Benchmarking Australia’s Public Transport: By The Book

Let’s start off with an interesting fact about Australian public transport.

Driving in Australia is harder than using public transport.

Civil engineering expert and public transportation analyst David Levinson affirms this theory in his research paper titled: Why is Public Transport Use Higher in Australia than America and What to Do About It?

In the paper, he opines that there are two major explanations for this:

  1. A higher number of more robust enforcement programs in Australia, which include restrictive licensing programs
  2. Higher driving costs

Levinson’s paper observes that expensive parking fees and narrower lanes make driving tedious in places like Sydney.

The paper also argues that Australian public transport means can be depended on because they are high frequency and are reasonably reliable complete with round-the-clock service. In the paper, Levinson stresses that while the Oceanic country’s public transport is not without blemish, this efficiency has earned the trust of the Australian public, who now place much more orders than in the United States.

An Overview

There is a wide range of public transport options for moving around Australia, including Bus Transport, Light Rail, Air Transport, Bicycle Transport, and Subways, but these options squarely depend on the specific area in Australia that a person resides or is staying and a passenger’s convenience/preference.

Public transport costs also hinge on where in Australia a passenger lives and the mode of transport they opt for.

The Smartcard Question

Australia is one of the countries that boast of integrating smartcards as a sustainable payments option in its public transportation system.

The smartcard has been successfully deployed as a much more convenient substitute for cash transactions in this country.

Smartcards have stamped out the need for passengers to be stuck in long queues to purchase tickets and have also reduced the burden on public transport authorities to process fare transactions.

Depending on the area a person lives, one can purchase/acquire a smartcard at ticket windows available at domestic or international airports as well as train stations.

Again depending on the city, a person can also purchase the cards at bus stations, vending machines, supermarkets, pharmacies, convenience stores, train stations, newsagents, and ferry wharves.

Eight Australian cities offer reusable public transport smartcard services, including:

    City   Smartcard name   Where It is Used
BrisbaneGo CardTrains, Trams, and Buses
MelbourneMyki CardTrains, Trams, and Buses
SydneyOpal CardTrains, Trams, Buses, and Ferries
AdelaideMetrocardTrains, Trams, and Buses
PerthSmartRiderTrains, Buses, and Ferries
DarwinTap & Ride CardBuses
Smart card services in Australia

Bus Transport

Bus transport, alongside flying, is the most common mode of public transport in Australia.

Bus transport between the biggest Australian cities is frequent, daily (worst case scenario – weekly).

Statistics shared by market research company Roy Morgan (covering the quarter ending December 2020) show that bus transport is Australia’s most common means of movement.

The statistics show that bus transport was the most preferred mode of public transport, having been used by 5.15 million people (24%), followed by trains at 5.13 million (24%) and trams at 1.8 million (8%).

Bus operating in Sydney, Australia. Bus transport is the most popular means of transport in the country. {Image Source: Wikipedia}
A bus operating in Sydney, Australia. Bus transport is the most popular means of transport in the country. {Image Source: Wikipedia}

Intercity vs. Interstate Buses

Since Australia is a huge country that constitutes six states, it is essential to define the difference between Intercity and Interstate buses clearly.

Interstate buses can be defined as those that ferry passengers from one Australian state to another.

Greyhound Lines is the company with the largest bus network that provides interstate services in the country. Some bus companies offer night-time services on long-distance routes. These bus companies factor in 15 to 30-minute breaks at popular resting areas to manage passenger fatigue and refreshment.

Because their business model is based on long-distance travel, most inter-state buses are usually in good condition and are equipped with WIFI, in-seat USB chargers. These buses also have clean toilets, reclining seats, and air conditioning.

Intercity buses, on the other hand, ferry passengers between cities located in the same state.

Every Australian state has licensed several bus companies that operate daily from a state capital headed for another town.

Bus Companies in Australia

As it stands, there are more than 2,000 registered bus companies in the country, with a majority of them offering intercity services. Some of the companies provide charter and school bus services.

Big Data in Australian Bus Transport

One of the ways Big Data can be used in Australian bus transport is outlined by a research paper authored by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Urban Planning Department which observed leveraging Big Data can augment intelligence and help authorities manage anomalies in real-time.

For example, predictive maintenance of trains, buses, and other equipment can be scheduled to minimize vehicle breakdowns, the great bugbear of commuters. Vehicles can be removed from service outside peak demand periods, keeping service-level impact to a minimum.

MIT Urban Planning Report

Air Transport

Since Australia is a vast country, air transport is a very convenient, time and cost-efficient way to travel between states.

For instance, a flight between Sydney and Perth takes approximately 5 hours on air compared to the 40 hours to 14 days it takes by bus depending on stopovers made while travelling.

 The four major Australian airlines include:

According to International Air Transport Association (IATA), aviation is a crucial cog of the Australian economy. According to the body, the sector raked in $45.98 billion in annual revenues and added $18.42 billion to the country’s economy in 2018.

In 2017, the country posted over 60 million domestic passengers arrivals and departures and over 1 million tonnes of freight volumes slated for different international destinations.

