Sydney Transport with Opal Card
Travel Sydney with Opal Card city passes. They make it easy to get around and can save you money. Here’s how.
Fares for Sydney public transport are changing. A one-card-for-everything, the Opal card is being introduced. Until its rollout is complete there is a rather confusing mix of tickets available.
I’ll help you sort out what’s best for getting around Sydney and how to get the most from your pass card.
Opal Card Overview
The new Opal Card one card for everything. You can buy the card
- at the airport,
- at Central railway station,
- from many retailers around the city,
- you can order it online (allow two weeks for delivery within Australia, longer for overseas).
Load it up with a minimum of AUD$10 (online minimum AUD$40) and then travel on it until the balance is used up, when you top it up again.
Top-ups can be AUD $10, $20, $40, $60, $80, $100 or $120 (halve these amounts for a child’s top-up).
In NSW children under 4 travel free. From 4-15 a child’s fare applies. From age 16 an adult fare is charged.
If you hold a valid Australian pensioner card or seniors card you are eligible for senior/pensioner fares. These are generally half the adult fare and are capped at AUD$2.50 per day, no matter how much you travel.
Opal card charges are capped at AUD$15 a day (child/concession AUD$7.50) and AUD$60 a week (child/concession AUD$30). You can use the Opal card almost everywhere. Use it to travel Sydney by bus, train, ferry and light rail (tram). It doesn’t cover special event buses.
Compare City Passes
The Opal card is a better deal for visitors than MyMulti tickets. For example, a one day MyMulti ticket will cost you AUD$23, the Opal card’s top daily charge is AUD$15. The weekly MyMulti3 ticket, which lets you travel the entire greater Sydney region, costs AUD$63. The highest weekly Opal card charge is AUD$60.
It’s also cheaper than single or TravelTen tickets. With the Opal card you can travel on more than one bus, train or ferry provided you transfer within 60 minutes from the time you first tapped on (within 130 minutes for the Manly ferry).
It won’t let you swap from a bus to a train, or ferry to a bus as a single fare – it has to be bus to bus, train to train, ferry to ferry. It’s a serious shortcoming of the system so be aware of that.
Which Opal Card is Right for Me?
There are four Opal cards:
Black for adults (16 and over) who normally pay full fares
Green for children from 4-15 years old
Gold for senior/pensioner card holders
Silver for eligible tertiary students and job seekers
Sydney Airport Transfers
All users of Sydney transport pay an extra fee for train travel to or from the airport.
It adds AUD$13 to the fare for adults and AUD$11.60 for children/concessions, capped at AUD$23 per week (adult) and AUD$20.50 (child/concession) for Opal card holders. So if you need to go in and out of the airport more than once in a week make sure that you have the card. Buy it before boarding your first train at the airport.
You can buy Opal cards from the airport train station itself and also from bookshops and convenience stores inside the terminal.
There are two ways to avoid paying the airport station access fee.
You can take the Number 400 Metro Bus that goes between Burwood and Bondi Junction. Either way will get you to a station that will connect to city trains and buses. If you’re going to the eastern suburbs the bus heading for Bondi may suit you, to the inner west then take the Burwood direction.
Compared with the train, which takes about 10 minutes to get you into the city, the Number 400 bus will take well over an hour and require a change of buses to get you there. You can have a bit of a wait as well, as it doesn’t run that often. Check the timetable at the bus stop, or look it up online before flying if you’re well enough organised.
If you don’t have too much luggage you can walk the first part of your journey so that you pick up the train outside the airport limits. That way you won’t be charged the access fee.
From the international terminal that means a stroll to Wolli Creek, where you take the train to the city.
From the domestic terminal your walk will be to Mascot train station. You can avoid the latter walk by taking the 400 bus to Mascot and then joining the train there. That’s faster than going the whole way by bus but you run into an Opal card anomaly and annoyance: you’ll be charged for two trips because train and bus trips are each counted separately.
Sydney Transport Tips for Opal Card Users
The Opal card has quite a few lesser known benefits that you can’t get with other tickets. Read on …
Sleep in and save – avoid peak hour trains from Monday to Friday and you’ll save 30% off the standard fare. Note that this does not apply to buses and ferries – it’s for trains only.
