Buses in Sydney

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For more information on Sydney public transport services, see Public transport in Sydney.
Buses in Sydney
Bus icon
Route 333 at Circular Quay in the new Transport for NSW livery
Locale Sydney
Transit type Bus / Bus rapid transit
Annual ridership 232 million in 2014-15
Website transportnsw.info
Began operation 1905
Distribution map showing the percentage of the employed population who travel to work by bus only, according to the Australian census 2011.

Buses account for close to six per cent of trips each day in the Australian city of Sydney, New South Wales, forming a key part of the city's public transport system. The network initially evolved from a privately operated system of feeder services to railway stations in the outer suburbs, and a publicly operated network of bus services introduced to replace trams in the inner suburbs. The bus network has undergone major reform in recent years, with the New South Wales Government taking responsibility for route and fare-setting, opening contracts for most routes up to competitive tendering, and introducing more cross-regional services.

The New South Wales Government's transport authority, Transport for NSW, administers six distinct bus networks in Sydney:

  • rapid routes, a network of 13 high-patronage city and cross-regional routes announced in 2013
  • suburban routes, a network of nine intermediate city and cross-regional routes announced in 2013
  • local routes, a network of hundreds of supporting routes that have developed since the 1930s
  • NightRide, a network of train replacement services that operates each night between midnight and 5am
  • Sydney Olympic Park special event services, a network of nine routes used to convey passengers to major events at the precinct
  • school buses.

The networks are part of Transport for NSW's Opal ticketing system.

Each route within these six networks is assigned to one of 14 contract regions. Each of these regions is assigned to either the Government-owned bus operator, the State Transit Authority or awarded on the basis of a competitive tender process to a private operator. At present, State Transit holds four regions, while nine private operators hold the other 10. In 2014-15, 232 million passenger journeys were made on Sydney's bus networks.[1]


At the beginning of the 20th century, Sydney's public transport network was composed of a suburban railway and inner-city trams, both operated by the New South Wales Government Railways. These were complemented by various privately operated ferry services on Sydney Harbour and the Parramatta River, and a few horse-drawn services.

The Railways experimented with a steam-powered bus service from Potts Point to Darlinghurst in 1905, but the vehicles quickly proved unsatisfactory and the service was shut down within a year.[2] The city's second bus route ran from Newport, in the north of the Northern Beaches district, to Manly, commencing in 1906. This was operated by the privately owned Manly-Pittwater Motor Omnibus Company. The company did not prosper, however, and the business was wound up in 1908.[3]

The return of servicemen from the Great War in the late 1910s provided fresh impetus to the motor omnibus industry. Here, suddenly, were thousands of men with experience working with heavy vehicles – all looking for work.[4] In 1915, only 15 motorised buses were known to operate in Sydney. By 1929, the city's bus fleet numbered more than 600. A private bus industry, dominated by owner-operators and small family businesses, was taking shape.[2]

Seeking to protect the tram system from competition, Labor Premier Jack Lang introduced the Transport Act 1930, which empowered a new Metropolitan Transport Trust to shut down private bus routes that competed with trams, trains or other buses. The Railways were also restructured, with the tram system hived off into a new Department of Road Transport & Tramways in 1932.[5] The Department introduced its first bus service, the 144 from St Leonards to Manly, on Christmas Day of that year.

Lang's reforms established a structure for the bus network that was to endure for close to a century. On the one hand, the Department – forerunner to today's State Transit Authority – began to shut down its trams and build an extensive bus network serving the inner suburbs and Northern Beaches. On the other, the heavily regulated private operators remained small-scale, relegated to the status of feeder services for the Government's trains. But Lang's draconian Transport Act held at least one benefit for the bus companies: just as the trams were protected from them, so too were they protected from new entrants to the industry.[2]

From trams to buses[edit]

The 144 was an all-new service, connecting trains, trams and ferries. But the Department's focus began to shift inexorably towards building its bus network, starting in 1937 when Kogarah's steam trams were replaced with trolley buses. Two years later, tram services from Manly were replaced with buses. In 1948, a recommendation was handed to the Department that the entire network be replaced with buses. Though initially controversial, the move to a bus network secured broad political support and was completed between 1957 and 1961. The Department, renamed 'Government Transport' in 1952, became an operator of buses only.[2][6]

For much of the 20th century, land use planning in Sydney restricted development to corridors within a short distance of the existing railway lines. This discipline broke down in the 1980s, however, when planning minister – and future premier – Bob Carr released new areas for development far from existing rail lines.[7][8] This meant that buses outside of the inner-city, government-operated network, would play an increasing role in meeting Sydney's transport needs.

