Travel Sydney by Public Transport
Travelling in Sydney is quite a breeze with its vast networks of trains, buses, ferries and light rail. However, the wide choices of transport may get overwhelming for tourists arriving there for the first time.
Here’s some information and pointers we have gained from our recent trip; hopefully these may help you in navigating around this city with ease:
1. Airport Transfer
There are several ways one can reach their accommodation from the Sydney International Airport but the cheapest and most convenient way would be by the Airport Line (aka subway trains). Other forms of transport, such as taxis, would be more expensive and may in fact take a longer time (surprisingly!) than taking the train (e.g. only 13 minutes between the airport and the Central Train Station!). The Airport Line is also more reliable and convenient with its high frequency and efficiency.
The International Airport Train Station is located conveniently near the Arrivals Hall. Upon exiting from the Customs, just turn right and follow the signs labelled ‘Airport Line’.
Besides the usual train fares, any commute involving an airport station (i.e. Domestic or International Airport Stations) will require a Gatepass. It is like an extra ‘toll’ to start or end a train ride at an Airport station.
A Weekly Gatepass is also available (although this is not indicated on the official website) and is cheaper than two single-trip Gatepasses. So, if you will be returning to the airport within 7 days, this will certainly be a cheaper option. Just enquire at the Ticket Counter at the Airport Station.
(Note: This pass may no longer be available)
2. Getting a MyMulti Pass
Instead of buying individual tickets each time you take the public transport (note: some city buses require prepaid tickets before boarding), you may consider getting a MyMulti Pass.
The MyMulti Pass allows unlimited rides on all public transport in Sydney and comes in Weekly (7 days), Monthly (28 days), Quarterly (90 days) and Yearly (365 days), though probably only the first one will be applicable to most tourists.
Besides comparing the prices between getting a pass and purchasing tickets individually, do not forget to consider the convenience of having the MyMulti Pass too. With this, you will no longer need to queue and purchase tickets for any of your rides; it will become your ‘magical’ pass to seamlessly get through all the ticket gantries and checks. We really enjoyed the convenience of hopping onto any public transport to get to our destinations without the hassle of getting tickets for them.
As the MyMulti Pass is made of paper (instead of the more durable plastic material), care has to be taken to avoid damage to it, especially when you will be using it frequently throughout your stay in Sydney. It is also not waterproof.
Before buying your MyMulti pass, you will first have to decide if you are getting MyMulti 1, 2 or 3, depending on the zones that you will be travelling to. The map here gives a good illustration of the zones, mainly differentiated by train and ferry rides. In our case, we needed to go as far as Katoomba (to get to Blue Mountains) and Picton (to visit Trainworks) so Zone 3’s pass suited us best.
Cost: Adults – AUD$63.00 / Child – AUD$31.50
In the city areas, entry to the train station platforms and wharves (for ferries) requires inserting our tickets/passes at the gantry. In suburbs however, there is usually no gantry so it’s based on trust. We had not come across any inspector throughout our trip though.
(Note: The passes could have been phased out and replaced by the Opal Card since our last trip there)
3. Checking Timetables
For Sydney Ferries, their timetables are available online here. It is recommended to print a copy of it before you go to Sydney. Otherwise, head to Circular Quay and get a printed time-table from the ticket counter at Wharf 4. Note that there may be lesser rides (or ending earlier) during weekdays compared to weekends (e.g. ferries to Watsons Bay).
As for trains and buses, their timings can be checked online on their official site or by using Google Maps on your smartphone.
In general, there may be less frequent train trips (or even none) during weekends, compared to the weekdays. This is especially important when making longer trips to places outside the city during the weekends.
For our case, on our way to Trainworks from Sydney on a Sunday, we didn’t do a thorough check beforehand and were shocked to find out that our connecting train at Campelltown towards Picton would only arrived in another 1.5 hours’ time! Without the luxury of time in our hands, we had to spend much more to take a taxi to our destination in the end.
4. Google Maps
Although there are several smartphone apps (most are paid apps) which are helpful in navigating around Sydney, we have found the free app Google Maps to be sufficiently useful and reliable for our trip.
With 3G/4G connectivity (e.g. by using the Optus prepaid SIM card) and with Location Services turned on, travelling from one point to another became a breeze most of the time.
However, do note that this app is not perfect (well, nothing is) and there were instances when we relied on our intuition to find shorter and quicker ways to our destinations. Also, timings of the bus arrivals were usually inaccurate, though this was probably caused by the bus service rather than Google Maps.
Trains are mostly double deckers, generally clean, seats are comfortable and mostly arrive and depart on time. However, while on the train, we often noticed problems with the train’s announcements and digital displays which were supposed to be indicating the subsequent stops.
The displays could stop updating during the ride or show inaccurate station names of our next stops. There were also times when no announcement was made. Therefore, it is important to have a train map handy to find out how many stops more before reaching the destination.
Most of the trains do have an interesting seat design, which allows the direction of the seat to be changed. This can be done by lifting the seat up slightly and push/pull it towards the direction you wish. We liked this innovative and practical design, so that passengers can choose to sit in the direction they wish (most would prefer to face the direction that the train is moving towards).
In Sydney, there may be several buses plying along the same roads as part of their routes, so it’s likely that you will find more than one bus number which will bring you to your destination. This is when Google Maps will be useful. However, as mentioned above, arrival times are usually inaccurate so do not be surprised if you do not see the bus arriving at the expected time.
Once on board, there should be two ticket machines at the entrance area. Just insert your ticket/pass into one of these machines and collect it back below. Note that even for MyMulti passes, it is mandatory to insert the pass into the machine as a form of verification. There will be no need to take out your pass again when alighting. Also, you may wish to say ‘Thank you!’ to the driver when alighting, which is a common practice in Sydney.
Most of Sydney’s buses are equipped with handicapped amenities, so it’s important to avoid blocking or taking up seats/areas meant for the handicaps.
7. Light Rail
The Light Rail Station at Central is located on the second storey of the Central Train Station, and it took us quite a while to locate it the first time. You may wish to check with the staff at the station for directions. The MyMulti pass covers Light Rail rides too so there is no need to buy any ticket for it.
There will be a conductor on board and you can just show him/her your pass. He/she will then print and pass you a receipt to indicate that you are a pre-paid customer. Just keep this receipt for the rest of your ride in case checks are conducted.
Unfortunately, Sydney’s monorail has ceased operation since June 2013. All the monorail tracks have been torn down but some stations are still visible, though they are no longer in use.
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