The Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal has recommended sweeping changes to Opal. Photo: James Alcock An analysis by comparison service Finder has found 68 per cent of Sydney commuters would end up paying more for their weekly trips on public transport if changes to the Opal fare structure are adopted. Photo: Fiona Morris
More than two-thirds of Sydneysiders will end up paying more for their weekly commutes on public transport, analysis of a proposed overhaul of fares claims.
The Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal has recommended sweeping changes to the fare structure for the state’s Opal ticketing system. It wants to halt the common practice of commuters taking short, unnecessary trips early in the week in order to later qualify for free journeys that would otherwise be more expensive and longer.
In releasing its draft report just before Christmas, the tribunal said the proposed changes would result in more than 60 per cent of passengers paying less in 2016 for using public transport.
However, an analysis of more than 12,000 journeys by comparison service Finder reveals 68 per cent of Sydney commuters would be charged more for their weekly trips.
It found commuters who use Opal for more than 10 trips would pay on average $4.90 a week more if the government adopts the tribunal’s draft recommendations. That would equate to an annual ticket increase of almost $255.
Under the existing structure, travel is free after eight trips in a week.
The tribunal disputed Finder’s analysis, describing it as “misleading as they don’t take account of all elements of the reform package”.
It has argued that the existing fare structure means commuters who travel fewer than nine times a week are subsidising frequent travellers. The tribunal estimates the loophole for frequent travellers costs the state about $150 million a year.
It wants a fare structure that charges passengers as they take journeys, before giving them a credit at the end of the week so that they end up paying for only their 10 longest trips.
The total cost of journeys for a commuter would be capped at $65 a week if the proposals are adopted this year.
While frequent travellers would end up paying more, Finder’s analysis shows that people who take 10 or fewer journeys per week could save $3.49 a week on average.
Finder spokeswoman Bessie Hassan said the proposed overhaul risked discouraging people from taking public transport because the “weekly travel reward” scheme had acted as an incentive.
“It simply doesn’t make sense to reward those commuters who contribute the least to revenue while punishing avid public transport users,” she said.
“While it may assist with preventing so-called Opal hacks, ultimately those who use the service most will be out of pocket.”
However, a spokeswoman for the tribunal said it appeared Finder’s analysis had not taken into account a number of proposed changes such as raising off-peak discounts to 40 per cent, from 30 per cent.
“IPART has said from the outset that passenger impacts will vary depending on the frequency and distance of travel, and that is why we have released draft proposals so we can consider feedback before finalising them,” she said. “It is wrong to assume that people are travelling 10 times a week, 52 weeks a year.”
The Opposition’s acting transport spokesman, Peter Primrose, said commuters weren’t stupid and would work out that they would end up paying more under the proposed pricing regime.
“To try and pass off the new fares as a saving to travellers was sneaky and it’s high time the government admitted what Labor and now others have calculated – that commuters are going to be worse off,” he said.
Labor has claimed commuters who catch trains five days a week will be worst affected, paying up to 48 per cent more.
A spokesman for Transport Minister Andrew Constance said the final report from the tribunal would not be delivered until March and the government encouraged people to lodge submissions.
Any changes to fares would not occur until July.
An extensive survey of commuters by Roy Morgan for the tribunal, released last month, showed people ranked frequency of services as a factor most likely to increase use of public transport, followed by shorter travel times, cheaper fares and more reliable services.