As the New South Wales government moves to phase out some of the existing paper tickets from the transport network next month to encourage uptake of the Opal electronic ticketing system, Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian has assured pensioners that they won't be forced onto Opal.
The Opal smart card ticketing system began rolling out on Sydney transport last year, with the service expected to be available across all trains, ferries and buses later this year. As of this week, Berejiklian said that there were 570,000 Opal cards issued.
From September 1, the government will start to retire some of the multi-trip cards, including weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly tickets to encourage commuters to switch to the Opal card.
The government has yet to issue a "gold" Opal card for pensioners, and separate concession cards for students and other concession card holders, but speaking in NSW Budget Estimates earlier this week, Christian Democrat MP Paul Green said that it had been "most distressful" for pensioners that cannot purchase an Opal card at the train station.
"In Nowra, aged persons are incredibly distressed that they go to the railway station like the good old days to buy a ticket to get on the train only to find out that they cannot have access to an Opal card at the ticket office," he said.
Berejiklian said pensioners would not be forced to use Opal cards.
"I stress that even when the AU$2.50 Opal card comes out you can still use the existing paper system. I want to stress the point that from September 1, we will be retiring about 14 types of paper tickets. But there are still more than 20 types of paper tickets available. So we are still in transition," she said.
"Whatever pensioners and seniors do today, they will be able to do beyond September 1, and they will be able to do beyond the gold Opal card."
The minister admitted that the government was aware that some pensioners would resist the change.
"We know that not everybody will want to take an Opal card if you are a senior or a pensioner. We want to make sure our customers have a lot of time and have a lot of access points to get those services and I want to assure you that we completely appreciate that—I will not say all seniors and pensioners—a vast majority do not like change and are used to doing particular things," she said.
"Therefore, I stress that they will still be able to continue purchasing their pensioner excursion tickets wherever they purchase them from today."
For bus travel, where Opal card will become the default, Berejiklian said that the bus drivers have been told to not be strict on pensioners who do not have Opal cards.
Berejiklian said that unlike the electronic ticketing system in Victoria, the New South Wales government had no plans to force customers to pay for an Opal card. However, those registering for an Opal card online will need to put on an initial credit of AU$40.
More and more adults will be forced onto the Opal card system from September 1, with the retirement of the existing weekly, monthly, and yearly tickets. However, customers can now get anonymous Opal cards from Woolworths, 7-Eleven and other retail outlets that do not log a customer's details against their travel record that can be accessed by police without a warrant.