Navigating Sydney’s Public Transport with the Opal Card
If you are moving from the UK, then the Opal card is Sydney’s version of the Oyster card. Or, if you’re moving from Seattle like we did, the Opal card is similar to the Orcas card.
The truth is it doesn’t matter where you’re moving from, get an Opal card, even if you’re a tourist in Sydney.
I’m going to cover the basics of the Opal Card in this post, but the actual Opal Card website includes pretty much everything you need to know. I recommend checking it out if you have any further questions but hopefully after reading this you won’t. :-)
Opal Card 101
This is a free public transport card that you load value onto so you can travel conveniently on all public transport systems (train, bus, ferries and light rail) in Sydney. Kind of like a Starbucks card but for public transport.
While it is a free card, the minimum cost is $10 for the adult card and $5 for child’s cards. The whole amount can be used for any travel on Sydney’s public transport.
To get an Opal Card, you can order online and have it sent to you or pick one up at a newsagent, supermarket, or convenience store. There are over 2000 retailers that sell Opal Cards. There are also Opal Cards available from selected Transport Customer Service Centers and Shops.
Be aware that some of the retailers may have credit card fees for purchases under a certain amount. To avoid these extra fees just load up your card above the amount to avoid this fee. This goes for when you’re topping up your card too.
You can also pick up a card at Sydney’s International Airport too at the arrival terminal. Not a bad idea if you are considering using the train to get to the city when you arrive. If that is something that you are considering doing then be aware that there is a Sydney Airport Station Access Fee of $13.50 for adults and $12.00 for Gold Senior/Pensioner, Concession, and Child/Youth Opal card holders. So be sure you load up your card to cover the this fee.
You can use the Opal Card outside of the Sydney Metropolitan Transport for when you travel to the Blue Mountains, Central Coast, Hunter, Illawarra and the Southern Highlands. One of the reasons this is a good option for tourists not to mention getting to and from the airport.
There are five different types of Opal Cards.
- Adult Opal Card – 16 years of age or older
- Child/ Youth Opal Card – aged 4 – 15 years of age including full-time NSW/ACT school students aged 16 years and older with an NSW Senior Secondary Student Concession card that is issued by their school.
- School Opal Card – NSW school students are eligible for free travel or subsidized travel on public transport.
- Gold Senior/Pensioner Opal Card – to be eligible for this care you must have either an NSW Seniors Card, Pensioner Concession Card or an NSW War Widow/ers Card. Interstate senior and asylum seekers may also be eligible for this card. For these last two circumstances, please go to the Opal Card website to apply.
- Concession Opal Card – there is a full list of participating universities and tertiary institutions here.
The Opal Card is Easy to Use.
All you need to do is to load value onto the card and tap it on a designated Opal card reader before you travel and again when you arrive at your destination. The Opal Card system will automatically deduct the fare from the amount that you have on your card.
Taping On and Taping Off When You Travel
Be sure you always tap on before you start your journey on Sydney’s public transport. Even if the gate is open and you can just walk straight in.
This is important because if you forget, or just plain don’t tap on, you will essentially be traveling without a valid ticket and therefore subjected to fines.
Now if you forget to tap off it’s not as bad, but you will be charged the maximum fare.
Special Note: When you arrive at the Manly ferry terminal, there is no tap off because there is only one possible stop.
What about when changing trains or ferries or buses?
You will need to tap off between train stations. For example, let’s say you are going from Circular Quay station to Bondi Junction. You tap on at Circular Quay, but you do not tap off at Town Hall when changing trains because you are not leaving the station, but you will tap off at Bondi Junction, the final destination of your trip.
Does that make sense?
For ferries, it’s pretty much the same. You tap off when you leave the wharf. An example here would be taking the Neutral Bay Ferry to Circular Quay then hopping on the Cremorne Ferry. Since you didn’t leave the wharf to change ferries, you don’t need to tap off until you arrive at the Cremorne Ferry Wharf.
One exception is the Circular Quay Wharf. Going with the example above but instead of changing to the Cremorne Ferry you want to go to Balmain. This requires you to tap off and tap on again to change wharfs which is fine because at Circular Quay Wharf you can do so within 60 minutes and the Opal Card knows you’re just changing ferries and not starting a new trip.
For buses, it’s more obvious since you are exiting a bus to hop on another bus and therefore will be tapping on and tapping off of each bus. Again, the Opal network knows you are changing buses if you do so within 60 minutes and therefore will calculate your trip in its entirety instead of two separate trips.
Note: Due to the tap on, tap off system, two people cannot use the same card.
How to Load Up and Check Your Opal Card Balance
Your balance is displayed on the screen of the card reader every time you use the card which is a nice way to stay on top of it.
You can top up your card, or check your balance, with the Opal Travel App, probably what most people use. If you get an Opal Card, chances are you will also download the app.
Or if you’re on your desktop at work or home you can check your balance and top up that way. Now if you’re old school, you can call 13 67 25 (13 OPAL) to get your balance.
You can also visit any Opal retailers (don’t forget about the credit/debit card fees for certain amounts at certain retailers) or use an Opal top up machine in any selected train, light rail stations or ferry wharfs that are in the Opal Card network.
Now when looking at your balance for the weeks activities, you need to know that the Opal week starts on Monday. Makes sense for regular commuters.
One nice thing about the Opal Card and keeping track of your balance is setting up auto top up.
When your card falls below $10 it will automatically top up. Nice right?
Now what happens if you tap on to the Opal Network and that trip will put you below the $10 mark by the time you tap off?
No worries. The Opal Network will calculate the default fare and, if that fare puts you below the $10 mark, it will top up automatically.
Ok, by now you should be thinking that the Opal Card is the way to go for getting around Sydney, and you’re right, it is but, in case, you’re still not convinced let’s go over a few of the benefits to having an Opal Card.
Benefits of Using an Opal Card
First of all, you will never pay more than $15 a day as you travel on trains, buses, ferries and light rail trains. Children will never pay more than $7.50 a day. Yeah, that does sound like a lot for public transport but if you’re a tourist, getting to the $15 mark is easy. If you’re a local and have big night out and only use public transport, you could easily hit the $15 mark but on an average day, probably not.
Opal fares are also capped each week at $60 for adults and $30 for children. Don’t forget an Opal week runs from Monday to Sunday. After eight paid journeys using the card, you will qualify to travel for free for the rest of the week. You will also save 30 percent when you travel during off-peak times.
For tourists that plan on coming back to Sydney, you can keep your card for your next visit. You can also lend it or get a refund. Just complete a form and return your card to the Transport for NSW.
That’s it. Like I said at the beginning of this post, the Opal Card website has all the info you need plus some silly videos about tapping on and tapping off.
One thing I know for sure is that anyone moving to Sydney will have an Opal Card and, within a day, will be a pro. Just don’t forget about it when you have visitors from home. In fact, if they are staying with you, tell them to go ahead and order one, send it to your address so it’s there waiting for them when they arrive.