Opal Card: there’s no app for that

20 August 2014

Compulsory use of Opal cards is right around the corner, yet there is still no app support for Sydney travellers.

Most New South Wales residents will be aware by now that magnetic tickets are on the way out and Opal cards are in. From September first, old tickets will no longer be sold. It’s going to be an interesting time, considering that Opal cards cannot be bought from train stations, news agencies or any other brick-and-mortar location. You have to order yours online and wait a few days for delivery. Expect a lot of stranded, angry people on Monday Sept 1.

Edit: We've been informed that some brick and mortar locations do sell Opal Cards. The couple we visited (these are listed on the official Opal website as vendors) mistakenly informed us that this was not the case, but that they could perform top-ups, although one did not know how. Apologies for the confusion.

You'll still be able to purchase a daily single or return for train and ferry, as well as singles and TravelTens for buses come the deadline. Weekly, fortnightly, monthly, quaterly and yearly tickets for trains will be gone. In total, 14 types of ticket will no longer be sold.

While Australia’s most-populace state has been in desperate need of a tap-card system that combines all public transport for some time, the move to Opal has been met by heavy resistance. Some of the negativity can be chalked up to a conservative view, as any change is always bound to invite criticism. This is doubly so for one that embraces a more technological approach.

Basic complaints

A lot of it, however, is justified. First, the Opal card will end up costing many travellers more than monthly, quarterly and yearly train tickets did. To be fair to Transport for NSW (TfNSW), this complaint usually does not take in to account any trips taken outside of your regular route where your ticket would not help you. I, for one, am going to save a tonne of money, as I regularly travel on two separate train lines ��� a contingency for which the old system was less than adequately equipped.

A more apt complaint would be that the technology driving the whole show tends to get confused if you have the card in your wallet. These kinds of systems have been in place for decades, or at least a very long time, in other cities around the world; London and Seoul for instance, without this problem. That Sydney can’t work out such old technology is as embarrassing as it is frustrating.

Another is that, despite how long TfNSW has been working on this, not all buses are yet fitted with Opal readers. There are even routes in Sydney itself that, according to the Opal website, still rely on MyBus tickets.

The most glaring omission, however, is the lack of official app support for viewing, checking and topping-up your Opal cards while on-the-go.

Make it appcessible

Moving payment for public transport online makes a lot of sense. It means no more queues, especially those ridiculous Tuesday lines after a long weekend. The problem is, one of the common times you’re likely to realise you need a top-up is when you’re standing at the gate. An official app for easily adding more cash instantly to your card would be pretty handy, even if it took a few minutes to go through.

Instead, your only option is to navigate the very mobile-unfriendly layout of Opal.com.au, make your payment and then wait up to a full hour before your account is updated. It flies in the face of the reason you’d think a technological solution would be sought: to make things faster and easier.

There is a smattering of 3 rd party, unofficial apps about the place. These are useful enough, but none of them can offer the ability of actually paying for more travel credit. All you can do is check your balance and your travel history.

TfNSW is so close to finally having a decent payment and entry system that spans its entire public transport network. Appcessibility is such a basic and important part of any and every service in today’s market. With any luck apps for Android, iPhone and even Windows Phone are already in development. If they’re not, then TfNSW needs to take a long, hard look in the mirror before joining the rest of us in 2014.

"TfNSW has not developed any Opal mobile apps, and does not support any Opal mobile Apps that have been developed by 3rd parties. The Opal Terms of Use require customers to keep all usernames, passwords, personal identification numbers and answers to security questions confidential. You must not disclose this information to another person, application (including mobile apps) or system.

TfNSW is not responsible for any loss suffered as a result of you disclosing any information contained in your Customer Profile to another person, application (including mobile application) or system. Customers who download any Mobile Apps developed by 3rd parties do so at their own risk.

If you believe your Opal account has been compromised please contact 13 67 25 (13 OPAL) to have your existing Opal card blocked and a replacement card issued." - via Opal

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