There are some creative ways you can tap on and tap off using Opal. Credit: Transport For NSW
IT’S the free travel perk that the Government’s about to yank away from public transport users but a Sydney commuter is having “one last hurrah” making an epic journey of 1500km by train, bus and ferry for less than $20.
This week, Angus Kidman set off on a mission to travel as far as he could on a NSW Opal smartcard paying as little as possible.
The journeys have taken him from the city, through mountain ranges, past secluded rivers and seen him dumped in lonely country towns on chilly winter’s evenings.
“The aim is to get to the extreme points of the network, the furthest you can travel for the least amount of money,” Mr Kidman told news.com.au.
If he were to buy paper tickets for each leg separately the whole journey would have cost $100.
The editor-in-chief of website finder.com.au said despite the many hours on public transport he was feeling good.
“Not many people enjoy seven hours of their day on trains but I’m a bit of a train geek so for me that’s a pleasurable activity.”
The trip is possible because under Opal’s fare rules once a cardholder completes eight trips in a week, all other journeys — no matter the distance, mode of travel or destination — are free.
The perk has led Sydneysiders to take advantage of free travel by journeying far from the city’s borders on the weekends to places like the Blue Mountains or Southern Highlands.
It’s an act of Government sanctioned generosity unmatched on Australia’s other smartcards systems such as Victoria’s Myki and Queensland’s Go.
But not for much longer. From September, the so-called ‘weekly travel reward’ will become a lot less rewarding. Instead of getting free journeys after eight full fares, Opal users will instead get half price fares.
Mr Kidman, who is tracking his journey on a blog, estimates to do his expedition under the new rules will cost three times as much as present.
The Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal has warned the fare changes will see frequent commuters shelling out 20 per cent more on travel. But the Government said the Opal perk had led to $300 million in lost revenue as people took advantage of free journeys while passenger fares only covered a quarter of the $4.8 billion annual cost of providing public transport.
Mr Kidman admitted that as soon as Opal was launched he made it his mission to find a way to get through the eight trips as quickly as possible.
“My usual hack was to try and get half a dozen bus and train trips in on a Monday and then on Tuesday I did two more trips typically spending $23 a week and then you got to use any bus, ferry and train for free.”
His hack was less than half the price of buying a weekly paper ticket before Opal was introduced.
Mr Kidman said the news the reward was coming to an end was a shock.
“I was a bit devo. It was good while it lasted and I don’t mind paying for public transport but there was a bit of me thinking, damn I’m going to be paying a fair bit more.
“So I thought I’d have this last hurrah before it all changes. One last blast to make the most of it.
“It’s a measure of how tragic I am,” he conceded.
His mission began on Monday in frenetic fashion, darting from bus to bus to do as many of his eight trips as possible. Total cost to get to free trips? $19.72.
Then he was off around the state. First to Newcastle, then down the Hunter Valley to Scone and back; to Sydney and then to Goulburn in the south. Mr Kidman headed to Bathurst, his most westerly point on Wednesday, before rounding the adventure off with the longest ferry trip in NSW — the hour long expedition from Circular Quay to Parramatta.
“At points it can be very lonely,” he said. “When I got the train coming back from Scone, I was the only person on the train. Conversely the train from Goulburn in the morning was absolutely packed.”
On a train from Newcastle to Sydney he made a “tactical error” when it came to snacking. “I’d just got some chips for the journey and I realised I couldn’t open the packet because I was in the quiet carriage so the chips had to wait.”
He’s spent his long journeys working hooking up his laptop to his mobile hotspot. “That’s the only way I could persuade my employer to let me spend whole day on the train.”
However, the carriages could do with power outlets, he said, so long distance commuters could be more productive.
Mr Kidman said he always suspected the free travel reward was merely a “sweetener” to get people to sign up to Opal card. Now Opal is everywhere it was “inevitable” they would change the fares.
Finder.com.au has an online calculator that lets commuters work out how much they will be paying when the September fare changes come in.
“If I did the exact same thing as I did this week, it would end up costing me something in the order of $56 and even for me that’s probably not worth it.
“It would still be cheap but I wouldn’t be able to do go to the four compass points of the network for $20.”