ePay: Opal – Fast, Easy & In Demand

(article as featured in ePay World May 2015)

ePay Opal Card

Two and a half million cards issued and rising, 1800 retailers and growing – the signs definitely suggest the public, as well as retailers, have taken to the Opal card in a big way.

That distinctive ‘ding’, as the machine reads the tap on or off of yet another traveller’s Opal card, is becoming a sound as synonymous with Sydney as the squawk of a cockatoo or the honk of horns at rush hour.

It’s now the transport ticket of choice for the majority of Sydneysiders, even surpassing paper tickets – which will eventually be phased out in favour of the Opal card. It’s also just been rolled out across the Sydney Light Rail service, meaning travellers can use their Opal card across the entire public transport network from Bathurst to Bondi and Dungog to Bomaderry.

Former NSW Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian was, not surprisingly, glowing at the uptake of Opal by people in NSW and by travellers to the state.

ePay Opal Card ePay Opal Card

“It’s great to see so many customers embracing Opal and enjoying the benefits of cheaper and convenient travel. To be at two million Opal cards at this stage of the rollout is phenomenal,” Ms Berejiklian said.

“From Penrith, Panania, Newcastle and Kiama – no-matter where I go people tell me how much they love Opal.”

ePay4 ePay5

The rollout of the Opal card has also been extended to full time tertiary students, meaning tens of thousands of new customers can now apply for cheaper and more convenient travel.

Seven tertiary institutions have now gone live with the concession Opal card, with eligible students from the University of Sydney, University of NSW, University of Notre Dame, Australian Catholic University, The University of Wollongong, Macquarie University and Navitas English already able to apply for their Opal card.

“Eventually more than 250,000 tertiary students will be able to apply for the Concession Opal card and get a 50 per cent discount on the already cheaper Adult Opal fares for trains, buses, light rail and Sydney Ferries,” Ms Berejiklian said.

Opal sites are prioritised based on location, but if you are interested in becoming a possible future site, you can call customer service on 1300 301 408 or email epaysupport@epayaust.com.au.

Nick Theos Lucky Charm

Nick Theos’ Lucky Charm store is enviably placed when it comes to Opal card retailers. He is situated mere metres from one of the busiest public transport hubs in Sydney – Town Hall Station.

“On average we do an Opal recharge every 30 seconds,” Nick said. “In rush hour, it could be up to three or four a minute, and we can do 500-600 a day.”

Those numbers seem phenomenal, and with a return of 2.5 percent for every transaction, the benefits start to add up.

“It does bring more people to the store and that is an opportunity for us to sell them other things and receive impulse purchase.”

The Lucky Charm store, in the lower ground level of the Queen Victoria Building, was one of the first retailers to be granted the right to sell Opal after being included in an initial trial period over a year ago.

(article as featured in ePay World May 2015)

TfNSW: Time to tap into Opal – majority of paper tickets to be phased out →

The retirement of paper tickets continues, with pretty much every paper ticket being withdrawn from sale as of next year.

Minister for Transport and Infrastructure Andrew Constance said: “Given the enormous success of Opal, it’s time to stop running two ticketing systems.

“Opal is one of the great improvements to our public transport network, and it’s the right time we take the next logical step to one convenient system,” Mr Constance said.
From January 1, 57 paper ticket products will no longer be sold. Customers should start preparing now to upgrade to Opal, so getting around is simpler and cheaper.

The next stage of Opal means customers will only be able to purchase adult and concession single or return tickets for trains, ferries, light rail plus singles for buses.

To give customers more of a prod, opal.com.au has a pretty good summary of how ‘unpopular’ paper tickets are becoming;

We know that customers love their Opal cards. There are now more than 3,300,000 cards issued and the number grows steadily every week.

