Let's take a trip to Sydney and see how the other half lives.

I hadn't visited Sydney for a few years at least, so it seemed like a great time to get away.  And with the Opal Card Rollout progressing so that it's widely useable now, of course I had to give it a go, and compare it to myki.

Buying the card and Online Top-up

I bought the card online.  The card itself is free, but you need to top-up at least $40 online.  It's not clear if this amount is likely to lower in the future.  We were going for 3 days/2 nights so figured that $40 should cover us.  It actually didn't, but more on that later.

The cards arrived in the mail (you can get one posted anywhere in Australia) under a week after ordering.  You had to activate them through the online portal, but apparently the cards don't come loaded with the balance, that happens when you first "Tap" the card on after activation.  If you don't Tap on for 60 days your top-up is refunded to your credit card and you'll simply have a free Opal Card with $0.00 on it.

Our top-up was waiting for us onboard the 400 bus we caught from the Airport.  I didn't try another online top-up, but am led to believe they are reasonably reliable and that they are usually available in under an hour, even on buses.

Opal clearly wins in this regard over myki, where at best your top-up arrives in a few hours.

myki has the edge over opal in that you can top-up any whole dollar amount over $10 via the website (rather than Opals $40 minimum).  A little known fact is that you can top-up via bpay to your myki, any amount over $1.00, so e.g. an odd amount like $2.42, though this may take longer than 24 hours to apply.

Reader speed and sounds

I'm afraid to say that Opal owns myki in this regard.  Readers are consistently fast, I did not have a single issue or problem.  I put my Opal card in the exact same spot my myki normally lives in my wallet and used it in the same way.  Fast, consistent reads, on buses and at Train station Gates.  Rather than installing entirely new barriers, Opal simply retrofitted existing barriers with an actual screen which shows balance details etc as you walk through.  It seems to work very well.

The displays show only simple information, in big easy to read fonts.  I found the screens bright and clear.  Strangely I didn't see a single scratched screen anywhere, yet in Melbourne it would be hard not to find a scratched myki reader.  But then trains in Sydney seem much cleaner and less vandalised than in Melbourne, I'll leave you to draw your own conclusion over that.

The sounds are much louder and more obvious than myki.  With a successful Tap on/off sound, a low balance sound, and "try again" sound (I never got this myself but did see others getting it on occasion).

Interesting:  Bus Opal readers don't let you Tap on or Off while the vehicle is between stops.  Looking at the travel history below, the bus GPS is far more reliable than myki.

Locals may perhaps have other opinions, but I gave it a pretty good go in the three days I was there and the actual reader experience is basically stratospheric compared to myki, though not all the reasons why are the fault of myki.

Fares and Charging

Take a deep breath with me.

Opal and myki work very differently in this regard, and any differences need to be looked at from two angles:  Systems differences (the way the system copes with the business and fare rules it is programmed with), and political differences.  The pre-opal and pre-myki fare structures were also very different.  I'm not even going to pretend that I've ever tried to understand the Sydney Public Transport Fare Structure, which to me, prior to Opal, was a complicated and expensive mess.  I hated using public transport in Sydney because buying what we in Melbourne would call a "daily ticket" that you could use on all modes to go anywhere, was actually quite expensive.  Although Opal has simplified this somewhat, it's still difficult to understand, and a great deal of trust is required.  I have no idea if locals are being regularly overcharged or not, as I've not followed it that closely.

All I can do is post my travel history for the last three days, which going by what I understand, is correct.

To start with:  Opal has no myki pass equivalent (well, not that I could find).  It's all pay as you go, but with the following bonuses added:

  • You are capped at $15 a day (which seems expensive by Melbourne standards, even more so from January 1 2015)
  • If you take 8 "journeys" in a week (Opal week is Monday-Sunday) you travel FREE for the rest of that week
  • The maximum you can be charged in a week is $60, even if you travel from Newcastle to Sydney (who does this?!!!) on a daily basis.
The catch is that how you get to your $15 cap can be quite convoluted and complicated, with different fares from Trains, Buses, and Ferries, and all depending on the distance of your trip and where it starts and ends, and if you "transfer" to another service within 60 minutes.

Looking at my history above, you can see that on the first day I had three "Journeys", counting towards my Weekly Reward.  But on the second, even though we travelled all over the place, we only had two.  Why?  Because if a you take a "trip" and then within 60 minutes transfer to another "trip", it still counts as part of the same "Journey".  It would have been better to have more gaps between trips and get to our Weekly Travel Reward sooner, though I didn't understand that properly at the time.

In Brisbane, I know that Go-card has a similar weekly travel reward scheme, and that it's advantageous for many commuters to take a single small bus trip at lunch time on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday meaning they reach their number of journeys sooner, making travel for the rest of the week much cheaper especially if their normal commute is a long distance.  I'm assuming Opal works in the same way.

