Hefty Opal Card fare increases proposed for 2016 with many Illawarra commuters to spend hundreds more each year

IPART has proposed a major haul of the Opal Card system from 2016, but Illawarra commuters will be hit hardest. Picture: Fairfax File

IPART has proposed a major haul of the Opal Card system from 2016, but Illawarra commuters will be hit hardest. Picture: Fairfax File

Regular Illawarra train commuters could be hit hard in the hip pocket next year if proposed changes to the Opal Card fare system are introduced.

FARES FAIR: IPART has proposed a major overhaul of the Opal Card system to begin July 2016, but Illawarra commuters will be hit hardest.

FARES FAIR: IPART has proposed a major overhaul of the Opal Card system to begin July 2016, but Illawarra commuters will be hit hardest.

The Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) wants feedback on their draft package released this week which aims to make the system “fair”. 

At present many commuters are cashing in on a loophole which allows users to travel for free after they’ve paid for their first eight journeys, regardless of how short the trip is.

The tribunal has recommended the current eight-trip model be ditched and Opal commuters pay for their ten most expensive trips per week instead. However those travelling during off-peak would be rewarded with discounts to increase from 30 to 40 per cent.

This would mean people catching trains between Wollongong and Town Hall 10 times or more per week will pay up to $260 extra per year. Someone travelling between 25 and 35 kilometres to and from work face yearly increases of $959, such as Albion Park to Austinmer.

The current $2.50 cap on Sundays would be replaced by a weekend daily cap of $7.20 for adults, $5.40 for concessions and $3.60 for children on Saturday and Sunday.

On the plus side, the tribunal has also proposed an integrated fare structure so commuters who switch between trains, buses, ferries or light rail would not be charged twice for the same journey.

IPART Chairman Dr Peter Boxall said the reforms were designed to deliver the most benefits to the majority of passengers while ensuring fares continued to cover around 20 per cent of the approximate total $6 billion cost of providing public transport.

Shadow Minister for Transport and Infrastructure and Member for Keira Ryan Park said the Opal fare system has been “botched” and commuters were already paying too much.

“These increases are cruel and unfair,” said Mr Park. “We understand that some people have been doing the wrong thing and rorting the Opal system. Surely the answer isn’t to punish every commuter with higher train fares.”

Greens MP Dr Mehreen Faruqi said it was a mixed bag for commuters and some measures discouraged the use of public transport.

“Seniors would no longer be eligible for Gold Opal cards and the cost for pensioners will increase from $2.50 to $3.60 and keep going up. This seems like a mean spirited way to generate revenue from some of the most vulnerable public transport users,” said Dr Faruqi. “The report also looks at increasing fares for train trips for long distance commuters at peak times, which seems counter-intuitive to encouraging public transport usage.”

The draft fare reform package will be open for public comment until February 5 and a final report will be released next year. Any new fares would come into effect in July 2016.

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