At the same time, there has been a significant fall in the number of paper tickets being sold. For example:

  • Nearly 80% fall in sales of the MyBus TravelTen over the past 12 months
  • 89% fall in sales of the Adult and Concession MyMulti tickets over the past 12 months
  • Almost 50% fall in sales of the Pensioner Excursion Tickets over the past 12 months
  • 72% fall in sales for the Light Rail Weekly over the past 12 months
  • 94% fall in sales of the MyFerry TravelTen in the past 12 months
  • Almost 70 per cent of all public transport trips are now with Opal
Figures: Bureau of Transport Statistics as at May 2014 – May 2015

Concession Opal Card available to more tertiary institutions

From 26 July 2015, eligible tertiary students enrolled at the following institutions can tap into the benefits of Opal:

  • Australian College of Christian Studies
  • Australian Institute of Professional Education
  • Basair Aviation College
  • BCC Institute
  • Canberra Institute of Technology
  • Canterbury Business College
  • Emmaus Bible College
  • Empower Institute
  • Institute of Health and Nursing Australia
  • Kenvale College
  • Kiama Community College
  • Macleay College
  • NAISDA Dance College
  • Ready Health Nursing College
  • Satyananda Yoga Academy
  • St George & Sutherland Community College
  • The Elite Hair and Beauty Academy
  • The Sydney Business & Travel Academy
  • Unity College Australia
  • University of Technology Sydney
  • UTS Insearch

The Concession Opal card is being rolled out progressively in 2015 as each tertiary institution is ready. For eligibility criteria and to see if your institution is ready visit the Opal website.

Opal Revenue Protection App: Shortlisted 2015 Sydney Design Awards →


Great to see that Transport for NSW’s Transport Officers get to use such a beautifully designed app to make their jobs easier – the ability to quickly check the status of an Opal card from the one smartphone device they’re already carrying for work.

The Opal card uses near field communication (NFC) technology that allows users to tap on and off at card readers across the Opal public transport network. ORPA takes advantage of this same type of technology, which is available on Android smartphones, to read the data on Opal cards. The app checks free read data as well as encrypted content stored on the card, and replaces the existing, single function, read-only portable readers that Transport Officers used to carry.

ORPA is a great example of how mobile technology creates great opportunities for organisations to streamline their operations while also building in flexibility for changes in the future.

More information on ORPA on Outware’s website available here.

Transport for NSW: Scan your Opal card with Opal Travel →

One of the ‘official’ apps endorsed by Transport for NSW now also allows you to scan your Opal card with an Android phone.

Using a Near Field Communication (NFC) enabled Android device, you can now scan your Opal card to check your balance, travel rewards and more.

This functionally is available on Android devices only. Apple reserves NFC functionality for Apple Pay only.

Once you scan your Opal card, the following information displays:

  • Opal card balance
  • Weekly travel rewards
  • Last tap details
  • Opal card number, status and auto top up status (active or inactive)

Opal Travel is available from Google Play.


My Opal becomes the first app to directly read Opal cards

skitch 2

My Opal‘ by Toastedmint has become the first app (that I know of!) that now actually reads the data directly off an Opal card using NFC

All you need is an Android phone with NFC support, and can be ‘unlocked’ with a 99c in-app purchase.

This isn’t exactly ‘brand new’, the ability to read a balance off a transit card, as it has been previously possible using apps like FareBot for the Clipper, EZ-Link and Suica cards. Or Hong Kong’s Octopus card with NFCard. The ability to read Opal card data is the unique thing here.

While there’s no shortage of ‘Opal’ apps that will scrape your account information and show you your balance and history, there’s a delay of anywhere from 10 minutes, to 1 hour, to even longer in some cases.  This also involves handing over your username and password (which is against the Opal website terms of use)

Due to the stored value nature of the Opal card and the way the system is architected, the card itself stores basic information so that it can operate without a need to ‘phone home’.

Transport officers already do this – the Samsung handheld devices can read the balance and other information off an Opal card (and submit an infringement notice from the same device), so that everything is there and ready to read and access. However, the Samsung devices that Transport Officers have, naturally have ‘officially sanctioned’ apps, including decryption keys to read more information than what My Opal exposes. For example, cards also store their concession/entitlement value, a list of transactions, etc – this isn’t exposed in the unencrypted area that My Opal uses.

However, now ‘My Opal’ is able to read and decode the information available in the unencrypted area of your Opal card.

You’re able to see your card number, balance, total transactions, the number of journeys you’ve made this week, the last mode you took, whether your journey is in progress, what your previous tap was, and your last transaction (which is currently listed as your last journey date).

