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What You Need to Know About Sydney’s Public Transport

What You Need to Know About Sydney’s Public Transport
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Quick Overview of Sydney Public Transportation

Being a major metropolitan city there is no shortage of ways to get around the beautiful Australian City of Sydney; whether by boat, car, train, or the newly planned light rail system (still under construction at the time of writing). The majority of residents living in and around Sydney consider public transport services to be on time and reliable for the most part. However, what most don’t realize is that a complex system of fares has sprung up around Sydney’s public transport system, and if you don’t know how to use it effectively you could be paying more for a trek around Sydney than you should, but things are getting easier.

Sydney Opal Card

Fortunately, the introduction of what can only be described as a smart card for Sydney travel has made traveling Sydney and its surrounds comparatively easier. Tracking down a smart card for yourself – official name Opal card – may be more difficult than you expect as the usual suspects of supply such as railway stations, bus stops, and ferry terminals may not stock them.

However, you can purchase an Opal card at Sydney Airport, Central Railway Station, various retailers around Sydney, or order it online. Purchasing online will mean a wait of up to two weeks for delivery (and even longer if you are overseas).

Topping up may also be somewhat problematic, but by far the best way is to do it online whenever it’s convenient. There are also various Opal stations such as newsagents, cafes, and other retailers where you can top us as well – just look out for the signage to find them.

The minimum top up amount at a physical location is $10.00. This is bumped to $40.00 if you are funding your card online. It’s also nice to know that kids under four travel free and from the age of four to 15 a child’s fare applies. After age 16 the adult fare finally takes effect. Pensioners can find relief with half the adult fare that is capped at $2.50 for the day, regardless of how much you travel, but you do need to hold a valid pensioner or senior card.

Related: Newcomer’s Guide to Using the Opal Card in Sydney.

Normal Opal card charges top out at $15.00 for the day ($7.50 for children) and $60 for the week. ($30.00 for concession). Having the card is extremely convenient as you can use it on just about every public travel service around Sydney including bus, train, ferry, and light rail. Be aware that special event buses are exempt from concessions.

If you compare the Opal card to the MyMulti ticket system, then it presents extremely good value. A top daily charge on the MyMulti will set you back $23 while the Opal tops out at $15.00 – a savings of $8.00. And if you transfer within 60 minutes from bus to bus or ferry to ferry the Opal card works out cheaper than a single TravelTen ticket. However, it has to be the same mode of travel – you can’t go from bus to ferry for instance.

You can purchase single trip tickets through Opal for the train, ferry, light rail, and bus within the Opal network but these are not available as return trips. Purchase your single trip ticket at most train stations using Eftpos, Visa, MasterCard, or cash (depending on location).

There are four types of Opal cards currently available:

  • Black for adults over 16
  • Green for children (4 to 15 years)
  • Gold (senior and pensioner card holders)
  • Silver (tertiary students and job seekers)

Traveling with Animals on Sydney’s Public Transport

Please note that only assistance animals, police dogs, and security dogs are allowed on Sydney’s train system – no other animals are permitted. It is possible to travel with a pet on Sydney’s ferries if the animal is contained within a box, basket, or other suitable container at all times. Animals may be allowed on buses provided you have permission from the bus driver, the animal is suitably contained or confined, and does not interfere with the comfort of the other passengers.

Sydney Trains

Sydney’s rail network is quite extensive – reaching to Bondi Junction in the east, Penrith and Richmond in the west, Berowra in the north, and the Royal National Park in the south which also includes Campbelltown. Travelers to west will be able to get to Lithgow and the Blue Mountains. Southbound travelers can get to Wollongong and Nowra, while northbound travelers can reach as far as the Central Coast, Newcastle, and the Hunter Valley.

There are also regular train services to all of the main inner city stations, starting at Central Station and traveling through Town Hall, Wynyard, Circular Quay, St James, and the Museum before returning back to Central. The Eastern Suburbs line is where you will find Martin Place station, in the middle of the City Circle service. All travelers on Sydney can use an Opal card; simply tap on when you board and tap off when you depart. It’s also worth noting that Sydney trains are all double decked to provide greater capacity for seating.

Trains stop operating in the Sydney area from midnight to 4.30am.

Sydney Buses

The first thing of note for the Sydney Bus Service is that between the hours of 7.00am to 7.00pm in the CBD it is strictly a prepay service. The brave and the bold can pre-purchase tickets at 7/11 convenience stores if they can make sense of the section ticketing system, but the best bet is to have an Opal card at the ready. This is especially true if you plan to make regular use of the Sydney bus service and enjoy traipsing around Sydney’s many metropolitan pockets – a mode of travel made much easier and more cost effective with your Opal card on hand.

Inner-city buses are quite frequent and stop between every 5 to 15 minutes. Outer suburbs are not so lucky as you may have to wait up to an hour between services – so planning your trips is necessary. Also, be aware that buses with X or L in the number may be express buses and are likely to shoot by your stop if you aren’t paying attention. Always check with the driver to make sure you can be dropped off as expected.

For people who like to party all night, there are many bus routes available during the wee hours of the morning, with Sydney train services being replaced by NightRide bus services departing from Town Hall Station, Central Station, and Kings Cross. These buses cover the majority of train stations throughout the metropolitan area.