Lang's model divided the city into hundreds of exclusive fiefdoms and did not allow for cross-regional services. Some private operators responded with joint ventures under the "Red Arrow" brand, agreeing to jointly operate routes between major centres in each other's territories. Some of these routes survive in whole or part today.


From 1930 until 1990, private bus companies in Sydney operated as licensed local monopolies, with a relatively free hand to set fares, determine routes, set service levels and choose vehicles. The Greiner Liberal Government changed this with the introduction of the Passenger Transport Act 1990. Although the Government was loth to challenge the operators' local dominance, it insisted on forming contractual relationships between bus companies and the Department of Transport. These formed the basis for improvements to service standards and – in time – would allow the Government to consolidate the industry and create a truly integrated public transport network. The Government also dismantled one of the shibboleths of the Lang era, allowing Forest Coach Lines and Hillsbus to run direct services to the City, rather than just the nearest train station. In 1992, an inbound bus lane was installed on the Sydney Harbour Bridge to facilitate the additional services.

Unsworth review[edit]

Development in the Hills and Forest districts, far from railway lines, meant that long-distance private bus services poured across the Harbour Bridge to the City each morning. The growth of employment centres outside of the City and inner suburbs, including the growing significance of Parramatta, meant that more and more commuters were making cross-regional, rather than suburb-to-city, trips. Finally, the profusion of bus networks – in 2004, they numbered more than 80 – was confusing to planners and passengers alike. In return for their acceptance of limits to their operations, the small family-owned bus companies had enjoyed immunity from competition themselves. The result was a disparity in fares, vehicles and service quality across Sydney.

The Government commissioned a report into the bus network from former premier Barrie Unsworth. This report, released in 2004, formed a blueprint for major changes to the bus network, including:

  • harmonisation of private and State Transit fares
  • consolidation of bus regions and competitive tendering for rights to operate
  • introduction of new, cross-regional routes.

Consolidation of bus contract regions, from more than 80 to just 15, forced the amalgamation of decades-old bus companies and cleared the way for the entry of players from interstate and overseas.

Metrobus blade stop sign at Chester Hill with the name of the stop and a red lower section indicating that the stop is served by Metrobuses

Starting in October 2008 with State Transit's route M10, the Ministry of Transport introduced 13 new "Metrobus" routes. Metrobuses offered high-frequency, limited-stops services using distinctive red vehicles. The following year, State Transit began operating the M20. Eight more routes commenced the following year, and a further three in early 2011. These were operated by State Transit, Hillsbus and Veolia.[9]

Cross-regional connectivity received a further boost with the completion of a dedicated busway network, called 'T-way' between Parramatta, Liverpool, Blacktown and Rouse Hill in 2007.

Sydney's Bus Future[edit]

The concept of service tiers was introduced with the release of Sydney's Bus Future in 2013, and is currently being implemented. 'Rapid' routes, a form of bus rapid transit, include many of the existing Metrobus routes, offer high frequency and limited stops, and are supported by dedicated bus priority infrastructure. 'Suburban' routes include other high-capacity routes; 'local' routes provide feeder services to trains, ferries and major bus routes.[10]

'Local' routes are described by Sydney's Bus Future as "completing" the network. Local services are generally timetabled rather than 'turn up and go' and are not a focus for investment in bus priority measures. Stops are generally located every 400 metres, although express local services may operate on some routes in the morning and afternoon peaks.


The following table lists patronage figures for the network (in millions of journeys) during the corresponding financial year. Australia's financial years start on 1 July and end on 30 June. Major events that affected the number of journeys made or how patronage is measured are included as notes.

