CHOICE membership

Public Transport: What we like, dislike, & what improvements


@phb In regard to your travel and compared to our public transport (PT) systems, do you think they do better/worse in public transport? What improvements could/should we implement? Are their PT costs better, worse or similar?

I often lament the provision around Brisbane (particularly what seems inordinate waiting times between services) and the seeming concentration of providing better outcomes for cars vs PT.

Would we get as upset with higher fuel costs if we had PT systems that catered better to our many needs?

Petrol prices

PART 1 - Urban Transport

I could easy write a paper on the differences between public transport systems in Australia and some of the world cities…I might do at some stage.

Now, when comparing Australian (esp. Brisbane) public transport, there is possibly only one major city which public transport is deficient compare to ours. This being Santiago in Chile. I believe the reason in two fold in Chile, firstly there is little public investment in public transport and there is little local support for its use (it is usually used by the less well off and it known for this).

Now, from our recent trip these are some of the observations made:

  • The public transport systems in Paris, Switzerland, Munich, Vienna, Budapest and Bucharest are designed for moving people and not necessarily only for passenger comfort (like in Australia where there is an exception that one has a high chance of having a seat). Most forms of transport have seats, but there is possible more standing room than seating for urban routes. Standing room increases capacity but one is not on PT for long…
  • The payment systems are generally very different. In some cities one validates a ticket or has a current pass and then hops on and off public transport unhindered. Buses can be entered by any door and there are no tap on or off based systems. Some metro systems have gates which open with valid ticket/pass verification. Their ticketing system allows faster movement between connecting PT.
  • The PT systems are highly integrated. Most services have LED rolling displays or LCD screens which tell one the next stop (inc. buses) and also what other transport services are available at that stop (e.g. what buses, trams, metros and urban trains also have stops in proximity to the next stop on the PT one is on. This takes out the guess work to what stop to hop off to catch the next PT. Some cities had time to next departure on the screens to allow passengers know how quickly they need to move to catch the connecting PT.
  • All PT routes are not CBD centric like that in Australia. Often routes start and stop in what appear to be strange locations, but the PT is highly utilised by locals. It is obvious that a lot of work is done on passenger pick up and drop off points when design PT systems. Asa result, to get to ones destination, usually multiple PT types are taken and each journey may be short.
  • Everyone seems to use it in preference to ones own car. While the many cities are older and not designed for cars, it is still possible to use cars but this seems to be the second choice of consumers, rather than the first choice which exists in Australia. This increases patronage and therefore improves the distribution of routes as they are more likely to be used and therefore cost effective.
  • To increase rail frequency and capacity, they extend the main/junction railway stations to allow two trains to operate from the one platform. For example, In Salzburg, there would the trains arriving from the west to terminate, then the driver would walk to the other end of the train to commence the service back to the east. At the same platform, there would the trains at the other end with opposite direction routes. What this does is all passengers disembark the main/junction stations and then head to their next connection train (or other form of transport) to continue their journey. It is a relatively easy to do and cheap but allows significantly more capacity and frequency.
  • Frequency is also higher. Metros can be 1-2 minutes between services at peak times or 3-8 minutes other times. Buses range from 3-15 minutes. Urban trains similar to buses. Trams similar to metros. One doesn’t’ need to try to coordinate public transport to minimise travel times like that in Australia, as one can turn up to a stop/station and one knows that the next service will be along shortly.
  • There appeared to be little duplication of routes. Urban trains, buses and trams all head different directions and have different routes. This forces multiple types of transport if a more complicated departure to destination is taken. This in unlike in Australia where often a bus will often stop at a number or in proximity to a number of train stations on route. This duplication creates cost, redundancy and inefficiencies in the network.
  • Their network apps (used Android ones) are a lot better and very easy to use. The best one we used was the one in Budapest. The one in Budapest had offine maps/aerial imagery which could be used a little like google maps. It showed PT routes as well as walking routes to get from A to B and also used GPS to assist with locating near stops.
  • Due to the integrated nature of the PT networks, it is generally quicker to get from A to B than using ones own car. In Australia, it is quicker to drive and this is principally due to low frequency of services and lack of integration (arriving at a stop to find out that one has to wait 30 minutes for the next continuing PT service.
  • PT is also clean and well maintained. even the metros which are many decades old.
  • Most cities one can purchase Tourist Cards or daily/multiday passes. The Tourist cards which being significantly more expensive, pay off if one enters a number of tourist attractions as these attractions (museums, palaces, cathedrals, zoos etc) give discounts to card holders. The daily/multiday passes are affordable and can be used on all forms of transport within the metropolitan area/city zones.
  • The local government in Lausanne, Switzerland provides every tourist with a free 3 day pass for the city’s public transport. This is to reduce car movements within the city area. This is something which other cities should consider either for free or at a discounted cost. These passes can only be issued by approved accommodation providers.
  • passengers seem to be respectful and courteous of others and also know how to assist others in travellihg quickly…such as standing to the right on escalators to allow passengers to pass if one is in a hurry. They also occupy all seats where they exist, no bags on seats and also prepare dor departure of the PT well in advance of the departing stop. Even the youth are well behaved.


