Opal Card users walk, jog and cycle between two light rail stations in April, taking advantage of a loophole that can save them more than a hundred dollars a month.
Eighteen months after encouraging Sydney commuters to “beat the system”, the NSW government is closing a loophole used by some to gain cheap weekly travel on their Opal cards.
Transport Minister Andrew Constance announced the changes on Monday morning, designed to stop some commuters who have been “Opal running” between train stations and light rail stops to fill their cards with cheap trips.
“From today the system will be updated to substantially disrupt those people who are improperly earning free travel by raising the number of transfers needed to make a journey,” Mr Constance said.
Under the Opal card fare rules, people can can travel for free in a week after completing eight paid journeys.
The system creates an incentive for commuters to reach the eight journeys with cheap travel early in the week. However some commuters have discovered it is possible to reach one “journey” by tapping on and off at nearby light rail or train stops three times.
Under the changes announced by Mr Constance, one journey will now include up to seven transfers instead of three.
Commuters have mostly been gaming the Opal card fare rules at light rail stops positioned close together.
There is a gap of only a couple of hundred metres between stops at the Star and Pyrmont Bay. This has allowed energetic and thrifty Opal card holders to fill their card for $18 with about 90 minutes worth of tapping on and off.
But under Mr Constance’s changes, the time taken to fill an Opal card running between the Star and Pyrmont Bay would extend to about five hours.
In a bulletin, Transport for NSW also advised service operators that the changes have been made “to mitigate customers exploiting” Opal.
The bulletin said some commuters had been “walking, running, cycling or driving between train stations and light rail stops in close proximity, and tapping on and tapping off, without making the journey on the relevant transport service”.
It also noted that some commuters had been using multiple Opal cards to tap on and off for other customers until the card journey count had reached eight completed journeys. Others had paid a fee to people to swipe their cards.
In a draft report released just before Christmas, the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal proposed sweeping changes to fares, including an end to free travel after eight journeys in a week and a tightening of eligibility for the Gold Opal card.
The pricing regulator was scheduled to release a final report on public transport fares by the end of March.
However, last week Mr Constance extended the deadline for IPART to deliver that report until the end of May.