Dr MEHREEN FARUQI [4.22 p.m.]: Electronic ticketing for public transport was originally planned to be completed for the Sydney Olympics. More than 15 years later, Opal will effectively complete its rollout on 1 January 2016 with the removal of the pensioner excursion ticket and a range of other popular paper tickets. Electronic ticketing and, better still, an electronic fare system make sense for global cities like Sydney and the shift to Opal is almost there. Recently I launched an online community survey for people’s feedback on how they find the Opal system. I have already had several hundred responses to this survey and I take the opportunity tonight to share some of the key insights.
While people are generally pleased with some aspects of the convenience of Opal and the environmental impact of the shift away from disposable paper tickets, there were a few serious concerns that repeatedly came up. The availability of top-ups is one of these concerns. The $10 increments and minimum amounts of $5 and $10 make little sense, with low-income respondents to my survey querying why they cannot simply top-up the amount of their next bus trip when they are low on cash. There is no reason. The Government must look at scrapping the current minimum top-ups and allow people to top-up however much they can afford.
As for the broader availability, as we all know, the Government has been getting rid of ticket sellers at train stations while relying on external retailers and some top-up machines. People are frustrated that station ticket-selling staff are not able to help them with top-ups, fare glitches and being overcharged. Top-up machines continue to be slowly rolled out. I hope the Government will achieve its target of 350 machines by early next year. Many of the external retailers, aside from not having trained staff able to assist people in using the transport system, put additional fees on card transactions to top-up, ranging from 5¢ to several dollars—and in some cases, we hear, more than $10—making public transport more expensive simply because the Government will not sell top-ups at stations, either via an adequate number of machines or staff. When asked about this the Minister responded, “This is outside Transport for NSW’s responsibility.”
The central problem people have with the Opal system is the lack of integration of fares across transport modes. Many thousands of people use multiple modes of transport to get to and from work, home or elsewhere. They are currently charged full fares for both trips, despite being part of the same journey, which means they only count as one journey for the purpose of reaching their eight journeys for free travel. More people have been forced to do this since the central business district [CBD] bus overhaul, which has forced people to use two modes of public transport as their bus now terminates before entering the CBD. I am looking forward to the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal [IPART] public transport fare report, which I hope will recommend eradicating these unfair double-charges. Broken Opal card readers are one of the more common complaints people have reported. Today the Auditor-General has released a report noting that there have been 15,000 reader breakdowns in a system that was launched only a few years ago and is costing taxpayers more than a billion dollars. Surely having working card readers is a pretty basic requirement.
Finally, Transport for NSW makes no secret of its willingness to comply with police and other Government requests for personal information on its customers, including journey data. While adult Opal cardholders can opt out of this system by purchasing an unregistered Opal card, students and now pensioners cannot as they must register for a concession, therefore tying every journey they make to their name and details, searchable and accessible within Transport for NSW’s system. Questions on notice earlier in the year revealed that, for about 30 per cent of requests Transport for NSW gets from law enforcement, it gives up people’s information. As the last big batch of paper tickets is removed on 1 January 2016, I urge the Government to take stock of people’s problems with Opal and make the necessary changes so we can operate a ticketing system that our State deserves.