Yesterday the government announced changes to the way that Opal card trips and journeys are calculated in order to crack down on ‘Opal runners’.
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.
Previously, there was either three (light rail) or four (bus, train and ferry) ‘trips’ to a journey, making it possible to fast track the usual 60 minute gap required between journeys to make them count.
This meant that you could make three light rail trips, or catch 4 buses to reach one journey, and keep repeating this without having to wait 60 minutes between journeys
The ‘Opal trip advantage‘ has also been tweaked.
With Opal, if you make several trips using the same mode of transport, and if your transfer occurs within 60 minutes from your last tap off, you only pay one fare based on the distance you travel. It’s called the Opal Trip Advantage
If you catch a train from Sydenham to Redfern, tap off and get lunch, then tap back on at Redfern (within 60 minutes) and travel to Bondi Junction, you’ll only pay for Sydenham to Bondi Junction, rather than paying twice for Sydenham to Redfern, and then Redfern to Bondi Junction, because you ‘transferred’ at the same station, Redfern.
It was discovered back in 2014 that you could make discontiguous journeys; tapping on at Erskineville and tapping off at Macdonaldtown, then tapping on at Erskineville and off at Macdonaldtown etc would create new journeys, as you weren’t ‘transferring’ by not tapping on at the same station you tapped off at, no matter the time since your last journey. The exception to this rule was the ‘City’ area of Central, Town Hall, Circular Quay, St James and Museum which is counted as one big ‘transfer’ station – you can train from Newtown to Museum, walk to Town Hall and train to North Sydney and still only pay for Newtown to North Sydney, rather than the two separate journeys.
Light Rail was also an exception, explained in this FAQ on the Opal website;
If I get off at one light rail stop to buy something from a shop and then continue my journey, will I have to pay two fares?
With Opal if you resume travel on light rail within 60 minutes you benefit from the Opal Trip Advantage (also called the 60 minute transfer). This means you pay a single fare based on the distance you travel. If you were travelling with paper tickets you would pay two fares.
To benefit from the Opal Trip Advantage on light rail you must tap on again at the same stop or at the two closest stops in either direction.
This way, you could theoretically use the discontiguous trick on the light rail network, however you’d have to use stations that were more than three stations apart.
Now, with yesterday’s changes, the closest 9 stations (as the crow flies) on the light rail network, and train network, are considered ‘transfer’ stations – the discontiguous trick no longer works between Erskineville and Macdonaldtown, as your trips will now be counted as a transfer (and as above, you’ll need to make 7 trips to make a journey), rather than a new journey every time.
So, you can still run 7 times between a light rail stop or train stations to get a single journey, then repeat that 8 times to reach your weekly reward.
Or, you can get smarter about using your Opal card..
Take a bus at lunch to run some errands (or lunch somewhere new!), you get the idea…