Pocketbook Study Finds That Opal Cards Are Costing Commuters More to Travel than Paper Tickets

If you live or work in Sydney and are familiar with the public transport network, then you've probably have heard of the "tap-on-tap-off" Opal Card. A recent study has been conducted to understand the cost implications that the introduction of the card has had on regular customers. The company Pocketbook who conducted the research, has analysed how expenditure has changed since 14 paper tickets were eliminated at the beginning of September.

The Pocketbook findings are part of the first large-scale study conducted since the Opal cards became mandatory for some commuters routes around Sydney. NSW Transport supposedly announced that the new system would work out cheaper for the average commuter. However, 21,000 Sydney commuters were analysed and results produced indicated that 60% were worse off. Read on to find out more about the costs, who is better off and if you should avoid the Opal card.


Who is Pocketbook? They are an independent company, responsible for the successful personal finance app called Pocketbook. They have conducted a study on Sydney commuters to understand how the introduction of the Opal card has had an affect. Overall, the results are not great, as expenditure on the weekly travel has gone up. Since Opal’s introduction, commuters weekly spend on average has increased by 10-15%.

The study commenced at the beginning of September. The same time Transport NSW eliminated 14 paper tickets, which included the weekly and monthly fares you could one purchase. Their study analysed the average monthly expenditure of the entire train commuting customer base of Sydney. Alongside this analysis, a sub-group of 21,000 test subjects were also analysed, who had shifted from paper tickets to the Opal cards.

As a result of the company’s analysis, the average Sydney commuter’s expenditure increased. For example, in March the average cost of light travelling was $64 compared with $76 in September. This is a 19% increase. Heavy travellers were paying $86 in March, but are now paying $96 in September with the Opal card, an increase of $10.

Basing calculations on these figures, the averages collected and price differences realised, Pocketbook released results stating that 62% of the population are worse off, if they use the Opal card. To demonstrate this information more clearly, please look at the bar graph.

Opal Card Vs Paper Tickets Costs to Commute around Sydney

To break down the numbers, the actual increase per week is roughly $2.24 or 0.45c per day. Hardly figures that will be noticeable to the average commuter, but when NSW are apparently saying: Opal will be a cheaper way to commute, questions arise!

The reasons for higher prices are related to a selection of issues such as; removal of monthly, quarterly and off-peak return tickets and infrequent commuters are unable to receive free travel after 8 trips.

So is there light at the end of the tunnel? Well yes, in some instances Opal is cheaper, for example one individual commented; “I switched to Opal. It saves me $20 a week. Previously I had to buy a MyMulti2 which was $54 a week. Now I end up paying around $35ish a week with Opal.”

However others who used the OpalorNot website found that the card will cost them $290 more, compared with buying a yearly paper ticket. One customer calculated on the website that their annual commute would cost an additional $646 per year with Opal Card.


So my word of warning would be to hesitate when signing up to the new technology from Opal. It does of course carry the benefits of being able to conveniently swipe your card at barriers as well as top up your credit online. Although I suggest that you first pay a visit to the OpalorNot website in order to calculate your costs if you are considering embracing the Opal card. This is the best way to avoid incurring large unexpected costs, which are never welcome.

In some instances, your commute may benefit from the new card and ultimately save you money, however other routes may cost more. But always consider the results from Pocketbook. From the 21,000 people who changed from paper tickets to Opal over the past 9 months, only 14% of them have actually saved money.

TOPICS:   Travel   Money


  • odysseus
    "So my word of warning would be to hesitate when signing up to the new technology from Opal." There's actually no point to that, since you're forced to switch, in terms of the old options. While it does cost more than many of the old options, as they are no longer available, the only rational comparison to make for right now is whether it is cheaper than NOT having one. In that comparison, it is generally cheaper, so you may as well get it. Also, once you've switched, there are ways you may be able to reduce the overall price. While not ideal, again it's making the best of the situation you are in since the old options have been removed by this Liberal government.
  • Donkey
    It is a very effective way to 'cloak' the cost of tickets when you dont actually have to fork out a specific amount of money for a day or a specific ticket. I dont personally like these systems from a privacy and cost point of view - though I do like them for the convenience aspect.
    • odysseus
      Very true... though I also don't like them from the convenience aspect. They're yet another card to carry around, whereas before I just had the credit card (in respect of travel). Now I still have to pay this from the credit card, but have to carry it as well - and have it take away my funds into its separate account earlier, so yet another account to manage/monitor. The only thing is you don't have to buy a ticket before you travel, but for all the trade-offs, that one benefit isn't worth it.

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