Underpinning the importance of aviation to the country’s economy is the statistic – 93,000 people are directly employed across 5 of aviation’s main subsectors, which include:

  • Domestic Commercial Aviation
  • International Commercial Aviation
  • Aviation Support Infrastructure.
  • Air-freight Aviation
  • General Aviation

Big Data in Australian Aviation

One of the ways Big Data can be used is reflected in a commentary published in Australian Aviation — an aviation content publication — in October 2020 by Adam Thorn that observed that airlines could leverage Big Data to predict future demand amid the dip caused by the ravaging effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic.

With social media now a ubiquitous part of our lives, there is a wealth of data available online that can be used by analysts to determine all types of human behaviours and preferences. By aggregating the data and looking at the trends that emerge, airline network planning departments will be able to quickly respond to any uptick in demand before it happens.

Commentary by Adam Thorn

Subway Transport

Subways are an integral part of the Australian public transport system. Besides moving scores of people in cities from their home towns to their places of work and vice versa, subways and trains connect every part of the country.

At the moment, only three Australian cities have subways/metros. They include Sydney, Melbourne, and Perth, although three other cities are currently developing or laying out plans to build their own metros. These cities include Brisbane, Adelaide, and Gold Coast.

Sydney Metro North West

The Sydney Metro North West is a subway system that operates in Sydney, Australia. It currently consists of one line opened in May 2019 and runs from Tallawong to Chatswood.

It comprises 36 kilometres of twin tracks, which mostly run underground and 13 stations.

Sydney plans to expand its metro services by constructing its biggest transport project — The Sydney Metro (Their infrastructure naming needs work).

The $1.96 billion project, which is currently underway, is expected to be completed by 2024. It will have 66 kilometres of metro rail and 31 metro stations to complement The Sydney Metro North West.

Melbourne Subway

The City Loop is an underground and partly above-ground subway and rail system in Melbourne’s Central Business District.

The Loop comprises 3 underground stations:  Melbourne Central, Parliament, and Flagstaff.

All of Melbourne’s 15 suburban railway lines transition into the Loop at its Southeastern and Northwestern corners. It follows Spring Streets and La Trobe on the Eastern and Northern edges of the Central Business District’s grid.

Melbourne is also planning to expand its metro coverage by constructing a 9km-long tunnel within the city linking the Sunbury and Dandenong railway route.

It is estimated the project will cost $11bn and will be the city’s most significant project after the City Loop. Construction began in 2018, and it is expected operations will start in 2025.

Perth Metro

Perth’s two underground stations started operating in October 2007.

Passenger lines from Joondalup (a suburb in Western Australia) run through the Central Business District (CBD) tunnels to access the Perth underground stations.

Thousands of passengers commute via the tunnels between Esplanade Station and the Perth underground stations.

Big Data in Australian Metro Transport

One of the ways Big Data is being used in Australian subway operations is best captured by a commentary published by The Conversation which explains how RailSmart software, a platform that integrates numerous data sets derived from sources such as the public ticketing system and the Australian Bureau of Statistics is designed to study how cities operate and how people move around.

Typically, people want to know what areas they can afford that best suit their work and travel requirements. You can use this platform to find out about house prices by location, travel times, locations of strategic jobs, and how to get to them.

The Conversation Report

Light Rail in Australia

Australia’s history with electrified transport systems is mixed. Most of the country’s pre-war (World War II) systems were worn out in the years after the war.

Only Melbourne’s system remains intact. On the other side of the spectrum, services have been reduced drastically in Sydney, Brisbane, Perth, and Hobart.

Regional centres such as Ballarat, Leonora, Kalgoorlie, and Bendigo had systems set up in the gold rush years.

With various factors to consider in the current age, such as traffic congestion, climate change, and peak oil, electrified mass transit is the future.


As mentioned above, Melbourne is the only city that has its pre-war tram network still intact. The city has the largest tram network globally with 501 coaches and 249 kilometres of double track. A total of 158.3 million journeys were recorded in the city in 2007 & 2008. Network expansions have failed to keep up with the fast growth of the city.


Sydney had the largest tram network in the country, but operations halted in 1961. Metro Light Rail, a privately-owned line, stretches 7km to Lilyfield from Central Station. Multiple proposals for line extensions have hit a snag.


Currently, Adelaide runs one tram line between the Central Business District (CBD) and Glenelg, a section of a more extensive metro-wide system shut down in 1958.

Big Data in Australian Light Rail

Transport for NSW, the government entity responsible for ensuring safe public transport in New South Wales, Australia, uses Big Data to improve customer service and manage bus, metro, and light rail operations.

With large volumes of data arriving every day, often in 10-second intervals, Transport needed a way to ingest, store, and analyze it. After extensive evaluation, Transport contacted Agile Analytics to implement its Data Insights offering powered by Microsoft Azure. Now, after data is ingested and modeled, Power BI dashboards are created and shared with Transport operators, delivering full transparency into whether performance meets contractual obligations and identifying areas of improvement.

Transport for NWS

What’s cooking?

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking that created them,” goes a famous quote.

If you are crazy about Big Data, then by now, you must be smelling the aroma; something is certainly cooking.

Australia is a prime example of a country that is reaping the benefits of transitioning to the modern world where previously idle data has turned into an asset for companies, governments, agencies, and non-profits.

That’s what’s cooking.

Rhetorical question.

Why shouldn’t data work for you?