I finally succumbed and got an Opal card. I’m fully aware that it means I’m paying more than other ticketing but as I’m an infrequent traveler on public transport I’ve decided I’m prepared to pay a little more for two conveniences. The first is that I only need to carry one thing in my wallet – or will once the buses catch up. The second is that I don’t need to queue up to buy tickets on the trains when I do travel.
The card seems to work as advertised and is simple to both set up and then use. Having just returned from Japan, which is a country which knows how to do transport technology well, my major observation is that the card reader on the train stations is not as quickly responsive as I’d have expected. A lot of people seemed to be having to wave their card over the reader more than once and, even once it registered, there was a perceptible hesitation before the gates opened. You’d have thought one of the great benefits of installing a brand new system would be to get people through the turnstiles as quickly as possible.
For more frequent travelers the key problem with the Opal will obviously be the fact that it’s more expensive than the old-style tickets. There are already people working out that if you take one or two otherwise unnecessary trips for lunch it can pay off by getting you over the line of eight trips and into the free zone for more expensive commutes during rush-hour. As long as you’ve got the time, it’s clearly worthwhile planning around this – but it’s annoying that its even remotely necessary.
It’s also worth noting that if you make several trips using the Opal on the same mode of transport with interchanges within 60 minutes you are only charged once. So yesterday I went to Chatswood by train and then came back within the 60 minute window and was only charged for one leg of the trip – thus saving me $3.
Given that a bit of planning can make a difference, and a lurking worry that an incorrect swipe might lead to you being overcharged, I can recommend the My Opal app. This is modeled on a similar app made for the London Underground and it does one simple thing extremely well – it tells you what’s happening with your Opal card. You can use My Opal to track your balance across multiple Opal cards and see your recent journey history.
There’s a definite positive in being able to see what you spend on transport even when you’re being over-charged by an awkward system. I like the simplicity of My Opal and if it helps manage your trips to maximise your public transport value that can only be a good thing.
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There is also an Android version of the app here.