2010-11[11] 2011-12[12] 2012-13[12] 2013-14[12] 2014-15[12]
198.7 203.3 204.6 209.0 232.0[note 1][note 2]
  1. ^ Opal rollout completed in November 2014
  2. ^ Includes School Student Travel Scheme boardings and boardings on free shuttle services from January 2015

Contract regions[edit]

Region Description[13] Contracted to[13] Current contract[13] Rapid routes[10] Suburban routes[10]
1 Penrith, Mount Druitt, St Marys, Richmond and Windsor Busways 6 October 2013
2 Liverpool, Glenfield, Ingleburn, Bringelly and Hoxton Park Interline 1 June 2014
3 Liverpool, Fairfield and Holroyd Transit Systems 13 October 2013 T80
4 Hills District Hillsbus 1 August 2014 M60, M61, T65, T70 and 600
5 Lakemba, Mortdale, Punchbowl and Roselands Punchbowl 1 July 2014 450
6 Inner West State Transit 1 July 2013 M10 and 461 400
7 Northern Suburbs State Transit 1 July 2013 M52 and M54
8 Northern Beaches and lower North Shore State Transit 1 July 2013 E84 and L84
9 Eastern Suburbs State Transit 1 July 2013 393-9 372-7
10 Sutherland Shire Transdev 1 January 2013
12 Upper North Shore Transdev 1 June 2013
13 Parramatta, Burwood, Bankstown and Liverpool Transdev 1 May 2013
14 Forest District Forest 1 April 2013 270
15 Macarthur Busabout 1 June 2014

Many more bus operators have either gone defunct or now only operate coach/charter services. Some operators failed to regain regions in the tendering of the bus service contracts. The latest bus operators to do so were Westbus, Metro-link Bus Lines and Hopkinsons whose Region 3 services were passed to Transit Systems Sydney on 13 October 2013, with Metro-link and Hopkinsons still operating coach/charter services.


Bus types[edit]

Double-decker buses were a common sight in previous decades and have recently returned to Sydney. This particular example, painted in the Transport NSW livery, is operated by Hillsbus.

As the Government has moved to a contestable contract model since the Unsworth report, so it has acquired a greater interest in the buses acquired to operate its routes. The NSW Government buys many of the new buses entering service in private operator fleets, and enjoys step-in rights where a private operator loses a contract. State Transit and the private operators must buy new vehicles from approved panel suppliers. These are Asia Motors, Bustech, Custom Coaches, Heavy Vehicles Australia, Hino Motors, Iveco Bus, MAN Truck & Bus, Scania, Volgren and Volvo.

The approved bus types are:[14]

  • 14.5-metre two-door city bus, with a combined seating and standing capacity of 80
  • 18-metre articulated two- or three-door city bus, with a combined seating and standing capacity of 110
  • 12-metre two-door double deck city bus, with a combined seating and standing capacity of 90
  • 10-metre single-door 'mini' bus, with a combined seating and standing capacity of 40
  • 12.5-metre single-door city bus, with a combined seating and standing capacity of 65
  • 12.5-metre single-door school bus, with a combined seating and standing capacity of 70
  • 12.5-metre two-door school bus, with a combined seating and standing capacity of 65.


Until 2010, each bus operator determined the livery for their vehicles. In late 2010, the NSW Government introduced a new livery for use on all new vehicles entering service on the network. The design is composed of a light blue (Pantone Matching System 297) background, a white chevron shape pointing in the direction of travel, and dark blue (Pantone Matching System 281) bumpers. Although there was some resistance from bus operators, including Forest Coach Lines, who feared losing their brand identity, all operators had accepted the new requirements by 2013.[15][16][17]

Bus priority infrastructure[edit]

Many roads in Sydney have bus priority lanes. There are two types of bus lanes in Sydney; [18]

  • Bus Lane - For use by Taxis, Hire Cars (Not Rentals), Motorcycles, Bicycles, Emergency Vehicles and special purpose vehicles and vehicles also operated by or under the direction of Roads and Maritime Services.
  • Bus Only Lane - For the exclusive use of Buses and authorised special purpose vehicles.

Many of them are operational for 24 hours, or during the peak hour. Cameras are often set up along bus lanes and drivers who break rules by driving along bus lanes at dedicated times are fined.[19]

Dedicated bus only roads include a separate road in Moore Park which shadows parts of Alison Road and Anzac Parade,[20] as well as dedicated roadways at the centre of M2 Hills Motorway[21] and T-ways.

Sydney has two operating transitways (or T-ways):

These T-ways can only be used by buses or authorised vehicles. Cameras have been set up along the T-way and vehicles without unauthorised access are fined.

