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Why the $2.50 pensioner excursion paper ticket is worth hanging on to

The sale of most public transport tickets will cease in NSW on New Year’s Day. Photo: Nic Walker In with the new: the Gold Opal card. Photo: supplied

2016 will mark the end of paper tickets – and the end of Noel Farr’s collection of them. Photo: Nic Walker

There are only months left for the last great rort on Sydney’s mass transit system, one that has given potentially millions of thrifty pensioners the equivalent of a golden ticket.

The end of the sale of most paper tickets this week has left the public transport system in an intermediate phase between electronic and paper ticketing. That has created a loophole that theoretically entitles the holder of a single $2.50 pensioner excursion to unlimited free travel across much of the transport network.

The tickets will stop being sold in the New Year, but they will remain valid until an as-yet unspecified time in 2016.

But much of the public transport network has no machines for validating the tickets, allowing one ticket to be used repeatedly.

Light rail conductors do not carry machines for validating paper tickets but have been given readers for scanning Opal cards.

The majority of Sydney’s ferry wharves do not have gates with ticket readers.

And many of Sydney’s fleet of hundreds of private buses have removed ticket-validating machines while continuing to wave pensioners on-board.

A spokeswoman for Transport for NSW said that its staff continually “engaged” with commuters to ensure tickets were valid.

“The number of tickets that will be in use from tomorrow will be very small,” the spokeswoman said.

Rules state that ticket sellers are meant to write the date on the back of tickets to prevent them being used beyond the day on which they are sold.

But conductors have told Fairfax that almost never happens. Ticket inspectors can mark the tickets to ensure they are not reused.

“Your typical senior buys $20 at a time and puts them in his pocket,” said Jim Donovan from Action for Public Transport, an advocacy group. “It’s not just the light rail. You could carry on between any two suburban [train] stations without ticket machines indefinitely [until] one day there’d be a ticket inspector”.

Only about 60 per cent of pensioners have made the transition to the Gold Opal card, which leaves hundreds of thousands who have resisted the push to switch.

Nearly two million of the paper excursion tickets were sold this May.

The state government will not say how much longer it will continue to accept paper tickets. But it is believed to be targeting late 2016.

Pensioners have reportedly been stocking up on paper pensioner excursion tickets before they are taken out of circulation.

“Many of us have hung onto them,” said Nan Bosler, a pensioner and computer teacher. “But soon we won’t be able to have the freedom of being able to say ‘Oh I haven’t got a card’.

“It doesn’t matter what you do or how you organise things some people are going to be smart enough to find ways around it”.

About 6.5 per cent of people on the light rail evade fares, according to a state government survey of commuters conducted last year.

But fare evasion rates across the network are dropping after the government employed about 200 full-time inspectors after years of comparatively lax enforcement.

Across the network rates of fare evasion have fallen from about 11 per cent to about 5 per cent, according to the same passenger survey.

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