Students and pensioners have hit out against the NSW Government for the lack of a concession option for the new Opal cards.
Over 700,000 Opal cards have been issued with approximately 3 million journeys taken each week on Opal cards. Following the September 1 retirement of 14 paper ticket types, Minister for Transport Gladys Berejiklian urged customers to remain patient. Yet the students and seniors are questioning the wisdom of withholding both the Silver Opal Concession Card and the Gold Opal Seniors and Pensioners Card.
NSW Greens MP and Transport spokesperson Dr Mehreen Faruqi warned that many NSW public transport users will be worse off under the Opal system.
‘The rollout of Opal has been characterised by a lack of coordination, technical glitches, advertising splurges, and leaving commuters worse off,’ said Dr Faruqi.
‘Money-saving concession tickets are being abolished when the Minister herself has said that the concession Opal Card won’t be available until 2015. This will hit low-income earners and students in particular.’
National Seniors NSW Policy Advisory Group Chairperson Gabriel Donleavy believes that the lack of Gold Opal Senior and Pensioner cards disadvantages the elderly in NSW.
‘Older people tend to rely more on public transport to get around, especially if they no longer drive. The delay of the rollout of the Gold Opal Senior and Pensioner card may make it difficult for older people to remain active and mobile within their community,’ said Mr Donleavy.
University of Sydney student Union board member Alisha Aitken-Radburn voiced her concerns that students were being left behind by the Opal rollout.
‘It is very frustrating for students that the concession Opal has not been released yet. Students are ready to move over to the new system and the fact of the matter is that we are being left behind.”
“The lack of a concession Opal reinforces that students are the last on the governments list of priorities. There are over 30,000 students who commute to the University of Sydney alone everyday – we deserve better.
Action for Public Transport, a NSW public transport advocacy group, criticised Transport for NSW for placing the Gold Opal Seniors and Pensioners card at the end of the queue.
‘We understand the only reason [it is not available yet] is that it got put to the end of the queue,’ said Action for Public Transport spokesperson Jim Donovan.
‘I don’t know why, as it would be the card requiring the smallest amount of programming given the fare, which is a flat $2.50, unless you can make it less on particular short trips.’
National Seniors also believes that the delay might be technology related.
‘The delayed rollout means that older people who rely on public transport to get around are now required to pre-purchase their Pensioner Excursion Tickets from a registered retailer before they board a bus which is difficult when often times a person requires a bus to get to the nearest retailer.’
National Seniors were apprehensive about a full repeal of paper ticketing.
‘There are a lot of older people who do not have the internet or who do not wish to use the internet or new technologies. This is why National Seniors believes that paper tickets for pensioners should continue to be available for purchase on public transport even once the Gold Opal Senior and Pensioner card is rolled out.’
‘Minister Berejiklian has not given us a date for the Gold Opal Senior and Pensioner card release, except to expect it later this year.’
Pensioner Excursion Tickets can be bought in bulk for single use to minimise the inconvenience of the lack of Opal Card. However, buying in bulk is often not an affordable option for those people on low and fixed incomes.
A Transport for NSW spokesman downplayed the effects of the gradual Opal rollout.
‘The NSW Government has always said the rollout of Opal would be progressive to ensure a smooth transition for customers. More than 750,000 Opal cards have been issued to customers who have taken more than 41 million journeys,’ he said.
‘Later this year the NSW Government will roll out the new Gold Senior/Pensioner Opal card. The Opal card for concession holders will be rolled out in 2015. By early next year, the rollout of Opal will be completed on all trains, Sydney Ferries, buses and light rail.’
‘Opal does not yet offer a convenient or integrated alternative to paper ticketing,’ said Dr Faruqi.
‘NSW had the opportunity to learn from existing successfully implemented smartcard systems from around the world, yet this Government has squandered this chance of a smooth transition to a truly equitable and integrated fare system,’ she concluded.