Sneaky Ways To Save Money With Transport Smart Cards

Sneaky Ways To Save Money With Transport Smart Cards

Almost every Australian capital city now uses travel smart cards as its main ticketing method. Looking to save money while using one of these cards? Check out these tips.

Picture: Getty Images/Lisa Maree Williams

Some of these strategies will only work in specific cities; others have more general applicability. Many simply require you to know the relevant rules that apply to the cards; other are more ethically dubious. The risk is yours to take.

Knowing the basic rules in each city can help you save a lot. We recently rounded up ways to save money on Sydney’s Opal card system. Opal is so complicated it needs a more detailed explanation than most other Australian capitals, but every system has its quirks. Here are links to the main transport sites for each capital so you can check the intricate details that apply in those locations (such as Melbourne forcing everyone to buy a smart card, no matter how short their stay):

Check for off-peak rules

An obvious one, but still worth mentioning: most transport systems are cheaper if you don’t travel during peak hours (typically between 7am and 9am and 4pm to 6pm, though the exact details vary between cities). Find out the rules and stay off the route to save — plus you’re more likely to get a seat.

Cheaper airport travel in Sydney with Opal

Sydney’s airport stations require you to pay a gate access fee when you visit. While this is capped at $21 a week if you use Opal, it can still make the journey expensive.

Here’s one potential saving trick. If you happen to arrive at the station and the gates aren’t working (which happened to a friend of Lifehacker’s recently), you’ll be advised to ring the Opal helpline so you can be charged correctly. However, if you don’t, you’ll be charged the maximum ^$8.10 for a day — which might well be cheaper.

Update: A reader points out this even sneakier trick: buy a $10 Opal card from a retailer, and use that to travel to the airport. The card will have a negative balance after you’ve made the trip, but that means you can go to the airport for $10 and dump the card altogether.

“Forget” to tag on

If you don’t have to get through ticket barriers at either end of your journey, then you can always choose to simply not tag on at all, and take the risk that there won’t be an inspector on board at some point during the journey. If one does show up, you can indignantly claim that you did in fact tap on. Obviously, this won’t work on buses, and it’s unlikely to fly for repeat offenders.

Is this ethical? No. Is it common? Yes. I see this a lot on Melbourne trams — if a ticket inspector boards, there’s always a glut of people who suddenly decide to get off at the next stop.

Have other fare-hacking tips? Share them in the comments.

Lifehacker’s Evil Week highlights the dark side of life hacking. How you use that knowledge is up to you.


  • if you don’t tag on , you wont be able to exit a gate exit , then you have to explain your self to a staff member

    • you can still tap to exit, but full fare amount applies.

      there are stations that don’t have gates, just ‘tap’ points.

      town hall leaves gates open around midnight

    • Barriers in suburban stations are frequently unattended, especially late at night. I’ve also seen people (a) sling themselves over the barrier or (b) follow closely behind somebody else going through – the delay is often long enough to allow the latter, although it’s tremendously annoying if you’re the one being followed; the same sort of close proximity is used by pickpockets.

      Since Opal was introduced, getting my ticket “checked” required me only to flash my Opal card – they didn’t check it at all.

      All that said, I’ve never deliberately evaded a fare myself. On the rare occasions when I’ve done so due to force circumstances, I went back and paid for a ticket of similar value later.

      • The post says “if you don’t have to get through ticket barriers”, so the “exit gate” and “poorly written” arguments amount to “I didn’t read this before commenting”.

  • It’s worth mentioning that the ‘forgot to tag on’ tactic is even easier these days with Melbourne trams.
    Previously tram fines that arrived to your address would include a ‘repeated offenders may be prosecuted’ threat which encouraged you to not continue your fare dodging ways.
    Now there is a way to leave no record that you have been caught since they have an option to pay the fine directly to the ticketing officer without showing any ID.

    • The fine in Melbourne is over $200 now, and not touching on is an excuse.
      However, 100% of fines issued since MyKi have been dropped when they have been contested and before reaching the courts.

  • Let me save you the hassle, that won’t work in Perth.

    Forgot to tag on? $100 fine.
    Attempted to tag on but the tag-on machine was broken? $100 fine (If the tag-on machine is broken you must buy a ticket. Don’t have any cash? Then don’t get on the train and just don’t go to work that day… apparently)
    Attempted to tag on but you had no funds because the automatic credit card recharge system was down? $100 fine (As above, Transperths fault, your problem)
    Tag on correctly, but the system errors out and tags you off again at the exact same second (happened to me twice)? $100 fine. (Once again, Transperths fault, your problem).

    • If the tag on machine is broken you do not have to buy a ticket.

      If you get asked you tell them where you get on. And you tell them it is broken, they know which one is broken and they will let you get off . I’ve had this happen on both trains and buses without incident.

      • I have gotten on at Edgewater train station, attempted to tag on with both machines, both gave an error, I checked on my phone to make sure my smartrider had money on it and it did.

        I got on the train, got checked for a ticket, told them that both machines were broken, got a $100 fine for no ticket and was told that I should have bought a cash fare if the smartrider machines were broken.

        I contested the fine, was told the same thing by all levels of transperth, if the smartrider machine is down, buy a cash fare, if you cant get a cash fare, dont get on the train.

