RANKED: Public transport in Australia’s biggest capital cities rated from best to worst

Between one- and two-thirds of people living in each city lack access to all-day, frequent public transport services

Melissa Woodley
Written by
Melissa Woodley
Travel & News Editor, Time Out Australia
Queensland Rail TRANSLink Electric train set 704 decorated with all Aboriginal motifs nearing Bowen Hills Station, Brisbane
Photograph: John Ward via Flickr

Australia is known for many incredible adventures and attractions, but our public transport system sure as heck ain’t one of them. A brand new report has revealed that only half of the 15 million people living in Australia’s five largest cities have access to frequent all-day public transport, with those in lower-income areas generally worse off. 

These findings were published in the Climate Council's annual Next Stop Suburbia report, which ranks public transport systems in our nation’s five biggest cities from best and worst. Buckle up, because the results aren't looking pretty for anyone.

The report revealed that around 50 per cent of residents living in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth lack convenient access to the minimum level of public transport services – defined as having “an address within 800 metres or a 10-minute walk or a service that runs at least every 15 minutes between 7am and 7pm”. This leaves Aussies little choice but to rely on expensive and polluting private cars to get them from point A to B.

So, which city has the toughest transit challenges? Brisbane ranks at the bottom of the list for places to get around without a car in Australia. Only 33.7 per cent of Brisbane residents have access to all-day frequent public transport services, with a mere 14 per cent actually relying on this method of transport for their daily commute to work. In comparison, 75 per cent opt for private vehicles. For many Brisbanites, access to reliable public transport ends just eight kilometres from the city centre, hitting hard in places like the Hills District, Browns Plains, and Beenleigh.

Perth ranked as the second worst Australian city for public transport, with only 40.5 per cent of people having access to frequent services from 7am to 7pm. Adelaide followed closely in third place at 47.6 per cent, with both cities reporting even lower public transport use than Brisbane.

In Melbourne, 52.5 per cent of residents have access to all-day frequent public transport services, extending 15 kilometres from the CBD – almost double the distance in Brisbane. Meanwhile, Australia’s largest city, Sydney, ranked as having the best public transport with 67.2 per cent of Sydneysiders living in areas with access to the minimum level of public transport. 

Across most cities, there’s a significant gap in public transport access between poorer and wealthier areas. Brisbane and Melbourne show a 27 per cent lower access rate in poorer areas, while Adelaide and Perth follow with 19 per cent and 18 per cent respectively. Sydney was the only city where lower-income areas were better off – but only marginally at less than one per cent. 

The NSW capital also had the highest population of commuters who use public transport to travel to work, at 27 per cent. This is highly concerning considering that transport is Australia’s biggest contributor to climate pollution after energy. Hopefully, this report helps the Australian Climate Council make a case for better investment in our nation’s buses, trains, trams, metros, and any other transport solutions on the horizon. You can read more about their proposed solutions in the report here

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