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The fare structure of the Opal public transport smartcard should be overhauled to stop commuters taking short, unnecessary trips early in the week to get free travel, the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal has recommended.
In a draft report proposing sweeping changes to public transport fares, the tribunal has also proposed an integrated fare structure so commuters who switch between trains, buses, ferries or light rail are not charged twice for the same journey.
IPART chairman Dr Peter Boxall said the tribunal's proposed changes would mean more than 60 per cent of passengers would pay less for public transport across Sydney, Newcastle, the Central Coast, Wollongong, the Blue Mountains and the Hunter.
The NSW government has been urged to overhaul the Opal card fare structure. Photo: James Alcock
The draft report aims to correct one of the key eccentricities of the Opal fare structure, which allows users to travel for free after they have paid for eight journeys or spent $60 on fares in a week. The structure has created a "perverse incentive", according to the tribunal, for users to attempt to max out their cards by tapping on and off for cheaps trips early in the week.
This structure costs the state around $150 million each year, the tribunal said, with the 62 per cent of passengers who travel less than nine times a week subsidising those who travel more often.
This scheme could be replaced with a "weekly travel credit" that combines both a weekly spending cap and discounts for frequent travel.
IPART chairman Dr Peter Boxall. Photo: Edwina Pickles
Customers would pay for all their trips as they go and get a credit at the end of the week so that they only pay for their 10 longest journeys up to a maximum of $65 a week.
The tribunal has also recommended creating an integrated fare structure, so that people who change between trains, buses, ferries or light rail on the same journey are no longer charged twice.
The fare would instead be based on the distance between the origin and the final destination. The tribunal has proposed a separate fare schedule for multi-mode journeys based on the distance travelled and the single-mode fares for that distance.
For example, if you travel by bus from Lane Cove to Wynyard and then by train to Central the longest distance you travel is nine kilometres between Lane Cover and Central. Under the proposed new structure you would pay $4.16 for a journey of eight to 15 kilometres that involves a peak rail trip and a bus trip.
The single-mode fare for a component of a journey would be applied where it is higher than the fare for the total multi-mode journey.
For example, if you catch a bus from UNSW in Kenginston to Central and than a train to Bankstown, you would pay the $3.34 bus fare rather than the $2.84 multi-mode fare.
If implemented, these changes would see passengers who change transport modes pay 20 to 50 per cent less for each journey.
Also among the proposed reforms is a recommendation to increase the off-peak discount on trains, which would see more than 97 per cent of commuters who travel outside of peak hours pay less.
A weekend daily cap of $7.20 for adults, $5.40 for concessions and $3.60 for children on Saturday and Sunday should also be implemented.
The tribunal said this would encourage people to use public transport on the weekend, without putting pressure on the system on just one day as the $2.50 current Sunday cap does.
The tribunal said these proposals, and others, would mean commuters pay less for 96 per cent of single journeys.
But other changes would make travel more expensive for some.
The tribunal has called for an increase in the per kilometre rate so that commuters travelling more than 15 kilometres on bus and 65 kilometres on trains would pay more.
It has also recommended that the daily fare cap be increased from $15 to $18 Monday to Friday and that paper tickets be priced at 40 per cent more than Opal fares.
"This is a complete package of reform delivering the most benefits to the majority of passengers and society as a whole," Dr Boxall said.
The draft fare reform package will be open for public comment until February 5 and a final report will be released next year. Any new fares would come into effect in July 2016