        I did get the fines for tagging on/off at the same time overturned because by their own design if you tag on and then try and tag off again straight away it should say “already tagged on” or something like that, so it shouldn’t have been possible to tag on/off in the same second to get no charge and then claim you tagged on.

        • I wonder what other sorts of stations are at Edgewater? Presumably none, so why not just write “Edgewater station” instead of pretending we all live in a US sitcom where they distinguish railway {train to hip young TV watchers} stations from bus stations.

    • I would have ZERO hesitation to refuse paying the ticket and instead opt to go and fight Tranperth in court.
      When I lived in a Perth a few years ago, the rule was simple: You have a valid smartcard but the Transperth system is down or tag on pad doesn’t operate – You travel for FREE and it doesn’t matter if it’s the bus, train or swan river ferry.
      I remember that buses where especially notorious for not having the tag pads operational and whenever that happens, I just flashed my card and the driver would put me through without paying.
      This has also happened to me several times in QLD (where I’m living now) on both buses and the Citycat ferries.

      Unless Transperth have changed the rules SIGNIFICANTLY since I left and put them in LEGISLATION, this sort of ‘bullying’ by the authority should not be tolerated and they should be taken to court where in all likelihood, they will LOSE the case.

  • I know it’s evil week, but fare evasion can have very serious implications. I’d not usually link to the Courier Mail but this story was reported elsewhere at the time so it shoud contain a fair degree of the truth:
    Summary: an Australian resident had a faulty Go card and was unable to tap on. The station had no other means of buying a ticket so he got on the train and reported his plight to the first available Translink staff member. They advised that he had done wrong, an to cut a long story short he ended up facing a criminal conviction for fraud for which he risked being deported.

    I’m not sure what the result of this case was.

  • I’m not sure why my previous comment was deleted, but I don’t see how fare evasion above is any better than allowing a card that isn’t linked to a person to dip into the negative, and then buy a new pre-charged card?

      • Action you have to buy credit when getting a new card, so they come pre topped up. Can get 3-$10 negative depending on the day and how often you’re using it. I know a few people who just go get new cards when this happens as they don’t want to pay off the negative.

        Obviously no good for students or pensioners, as those cards have to be linked to an ID.

  • I have had my Sydney Opal Card checked by inspectors with portable readers more than once. Once when it was police not ticket inspectors checking the tickets they just nodded at my Opal Card and didn’t read it.

    Taking short off peak trips early in the week can in certain circumstances save you money if you know you are up for longer peak hour trips later in the week and you know you will reach your maximum 8 paid trips. This works well for me working Wed Thu Fri – if I know I will use the Opal for at least one more outing consisting of a there trip and a separate back trip (in Opal’s trip definition i.e. returning over an hour after the first trip) then it is worth my while to add an extra trip or more in early in the week – do the groceries via bus with a trolley, take the bus to school pick up etc. These trips are not just free, I actually save a bit of money doing them – and Opal has kept a car off the road for my shopping so I guess it’s win-win. The calculations for taking the kids home by bus get more complex as with Opal each kid needs to tap on. The youngest is eligible for a bus pass and the oldest isn’t at our distance from school so with the old “pay for yourself and 1 child” I didn’t bother to get the bus pass as it saved us nothing. Now with Opal I’m using a hybrid system of Opal for me and dip one Travelten for the kids. Next year the Traveltens will likely phase out so it will be worth getting a bus pass for one and an Opal for the other. No one will be in exactly the same boat for fares but I second the notion of having an in depth understanding of the fare structure to see opportunities for savings.

  • RE: $10 airport “dump the card” trick. The money to absorb this fare evasion will inevitably result in higher fares and fees on the range of services provided by the government. There’s no such thing as a free lunch; you are essentially screwing future you (and me) to save a few dollars today.

  • I’m sure most Brisbane-ites know about taking a couple of quick bus trips during the day to add a couple of single zone trips get to your free trips earlier (and save a few dollars along the way).

  • Not trying to be a ‘party pooper’ and I know it’s ‘evil week’ and all but there is a BIG difference IMHO between teaching legitimate (albeit morally dubious) hacks (like the Airport travel hack with the Opal card) as opposed to promoting outright CRIMINAL behaviour like fare evasion (“forgetting to tag on”) which is a punishable offence in pretty much all Australian states and territories.

    I really think this post has gone too far and could potentially land its writer in trouble for encouraging and promoting criminal behaviour, which is again an offence by itself in most states.

  • that “dump the card” trick is what I do on a usual basis. once I use the trip, it becomes a negative so I just throw it out. I don’t use opal often so I can afford to do that. Perhaps I should stock up on $10 opal cards haha

  • Going to the airport and want to save the exobetant airport fee, ethically and legally? Get off at Walli Creek Station, just past the airport and call a cab to your terminal directly for about $10-$15 bucks. If you are a family or several folks traveling together this works out great. We save about $50 bucks every trip with our family of four and the cab is very convenient directly to your departing terminal.

  • If you have your 8 journeys already, you can always go to the airport for free, if you catch the train to rockdale and catch the 400 bus, may be add 30 mins to the journey… that’s it.
    if you need to go to the airport before the 8th journey, too bad.

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