Sydney public transport is great!

Public transport logosThis may surprise many people who live in Sydney, but your public transport system is actually really good. Compared to the UK, that is.

I’ve often heard Sydneysiders moan about packed buses, delayed trains, price increases, and so on. You know nothing. Try living in England for a year, then let’s see if you still want to moan about Sydney.

Let the train take the strain

A one-way train ticket from Sydney to the Blue Mountains – a 2-hour journey of nearly 100km – costs $11.60. A one-way train ticket from London Paddington to Reading – a 25-minute journey (assuming the train doesn’t break down) of around 40km – costs GBP 12.90, or around $32.00. (That’s the cheapest possible fare – if you travel during peak time, it’s GBP 15.60, or $39.00.) So you can stop complaining about high Sydney ticket prices.

You think Sydney trains are unreliable? Commuting to London, it would be unusual if the train wasn’t seriously delayed at least once in any given week. I’ve sat in stationary English trains for two hours, waiting for them to get moving again.

Down the tube

The London Tube is a wonderful example of transport infrastructure, on paper at least. Its coverage makes Sydney’s CityRail look laughable. (OK, I live on the Northern Beaches, which has no train service at all – maybe I’m biased.) Once again, though, let’s look at prices. You can travel between any two central Sydney stations for $2.40. The equivalent in London – a zone 1 Tube ticket – costs a whopping GBP 4.00 ($10.00). To be fair, if you use a pre-paid Oyster card then it’s GBP 1.50 ($3.75), but then there are various cheap travel passes available in Sydney too.

Most of Sydney’s city trains go above ground, too. While I’m all for burying transport under the earth, you can’t beat a view of Sydney Harbour and the Opera House each morning when you commute to work (if you’re lucky enough to take a train over the Harbour Bridge).

On top of that, the Tube isn’t the most reliable beast. If I had a dollar for the number of times I’ve had to change trains at Earls Court due to a breakdown…

The wheels on the bus go round and round

Price-wise, buses are a similar story. You can take a 20-minute bus journey in Sydney for $2.90 ($2.30 if you prepay). The equivalent journey in London will set you back GBP 4.00 ($10.00), or GBP 1.50 ($3.75) with an Oyster card. (Shame they don’t have double-decker buses in Sydney any more though – they’re a great idea.)

So Sydney, at least, has excellent public transport. (I can’t speak for other Australian towns and cities, though I am very impressed with Melbourne’s trams.) It’s odd, then, that so many Sydney commuters take to their cars rather than hopping on the bus or train. Maybe Sydney needs a Ken Livingstone-style congestion charge to help unclog Sydney streets!

6 Responses to “Sydney public transport is great!”

  1. Simon Says:

    Hey There

    I have to disagree about your take on Sydney’s public transport. Try getting a bus into town on a Sunday from somewhere like Clovelly!! In addition, try queueing for a bus on a weekday morning at a stop that is five or six stops from a beach side suburb – you’re stuffed. Weekdays, I usually watch at least five go past (packed) before one comes past that I can squeeze on to. I’m so used to this scenario that I add an extra half an hour to my journey time, if travelling to work by bus. They also stock pile buses at the terminus so that five will come at once, with the last one empty – thus allowing controllers to assume there is spare capacity on that route and therefore no need to add extra buses to the schedule.

    Try getting a bus back home from town after midnight!! Not possible.

    When you look at how many people London underground moves around compared to Sydney (with a tube train stopping every three to five minutes in rush hour) London is streets ahead. Ditto with regard to late night buses.

    Having said all this I’m happy to sacrifice efficient transport for the beachside life I now enjoy.



  2. Visas Australia Says:

    The London Tube is a wonderful example, however it really needs alot of money spending on it to thoroughly modernise it.

  3. Scoot Says:

    I agree with you, having lived in London (and surrounds including Reading) and travelled to around 35 countries over the years, the Sydney system while not the best, is certainly not the worst. It’s best feature is the cost, it’s worse is the timetabling during off-peak times. I did a little research in 2007 on ticket prices, track length, frequency and age of rollingstock. Some of this was from my own observations, others were gleamed from websites. However this shouldn’t stop any new investment in a Metro style line, or other new “heavy rail” lines as population growth fills in the gaps of land in the Western and South Western and North Western suburbs.