Petrol prices

The Translink Journey Planner for SEQ doesn’t have the visual imagery, but otherwise how does it compare? [The app is available on at least PC, Apple, & Android.]


Thank you for the detailed reply. It certainly reinforces my jaded view of our PT system (I really mean the way we focus on other means than PT). PT could be both emissions reducing and better planned here. Bring on that paper :slight_smile:


Great topic @grahroll. Really interested to hear the Community’s thoughts on the subject


What a great question @grahroll.

Considering Australia (Brisbane from regular use and Sydney as well over more than 50 years of change).

PT in these cities, but notably Brisbane has transformed. Air conditioned services in Brisbane, all Electric trains, better access and much more frequent services. I like the electric info boards at the bus stops in Brisbane. Yes they sometimes do not work or miscue. The timetable apps from TransLink in Qld and The Sydney equivalent work. (Noting TransLink does not display times correctly in Qld local time if you are in a different time zone.)

Compared with Brisbane NSW fares (harbour ferries excepted) are a bargain, although changes in fare structures over the previous year or two have reduced some of the higher fares here on the Sunshine Coast noticeably.

What does not work well:
You don’t get to choose who you share the bus or train with, worst of all the prior graffiti artist who used a rock or score the windows or seating.

Buses (Brisbane busways excluded) still crawl with the general traffic flow, which once stops are included can make for a slow journey compared with a train.

The further you travel into the outer burbs the less effective PT is. Probably due to lower density but also our love of convenience and freedom to change our minds and use a car.

The lack of parking at local park and ride locations is annoying especially if you don’t work anymore and arrive after 9am to a full car park.

The greatest noise deserves to go to the privitisation of the rail lines to Brisbane and Sydney airports. Without a concession fare it cost less than $9.20 at peak time to go 75km on the train and bus via central Brisbane. On a Sunday off peak for the airport to central Brisbane and to the coast over a similar distance the cost was approx $27.09

While we are not Europe or Japan,
Giving public transport exclusive lanes or tracks so that the only delays are passenger stops would make travel times attractive.

Putting adequate parking or interconnecting services in outer areas would help negate the issues of sprawl.

The ring line or circle line services such as those in Tokyo or London etc need to be replicated to open up alternate connections cross city.
Urban planning and development needs to follow planning for transport corridors. Not the other way around as it is today.

As a footnote:
From experience going back to the 1980s and very recently too, Europe is well connected and most larger cities have effective public transport. You can travel and holiday without a car or with minimal need of one. Even cycling is relatively safe.

Japan is equally well served, for travel between cities and towns as well as within the cities. Fares are relatively cheap, (Green car Shinkansen service excluded). I’ll exclude the language gap and mixed text script from comment. All transport functions logically and in a coordinated environment, making travel straight forward and reliable.

Effective public transport in Australia may need more than new physical infrastrucure to gain acceptance and better use.


We use the Android version of Translink app, and while it is okay, it is still well behind that we used in Budapest and other cities.

