After more than a decade of delays, public transport tickets in Sydney are finally going electronic, with a trial set to commence on Sydney Ferries in December.
NSW Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian said on Sunday that commuters would be able to use a single card to pay for tickets on ferries, trains, buses, and light rail by 2015.
The so-called Opal card will be available on all Sydney ferries and some trains in 2013, with buses and light rail to come on line two years later, Berejiklian said.
"This is something that will change the way we use public transport," she told reporters at Neutral Bay on Sydney's north shore.
"It will be an easy system, where commuters simply have to tap on and tap off, and it will be like having an e-tag in your pocket."
The announcement has been a long time coming, with an e-ticketing system first proposed by the former Labor government in 1997 to be in place in time for the 2000 Olympics.
That plan was scrapped, and a long-running dispute between the NSW government and the sacked developer of the previous e-card was only settled in February this year.
Berejiklian said that the first commuters to have access to the card will be patrons on the Neutral Bay ferry route in a trial of the system from December 7.
She said that fares would remain the same during the Neutral Bay trial, while further announcements on charges would be made during the system's rollout.
The Opal card itself will be free, with public transport users putting money on it in a similar way to the e-tag for cars, Berejiklian said.
She said that a big benefit of the Opal card will be that after eight journeys using it in a given week, all further trips will be free.
She also said that there would be a daily travel cap of AU$15 from Monday to Saturday for Opal card customers, with a cap on Sundays of AU$2.50.
She expects that there will be a "few glitches" during the rollout, and said that's why the single card system is being implemented progressively.
Opposition Transport spokeswoman Penny Sharpe said that the government is running behind schedule on the project.
Sharpe told reporters that the government had initially planned to have the system in place by 2014, but has now pushed it back.
"Passengers will be disappointed at the slow rollout," Sharpe said.
She said that commuters should also be worried that the government has not ruled out hiking fares once the Opal card is fully introduced.