This information is considered up to date, as it is the information that the Opal card readers at barriers, stations, wharves and on buses will be using to calculate your fares.

The other benefit over relying on the website is that your last transaction date is listed – the website doesn’t list the tap off time, which can be important when it comes to the 60 minute transfer window. If you tap on at 10:00, tap off at 11:00, the only time shown online would be the tap on time. If you want to then start a new journey, you’ll have to remember exactly when you tapped off, whether it’s 10:57, 11:00, or 11:02. Now, My Opal can tell you.

Use of My Opal could also be a little bit iffy under the Opal terms of use. Use at your own risk, naturally – TfNSW would not be responsible for any loss or issues that occur from use.

My Opal is available on Google Play now.

NSW Government: Sydney Metro Project

Sydney’s second harbour rail crossing has received further funding to provide commuters with more trains and faster services across all of Sydney.

The Sydney Metro project has secured $20 billion as part of the NSW Government’s Rebuilding NSW plan which will bust congestion and revolutionise public transport through a new 66 kilometre high capacity rail line.

Sydney Metro will help deliver a 60% per cent capacity increase across the entire network, or move an extra 100,000 people per hour across the city.

Transport for NSW: Town Hall and Central stations refresh →

(seems the previous dedicated Central Station refresh update from a few weeks before has disappeared, and replaced with the below;)

transportnsw.info, Monday 25th May

Town Hall and Central stations are currently undergoing a refresh with new tiling and glazing, fresh paint and other upgrades taking place around the concourse level.

The refresh work will take place overnight and during weekend trackwork over the coming months to avoid busy peak periods and reduce impact on customers.

The work is expected to be completed by mid-2015, with the modernised and  streamlined look to be more appealing and user-friendly for customers.

Work areas may have a temporary impact on station access and facilities, so please see station staff if you need assistance.

We appreciate your patience and understanding while this important work is completed.

Transport for NSW statement on Opal →

Transport for NSW, 23rd May 2015

A media report today claiming that there is a $20 million revenue shortfall on State Transit buses because of Opal is completely false and misleading.

Over the last 12 months, revenue for STA buses has met expectations, with numbers comparable to recent years.

The claim published today uses incomparable data to make assertions which are consequently false and misleading.

Transport for NSW has always structured Opal fares and benefits such as free trips into its revenue projections. These reward free trips are an incentive to use public transport more, and this is proven by the increased use of public transport on weekends and on trains in the CBD.

The claim that earlier this month transport authorities were forced to install new software to fix Opal is false and misleading. Software upgrades are normal and standard activities on every electronic system.

Daily Telegraph: Taxpayers tapped out in $20m Opal card glitch →

EDIT: Transport for NSW has issued a Media Release in response here

Richard Noone & Jim O’Rourke, The Daily Telegraph, 23rd May 2015

Opal Card ticket machine malfunctions are costing the state government tens of millions of dollars in lost revenue.

Passengers and drivers on State Transit Authority buses have been complaining for months about the “tap on, tap off” travel smartcard machines breaking down on a daily basis.

Drivers on the fleet’s 5000 buses say faulty card readers are letting passengers travel free on “entire bus runs’’.

Tens of millions of dollars in lost revenue have been racked up, a shortfall to be ultimately footed by taxpayers.

Exclusive data obtained by The Saturday Telegraph reveals fare box revenue in the 12 months since the Opal card rollout is just $330.2 million.

That is $20 million less than the four-year average of $350.25 million identified by an Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal review from 2008-09 to 2011-12. Continue reading

SMH: Opal card data surrendered to police and immigration authorities →

Kelsey Munro, Sydney Morning Herald, 22nd May 2015

Transport for NSW has provided police and immigration authorities with access to the personal information of dozens of Opal card users suspected of criminal offences.

Registered Opal cards, which are linked with users’ names, addresses, email and phone contacts and bank accounts, provide the authorities with the ability to track a users’ journeys across the public transport network by time and date.