In contrast myki's 2 hour/daily system seems way easier to understand, though we don't have an automatic weekly cap, only a daily one.  I think it's well known that a weekly cap was originally planned for myki (and presumably would be a doddle to implement) but for political reasons the idea was ditched at the 11th hour.  One might hope that this might one day see the light of day, but sadly I'm not optimistic, though who knows what other crazy promises might surface prior to the November 29 Victorian State Election.

Regardless of all this, it's not fair (excuse the pun) to compare the fare structures of Opal and myki, as they are so different, that for the purposes of comparison we should only look at how each system enforces the rules and regulations with which they are programmed, and how they make it easier for users to ensure they aren't being ripped off.  

The tool both myki and opal users have to monitor their usage is the website.  I'd have to say that the Opal website definitely wins in this regard.  The travel history is clearly laid out and easy to understand, with icons representing the mode (train, bus or ferry), and a single line for each trip.  It shows how many journeys you've taken (a journey can consist of more than one "trip" if the trips are taken with in 60 minutes of each other) so you know when you're reaching your weekly travel reward.

I won't go into the history or functionality of the myki website, but after using the Opal one for a few days it's obviously well overdue for both an Aesthetic and Functional overhaul.  It basically looks like some grade 2 primary school students cobbled it together in an afternoon, and it's looked like this for almost 5 years now apart from a very minor cosmetic change earlier this year.  Travel history is still hard to read.  Replacing the words Train, Tram and Bus with an icon representing the mode would do wonders at the very least, and there's plenty more that could be done quite simply and cheaply I'd imagine if they only got the right person to do it.

In my opinion the myki fare structure is easier to understand, though again I'll re-iterate:  they are both so different.  Both have their pluses and minuses.  A myki style structure with a weekly (or better yet monthly and even yearly) travel reward would obviously be PT nirvana, but like any politician would ever let that happen even if it were technically possible.

Topping up on the go

Ignoring Auto and Online Top-up, much like myki there are opal retailers absolutely everywhere.  Even Woolworths let's you top-up, which we did because we hit our $40 before we got to our 8 journeys.  Simple, straight forward process, much like myki.

The big thing missing is Opal top-up machines at Train Stations and bus interchanges/depots.  You also can't currently top-up at Station ticket windows.  So it's either retailers, or online.  Although this would appear to only be temporary, myki gets a win since every station has a top-up machine, and staffed stations you can top-up at the counter.

Reader Durability and longevity

Opal, quite simply.  The reader poles at stand alone stations and ferry terminals have bollard like qualities.  Because the entire thing appears constructed of Stainless Steel they just seem like they're going to survive a hell of a lot better than myki.  Myki readers (well, the actual reader bit, not the pole) have proven time and again to be of poor quality construction, requiring frequent replacement.  They are also far less resistant to vandal attack.  I would actually hope that one day we get a new design of myki reader, though again doubt it will happen any time soon.

As mentioned above the reasons why myki readers, and more broadly public transport infrastructure in general is under siege by vandals in Melbourne, and why Opal and Sydney infrastructure all appear shiny and new, well that's a discussion for a different time.  Opal equipment might not look as nice in four years, but I'm willing to bet it won't look as bad as myki equipment does now.

The retrofitted fare gates which have had Opal equipment added, well they just work.  They seem far less prone to failure than our big new shiny myki gates.


It's very hard to compare the two systems for a variety of reasons.  Both are at very different stages of their rollouts, myki is basically completed up to the point the current government wants to finish it, where as we don't yet know exactly how Opal will be once it's finished.  A change of government in either NSW or Victoria could lead to changes in this regard.

As far as the experience of using the card, for me Opal wins.  It works and it appears to work well.  Myki continues to have niggles here and there, though I think we're all so used to them now that we barely bat an eyelid any more when a reader plays up.  The myki GPS on buses and trams is an embarrassment compared to Opal though.

Costs... well, next year my zone 1 yearly is going to cost me $1330.  Depending on where I lived in Sydney, Opal could cost me up to $3120 for the entire year.  That hurts, though isn't the fault of the system itself.  As noted above there are ways to whittle that cost down, probably quite substantially, but how many people are going to take a single bus trip at lunch time?

But, going by appearances alone, myki just seems sub-standard compared to Opal.

Both systems have their pros and cons.  The saddest thing is, that with some very modest changes to both of them we could easily have a ticketing solution the envy of many other cities, yes even London and Hong Kong.  It's government bureaucracy, red-tape, and political brinkmanship which are to blame for the short comings in both systems.

In Victoria, at least, I hope we remember this when it comes November 29, despite all the pie in the sky carrots currently being dangled in front of us.