Transport for NSW said it's aiming for the most technologically advanced transportation smartcard in the world with its upcoming Opal system in Sydney.
"Sydney's Opal Card is more technically progressed in terms of compatibility with new and emerging technologies than many other transit systems around the world," a Transport for NSW spokesman told Computerworld Australia.
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The electronic ticketing system, which is similar to the Oyster card in London and the Myki card in Melbourne, is certain to be one of the world's largest.
Commuters and visitors in greater Sydney will be able to tap the card to access trains, buses, ferries and light rail from Dungog to Bomaderry and from Bathurst to Manly.
In all, Sydney's transport system is about 40,000 square kilometres; 25 times the size of London's 1600 sq. km system.
A trial of the Opal system began 7 December on the Neutral Bay ferry route. Transport for NSW hopes to expand to all Sydney ferries, comprising 40 wharves, by the end of 2013, the Transport for NSW spokesman said.
Opal will start rolling out to city circle trains in the second half of this year, he said.
"Come 2015, 42 ferry wharves, more than 300 train stations and more than 5000 buses and light rail will have Opal equipment operating."
New South Wales opted for a progressive rollout of Opal after studying implementation of electronic ticketing systems in other Australian cities and around the world, the spokesman said. An advantage of the approach is that it allows Transport for NSW to collect customer feedback during the introduction, he said.
Ferries are first to get Opal "because in comparison with Sydney's trains and buses, the ferry service has a simpler and smaller network," the spokesman said.
"That makes it easier to introduce the system and to trial the new technology, services and customer interactions."
To make the system a reality, Transport for NSW will upgrade CityRail ticketing gates with readers to accept Opal cards. The gates will continue to accept paper tickets, the spokesman said.
"The new Sydney electronic ticketing system and Opal card uses a mix of commercial off-the-shelf products based on London's successful and proven Oyster card systems and new development for Sydney's unique transport requirements," the spokesman said.
Some transportation systems in Europe are using near field communications (NFC), a technology that is increasingly being included in smartphones and is also used for mobile payments. Transport for NSW wouldn't say whether it would adopt NFC, but left open the possibility of integrating new payment technologies in the future.
Transport for NSW "watches with interest the trials of various payment systems across the globe," the spokesman said. "The Opal Card is well positioned for the future to take advantage of new payment systems when they are proven for mass transit systems."
"Importantly, smart cards are the core of comparable mass transit payment systems and will be for some time."
Transport for NSW believes the new system will be easier for public transport users than the existing paper-based system, the spokesman said.
It could also prove cheaper. Detailed fares will not be set until after the trial, but money-saving "incentives" have been announced to encourage use of Opal.
The card only charges for eight rides per week, so a commuter who pays for two trips a day from Monday through Thursday can get unlimited free travel on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. There will also be a $2.50 daily cap for all travel on Sundays, and a daily travel cap of $15 from Monday to Saturday.
In Sydney, it currently costs $44 for an adult, weekly MyMulti card allowing travel on trains, buses, ferries and light rail. A MyMulti day pass for an adult costs $22.
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