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When I started working at UTS in the city I assumed I’d be paying $60 a week in train fares commuting from the Blue Mountains using an Opal card. The one way fare is $8.30 but there’s a $15/day cap, and after 8 journeys the ‘Travel Reward’ kicks in and the whole system is free apart from airport stations.

Turns out, most weeks I pay $30 or less. There are lots of sites that will tell you how to accomplish this, but most of them involve hoofing it between train stations, or catching 29 buses in a row to exploit the fact that the opal card has a limited built-in memory. If you’re a long distance Sydney commuter and you work near a bus route where the stops aren’t too far apart then all you need to do is spend a few minutes out of your tea breaks and lunch breaks on Monday and Tuesday hopping on a bus for $2.10. Go a single stop and walk back, or catch a bus to lunch for at least an hour then catch one back.

Me, I walk out the door of the UTS Tower, hop on a bus one stop to Railway Square then walk back via the underpass, up through the DAB cafe, and across the bridge back to the tower. This transit takes more or less the same amount of time as it takes the staff who frequent Knight’s to walk to and from their ristretto fix. Catch a bus to nowhere thrice on Monday and twice on Tuesday and you’re set.

I particularly love how the machine at Springwood (or Faulco, or Katoomba) will tell me on Monday night that my journey home cost $0.40).

Screenshot of my Opal statement showing how to get 8 journeys (not trips) in the first two days of the week for a total weekly bill of $27.50
Screenshot of my Opal statement showing how to get 8 journeys (not trips) in the first two days of the week for a total weekly bill of $27.50

Now, people have raised eyebrows about this behaviour. One likened my antics to tax avoidance (which I don’t practice, cos I think tax is sharing and my parents taught me sharing is good). Another wondered if I was getting paid enough. Anyway, the transport minister approves for some reason.

Ms Berejiklian said she wanted people to use more transport and was glad they were finding cheaper ways to travel. “I love hearing people tell me ‘I am catching transport more now because it feels like I am not paying for it’”, the minister said.

Maybe she approves of a similar attitude to taxation?

Or maybe Opal has made travel more expensive for most commuters. We may never know, the Herald says that we can’t find out.

Ms Berejiklian had not said before what the government expected to earn under the Opal smartcard. Attempts to prise that information from Transport for NSW using freedom of information laws have been rebuffed.

Anyway, I’m uneasy about this whole thing. I think it’s wrong that you can’t buy cards from (most) stations, only online or at shops and I wonder what all these spurious trips do to the transport planning process. I presume the whole Opal card rollout is part of a push to reduce staff numbers, and to further privatise our infrastructure, because, the NSW government thinks, private is axiomatically better.

Hints and tips:

  • If you’re using buses, always check your balance online - the bus machines are not very reliable, and the system will often miss your tap-off. When they do, always contact customer service via the web and say “I tapped off and it didn’t register” and they fix it.

  • Wait an hour from after you tapped off last time or your short bus trips get joined together into a single journey (unless you go past 4 at which point you overflow the Opal card buffer and start a new journey).

  • Aim for 5 Journeys on the first day and you’ll hit the $15 cap but do remember to tap off for that final $0.40 ride or your last leg won’t count as a journey.

  • After you reach the reward at 8 journeys it’s all free so you don’t need to tap off. I usually do, just so my travel gets counted. I know, I know, they’re gathering data on me, but I assume every time I get off at Faulconbridge, for example, that’s a vote for keeping a decent level of service there.

Am I evil for saving myself over $1000 a year? I’m just off to catch a bus to nowhere, will check the comments when I get back.

Creative Commons License
Opal Mining for fun and profit, or how to travel to the CBD all week in Sydney for $27.60 even if you live a long way out by Peter (Petie) Sefton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


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