Opal card: Illawarra's winners and losers

There's little doubt, when it comes to the Opal card, some commuters in the region will be winners and others will lose.

As the rollout progresses - it went online at South Coast train stations on April 4 and is expected to go live on buses soon - more people are doing the sums to work out whether Opal is cheaper (the winners) or more expensive (the losers).

Both the minister and Transport for NSW believe only a small number - 10 per cent or less - of commuters will end up being on the losing side.

On Monday, more people will find out which side they're on as the government "retires" 14 paper tickets.

It's a move Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian, announced on June 1 and there has been plenty of effort to get the message out to commuters so they don't get caught out.

Some of the scrapped tickets - TravelTen for ferries and the yearly ticket for light rail - will only affect a few South Coast residents at best.

Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian.

Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian.

The other tickets that will no longer be available include adult weekly and fortnightly tickets, as well as the less popular monthly, quarterly and yearly tickets.

Those with the first two will likely find themselves in the winners column with the Opal card - especially if they catch off-peak trains (as most commuters to Sydney would) which will result in an even lower fare.

They can also take advantage of the Opal offer of free travel once eight journeys are made.

Those with monthly, quarterly or yearly tickets have been the focus of a Labor campaign, highlighting the extra costs of an Opal card.

The campaign includes the creation of the website tappedoff .com.au, which allows people to register their complaints about the scrapping of monthly, quarterly and yearly tickets.

For Illawarra residents with a yearly ticket, an Opal card will cost them an extra $440.

What you need to know.

What you need to know.

"From Monday, the Liberals are scrapping monthly, quarterly and yearly train and MyMulti tickets - this will increase the cost of commuting from train stations when commuters are forced to switch to an Opal card," NSW Opposition Leader John Robertson said.

"There is still time to beat the Liberals and lock in up to a year's worth of savings by purchasing a monthly, quarterly or yearly ticket - this could save you up to $440 over the next year."

While people with these so-called periodicals will be worse off with Opal, the NSW government has previously stated they account for a very small proportion of total tickets sold - less than 4 per cent.

The government has also said a straight comparison is not fair as it doesn't take into account things like the benefits of free travel, as well as holidays, sick days and other instances where a periodical ticket user doesn't travel on a ticket they have already paid for.

More broadly speaking, Opal benefits regular commuters as they can take advantage of the fact travel is free after eight journeys in a week.

Occasional travellers - such as those now using TravelTen passes on buses - will likely find the Opal card more expensive and be understandably reluctant to make the switch.

A spokeswoman for Transport for NSW said the retirement was "the next step in modernising the transport network".

"Around 20 paper ticket types will still be available after September 1, including singles, returns, and all bus products," the spokeswoman said.

Critics have seen it as an effort to push people towards the Opal card.

Given the rollout is not yet complete, cards are not available for purchase at stations and Opal retailers are sparse in some areas - there are just 16 in the Illawarra and some are several kilometres from the nearest station - the scrapping of tickets seems a bit premature.

Still, to get to this point has taken more than 15 years - that's how long NSW politicians have been talking about a smart card for public transport.

The NSW Labor government promised a smart card ticketing system would be in place by the 2000 Olympics.

"A lot of people catch the bus and train to work and it will make it a lot easier if people only have to use the one ticket," then Transport Minister Carl Scully said way back in 1999.

That was the Tcard system, which didn't actually enter serious trials until 2006.

After being beset with glitches and other issues and costing the government $64 million since 2002, the Tcard contract was axed in 2007.

A year later, the Labor government announced it would try again and in 2010 then Transport Minister David Campbell signed the contract for what would become known as the Opal card.

The card was named after the Liberal government took over in 2011 and was chosen from a shortlist that included names like Beep, Get About, Flexy and Dingo.

The timeframe was more cautious than that of the Tcard, with a five-year deadline being set from the 2010 signing of the contract.

The Transport for NSW spokeswoman said the Opal card was well overdue, with electronic ticketing already in use in other parts of the world, and within Australia.

Hong Kong introduced the Octopus card in 1997, London's Oyster opened up in 2003 and Victoria began the rollout of the myki in 2008.

When compared to the trouble-plagued rollout of myki, the Opal card's has been virtually flawless.

The myki was subject to a raft of complaints - the rollout took too long, was too expensive, the lack of ticket machines on trams, slow card readers and claims card balances were taken by the government if not used regularly.

So far, the only glitches the $1.2 billion Opal system has seen have been related to card readers malfunctioning at gates at Sydney stations and some people claiming to have been overcharged.

Some have also suggested the inability to buy an Opal card on a train station is a major oversight.

Stations on the South Coast do not have barriers, so the former is not an issue and there have been no reports to date of Opal overcharging by Illawarra commuters.

As for buying an Opal card on the platform, the government has only recently confirmed retail machines are in the works.

The Transport for NSW spokeswoman said the smart card systems in other states and countries were used as a base for devising the Opal card rollout.

"The NSW government has been able to learn from other electronic ticketing rollouts around the world," she said.

"We're also able to benefit from the experience of people like Howard Collins, CEO of Sydney Trains, who used to be in charge of the tube in London where the Oyster card is very well established.

"Key lessons we adopted in NSW include the importance of a progressive rollout to iron out any hiccups along the way.

"We also learnt from places like London that it's important to have separate Opal staff to provide information about the new ticketing system so existing station staff can focus on paper ticket customers."

With the removal of a range of tickets on Monday, some people have been concerned about whether they will be able to catch a train without an Opal card.

But the Transport for NSW spokeswoman said those people won't be left on the platform after the train pulls out.

"If customers don't have an Opal card or a valid periodical ticket, they will still be able to purchase 20 paper ticket types, including single and return train tickets, as well as some MyMulti products," the spokeswoman said.

"There are obviously still some customers relying on weekly, fortnightly and other periodical tickets and these customers can buy a periodical ticket before 1 September and use it until it expires, or switch to Opal."

Those at Wollongong station on Monday will be able to buy an Opal card from a pop-up kiosk, which will also be present on Tuesday and on September 29 and 30.

Pop-up kiosks will also be at Helensburgh station (September 8 and 9), North Wollongong (September 15 and 16) and Thirroul station September 22 and 23).

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