For example, the Budapest app can work fully offline (only function which won’t work is real time data of the PT network). All maps (inc. Imagery), timetables routes etc can be downloaded onto the built in memory/SD card.When travelling is this very useful as one can use the app without wifi/mobile data…or paying for expensive roaming data. The data can be downloaded when connected to wifi say at one’s accommodation. Unfortunately the Translink app requires internet connection for it to work.

Another useful feature is your (GPS) location is shown on the map. This is useful when one is not familiar with the area one is taking the PT from as it allows one to follow the mapped walking route to the bus/tram/metro stop…removing any potential for confusion or being lost. This feature is also useful on above ground PT as it shows your location on the PT route and one can see visually when one reaches the stop to hop off (doesn’t work for undergound PT like metros/trains in tunnels). This is also useful when one can’t speak the language and the stops are announced verbally and one can’t see the LED/LCD display. It is also useful for catching connections as the route between connections and the location of the departure stop can be accurately determined.

Each version of the Translink app is a step in the right direction, but it would be worth the boffins at Translink to look at say the Budapest app to see a really good one which fully intergrates many features useful to its passengers.


Yes, ours could improve immensely but it would require significant public investment and also need for increased patronage for it to be cost effective.

Our city planners would also need to think differently as well as the community as for it to work, we would needs to increase inner city densities…this is something which is often subject to objection from those who don’t like any form of development.

It would be good if a serious plan was developed which looked at integrated PT transport over a number of decades. Currently government at all levels are after legacy projects (maybe so their name can be on the opening plaque) rather than looking at the whole picture and thinking outside the square.

This is disappointing when one can see what can be done.


Fares in most world cities are cheaper again. Some offer daily/multiday passes which cost arounf $6-10/day unlimited travel. Very useful for tourists/visitors who want to travel around and see many things within the one day. I recall one fay we caught 11 different forms of PT (some ongoing journey and some individual journeys. In Brisbane, the cost would have be substantially more than that offered in Europe.

One example is for two adults to travel by local bus from the Bucharest train station to Bucharest airport, a 40 minute trip, was about AUD2.85 (this included a $0.60 travel card purchase fee). This bus departs very regularly and was full before it reached the airport. Note:average Romanian incomes are about 1/8 that of Australia.

In Paris, the cost is about the same as Brisbane ($23pp) from the airport using RER B metro to anywhere in the city. Time for the journey was about 30 minutes and a lot more convenient and frequent than the airtrain.


We have limitations here due to lack of population, population density and distances, compared to many other places in the world and I doubt we could ever afford what it would take to match train services in Europe and Asia but one thing that would help with a number of issues, is making public transport free around cities. Many people react badly to this suggestion but the costs can be actually offset in other ways such as reduced expenditure on road maintenance and infrastructure.
Brisbane in particular has very expensive buses. It is often cheaper to drive somewhere than catch the bus and if there is more than one person, nearly always. I have noticed that the old T2 between Brisbane and the Gold Coast are no longer there. Presumably this is because they were often empty as so many people commute in single occupant cars.
I also noticed when I moved to Queensland, that there are no school bus passes and for seniors, no opportunity to have inexpensive travel such as the Gold Opal card that is available in NSW. Public transport here can be prohibitive in cost which leads to too many cars on the road and the slowing of buses in traffic.


PART - Intercity/Regional Transport

One of the main differences between Australia and Asian and European countries is the distribution and size of the population.

Australia is highly urbanised (about 16 million or 2/3 of the Australian population live in the greater area comprising our capital cities). Our capital cites which have most of the Australian population are separated by large distances in world terms. Of one travelled from say Brisbane to Melbourne, the same distance in Europe one would be travelling from Paris to Belgrade) across 6+ countries through many large cities. The separation of these major cities is in hours by public transport, not 1/2 days to days as exists in Australia.

The population density in countries in Asia (e.g. China, Indonesia or India) are far greater than that in Australia or even Europe. I remember when we lived in China in 2003, within 80km (160km diameter circle) of where we lived the local population was similar to the whole of Australia.

