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Australian Public Transport Systems From City To City

Updated: Dec 8, 2020

Australians have a love-hate relationship with public transport. With its vast landscape pockmarked by cities, it’s easy to guess where the love and hate may lie. Australia’s urban areas generally enjoy a fully-fledged and extensive public transport system. So, of the 12 million Australians aged 14+ (58%) that use public transport, it’s safe to say most of them reside in cities. This urban-rural divide is noted on a global scale.



Australia’s public transport use in comparison to other countries


However, even within its major public transport usage cities such as Sydney, Melbourne, or Brisbane – Australia’s public transport user numbers fall behind. A quick analysis of the public transport leaders' infrastructures and histories can make sense of this divide. Consider Russia, where an estimated 78% of the population use public transport every day. It could be argued that this is tied to societal norms considering Russia’s well-known love for all things rail and convenient. However, regional governments also invest heavily in transport infrastructure and insist on prices being kept low.


This public transport-positive mindset has slowly been creeping into Australia’s public transport hotspot – Sydney. Unlike the US, where broad motorways dominate transport routes, Sydney’s city plan follows a more European model.


The roots of Public Transport in Sydney


Sydney has wrestled with its history as an “unplanned” yet naturally blessed city. Getting its public transport beginnings with a humble tram network in 1861, it soon became home to the largest public transport network in the Southern Hemisphere by the 1920s.


However, as Sydney's apartment complexes begin to grown and urban sprawl creeps on unabated – its public transport system will need to adapt. The city is on a path to nearly double its population of 4.7 million by 2056 compared to New York’s estimated 30% future growth. Fortunately, the Greater Sydney Commission (GSC) has a three-city metropolis strategic plan in mind sectioning the city into Western Parkland City, Central River City, and Eastern Harbour City areas. New public transport routes and initiatives are in plan to connect these areas adequately.


The future of Sydney’s public transport system


To begin with – Sydney already has it all. Suburban commuter rails, light rail, metro, buses, and even ferries. In 2016, 20.9% of Sydneysiders used these transport options while traveling to and from work—a 2.6% increase from 2011.


While most experts claim that Sydney’s public transport system is accessible, cost-effective, reliable, and safe – there are doubts about its future prospects. Singapore-based urban planner Peter Hyland is quoted as saying, “For physical, spatial and governance reasons, Sydney cannot replicate Singapore … but you can certainly learn from it in terms of […] long-term planning, integrating its transport planning with its land-use planning.”


That hasn’t taken the wind out of eager Sydney developers' sails, however. The first stage of a $20 billion new metro line was achieved in 2019 and is expected to continue to the CBD and Bankstown in the city’s west by 2024.


What does public transport look like in other Australian cities?


Despite Sydney taking the lead in public transport, Melbourne does not follow far behind with 3 million Melburnians (71% of the population) regularly using public transport. Following on, there’s a significant drop-off to 1.2 million (59%) Brisbanite’s regularly availing of public transportation. Rail is by far one of the most commonly used public transport forms used across Australia, taking the lion’s share of 44% of trips. This predominance is particularly notable with Brisbane's well-established, historic rail-lines on which 55 million passenger trips were taken across the network in 2018–19. However, Brisbane buses, unlike in Sydney and Melbourne, do not run on a 24/7 basis. These relatively limited service hours could partially be to blame for Brisbane's lower overall ranking.


Despite not being forerunners on the public transport scene, Australia’s smaller cities of Canberra, Hobart, and Darwin standout in another domain – cycling and walking. While only 7.1% of Canberra’s residents use public transport daily (one of the lowest recorded numbers across Australian cities), it conversely boasts the highest number of regular cyclists or walkers.


To explain this topsy-turvy result, we just have to harken back to why Sydney has more public transport users – it’s simply suited to it. Sydney is geographically broader than most cities in Australia, meaning that long-journeys are often a necessity.


On the other hand, Canberra is conveniently compact, expanding to only 814.2 km² - unusually small for a capital city. So, it’s no surprise that it’s regularly referred to as a “walkable” or even “cyclable” city considering that everything is within an hour’s reach.


Does public transport quality weigh on people’s moving decisions?


However, when it comes to picking a place to live, it seems like the middleman is winning out. In 2020, Brisbane was the only city to report an overall net growth in population. So, it seems like it’s third-place spot on the public transport listing hasn’t hindered it’s growing popularity.


Interestingly, it’s expected that access to public transport plays a larger role in the younger generation's moving choices. Australia’s Gen Z by far outdoes any other demographic when it comes to hopping on and hopping off. 3.4 million (72%) of Australia’s youngest generation uses public transport. Millennials aren’t too far behind, with 3 million (60%) using public transport regularly. It can’t be said for sure why this drop-off occurs, but a discerning observer might imagine it’s something to do with car ownership!


Could increasing environmental worries be playing a role?


Moreover, as interest in eco-friendly alternatives grows worldwide, public transport seems like a clear winner among younger generations. This, in turn, influences the influx of Australia's youth into cities with robust and reliable public transport systems. And naturally, as the chances of securing work and career enhancement grow in cities, commutes will be a necessary evil. Despite its robust and many public transport options, Sydney still holds the record for the longest commute time in Australia at an average of 72 minutes, followed by Brisbane at 67 minutes. So, leaving the car at home or foregoing car ownership seems to be a growing trend. The temptation of skipping the rush hour traffic jams for cruising to work on the train or metro just seems too good to miss.


And finally …


So, as interstate moving rates continue trending upwards, some reliable fingers point towards public transport as one possible cause. But if there’s one thing public transport can’t help you with, it’s moving. Sure, you could try to squeeze your wardrobe onto an inter-state bus, but it’s a risk!


Removalists and professional movers have been keeping interstate moving afloat throughout the pandemic. By stringently following safety guidelines and shouldering the heavy burden of possession transport for movers – removalists have all sides covered. At Prime, we aim to uphold these well-established standards and make the moving process as seamless as possible. Contact us to arrange and appointment and we’ll have your interstate show on the road in no time!


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