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Public transport in Sydney and the Opal card

A guide on how to use public transport in Sydney and the importance of the Opal card to navigate the city’s buses, trains, lightrails and of course the ferries! 

It’s been a couple of months for me in Sydney, and we still don’t have a car meaning that all our travel in the city is done through public transport. That may sound strange, but getting a car wasn’t a priority for us and the public transport in Sydney is such that one can easily commute throughout the city. With all the commuting that I do on a daily basis, I thought of writing an article on the transportation system, and the extremely important Opal card.

Sydney’s public transport system features a comprehensive network of train, bus and ferry services. Light rail lines, airport links, sightseeing buses and taxi services complement the network. One can get a free smartcard ticket to load funds for use on trains, buses, ferries and light rail. Known as an Opal card (similar to a metrocard in Dubai, US or UK) , this can can be used on the transport network extending beyond Sydney to the Blue Mountains, Central Coast, Hunter, Illawarra and Southern Highlands regions surrounding Sydney.

The Opal Card – How to get one and how to use it

Available at multiple retailers across the city, an Opal card in itself has no value. When you go to a retailer and get a new Opal card they will ask you to load an amount to it, the minimum of which is 10 dollars. You can then reload balance in the card through any retailer or through Opal’s website.

It’s a good idea to also make an Opal account online and link your Opal card to it. Not only will you be able to top-up your card and be able to download a comprehensive activity report, you will also be able to link it to a bank account, a debit or credit card so that it is auto-topped up when its balance is low. Registering your card to your name also has the benefit of safeguarding your balance in case your card is lost. In that instance, all you gave to do is login and report the card as lost/stolen resulting in a balance freeze. When you get a new Opal card, you can then transfer the frozen balance from the lost card to the new one.

Calculate travel time by using mobile apps

Opal fares are calculated according to the distance that you have travelled. This is done by tapping on and tapping off at Opal terminals hoisted at wharfs, platforms, stations and within buses. I highly recommend downloading the Opal app and linking your Opal card with it. Not only does it help you keep track of the remaining balance, but it also keeps track of the trips you make and most importantly tells you the route to take and exactly when the bus/train/ferry/lightrail will arrive. Just add the location and Opal will tell you when to depart from your current location, the potential routes that can be taken, the total time for the trip and the cost. Best to keep a buffer of a few minutes especially if you are new and don’t know the station/stop. Other apps that can be used to find out about timings for public transport in Sydney are TripView, Transit and of course Google Maps.

Though Opal gives a pretty accurate indication of when a bus/train will come, generally speaking trains are more reliable than buses, unless there is track-work on your route. Plus trains pass on the same route more frequently making them the best option to reach destinations on time. Opal will mention the bus stop number and the route. Always double check the number at the bus stop because you might be standing on the right road but the opposite side. Speaking from experience here!

Public transport in Sydney on a Budget

Transport in Sydney isn’t cheap but there are concessions available for people who travel more. For instance, after 8 trips in a week on the same Opal card a weekly reward is reached and fare is discounted by 50%. There is a daily cap of AUD 15.80 and a Sunday cap of AUD 2.70. The Sunday cap is also applicable for ferries (which can cost as high as 7 dollars for one trip) and even surrounding regions like the Blue Mountains, so if you want to explore the city or have lots of chores, Sunday is the best day. Just remember that there will be lots of other people who have the same idea.

In the long-term a car is necessary in Sydney, especially if one has kids or when travelling long distances and going on road-trips around the country. However, in the short-term one can easily manage without a car. Plus with parking being so expensive in the city people who have cars usually take them out on the weekends only, or when travelling with children, buying groceries and other home supplies.

If you live in Sydney, do share your experiences with this city, and any advice you can give to people who are moving here. 

If you have recently moved to Sydney or are planning to move here, do check out my article on ‘A beginner’s guide to living in Sydney here.

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