Every Monday over the last month around 63,000 people took the 300-metre trip between Pyrmont Bay and Star City on Sydney’s light rail, tapping on and off using their Opal cards. By Tuesday that number fell dramatically to just 8,198 trips, and the slide continued to 1,469 on Wednesday. Come Friday, just 0.002% of Monday’s figure – 149 – bothered with the trip.
The 280m trip between Paddy’s Market to Capital Square across George Street follows a similar pattern, along with the 470m train trip between Macdonaldtown to Erskineville stations, in what became known as “Opal running” by people taking advantage of the fact that travel is free on an Opal card after completing eight journeys in a week.
When then transport minister Gladys Berejiklian rolled out the NSW government’s prepaid public transport card in 2014, she boldly declared “I want people to beat the system” when a number of obvious loopholes emerged that allowed people to take short trips that cost a total of just $18 before the rest of the week was free.
“I want people to find the savings because they are there to be had,” she said.
As pointed out 12 months ago, most people didn’t even use the train or light rail, they simply jogged or cycled between the two points over a 90 minute period to earn free travel.
Now, treasurer Berejiklian appears to have realised the enthusiasm with which Sydneysiders took her advice is costing the government millions of dollars in revenue. Today, her successor as transport minister, Andrew Constance, said the government was shutting down the “Opal runner” rort for short trips.
Some 18 months on, the minister’s rhetoric was far different to his predecessor’s, accusing those who too short trips of cheating.
“It’s unfair that customers doing the right thing and paying to actually use transport are being cheated by people who are using their own or other people’s cards to artificially inflate their journeys. Some are even using the practice as a business model to earn money,” Constance said.
Here’s the chart of user figures he produced of trips by Opal runners over a five-week period between February 1 and March 6 this year. It’s not hard to figure out what’s going on.
The changes implemented on Monday mean it would now take at least five hours to rack up the same number of trips previously achieved in 90 minutes.
“The system will be updated to substantially disrupt those people who are improperly earning free travel, by raising the number of transfers needed to make a journey,” Constance said.
“My message is that the changes are in operation as of now – so ‘Opal runners’ don’t have to bother.”