Public transport ridership remains low in Australia

Transport for NSW Opal data shows a total of 39.8 million trips were taken in May 2022, representing 58% of the patronage registered in May 2019. The latest data available from the Victorian Department of Transport is from September 2021, at which time patronage numbers on metropolitan public transport were around 7 million – 15% of the equivalent in September 2019.

The underutilisation of public transport and the consequential revenue loss for the past two years results in the urgent need to attract passengers back and evaluate new revenue streams.

Typical strategies include discounts, bundled offers and even free rides. In Sydney, a fare-free period was implemented for 12 days last April after the strikes and disruptions to services seen at the beginning of the year.

The free rides were meant to attract passengers back and get them comfortable with using public transport again. The initiative resulted in an increase of trips during off-peak periods and a massive 120% rise in ferry rides on weekends. May registered an increase in trips; it might be in part a result of the fare-free period but more likely to be related to more workers going back to the office and perhaps higher petrol prices.

The sustainable growth in number of trips might need more than just a seasonal discount. It needs to consider long term actions and balance competing objectives. Key challenges for government include determining how much prices should reflect actual costs versus the need for public transport system to be accessible. At the same time, reducing car reliance and offering top quality public transport are also important goals which require further investment in the system.


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