as information on wheelchair accessible services.

Customers can download the free Opal Travel app via the Apple App and Google Play stores.

TfNSW: Opal runners tapped out for a fairer system →

Yesterday the government announced changes to the way that Opal card trips and journeys are calculated in order to crack down on ‘Opal runners’.

Transport for NSW Media Release, March 21 2016

Minister for Transport and Infrastructure Andrew Constance today announced the Opal ticketing system has been updated to stop the practice of ‘Opal running’, closing a loophole that potentially costs taxpayers millions of dollars each year.

Currently, some people are running, cycling, driving or even roller-skating between train stations or light rail stops to tap on and off, earning free travel for the week after only paying around $18.00.

“It’s unfair that customers doing the right thing and paying to actually use transport are being cheated by people who are using their own or other people’s cards to artificially inflate their journeys. Some are even using the practice as a business model to earn money,” Mr Constance said.

Below is a sample snapshot of typical short trips taken between light rail stops and train stations to artificially reach the Opal reward of free trips, during February 1 and March 6, 2016. The table demonstrates the prevalence on Mondays and Tuesday of Opal running.


Pyrmont Bay to The Star stops & back (300m apart) 63,636 8,198 1,469 313 149 110 481
Paddy’s Markets to Capitol Square stops & back (280m apart) 30,285 9,408 2,434 647 238 193 714
Macdonaldtown to Erskineville stations & back (470m apart) 6,465 1,142 178 51 14 6 6


The Opal system currently allows people to walk, run or cycle between stations that are close together, like Macdonaldtown and Erskineville, and accumulate free travel rewards in approximately an hour and a half – without even catching a train or tram. The changes implemented today mean the same process could take at least five hours.

“From today, the system will be updated to substantially disrupt those people who are improperly earning free travel, by raising the number of transfers needed to make a journey,” Mr Constance said.

“My message is that the changes are in operation as of now – so ‘Opal runners’ don’t have to bother. It’s not worth running out of steam.

“The system changes do not affect other customers because they are not the ones attempting to quickly get charged for more journeys, especially when transferring between light rail stops or train stations while travelling on the same journey.

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