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Opal heralds end to most paper tickets for NSW public transport

Long-time transport ticket collector Noel Farr is sceptical Opal will help reduce fare evasion. Photo: Nic Walker The sale of most public transport tickets will cease in NSW on New Year’s Day. Photo: Nic Walker

The new year marks the end of the line for the vast majority of NSW’s magnetic-striped paper tickets for public transport.

Long a part of daily life for millions, they are about to become relegated to the collections of people such as Noel Farr, of Camperdown in Sydney’s inner west.

Mr Farr, 61, who has collected about 10,000 transport tickets since the 1970s, said the move signalled the end of an era for paper tickets.

“It is a progression. We have gone from Edmondson ticketing to the magnetic-striped tickets and now to Opal,” he said.

“If it’s an improvement in the system, I am all for it. But I am a bit doubtful that it is an improvement.”

As part of the switch to the state’s Opal electronic ticketing system, 57 types of magnetic paper tickets will no longer be sold to commuters from New Year’s Day, including MyBus Travel Ten, MyMulti Weekly and Pensioner Excursion.

Mr Farr is sceptical about suggestions Opal will help the government reduce fare evasion, because only about 16 per cent of train stations have gates.

“When they bought out paper tickets they said it would eliminate fare evasion and reduce cost,” he said. “Now they are saying that about the Opal cards. Unless you put gates on every station, it will never happen.”

However, Transport for NSW said a recent survey showed fare evasion across the state’s transport network dropped from 11 per cent in 2012 to 5.2 per cent this year. About 70 per cent of passengers pass through stations that have gates.

Another collector of NSW travel tickets, who wanted to remain anonymous to safeguard his collection, said the state risked watching history “slipping through its hands” because the concept of archiving old tickets was foreign to many in government.

Although the sale of the vast majority of tickets will end, single and return adult and concession tickets for buses, trains, ferries and light rail will still be sold as part of efforts to cater for tourists and infrequent users of public transport.

More than 4.7 million Opal cards are now in circulation in NSW. About 700,000 Gold Opal cards have been issued to pensioners, senior commuters and war widows; the card caps their fares at $2.50 a day.

The NSW government has spent $1.4 billion on the electronic ticketing system.

About 100 top-up machines for Opal cards have been installed at train stations, ferry wharves, light rail stops and major bus interchanges, and transport officials expect 350 to be in operation early next year.

The government has said it will give commuters “plenty of notice” of the final date they can use paper tickets that will no longer be sold from January 1.

Whereas tickets such as the Family Funday Sunday will become a relic of the past, fares will be capped at $2.50 for travel on Sundays for Opal card holders.

Opal also gives cardholders unlimited free trips after they have notched up eight paid journeys in a week.

At one of Australia’s largest train museums, Trainworks at Thirlmere, staff have spent the last year cataloguing a large collection of the state’s railway tickets from the past century.

It includes more than 17,000 Edmondson tickets donated by former NSW station master Ken Ames, who now lives in Tasmania.

The drawcards include nine-carat gold “life passes” issued to parliamentarians and governors-general for free journeys on the state’s public transport system.

Etched on each of the gold passes is a coat of arms and the recipient’s name.

Not everyone, however, is enamoured of paper transport tickets.

Mr Farr admits his wife, May, doesn’t share his passion for collecting thousands of tickets, including Edmondson cardboard tickets. “She doesn’t quite understand … “

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