My Tempestuous Relationship With Opal

Ignore the haters who say an arts degree won't get you anywhere. Photo: Business Insider

So the Opal card system turned three this week. And it doesn't look a day over what do you mean the bloody Opal reader isn't working.

I have a love-hate relationship with Opal. God knows Sydney was long overdue for an automated ticketing system - it was first proposed to have one in place for the 2000 Olympics, but the final product wasn't implemented until 12 years later - and the Byzantine array of weeklies, monthlies, travel tens and excursions needed fixing. Now there's just one reusable card for everything, tap on, tap off, what could be easier and you don't even have to talk to anyone. Tremendous, right?

But there are some...issues. The system is infamous for the number of non-functioning readers. Sometimes this means a free journey (though that can be frustrating itself when you're trying to get reward, on which more shortly). But more often, because you can't tap off, a non-functioning reader means you get slugged the default maximum fare for the trip; sure, you can ring up and dispute it, but who has the time? There's also issues with topping up the balance; I was once housebound for several days after spending the last $20 in my bank account topping up my Opal then learning a glitch in the system meant it would take days for the money to show up on my card.

My biggest problem though is with the travel reward system. The way it works is that once you have made 8 paid journeys in a week, your travel is free for the rest of the week. I travel regularly to Sydney, Newcastle and points in between, so this can save me a lot of money if done right. The cheapest way to do it is by making lots of the cheapest journeys early in the week. When I lived in Sydney, I'd do the light rail Opal card cheat most Mondays, but now, if I can be bothered, I spend my Mondays confounding the bus drivers and irritating fellow passengers by walking down the road, catching the bus one stop, then walking back home again once an hour for 8 hours, It's pretty tedious, so I don't always get around to it.

But it's expensive if I don't. It can take me a bus, a long train ride, then another bus to get to uni, say, and Opal has this annoying quirk where if you change modes of transport, you get charged for a separate trip but it does not count as a paid journey.

Also, I liked the "set and forget" option of a monthly or longer ticket. I like knowing I've got unlimited travel. With the Opal reward system, I feel like I'm playing a game and every Monday morning at 4am my score gets reset to zero. No matter how hard I work to get that reward, I've only got a few days to enjoy the free travel before I have to start all over again. Combined with that I have Mr G on the weekends, and all my day-dreamed trips to Kiama and the Blue Mountains and the Southern Highlands just never seem to happen.

Plus, and it's a minor quibble, but tapping off for myself and a four year old who refuses to co-operate when trying to wrangle said four year old, textbooks and shopping is a pain in the tuckus.

Hopefully they work out some of these kinks soon (although after initially encouraging people to "cheat" by racking up cheap journeys to get free travel later, there have been some noises from the government that they intend to close the loophole). Allowing for switching of transport modes to count as separate journeys for the reward would be great. An option to pay a set sum for a longer period would be even better. Fix the malfunctioning readers. Then bring back the dancing foam Opal Man.

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