Ticketing and fares[edit]

The bus network uses the smartcard-based Opal ticketing system. Opal is also valid on light rail, train and ferry services but separate fares apply for these modes. Opal's bus fares are the same as those for light rail but the fares are not combined when interchanging between the two modes. This is due to change once the CBD and South East Light Rail opens; all bus passengers interchanging with light rail will only pay one fare, calculated from the start of their trip on one mode to the end of their trip on the other.[22][23] Bus drivers also sell non-smartcard Opal single trip tickets. The single trip tickets are more expensive than the standard Opal fare. They are only valid for travel on the bus service on which they are purchased.[24] The following table lists Opal fares for reusable smartcards and single trip tickets:

Bus or light rail 0–3 km 3–8 km 8 km+
Adult cards $2.10 $3.50 $4.50
Other cards $1.05 $1.75 $2.25
Adult single trip $2.60 $4.20 $5.40
Child/Youth single trip $1.30 $2.10 $2.70

Card fares as of 4 January 2015. Single trip fares as of 5 September 2016.[25][26]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ "Transport for NSW 2014-15 Annual Report Volume 1" (pdf). Transport for NSW. p. 41. 
  2. ^ a b c d Lee, Robert (2010). Transport: an Australian history. Sydney: UNSW Press. 
  3. ^ JMacR. "Manly's first bus". Manly Library Local Studies Blog. Retrieved 6 March 2016. 
  4. ^ Simpson, Margaret (2006). "New South Wales Government and private bus ticket collection" (published 1960). Retrieved 6 March 2016. 
  5. ^ State Records Authority of New South Wales. "Department of Road Transport & Tramways". 
  6. ^ State Records Authority of New South Wales. "Department of Government Tram and Omnibus Services (1952) / Department of Government Transport (1952-1972)". 
  7. ^ Department of Environment and Planning (1988). Sydney Into Its Third Century: Metropolitan Strategy for the Sydney Region. Sydney. 
  8. ^ Paul Ashton and Robert Freestone (2008). "Planning". Dictionary of Sydney. Dictionary of Sydney Trust. 
  9. ^ "Boost for Sydney's red bus network" Sydney Morning Herald 20 July 2010
  10. ^ a b c Transport for NSW (2013). Sydney's Bus Future. 
  11. ^ "Transport for NSW Annual Report 2013-14" (PDF). Transport for NSW. p. 395. Retrieved 1 August 2016. 
  12. ^ a b c d "Transport for NSW Annual Report 2014-15" (PDF). Transport for NSW. p. 131. Retrieved 1 August 2016. 
  13. ^ a b c Transport for NSW (2014). "Transport for NSW annual report 2013-14" (PDF). 
  14. ^ Transport for NSW (June 2010). "Outer and metropolitan bus system bus specification guidelines". 
  15. ^ Smith, Alexandra (22 December 2010). "Out of the blue, an illusion of more buses, all dressed alike". Sydney Morning Herald. 
  16. ^ Blue over green Forest Coach Lines buses Manly Daily 11 January 2013
  17. ^ Transport for NSW (October 2013). "Livery specification, Custom Coaches rigid 12 metre" (PDF). 
  18. ^ NSW, Roads and Maritime Services,. "Bus lanes". Roads and Maritime Services. Retrieved 2016-05-02. 
  19. ^ "Bus lanes". rms.nsw.gov.au. Retrieved 15 October 2015. 
  20. ^ "Temporary closure of Moore Park Bus Roadway from 5 June - 26 Feb 2015". State Transit. Archived from the original on 2 July 2015. Retrieved 2 July 2015. 
  21. ^ Tan, Su-Lin (12 March 2015). "Traffic chaos as bus catches on fire on M2 motorway". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 2 July 2015. 
  22. ^ "Opal to go live on light rail months ahead of schedule". Transport for NSW. 24 November 2014. 
  23. ^ Opal rollout extends to light rail Transport Info NSW 25 November 2014
  24. ^ "Opal single trip tickets". opal.com.au. Transport for NSW. Retrieved 4 July 2016. 
  25. ^ "New fares from 4 January 2015". transportnsw.info. Transport for NSW. 5 December 2014. Archived from the original on 25 December 2014. 
  26. ^ "Fares and benefits". opal.com.au. Transport for NSW. Retrieved 13 September 2016. 

External links[edit]