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]

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