Is Opal Ripping Off Sydney CBD Customers?

Have you ever tapped off your Opal card and had a sneaking feeling that the fare was too high? If you regularly travel in Sydney's CBD, your suspicions could be well-founded. An investigation by Opal calculator app developer Kenneth Tsang has unearthed a so-called "CBD Increment" surcharge which sees commuters slugged up to 82 cents more for every journey. Tch.

Sydney Trains calculates its fares based on the distance a customer travels; just like every other public transport service in Australia. However, it would appear that the Opal system has been sneakily adding extra kilometres — and thus, higher fares — to commutes to and from Sydney's CBD.

The discovery was made by engineering student Kenneth Tsang while creating the Opal calculator web app for Finder. As outlined in a blog post, Tsang found unusual discrepancies between fares and distance traveled when it came to Sydney CBD stations.

His suspicions were confirmed by a recent report from the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART), which recommended the removal of the Opal "CBD Increment", which adds "extra notional distance to the distance travelled for rail trips that start or finish in the CBD."

In other words, we've all been paying extra for Sydney travel without realising it thanks to this hidden "feature". Explains Tsang:

"Reaching out to TfNSW to enquire about this, they seemed just as baffled as I was. After two phone calls, no one thus far has been able to explain to me what this CBD Increment is for, or how much extra distance is being added to each CBD trip."

If Tsang's research is anything to go by, the CBD Increment appears to be quite random. A trip from Town Hall to Ashfield (9.6km) will set you back an extra 82 cents, while a trip between Town Hall and Meadowbank (19.5km) carries a surcharge of 62 cents.

Here's a selection of CBD Increments as outlined on Tsang's blog:

CBD Destination From Station Track dist (km) Expected Fare Actual Fare
Town Hall Ashfield 9.6 $3.38 $4.20
Town Hall Summer Hill 8.3 $3.38 $4.20
Town Hall Artarmon 9.2 $3.38 $4.20
Town Hall Tempe 8.1 $3.38 $4.20
Town Hall Wolli Creek 8.6 $3.38 $4.20
Town Hall Arncliffe 8.6 $3.38 $4.20
Town Hall Turella 9.9 $3.38 $4.20
Town Hall Meadowbank 19.5 $4.20 $4.82
Town Hall Auburn 19.9 $4.20 $4.82
Town Hall Berala 19.6 $4.20 $4.82
Town Hall Macquarie University 19.9 $4.20 $4.82
Town Hall Macquarie Park 18.7 $4.20 $4.82
Town Hall Turramurra 19.7 $4.20 $4.82
Town Hall Riverwood 18.7 $4.20 $4.82
Museum Tempe 7.7 $3.38 $4.20
Museum Arncliffe 9.4 $3.38 $4.20
Wynyard Tempe 8.9 $3.38 $4.20
Wynyard Summer Hill 9.2 $3.38 $4.20

The upshot of all this is that Sydney travellers are being nudged into a higher fare band if they embark or alight from a CBD station, resulting in paying more than they should.

While the CBD Increment is less than a dollar, it certainly begins to add up if you make the same return trip five days a week. For example, the aforementioned Town Hall/Ashfield journey would set you back around $30 extra per month. (Negating the free travel incentive, which is set to be axed next month.)

We've contacted Sydney Trains for comment and will update the article when we hear back.

[Via jxeeno blog]


Comments

    Opal is always ripping you off somehow. Like how I suspect they can just erase your free trips at the push of a button on a pda, as has happened to me twice on 2 different cards already after being inspected just before my free trips were due. It doesn't matter anymore though with the recent decision to remove those.

    iv started driving to work, works out cheaper and I dont have to worry about all the BS train hassles.
    Sorry environment but money is money

      This. They try and tell us to use public transport instead, but it doesn't really offer much at all over private transport most of the time so why would you bother?

        Agreed. It costs me $4 return to drive to work ($20 a week) and it's 6.6km each way so pretty negligible in petrol cost. It's $2.10 + $3.38 each way x 4 days ($43.84) to catch public transport. That's over a thousand dollars difference a year.

    The NSW government sees all public transport as a means of shuttling commuters between strategic suburban electorates and the CBD. It has to pay for that.

    Here is the sneaky way they do it - anytime you go between a a station outside the city to a city station they add 3.21km to the distance used to calculate the fare.

    It is all detailed in the Transport for NSW Ticketing Customer Handbook.
    http://www.transportnsw.info/resources/documents/general/TfNSW-ticketing-customer-handbook.pdf

    Annexure A - Section 1.6
    The distance from Ashfield to Central is 8.4km.
    According to the fare schedule for a single ticket, this should cost $4.00 for an adult single and $3.38 for Opal.

    Here is where they are ripping us all off:
    Annexure A - Section 1.4
    (e) Except where special Fares are prescribed, the Distance Fare between any Station
    outside the City Railway to any City Railway Station, will be the distance to the
    designated Gateway Location plus 3.21km.

    Therefore the distance from Ashfield to Central magically becomes 11.61km and the Adult single price becomes $4.80 and Opal $4.20. That's overcharging $0.80 for an adult single and $0.82 for Opal.

    So: 2 trips, 5 days a week for 52 weeks @ $0.80/trip = $416/year.
    Class action anyone?

      Except... if it's in the handbook, then we can't claim we weren't told about it in advance, therefore not something we can legally complain about.

      It's a really effective way to convince people NOT to use public transport when traveling to the most congested part of the metropolitan area. Good job, Transport NSW!

      I suppose they can get away with it because of the typical parking charges in the CBD, which pretty much eclipse any cost from train fares.

      This. Also, this isn't something that is new with Opal, this has been the case with the old paper ticket system for as far back as I can remember.

      I wonder when they added this annexure? Recently, no doubt.

    Sydney Trains calculates its fares based on the distance a customer travels; just like every other public transport service in Australia.

    No - Myki/Melbourne is time based. Ie 2-Hour or Daily fares. They essentially eliminated the zones by making zone 1 and 2 cost the same.

    I think the extra charges are wrong but I do find it funny that people are complaining when Opal cards rip them off, but it was perfectly ok to rip off Opal cards until the loophole was recently closed.

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