New South Wales (Australia) public transport travel card Opal has a loophole which allows passengers to travel with a negative balance. This situation has led to a $8 million loss to fare evasion since 2014. About 90% of negative balance cases came from the Airport Line, causing $4 million loses in the last financial year. This is double the amount from the previous year.
To solve this deficit, ticketing operator Cubin has adjusted the system. Since January 7th, train passengers travelling to Sydney airport are forced to add credit to their Opal cards before passing through the gates. Also, passengers who purchase Opal cards at both the international and domestic airport need a minimum of $35 on their cards.
Succulent loophole at Sydney airport
Catching the train to the airport is the most expensive trip on Sydney’s rail network. A one-way journey from Central station to the domestic or international terminal cost an adult passenger $18.70 during peak hours.
Nevertheless, with the loophole, a passenger only required the minimum fare to successfully tap on and off, no matter how far they travelled. Consequently, passengers could travel with just $3.46 in their Opal card during peak periods, or $2.42 at other times.
Opal card negative balance, a long issue
Fare evasion due to negative balances amounts to $7.8 million since Opal was introduced in 2014. The most severe impact was last year. The number of Opal cards with negative balances spiked from more than 776,000 in 2017 to 1.1 million in 2018, with $3.8 million in lost revenue.
Government and transport authorities have tried to tackle the issue several times. Transport of NSW considered charging a $10 fee for new Opal cards since, unlike in other major cities, NSW does not charge people for new Opal cards. Each of these, however, costs more than $2 to produce and distribute. The objective of the fee, thus, was to cover the production costs of the cards and to make up for the shortfall in revenue due to fare evasion.
After ditching this idea, TfNWS aims to promote contactless payment. The operator has a 10-year project aimed for 90% of passengers to move from Opal cards to credit and debit cards and mobile devices within two years.