Transport for NSW has enabled contactless payments using cards and mobile wallets on its longest Sydney ferry route, in a move that could spell the beginning of the end for the state’s Opal smartcards.
The agency has struck a deal with Mastercard to allow those card owners – or those that have linked their card with a mobile wallet – to pay for ferry trips between Manly and Circular Quay using their credit or debit card, smartphone, tablet or smart watch.
Accepting contactless payments in this way is officially a “trial”, and it is unclear how long it would last.
But it is a first for Australia, and Mastercard’s vice president of travel and transit development Doug Howe said in a statement that it made sense to enable tap and go payments for public transport, given the rise in popularity of such payment methods.
“Australians are continuously embracing digital payment technology, with 82 percent using tap-and-go to make payments every week,” he said.
“This indicates that many recognise the benefits of faster and more convenient payment methods, so it makes good sense to extend this option to transport.”
Mastercard said enabling contactless payments would “save time for commuters and money for government.”
While the payment method is available to anyone, the ferry route is particularly popular with tourists, and tap and go could make it a lot easier for them to travel.
However, under the trial, only an adult fare can be purchased using the new contactless payment. Other ticket holders will need to keep using their Opal card or buying the correct paper ticket.
In addition, trial users don’t get frequent travel discounts as they would with Opal. “Opal benefits such as daily or weekly fare caps will not apply to contactless payments,” Transport for NSW said.
That is likely to limit regular commuter use of the technology and keep the trial little more than a novelty.
The fare initially appears on the card as a “pending fee of $1”.
"When funds are settled by your bank, a transaction for the full fare only will be charged, accompanied by a description indicating the amount relates to Transport for NSW travel,” the agency said.
While only Mastercard is accepted, other card operators could be invited to join.
“We are working with other schemes for their inclusion in the trial as soon as possible,” Transport for NSW said.
If the trial is successful - and fare rules are aligned - it could also call into question the long-term future of the Opal transit smartcard.
However, Transport for NSW said – at least for now – Opal’s future is assured.
“Contactless card payments are an alternative way to pay your ferry fare,” it said. “Opal will remain the primary ticketing platform for public transport in NSW.”