“Tap on, Tap off”: Is the Opal smartcard worth getting?

“Tap on, Tap off”: Is the Opal smartcard worth getting?

If you live in Sydney and the surrounding areas you’ve probably witnessed the new way of travelling that has glided into the hands of public transport users. You might have thought: “Am I behind the trend, what’s this tapping all about?”

Dubbed by the NSW Government as Opal, some Aussies are keen to test out the new technology and some are certainly not.

But with any new tech-gear it’s wise to know how it will affect you and your hip pocket. We’ve done some research to bring you the Opal money facts and help you decide whether plastic beats paper. It’s your call (or should we say tap)…

How does the Opal card work?

The Opal card is a new electronic ticketing system for train, bus and ferry users in Sydney and surrounds. It’s a credit card-sized smartcard that fits sweetly in your wallet’s card section.

All you have to do is “tap on” at the beginning of your journey and “tap off” at the end. The Opal card reader will automatically calculate the total of your fare and reduce it from your Opal balance.

There’s a few ways to top up your card’s balance, including manual top ups over the phone, Internet or through a retailer. You can also organise permanent top ups, so whenever your balance reaches $10 it’s automatically topped up to your capped amount.

The Opal card means you never have to line up in the epic train queues and fumble around your wallet for spare change in order to buy a single or weekly paper ticket.

Make sure you always “tap on” and “tap off” because if you forget, the system will charge you a “default fare” of the maximum distance. During peak times an adult single default fare could cost you a steep $8.10 for trains, $7,00 for ferries and $4.50 for buses.

What happens if it gets stolen?

Just like a credit card, report your card as soon as you realise it’s lost or stolen by calling 13 67 25 (13 OPAL). Your card will be blocked and you’ll have to order a new Opal card and the balance will be moved across.

Does plastic beat paper?

The answer depends on your travel routine. Opal fares are cheaper than MyTrain single, return, weekly and fortnightly tickets and are calculated on distance with a daily travel cap of $15 for an adult and $7.50 for children/youth (Monday to Saturday) – Sundays you can’t be charged more than $2.50.

Once you complete 8 paid journeys in a week (Monday to Sunday) all further journeys are free. So if you work Monday to Friday and travel twice daily, you can consider Friday a free day. And if you make several trips on the same mode of transport in 1 hour you’ll only pay for a single journey.

<<Update>> From 5 September 2016, the free journey incentive has been scrapped, replaced by a half-priced discount after your eighth journey.

While the Opal card is a more affordable option for weekly commuters, train goers who regularly purchase monthly and quarterly train tickets are better off with the ticketed paper for now (see below for update).

For example, if you travel from Chatswood to Town Hall the MyTrain quarterly is $27.22 a week, the MyTrain monthly is $31.75 a week and the Opal card is the highest at $32.80 a week. If you used MyTrain Quarterly instead of the Opal card you will save $5.58 a week, the equivalent of a large double shot soy caramel latte.

Off-peak travellers with a varied timetable, such as part timers, casual workers…even those popping into the city for a shop are also in for higher costs with an Opal card. This is due to the close monitoring of the Opal card, which tracks your trip from start to finish with the “tap on” and “tap off” feature.

Let’s give you a scenario. You’re a part time worker and travel from Richmond to Central station in off-peak times after 9am but return home during peak times at 5pm.

With the paper ticket option the ticket you bought in the morning will give you a 30% discount on the total return fare, costing you a total of $9.20. But with the plastic Opal option, while you’ll receive the off-peak morning journey Opal price of $4.41, your return ticket will be the full fare price of $6.30, costing you a total of $10.71 ($1.51 more than the paper ticket).

If you travel to work 4 days a week and work 48 weeks (taking one-month annual leave), using the Opal card will be $289.92 more expensive over a year. That could pay for your end of year Xmas shopping!

The future

Right now the Opal card is only available to adult and child/youth fares across trains, ferries and selected buses. But if you’re a senior/pensioner itching to try out the new travel tech, you won’t have to wait long, as it’s being rolled out progressively in Sydney, the Blue Mountains, Central Coast, Hunter, Illawarra and Southern Highlands.

The future is looking bright for smart travel tech and while the Opal card has a few fare-structure blemishes, it will be interesting to see if this gem scrubs up…


Getting an opal card will be more important come 1 September, as you will no longer be able to buy 14 of the old paper tickets that include the cheaper off-peak return, monthly, quarterly and yearly tickets. So you’ll be forced to either use the Opal card or purchase the other paper tickets (single, return) still available that are generally more expensive. Visit Transport Info for the full list of retired paper tickets.

“Tap on, Tap off”: Is the Opal smartcard worth getting? was last modified: September 5, 2016 by Rebeccah Elley

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