Sydney Ferries

One of Sydney’s standout features is the gorgeous Sydney Harbour, and all it takes to enjoy this grand vista is to hop on one of the many ferries toing and froing across the harbour. The Sydney Ferry Service is a popular attraction and carries more than 14 million people on its decks every year.

It’s also quite comprehensive of its coverage of the bay as it stretches over 37km from Manly to Parramatta. Unfortunately, you can’t get to Bondi Beach via Ferry as they operate solely within the confines of the Harbour. However, you can get to many of Sydney’s other major attractions on a ferry such as Taronga Zoo, Darling Harbour, Watsons Bay, Manly Beach, and Luna Park. Just make your way to Circular Quay, as this is where all of Sydney’s ferries disembark.

Related: The World’s Most Relaxing Commute.

Ferries to the west of Circular Quay are accessible via Darling Harbor but there are two wharves – one at the Aquarium, and the other at King St Wharf. Pay attention to the timetable and make sure you go to the right one as they are only separated by 50 meters.

Sydney Trams (Light Rail)

There is a tram system that runs through Sydney to Chinatown, Haymarket, Darling Harbour, Star City Hotel & Casino, and also passing by the Sydney Fish Markets. From there you continue through to the inner city suburbs of Glebe, Lilyfield to Dulwich Hill, and Annandale. It’s also possible to travel via this service using an Opal card.

An exciting new development for Sydney’s transport infrastructure is the construction of the new Sydney Light Rail. This new transport system has been designed from the ground up to make it simple and convenient for travelers getting around the inner city area. It’s going to be a 12km route with 19 stops, starting at Circular Quay and traveling along George St to Central Station, then on to Surry Hills and Moore Park, Kensington and Kingsford via Anzac Parade, and then on to Randwick via Alison Road and High Street.

At peak times the service is expected to operate at a frequency of every four minutes with a high seating capacity and reliable services. During special events extra services are expected to be incorporated to take up the load. Socialites will no doubt be excited about the new dining opportunities opening between Hunter and Bathurst Streets along George St. It’s envisioned that this will be an entertainment capital of Sydney with planned creative spaces and outdoor entertainment. The first Light Rail tracks were laid on 11 August this year, so construction is well under way, with the service expected to be taking its first passengers in 2019.

Safety and Night Travel on Sydney’s Public Transport

Between the hours of 3.00 pm and 6.00 am there are high visibility police officers and plain clothes officers patrolling stops as well as trains, buses, ferries, and light rail services. There is also a network of 10,000 CCTV cameras to provide further safety to travelers.

Some tips for traveling safely at night include using well-lit roads and walkways, standing in a brightly lit area while waiting on a platform near a CCTV or emergency help point, and sitting close to the guard’s compartment (indicated by a blue light). Also try to sit near other passengers to avoid becoming too isolated.

Surfboards Bikes and Animals on Sydney Public Transport

If you are using an Opal card, you can take your bike on any Sydney or Intercity train for free. Ticket holders can only take bikes on board during weekend travel or they can pay a child’s fare for the bike during peak hours. It’s possible to take surfboards on trains but only if they are not going to disrupt other passengers – so peak hour travel with your board is not recommended.

Buses do not allow bikes on board but surfboards are okay if they are not going to disrupt the other passengers in any way. Bus drivers have the final say over whether a surfboard can come on board.
Bicycles are welcome on ferries at all times without charge but the crew may deny allowing a bicycle on board if they deem it a risk in any way, or there is not enough room to stow it. A few private ferries may charge to bring a bike on board.

Student Travel on Sydney’s Public Transport

Students can travel to and from school using regular public transport but there are also dedicated school services operated by local bus companies, so this may be a better option in many cases.

A School Opal card is available for travel between home and school via trains, buses, and ferries which lie within the Opal network, and is free from school to home during specific times. Apply for a school Opal card at the transport NSW site. School travel outside of the Opal network is also free if students are carrying a school travel pass.

Getting To and From Sydney’s Airport on Public Transport

Getting to and from Sydney Airport is a breeze by train as it is just a 13-minute ride from the city. Train stations are located at both the Domestic and International terminals.

Opal Card Fares from the Domestic and International Airport


The Sydney Domestic Airport Station to any of the City Stations, or Kings Cross, a single adult one-way ticket off peak hours is $15.76, during peak hours it is $16.78. From Sydney’s International Airport Station, to any of the City Stations, or Kings Cross, a single adult one-way ticket off peak hours is $16.34, during peak hours it is 17.60.

*Peak hours are 7am – 9am and 4pm – 6:30pm

Opal Single Ticket from the Domestic and International Airport is $18.20.

Bus Route 400, located between Bondi Junction and Burwood, stops at the International (T1) and Domestic Terminals (T3). There are also clearly marked terminals for bus stops located at the arrivals level. To estimate the fare and for timetables go to the Sydney Buses website.

If you’re looking to get around Sydney with the minimum of fuss, then your first port of call should be the transport for NSW web site. The site does quite a good job of simplifying your travel arrangements, as you simply need to enter your travel from and to details, time and date, and then choose your mode of travel. You can also get updates on whether services are operating normally, or they have been interrupted somehow – very convenient for adjusting your travel plans.

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About The Author

Lauren

Hi, I’m Lauren, and I LOVE being an expat in Sydney but am fed up with all the misinformed and useless expat guides out there, not only giving bad advice but also charging for it! So I created Sydney Moving Guide written by expats, for expats. Click here to read my story.

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