The proximity of larger population bases closer together lends to greater investment in regional/intercity PT as other forms of mass transit (e.g. planes) is uneconomic or impracticable (can’t imagine catching a plane from one city to another 80km away…the time to fly would be about 3-4 hours where other forms of PT would be around an hour).

In Europe, the train network is every good, reliable, generally fast (e.g. high speed TGV, Swiss trains, Deutsche ICE, Austrian RailJet etc) and have very regular services. Most of the major cities are linked with trains with a frequency of 1-2 hours, in some cases less.

We were fortunate in our recent trip to Europe to catch trains from Paris to Bucharest, experiencing a wide range of train types (but the same class - 2nd class). All these trains were terrific and generally were faster than flying (even when catching slow trains). The only exception was the overnight from Budapest to Brasov, Romanian.

Most of the intercity trains were very quite, smooth and comfortable and not dissimilar to catching a plane. The advantage is that a train one can walk around, can get wifi (where it is provided by the operator) and also see the countryside seamlessly passing by. The cost is comparable to flying (in some cases considerably cheaper when one compared end to end transport to get from departure point to destination point).

(Un)fortunately in Australia I have also travelled the east coast extensively by train with a number of journeys covering territory from Townsville to Melbourne. The trains in Australia travelling between towns and (capital) cities, while reasonable comfortable are very slow. They are generally used by holidaymakers and possibly those who don’t like flying. They are rarely used by business people as flying is generally more cost and time affordable.

There has been talk of high speed trains between Sydney and Melbourne (one of the busiest flight paths in the world) and Brisbane and Sydney. Having travelled in many other countries, I can’t see how such high speed train networks would stack up financially and potentially be a time saver (If a train saved time compared to flying, then I believe it would create a move to high speed intercity PT)…currently there are no real train technologies that would compete with flights between BNE-SYD-MEL. There are some pie in the sky systems, such as that floated by Musk, but these are dreams rather than realities.

I would love for Australia to have a high speed network like that being rolled out in China or exists in Europe and Japan, but unless there is a substantial population increase and also development of regional cities away from the development centric capitals, I believe that it will never become a reality. It is a shame as train travel is an enjoyable way to get around, especially when it takes similar times to flying.

For those who are interested and wish to also to travel by train anywhere in the world, I recommend the website Man in Seat 61. This website run by a train enthusiast contains unbiased, up-to-date information on train travel anywhere in the world. It also provides information on where to buy tickets and also on the trains wtc.


TransLink GoCards include a concession card for students, pensioners, eligable seniors etc. Typically half fare. My partner has one. Our children had them for school and Uni. You can also get discounted long distance rail travel.

Compared to a NSW Opal Card the Qld GoCard is a cheaper card for first use, and it is easier to top up to your exact needs.

And yes a Gold Opal Card is not the same as a GoCard with concession. A Gold Opal Card with a max $2.50 per day is effectively free travel! Qld has since the days of the tram offered half price concessions. Even at these higher fares compared to the cost of car ownership public transport is very cost effective.

I’ve lived and worked in both Sydney and Brisbane. Both cities are struggling to meet public transport needs. Both cities have massive urban sprawl and are spending fortunes on road network improvements. Public transport would be a better place to spent this money while better urban planning to align population growth, services and employment with transport is a goal of both cities.

Melbourne is facing the same needs if you look to the state election promises.



Thanks. I do have the Business Discount seniors card which is the only one I am eligible for although I have been retired since age 55. I was able to get that at 60. Although I am 62 I cannot use it for public transport. You have to have one with a number on it which is the full seniors card. Friends in Sydney get the full card when they turn 60, or so I kept hearing as the 60th birthdays rolled around! I am familiar with the student card for uni, my children had them but fares are still relatively expensive. In NSW, school transport was completely free.
I will have a look at your attached link and make sure I am up to date. Cheers.


Yes, For Queenslanders we generally need to wait until we are 65 for a full seniors card, while it is 60 in NSW. There are a few exceptions that enable you to obtain one from age 60 in Qld, refer to following:

It is just another one of those things that remind me Australia in many ways is not one unified nation. It remains 6 independent nation states in so many ways, the two territories excluded.


I have always called it 6 cities that agreed to have a country :wink: