Negative balances on Opal cards amount to $2.9 million loss
Tech upgrades on the card system and a crackdown on fare dodgers have provided a partial solution for the issue

Opal Card New South Wales Beau Giles

The Opal card loophole at Transport for New South Wales (TfNSW), Australia allowed travellers to obtain new cards at no cost whilst ditching used unregistered cards that had outstanding negative balances.

In the financial year of 2018-2019, this amounted to about $2.9 million in losses, $0,9 million less than in the previous financial year.

$2.9 million is equal to 0.4% of the total revenue TfNSW derives from Opal cards. This amount was spread across 1.1 million cards with negative balances, with an average of $11.76 remaining on each card.

An Opal card can have a maximum of $20 negative balance.

Until November 2018, the total cumulative amount lost since the Opal card was introduced summed up to about $8 million.

But recent exclusive documents from 7News in August 2019 revealed that a staggering $80 million remained on unused Opal cards that were still loaded with credit- and probably discarded after a few uses.

Earlier in January 2019, TfNSW upgraded the tech at Syndey airport to prevent passengers with high negative balances to exit the station.

It also took a tougher stance on fare evasion, which caused $83 million losses in 2018.

$10 for a new Opal card? 

Unlike other Australian public transport cards such as Adelaide MetroCard or Melbourne’s mywiki, Opal cards don’t have an inherent cost. Passengers just have to top up money so they can pay for their trips on trains, trams, buses and ferries.

The costs of the cards, including those used by tourists, are subsidised by NSW taxpayers.

Leaked documents by ABC and Fairfax Media in 2018 revealed how Transport of NSW considered charging a $10 fee for acquiring a new Opal card.

With this fee, TfNSW aimed to cover the production costs of the cards and to make up for the shortfall in revenue due to fare evasion, in particular at the Sydney Airport station.

The fee would have also encouraged ticketless payments, cutting retail costs to distribute and reload the Opal cards, and the costs of customer call centers.

But the local Government turned down the idea. Transport Minister Andrew Constance said Opal was the foundation of the state’s public transport system and that there were “no plans to introduce any fee for new Opal cards”.

Contactless payments

The leaked documents also showed how TfNSW is undertaking a 10-year project to encourage Tap-n-Go payments.

The project aims that 90% of passengers switch from Opal cards to credit and debit cards and mobile devices within two years of rollout.

TfNSW stated that Tap-n-Go would reduce state ticketing costs, reduce fare evasion rates and also benefit tourists and visitors.

Since September 2019, contactless payments are possible on all services in the Opal network.