The first figures on information disclosures to be released by Transport for NSW indicate there have been 166 Law Enforcement Requests from NSW Police, and 15 from the Department of Immigration, since the full rollout of the Opal system in December 2014. Personal information was disclosed on 57 of these requests: 19 for proceedings of an offence, 6 missing persons and 32 on reasonable grounds of an offence, according to a department spokesman. Continue reading

Daily Telegraph: Opal is a nice little earner for operator →

ALICIA WOOD, The Daily Telegraph, 20th May 2015

Millions of Opal card users are un­wit­tingly con­tribut­ing to a $10 mil­lion state gov­ern­ment fund, with the money sit­ting in their au­to­matic “top-up’’ ac­counts ac­cru­ing in­ter­est for gov­ern­ment cof­fers.

Opal card users who choose to au­to­mat­i­cally “top up” their cards are charged as soon as their bal­ance reaches $10 — and with at least half of the state’s two mil­lion users choos­ing the “auto top-up” sys­tem — the gov­ern­ment is hold­ing on to more than $10 mil­lion, on which it earned $176,000 in­ter­est in the last fi­nan­cial year.

Op­po­si­tion trans­port spokesman Ryan Park said there was no rea­son com­muters should be barred from us­ing all the funds on their card: “Not only is the gov­ern­ment pock­et­ing the funds, they are mak­ing in­ter­est off money that isn’t theirs, it is ab­so­lutely out­ra­geous. Opal card users who have ac­ti­vated the ‘auto top up’ op­tion are es­sen­tially be­ing charged a hid­den $10 fee for the priv­i­lege of catch­ing their train, bus or ferry.”

A Trans­port for NSW spokesman said the $10 amount was cho­sen be­cause it cov­ers the max­i­mum sin­gle adult train fare of $8.30 to the Cen­tral Coast, Illawarra and Blue Moun­tains.

The spokesman said any in­ter­est earned on the held funds would pay for the op­er­a­tion of the Opal card sys­tem.

“When a cus­tomer tops up their Opal card, whether by auto top up or other means, the funds are se­curely held by the Com­mon­wealth Bank who are part of the con­sor­tium work­ing with TfNSW to de­liver Opal,” the spokesman said.

“Any in­ter­est earned on the funds is used to con­trib­ute to the costs of op­er­at­ing Opal.’

Transport for NSW: Central Station – new Transport Customer Service Centre →

transportnsw.info, Monday 18th Maycentral-refresh-2

An upgrade is currently underway to transform the current information kiosk in the Grand Concourse at Central Station into a more dynamic, efficient and customer accessible area – the Transport Customer Service Centre.

This new centre will offer:

  • Trip planning assistance and information across all transport modes (train, bus, ferry and light rail)
  • Opal card acquisition and top-ups
  • Assisted journey, event, travel and tourist information
  • A range of Transport merchandise

Additional improvements

Other improvements will be made to Central Grand Concourse, these include:

  • Installation of new Opal-only ticket gates
  • 11 x 5 m customer information screen situated above the new Transport Customer Service Centre
  • Installation of new Information Hubs allowing Sydney Trains’ staff to provide  visible, proactive advice to customers
  • New window glazing across the station
  • Bird proofing of platforms 1-16 and Grand Concourse

The planned completion and opening date of the new customer service centre is late June 2015.

The Opal Card gets a top up machine

Today the first of over 300 Opal card top up machines was switched on, providing yet another option for customers to top up their cards.

Initially, these cards accept Visa/MasterCard/EFTPOS for top ups only, with machines accept cash to follow, and finally there will be machines that dispense ‘disposable’ Opal card tickets.

To start with, the machines are rather simple – you can only use them to check your balance, and top up with preset amounts. There’s no option to show a transaction history (e.g., the last 10 transactions as stored on the card), or top up a custom amount.
They also require you to insert your card – there’s no fancy PayPass or payWave support here.

The receipt printed by the machine is a standard EFTPOS receipt, but also has your (unobfuscated!) card number on the bottom.
It’s also missing your card balance which does appear on the ePay receipts from a retailer.

The first two machines have been installed at Leppington and Edmondson Park stations, with Penrith, Parramatta, Strathfield, Central, Bondi Junction, Chatswood and Olympic Park stations next on the list.

More information is available on the Opal.com.au website