Off-peak fares also apply to travel on weekends and public holidays.
Peak hour on Sydney trains is from 0700-0900 (7am to 9am) and from 1600-1830 (4pm to 6.30pm) weekdays. For Intercity services the morning peak period shifts forward an hour, and runs from 0600-0800 (6am to 8am), afternoon peak doesn’t change. But wait, there’s more …
Travel on Sundays – anticipate the joy of your senior years by travelling all day for AUD$2.50. This super cheap cap applies only on Sundays and only for Opal card holders.
And travel Sydney a lot on Mondays.
Once you have taken 8 paid journeys a week on your Opal card the rest of your travel for that week is free.
The week starts on Monday. So, if you make lots of short journeys early in the week your overall cost will be a lot less than the weekly cap. Even more so if you take only trains and start after 0900 (9am).
If you’re a pensioner or senior don’t bother – this deal doesn’t apply to you. Your AUD$2.50 daily cap keeps your costs way down.
Going further with your Opal Card
Your Opal card gives you free rein over the whole of greater Sydney.
That includes the Blue Mountains to the west, the central coast, Hunter Valley and Newcastle in the north and the Southern Highlands, Wollongong and Kiama in the south.
You don’t need to think about sections or exactly what ticket you should have – everything is covered. It’s a nice easy ticket.
Transport from Sydney Airport – Buses & Trains
Most people today use the train to get into Sydney. It’s quick (10-12 minutes to Central) but it’s not cheap.
A one way ticket from the international airport will cost you around AUD $17.20 (adult) and AUD $12.90 (first child, other children travel free). That’s to Sydney central and inner city stations. If you’re going further the cost will be a little higher.
If you’re going to be leaving Sydney Australia within a week (and travelling back to the airport by train) you’ll pay less overall if you buy your Opal cards at the airport immediately. Your weekly spend on airport access fees will then be capped at something less than two separate entries.
You can still catch an airport bus when you arrive. But there are fewer of them each year.
The Number 400 Metro Bus from Burwood to Bondi Junction still stops at the airport. It takes just over an hour to get to Bondi Junction, just under an hour to Burwood. See my comments on this above
Some hotels and hostels still provide shuttle buses from the airport and it’s worth checking with your hotel if it provides this service.
The remaining Sydney airport buses are mostly used to travel on to places further afield where rail links don’t exist or trains don’t run very often.
For example, if you’re going on to Canberra there is an express bus service from Kingsford Smith airport which gets you there quickly and comfortably.
Family Discount Sydney Travel Tickets
Whenever at least one paying adult using a paper ticket, not an Opal card travels with more than one child or grandchild, only the first child needs to buy a ticket. The other children travel free.
This family fare deal applies to single, return and MyMulti Day Passes. It’s available only with a paper ticket as it is a hangover from the previous fare structure which has been superseded by the Opal card.
For as long as paper tickets last though, this family discount is being retained. Eventually it will disappear, along with the last paper tickets.
The other significantly discounted Sydney travel for families are Sunday city passes. For these you will need an Opal card for each child and each adult.
Once you have these, you can travel the entire Sydney Australia train, bus and ferry network every Sunday for AUD $2.50 per person. It’s a bargain!
Most trains stop between midnight and 0430. After that NightRide buses operate on most routes.
Your Opal card’s day continues until 0359 (3.59am) the next morning. So you can continue to travel on NightRide services on your daily capped fare provided you board the bus before it clicks over to a new day at 0400 (4.00am).
Where to Buy Your Opal Card Travel Pass
You can buy Opal cards at Transport Customer Centres in Central and some (not all) other railway stations, newsagents, tobacconists, convenience stores and supermarkets around the city. They will often show a sign or flag outside saying “Opal cards sold here”. Top ups can be bought at the same outlets, or through top up machines at many train stations, wharves and light rail stops.
If you have unused credit on your Opal card when you leave Sydney you can
- keep the card and its credit until your next visit – it lasts for at least 8 years
- pass it on to friends or family to use
- get a refund of the credit balance – but it’s a bit of a mission, involving forms and bank account details (no cash or credit card refunds)
All photos on this page by courtesy of Newtown_grafitti