Saturday passenger numbers drop after Opal fare overhaul, internal report shows
Reported Sydney Morning Herald: Saturday patronage on NSW’s public transport network fell sharply following an overhaul of Opal fares, an internal government report reveals.
A drop in public transport use on Saturdays threatens to worsen congestion on Sydney’s roads on weekends, which can already be busier than weekdays because it is when many people choose to drive instead of taking buses or trains.
Will the Opal card changes affect you?
Opal card users say the end to ‘free trips after eight’ may make them think twice about taking public transport on weekends.
The internal documents, obtained exclusively by Fairfax Media under freedom-of-information laws, show the biggest fall in patronage on September 10 – the first Saturday after the changes – was on trains.
Patronage dropped by almost 9 per cent to 622,724 trips as passengers’ entitlement to free travel after eight paid journeys in a week was replaced with half-price fares.
The number of trips on buses on that Saturday fell by more than 7 per cent to 433,132, while those on all forms of public transport declined by 8 per cent, or more than 97,000 journeys, to 1.1 million.
The internal report for Transport for NSW’s top bureaucrats also indicates that the overhaul of Opal pricing will be a revenue boost for the government in the longer term.
Fare revenue rose by 5.4 per cent – or $1.3 million – to $26.7 million in the first week of the Opal changes in September, compared with the week prior.
The report shows light rail patronage fell by more than 9 per cent in the first week of the new fares to 169,745 trips.
The biggest drop was on the Monday when patronage slumped by 35 per cent, which the report said was “most likely the result of gaming behaviour driven by the reduced discount under the revised travel-reward program”.
Before the loophole was closed, savvy commuters had been gaining free travel later in the week by “Opal running” between train stations and light rail stops close to each other.
However, an increase in the the number of “transfers” required to qualify for one journey reduced the incentive for commuters to engage in Opal running.
Patronage on light rail and buses for the first three working days of the first week of the changes dropped by 16 per cent and 6 per cent respectively, compared with the same period a week earlier.
Transport officials also reported that some bus stops in and around Sydney’s central business district had significant falls in patronage between midday and 2pm.
They included bus stops on Chalmers Street near Central Station, Broadway near Harris Street and Castlereagh Street near the David Jones department store.
While light rail passenger numbers dropped sharply, patronage on trains and buses fell by just 0.2 per cent and 0.7 per cent respectively over the entire first week of the new fare structure.
Ferry patronage rose by 5 per cent, which the report said might “reflect seasonal influences”.
“This suggests that customers did not significantly alter their travel behaviour as a result of the changes. The only exception appears to be light rail,” the report said.
And while Saturday patronage fell across all modes, the total number of people taking public transport on Sunday rose 2.2 per cent.
The report noted that passengers can still gain a $2.50 cap on the cost of using public transport on Sundays.
Under the changes to Opal, commuters who switch modes of transport in the one journey – for example, from a bus to a train – get a $2 “transfer discount” against the cost of paying twice.
As a result, the major public transport interchanges in the central city, Bondi Junction and North Sydney recorded increases of 2.5 per cent, 6 per cent and almost 8 per cent respectively in passengers transferring between modes in the first three days of the changes, compared with the same period a week earlier.
In all, about 10 per cent of the trips taken across the NSW’s transport network in the first week resulted in card holders receiving a transfer discount.
A Transport for NSW spokeswoman said it was too early to draw firm conclusions about the impact of the Opal fare changes on overall patronage due to the potential influence of other factors such as school holidays, major events or the weather.
However, preliminary analysis indicated a fall in light rail patronage on Mondays at certain stops, and an increase in passengers transferring between modes of transport at key interchanges.
“While it is still early days, we’re encouraged to see customers are making transfers and taking advantage of the new discount for changing modes during their journey,” she said.
“We expect this to continue to build over time as more people adjust to interchanging and save money.”
Read the original story here.