May 19, 2016

Horse 2114 - Opal Card And The Death Of Commuting
While he also decided against lifting the Adult Opal daily fare cap, he has adopted the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal's recommendation to change the weekly travel reward system.
Instead of receiving free travel after eight paid journeys, commuters will gain a 50 per cent discount on fares after eight paid journeys during a week.
- Matt O'Sullivan, Sydney Morning Herald, 18th May 2016

By announcing that the conditions of the Opal Card system will no longer allow free travel after the eighth trip from July 1, I think that the Transport Minister Andrew Constance has bought the Baird Government a one way ticket to election obliteration.

IPART, the "Independent" Pricing And Regulatory Tribunal (it's hardly independent if you load the board) has decided in its wisdom that the so called "reward" for using public transport needs to be destroyed and that passengers will now be forced to pay half price for every trip beyond the eighth.
When the Opal Card system was introduced, it brought with it the abolition of Weekly, Monthly and Quarterly tickets. The free travel "reward" was supposed to be compensation for the fact that fares had effectively risen. With its removal, this has meant the end of commuters in Sydney.

The word "commute" means to reduce. When convicts were sent from England to Australia, many of them had had their sentence commuted from the death penalty to transportation. Likewise when people win a plea bargain, they can have  their sentences commuted from murder to manslaughter. When the word was applied to public transport ticketing by the rail companies in the Eastern United States in the 1840s, it meant that Weekly Pass Holders could have the amount that they paid for travel commuted from the price of ten tickets to a lower price. A commuter was someone who had bought such a pass. Thus it follows that if someone says that they are commuting but are driving a car to and from work, they are really just displaying their ignorance of the English language.

 When Gladys Berejiklian was Transport Minister, she actively encouraged the public to take the system and to find as many savings as they could. It was reported in the daily newspapers not long after that, that some people in the inner city were walking between tram stops and tapping on and off, simply to rack up their eight trips quickly and therefore ride public transport for the rest of the week for free.
Meanwhile, people like myself who had already seen the price of a weekly Zone 3 Travel Pass rise from $53 to $60 and then $63, actually had to make stupid trips to achieve the same ends. With a bit of planning and discipline (and quite a bit of inconvenience), I've managed to drive my effective weekly travel costs down to $44.20 per week. With the end of free travel after the eighth trip, this now means that it doesn't really matter what I do, I'm going to hit the weekly cap of $60.

Transport for NSW in their statements has tried to be diplomatic about the fact that they've decided to gouge the public for more money, citing in their defence that they've been losing money because of people gaming the system. I think that this is effrontery on their part because the only reason why people needed to make stupid trips to game the system was because Transport for NSW removed Weekly, Monthly and Quarterly tickets in the first place.
Apparently only about 30% of passengers on the Opal Card system even make use of the free travel reward in this way anyway. I bet that the vast majority of those people live in either the inner suburbs if not the city itself, or people like me who actually bothered to pluck up some initiative. Most people in Sydney who travel forth and back across this conurbation, will only get Friday free because their eight trips will be to and from work on the four days previous.

I suspect that the people who make decisions to do with public transport in Sydney don't actually use it. I also very much doubt the independence of the Independent Pricing And Regulatory Tribunal. I have seen Ministers and business people meet in cafés and hotel lobbies and so it honestly wouldn't be surprising if the Minister and someone from IPART had a meeting somewhere and the Minister laid down the guidelines upon which the train of IPART was to run. I also wouldn't be surprised if someone from Connex or Transurban met with the Minister and complained that they weren't getting enough profits, and would the Minister like to do something about it? I have no doubt that private firms which operate motorways see the general public as their personal cash machine.
Of course I should point out that I am rationally looking out for my own self-interest here. I will be personally affected by these changes. What's really going on here is that Transport for NSW moved to the Opal Card system so that the could eliminate commuting of fares and jack up prices; now they've decided to jack up prices again.

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