Sydney's Opal card: an easy way to get free trips

With a bit of effort, you can make plenty of savings with Sydney's Opal card, especially if you live close to the city

OpalApp is a third-party smartphone app that can tell you how many journeys you've taken and will let you know when you've unlocked free trips after your eighth journey.

OpalApp is a third-party smartphone app that can tell you how many journeys you've taken and will let you know when you've unlocked free trips after your eighth journey.

There's nothing like saving a bit of money, but it's especially sweet when you can take advantage of a service that has been designed to offer user incentives. We are talking about Sydney's Opal card. It’s a public transport card that can indeed save you money if you play things the right way.

The Opal card has a built-in incentive for regular public transport users: after eight journeys, every journey for the rest of the week is free. This means that if you get your journeys out of the way at the start of the week, you can save a substantial bit of money. The caveat is that each journey needs to be separated by 60 minutes.

A lot has been made about a video that showed a person running in between train stations to initiate an exploit in the Opal system in which six journeys can be ticked off in about half an hour (which was done to promote the third-party Opal App), but I don't think this is a realistic thing to do.

It's much more satisfying to try and get the eight-trip bonus without going too far out of your way. With a little bit of planning, you should be able to hit eight trips by Tuesday, but this depends on where you live and where you work. It appears to be easier to do this if you live and work close to the city. (If you live too far out, you might go over the $15 per day limit, and journeys afterwards don't count.)

Key to saving money with Opal is not just getting to eight journeys quickly, but also paying as little as possible for each journey. Buses are less expensive than trains and ferries, and travelling by using one mode of transport is cheaper than travelling on a combination of modes — you end up paying for each mode based on the distance travelled in each mode.

Therefore, here are the things you need to keep in mind when using Opal to save money:

• travel in off-peak times if you catch a train
• use buses to go the shortest distance for the cheapest fare
• use only one mode of transport rather than transferring from one mode to another

If you can do these things, you will be in good shape to save some money.

Each trip that you take must be separated from the next trip by 60 minutes in order for it to count as a journey. A journey is not a trip. This means that if you catch a bus and a train to work, unless the bus and train trips are separated by 60 minutes, they will both be combined into one journey, rather than count as two journeys.

This will be unavoidable for some of you when heading to work, but you might be able to use it to your advantage when heading home. Perhaps your bus drops you off in a nice area where you can go for a walk for an hour before hopping on a train to go home. That will give you two journeys.

After eight journeys using Sydney's Opal card, you can travel for free.
After eight journeys using Sydney's Opal card, you can travel for free.

So what's a good way to get up to eight journeys in the first couple of days of the week?

Go to work as usual on Monday morning. If you live by a train line, get to work early and tap on before the peak period starts at 7am. This will ensure you get charged the cheaper off-peak fare.

If you are lucky enough to work in an office and the office is near a bus stop, plan your breaks around the bus schedule. Use an app like TripView to see when buses are scheduled to arrive. Head out a few minutes beforehand, hop on a bus, and then get off one or two stops later, which should cost $2.10. Be sure that you tap off the bus, otherwise you will get charged $4.50. Walk back to your office or head to the coffee shop. Repeat this trip a couple of times on Monday and Tuesday if it's feasible for you to do so.

Perhaps the easiest thing to do is to plan some events for Monday night where you have to catch public transport. Following on from the example of working in the city, don't go home straight away. Catch a bus one or two stops, then get off and go for a walk for an hour before heading home. Or, you might like to visit a friend or family that lives on a bus route. Take a bus there, visit them for an hour, then head home.

If you use the Opal in this way to ring up short bus trips, then it will also get you walking a lot more, and that's an added benefit.

So is this cheating the system? Should we not be using Opal like this? If the savings are there to be had, and they can be substantial for most of us, then we should take advantage of them if we don't have to go too far out of our way. If you have to go too far out of your way to get the eight journeys, then keep in mind that you will have to repeat your actions every week in order to keep getting the savings.

In the end, the eight journey incentive is a good one, and one that will hopefully convince more people to jump onto public transport. If you live within 8km of the city centre, then you will get the most out of it and should give it a go.

Here's what it took for me to get to eight journeys by Tuesday morning:

Monday

• Catch train to work in off-peak: $2.31
• Catch bus to coffee shop around the corner: $2.10 (but charged at $4.50 due to reader error)
• Walk back to office
• Catch bus to lunch: $2.10
• Walk back to office
• Catch train to city in off-peak: $2.31
• Walk for an hour around the city
• Catch bus to visit family: $3.30 (but charged at $2.10 due to reader error)
• Ensure an hour goes by
• Catch bus home: $3.30

Tuesday

• Catch train to work in off-peak: $2.31
• Catch bus to coffee shop around the corner: $2.10

As you can see, the Opal readers on the bus are prone to errors, but it seemed to even out for me. (Note that bus data can take a while to appear in the Opal activity log.) The savings are substantial for me considering a MyMulti1 ticket costs $46.

I used to be against Opal due to the inconvenience of having to tap off on buses; it slows down the bus when there are lots of people, plus it can be hard to do when holding shopping bags. However, using Opal with the above schedule more than halves my public transport cost, and that was too hard to ignore.

Are you getting the most out of Opal? Is it no good for you? Let us know in the comments below.

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Elias Plastiras

Elias Plastiras

Good Gear Guide

@pcworldau

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