    System: Sydney
    System type: interurban and suburban
    Lines/Stations/Distance: 8/302/2060km
    Frequency: 3 (inner peak) – 30mins (outer off-peak)
    Rollingstock age: 1986 – 2007
    Pricing: AUD 2.80 (4.78mi/7.67km)

    System: London
    System type: metro
    Lines/Stations/Distance: 12/274/408km
    Frequency: 2mins (inner peak) – 20mins (outer off-peak)
    Rollingstock age: 1960 – 1996
    Pricing: GBP1.50/GBP4.00 (offpeak/peak)
    (AUD 3.90/9.00)

    System: Hamburg S-Bahn
    System type: suburban
    Lines/Stations/Distance: 6/59/115km
    Frequency: 10 – 20mins
    (5mins during peak hour some lines)
    Rollingstock age: 1984 – 2005
    Pricing: short trip EUR1.50 (AUD 2.30)

    System: Moscow
    System type: metro
    Lines/Stations/Distance: 12/172/278km
    Frequency: 1.5 – 3mins
    Rollingstock age: 1950 – 2005
    Pricing: 15.00 rouble (AUD 0.73)

    System: Paris
    System type: metro
    Lines/Stations/Distance: 16/380/221km
    Frequency: 2 – 6mins
    (on RER around 5 – 15mins)
    Rollingstock age: 1960 – 1990
    Pricing: EUR1.40 (AUD 2.16)

    System: Tokyo
    System type: metro, suburban
    Lines/Stations/Distance: 4/106/109km
    Frequency: 3 – 4mins
    Rollingstock age: 1990 – 2006
    Pricing: JPY160 (AUD 1.51)

    System: New York
    System type: suburban, interurban
    Lines/Stations/Distance: 26/468/1056km
    Frequency: 5 – 20mins
    Rollingstock age: 1961 – 2001
    Pricing: USD2.00 (AUD 2.45)

    System: Berlin U-Bahn
    System type: metro
    Lines/Stations/Distance: 9/170/146km
    Frequency: every 3-5 min (peak), 5-10 min (off-peak)
    Rollingstock age: 1986 – 2005
    Pricing: EUR2.10 (AUD 3.47)

    System: Washington
    System type: metro
    Lines/Stations/Distance: 5/89/169 km
    Frequency: 3-6 min (peak hour), 6-12 (daytime) and 10-15 (off-peak)
    Rollingstock age: 1973 (rehabilitated: 1993) – 2005
    Pricing: USD1.75 (AUD 2.02)

  4. JD Says:

    UK and Australia are hardly comparable, the only thing they have in common is a language. 60 million to a tiny island is a tad more congestion than 21 million to a huge island. The income and general cost of living is very different. The city design is also very different and will hopefully stay that way.
    One reason why people drive is the lack of stations, then again Sydney hardly has the population density to justify more stations.
    Oh, and the congestion charge worked sooooo well in London. I hardly ever drive my car because of the traffic. I live in South Ken and have already prepaid my yearly congestion charging!

  5. Margaret Says:

    I lived in Sydney for 11 years and found the public transport terrific. If you were unfortunate to live away from a train line, then there was always a bus. Have to admit, I didn’t go out late very often so either bunked down at a friend’s place or shared a taxi.

    We now live in Canberra and I so miss the trains. We can get on the train but there is only one station in Canberra, so we do feel cut off somewhat. It’s not as if anyone can “commute” to work from within Canberra.

    Trains are far cleaner. I’m sure that if there were concrete sleepers on lines throughout Australia then the trains could go faster and maintenance costs would be down, compared to replacing the wooden ones. Trees would be far happier. Putting more freight onto trains (and of course more train lines) would keep the heavier vehicles off the roads and the pollution down.

    Suppose, no matter where you live, it really is a matter of what your preference is and how convenient everything is to your way of life.

    I do so miss the trains!

  6. Matt Says:

    @Scoot: Thanks for your detailed info – it’s fascinating (sorry for the delay in replying!)

    @JD: You’re right, it’s a bit like comparing apples and oranges.

    @Margaret: I really miss the trains and buses now I live in the Southern Highlands (where there are no trains apart from goods/tourist trains, and only 1 bus a day to Sydney!).

Leave a Reply