PUBLIC transport users face some big fare increases after the pricing regulator recommended a 4.2 per cent annual hike to ticket prices over the next three years – plus the scrapping of free travel after eight journeys on Opal cards.
Instead of receiving free travel after eight Opal card trips – a popular feature of the e-ticketing service – the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) has recommended bus, train, light rail and ferry passengers get a 50 per cent discount.
It is part of a series of recommendations that the Baird government will now consider and, if accepted, implement from July 1.
The Opal card trips plan move is designed to close a loophole, said to be costing $150 million a year, where people tapped on and off for eight really short and cheap journeys and enjoyed free travel the rest of the week.
IPART had previously been eyeing a scheme where passengers would have paid for their ten most expensive journeys in a week.
“The modified recommendation would reduce the impact on commuters while still increasing the efficiency of the transport system, and also takes account of Transport for NSW feedback about the significant lead times needed to make major changes to the Opal system,” the regulator said.
IPART has also backtracked on a recommendation, first announced in December, to introduce integrated fares for passengers who use multiple forms of transport in a single journey. Under the current system, some passengers faced higher prices for jumping between transport modes.
Instead of new streamlined fares, IPART has recommended a $2 “rebate” for passengers who switch between different forms of transport, to try and offset the increased costs.
“This replaces the earlier recommendation for integrated fares to be calculated as if they were single trips, like the fares for passengers changing from train to train, or bus to bus,” IPART said.
“The recommendation has been modified in response to Transport for NSW advice that the proposed approach could not be implemented within the next three years.”
There’s bad news for pensioners, with an increase to the daily cap for public transport using the Gold Opal Card. The maximum pensioners would pay for daily for public transport has been recommended to increase from $2.50 to $3.60.
“After considering stakeholder comments, IPART continues to assess the increase in the cap for the Gold Opal Card to be affordable, as it has not increased for 11 years while pensions have increased by 74% over this period,” IPART said.
The regulator has recommended 4.2 per cent annual increases to public transport fares over the next three years.
“Right now, the efficient cost of providing the rail, bus, ferry and light rail services in Sydney and surrounding areas is around $4.8 billion a year,” said IPART chief Dr Peter Boxall.
“While operating costs per trip are reducing overall, total efficient costs will rise to around $5.6 billion a year by 2018-19.
“Some fare increases are needed to ensure the additional costs are not borne entirely by taxpayers, but also by those who use public transport the most.”
The IPART determination covers all rail, bus, ferry and light rail services where the Opal Card can be used across Sydney, Newcastle, the Central Coast, Wollongong, the Blue Mountains and the Hunter.
Transport Minister Andrew Constance acknowledged IPART’s recommendations but gave no immediate indication as to whether they will be accepted.
“I thank the Tribunal for its work in what is a comprehensive process,” Mr Constance said.
“The government is committed to building on the success of the Opal rollout by implementing a fare system that encourages efficient and greater use of public transport and is fair to customers.
“The Government will now consider IPART’s final report and respond in due course.”