For seniors who have experience in trying to navigate concession fares in regional areas, you will already know that it is a complicated system.
- There’s a $2.50 Regional Excursion Daily (RED) ticket for seniors that allows for unlimited travel on local buses in a regional area, but you cannot use this on coaches or trains
- If you’re in the greater Sydney region, you get a $2.50 daily travel cap with a gold Opal card.
- You can get a $2.50 Country Pensioner Excursion (CPE) ticket to travel between regional locations by train or coach, but you must get off and get a new ticket or tap on with an Opal card before you reach the boundary of the Sydney Metropolitan region – unless you want to shell out for a half fare for the whole trip. That would cost you around five times more than the $5 you’d pay for the trip with a CPE ticket + gold Opal, but saves you from wrangling your baggage and waiting around for the next service.
- You may also be entitled to 4 Pensioner Travel Vouchers a year, or two return trips. Of course, these are only valid within NSW so if you’re crossing a border you’re out of luck. You’ll have to pay 50% of the relevant fare for the interstate part of your trip.
Seniors in regional and rural NSW have been asking for this complicated system to be replaced by Opal readers and a standard $2.50 concession fare for some time. This is unlikely to happen at this juncture as we near the end of the contract between Transport for NSW and the operator of the Opal system – which is perhaps a topic for another day.
It isn’t an unreasonable request, when you think about it – pensioners and concession card holders in Sydney have this, and the RED and CPE tickets are already $2.50. This system is overly complicated for users, and people with mobility issues are likely to be put at a disadvantage when it comes to moving in and out of the Opal system. Many NSW stations do not meet accessibility standards, and even if they do it might be too difficult to disembark from a train to purchase a ticket when entering the Sydney region.
CPSA members have said that they would like to see pensioner concessions expanded to include people who are currently only eligible for half-price fares, including many people who receive a Jobseeker payment.
Unfortunately, instead it seems that we might be slowly going backwards. IPART have certainly been banging on about ditching the $2.50 gold Opal daily travel cap, thankfully to no avail.
Contactless payment trial
The operator of Bathurst’s local bus line has been trialling a ‘tap and go’ system on select routes since December 2022. As of last month, Dubbo Buslines has also introduced this system across its 57X routes.
This sounds like a good news story, right? Finally, no more digging for change – an indignity that Sydneysiders have been free from for nearly a decade.
Unfortunately, these new readers only accept debit or credit cards and concession fares are not available. Opal cards are not compatible with the readers. Those wishing to pay the concession rate will have to continue paying the old-fashioned way, though most likely with increasingly impatient bus drivers and fellow commuters.
Why are we introducing yet another system that is not compatible, or on par, with what is offered in metro areas? This is another blow to people over 60 as well as pensioners in regional and rural communities.
To add insult to injury, the readers do accept the Regional Seniors Travel Card that was axed in this year’s budget. Of course, you’d have to be willing to pay the full fare to use one anyway.
Paper tickets are still available, but you may recall that when Opal cards were rolled out it was the beginning of the end for cash transactions on buses. What will this mean for concession travel in regional areas? There’s no word yet on what the future will hold if the trial is successful.
Littlepay vs Opal
The trial is using card readers designed by Littlepay, a Melbourne company that has introduced contactless payment systems in several major cities including California, Lisbon and Helsinki.
Littlepay uses what is called an ‘open loop’ payment system, meaning that you can use any bank card that is designed for contactless payment – if you can tap to buy your groceries then you can tap on to get the bus. You can also use smart devices that are set up for contactless payments.
This contrasts with a ‘closed loop’ system that requires purpose-made cards, such as Melbourne’s MyKi or Sydney’s Opal cards. These cards are typically pre-loaded and cannot be used with any other system.
Currently, Opal readers are set up for both.
The question is, will that be the case if these new readers are rolled out in regional areas? The Opal system began as a closed loop system and the ability to use a bank card was enabled later. It seems unlikely that these new systems will work backwards when open loop systems are seen as progressive.
Open loop systems are not great at incorporating concession rates. Many cities that use open loop systems allow pensioners to access free travel so a tiered payment system isn’t necessary – others provide special cards that are designed to be used by people with concession entitlements.
Hmm, that sounds familiar, doesn’t it? It’s almost as if we roll out the existing system across the whole of NSW, or at least make them cross-compatible.
There’s been radio silence on how this issue will be addressed if the trials are successful. In the meantime, it’s business as usual for people in regional areas who are entitled to a concession – at least for now.
Rest assured, if this becomes a vehicle for rolling back pensioner travel entitlements, CPSA will certainly have plenty to say. Our members and constituents want the option of paying cash, as well as regional transport options that are as affordable and accessible as those that are available in Sydney.
Perhaps it’s time to give up the concession system altogether and let pensioners travel for free, as they do in Lisbon.
Interested in giving feedback on NSW Buses?
The NSW Government has created a Bus Industry Taskforce to make recommendations to improve the reliability, quality and effectiveness of bus services across NSW. You can find out more here. If you would like some help to have your say, you can email us at email@example.com or give us a call on (02) 8836 2100 or 1800 451 488.