The New South Wales government struggled with enhancing mobility in Sydney after a failed attempt by the previous contractor to roll out a new smart card ticketing system.
- More than 520 million journeys traveled on the Opal network
- Ridership has increased by more than 7.7%
- 9 million journeys per week using Opal card
- More than 3.6 million Opal cards issued
Sydney, a bustling metropolis of 4.5 million people, consistently ranks at the top of international surveys for liveability and quality of life. Boasting a world famous Opera House and kilometers of pristine beachfront, Sydney is the “Jewel of the South Pacific.” Nearly 40% of all international travelers to Australia now pass through Sydney, where population growth is straining the regional transport infrastructure. Private vehicles remain the most popular transportation mode for commuters coming into the city, congesting the city’s road system and contributing to environmental concerns.
A New Streamlined Ticketing System
To maintain Sydney’s reputation as a modern global city, the government aimed to enhance mobility through significant investments in the transport sector and the introduction of an electronic ticketing system, with strong support from the local business community. “We are investing billions into our transport and the symbol of that change is our electronic ticketing,” says Patricia Forsythe, executive director, Sydney Business Chamber.
After a failed attempt by a previous contractor to successfully roll out a new smart card ticketing system, Transport for New South Wales (TfNSW) rebid the contract and in 2010 announced that the contract had been awarded to the Cubic Transportation Systems-led Pearl Consortium. Cubic was tasked with developing a common electronic ticketing system for the region’s complex network of buses, trains, light rail and ferries, each with their own unique fare structure and ticketing system. These systems could even vary by bus line depending on the operator, translating into a very confusing and inconvenient experience for commuters. Recognizing that transport of the future will require more interconnections – train or ferry to bus, light rail to ferry, etc. – an integrated transport system is now being developed that will allow commuters to seamlessly move from one mode of transport to another.
The new system was named Opal after the state of New South Wales gemstone. “Opal provides a uniform ticketing experience across all modes of transport, making it much easier for customers to navigate around the transport system,” explains Tony Braxton-Smith, deputy director general of customer experience, TfNSW.
“Opal provides a uniform ticketing experience across all modes of transport, making it much easier for customers to navigate around the transport system."
Cubic worked with TfNSW to retain some of the features of the original system for Opal. For example, in the past some regional operators offered a 20% discount on weekly tickets to encourage ridership, an incentive that the client wanted to maintain.
With Opal, after eight journeys, the customer rides for free for the remainder of the week. This entitles many commuters to free travel on the weekend, incentivising them to explore new areas, and to come back into the city to dine and shop in the commercial center. The enhanced ease of travel has helped to gain support from the local business community and build support among public transport users.
A Phased Rollout to Success
One of the key factors to the seamless and successful implementation of Opal was the staged rollout plan. The card was introduced mode by mode, beginning with ferries, which facilitated public education and adoption, a key reason for the card’s success. The Opal card is now used for 75% of journeys taken each day on public transport in the greater Sydney area, covering a massive 40,000-square-kilometer chunk of the state.
In addition to the design and delivery of the Opal card, Cubic provides all the ongoing and preventative maintenance for more than 39,000 pieces of equipment deployed on the network. Customer support provided by Cubic also includes staffing for the 13 OPAL Customer Care Centre, providing an integral service for Opal, which contributes to the system’s success.
Partnership and Looking Forward
Looking to the future, work is underway to enhance digitally enabled access to the transport network, particularly via mobile phone. “If we are going to be a truly smart city, then all of this is logical. Technology allows us to do this all in a much more modern way,” advises Forsythe. The apps developed to help users navigate the system have reached two million downloads and are used close to 100 million times each month to obtain transport information and support ticketing needs.
The partnership between TfNSW and Cubic has been the cornerstone of the project’s success. “We let Cubic focus on what they are really good at doing and where there are gaps, we fill in. This has allowed us to be much more collaborative and is one of the secrets to our success with Cubic,” says Greg Ellis, general manager of ticketing concessions for TfNSW. “I’d say at the moment it’s probably the best implementation of this particular style of technology that I’m aware of in the world,” says Ellis.
“I’d say at the moment it’s probably the best implementation of this particular style of technology that I’m aware of in the world."
Those sentiments were echoed by NSW Premier Mike Baird in December 2014, when he announced the Opal rollout had been completed ahead of time and within budget. “While smart card systems around the world have been plagued with issues, this government has completed the world’s largest geographical rollout of electronic ticketing successfully – and people are loving it.”
Cubic was awarded the contract in 2010 after a rebid and completed the successful rollout of the new Opal Card system in late 2014.
Opal phone apps have reached 2 million downloads and are used over 100 million times each month to navigate the system.