A look at Melbourne CBD transport

Sun 23 January, 2011

My last post looked at suburban employment areas, but what about the CBD? With the review of the City of Melbourne’s Transport Strategy, I’ve taken on a detailed analysis of transport to and from the CBD.

In this post I’ll look at questions like:

  • Do CBD commuters come from the inner or outer suburbs?
  • Do wealthy executive types snub public transport?
  • How does mode share vary between the sexes and young and old?
  • What impact are employer parking and driving subsidies having on mode choice?

I’m mostly focussing on the inner Melbourne CBD – using the ABS definition of “Melbourne – inner” SLA, which is essentially the Hoddle grid. However I’ve included Southbank or Docklands a couple of times, and there are also some comparisons with Sydney, Brisbane and Perth CBDs.

This is a long post, so grab a cuppa and get comfortable.

Where do the commuters come from?

According to the 2006 census, there were 137,853 commuter journeys into the CBD.

The first map shows the number of commuters from each SLA in Melbourne. The shading represents simple density of CBD commuters by area, which is not ideal because outer metro SLAs can be impacted by low average population density. At the same time, not all SLAs have the same population so some will always have large numbers (eg Manningham west). As always, click to zoom in.

The CBD attracted workers from all over Melbourne, but certainly with a high concentration from the inner suburbs.

To get around the density issue, I’ve drawn a map showing the percentage of workers from each SLA who work in the CBD, Southbank or Docklands:

You can see the percentage drops off fairly uniformly by distance. The CBD is not a major destination for most middle and outer suburban areas.

What modes of transport do commuters use? (by area)

Firstly a map showing the public transport mode share from each SLA (green = higher):

Public transport mode share was largely above 70% for much of Melbourne and indeed most surrounding areas.

A few low spots stick out:

  • Manningham west and east, serviced only by buses (that have recently been signficantly upgraded)
  • Northern parts of Boroondara and 52% and 55%. These wealthy areas are serviced by frequent trams and buses, although with a relatively slow trip in.
  • Rowville (Knox south) is at 57%, but bear in mind there were only 800 commuters from Rowville to the CBD (and I expect most of these would be park and ride train commuters). In fact, the catchment of the proposed Rowville rail line passes through three SLAs, with a total CBD commuter population of 4138. Allowing for catchments of other radial public transport lines in the SLAs, the CBD commuter catchment of the proposed Rowville line might be 2000-3000, or about 3 full trains. But of course a line would also be used for trips to other destinations (particularly Monash), and it would probably cause changes in travel patterns over time once built. I might look at this more in a future post. In the meantime you might want to read Alan Davies take, and a 2004 pre-feasibility study (here is a summary presentation).
  • Wealthy Brighton is well serviced by the Sandringham line, but only half used public transport to get to the CBD. There is no easy freeway connecting Brighton and the CBD, so why are they driving? I’ll come back to that.
  • The inner SLAs in Melbourne, Yarra and Port Phillip are slightly lower, probably due to a high rate of walking and cycling. More on that later too.

You can see a high PT mode share for the relatively small numbers of commuters from Geelong (around 800 in total). $4.3b is being spent on a regional rail link, that will separate regional trains from suburban trains. Regional trains from outside Melbourne seat less than 500 people, but because they run express through much of Melbourne they each consume probably around two all-stopping suburban train paths (which have a capacity of around 1000 each). I haven’t seen any debate about whether encouraging regional commuting by train into central Melbourne is worthwhile, though I’m sure people living in those areas appreciate the trains.

Next a map showing private transport mode share (red = higher):

Private transport mode share was highest for Manningham, northern Boroondara, Wyndham South (including Point Cook), Bayside, Rowville, and the outer northern fringes.

But a high car mode share may not be a huge issue if the number of car commuters is low. The next map shows the number of private transport commuter trips from each SLA, shaded by relative density:


  • Like we saw in my last post for South Melbourne, there were large numbers of car commuters coming from the inner suburbs, particularly to the south-east. These areas are well connected to the CBD by public transport, and also quite wealthy. Is wealth a driver of higher car mode share? Read on.
  • Manningham west had a large number of car commuters (with a reasonable density). This area is entirely reliant on bus services, which have been upgraded considerably since 2006, with strong patronage growth resulting. In 2006, the last bus from the CBD on the Eastern Freeway – Doncaster Road route (307) was around 6:45pm. It’s now around midnight (on route 907 that replaced 307).
  • There were also a large number from Wyndham north-east (Werribee – Hoppers Crossing area) which is not shaded dark on the map due to low average population density. In 2006, peak train services on the Werribee line were often 20 minutes apart, and bus services only ran every 40 minutes. The train frequency has since increased to 6/hour but the (feeder) bus frequencies are still 40 minutes in peak periods.
  • Moonee Valley (Moonee Ponds-Essendon area) was a large contributor of cars, despite frequent trains and trams to the CBD. Not sure why that is, although Essendon is a relatively wealthy area.

Here is a another map of private transport commuters, except it is shaded by numbers rather than density. Manningham west stands out, but bear in mind it is one of the largest SLAs in Melbourne by population. You can see the outer western SLAs show up on this map also.

And for a flip side, here is where the public transport passengers were coming from (shaded by density):

There are large concentrations coming from the inner suburbs, but also the middle eastern suburbs which are well connected by trains. The Manningham west area had over 2000 public transport commuters to the CBD, many of which would have been on buses only.

Again, to get around the low population density problem, I’ve also drawn a similar map shaded by total numbers:

We saw low PT and car mode shares for the inner city. I haven’t drawn a map of walking mode share for the CBD but you can see public and private transport mode shares are low in the inner city, with walking likely to fill the gap. A map of walking mode share to any work destination is in another post.

The cycling figures are quite interesting. Next map shows the bicycle mode share to the CBD (any trip involving bicycle) (green=higher):

The figures are for Yarra north, Brunswick and Northcote are surprisingly high at 8-10%. Remember that the census is taken in winter (August). As I recall it wasn’t a rainy day. Bicycle mode share is also lower for commuters from the City of Melbourne itself. SLAs in grey lacked sufficient data.

Here are the total number of CBD bicycle commuters per SLA (shading by numbers, not density):

According to the data, people also rode from as far out as Frankston, Croydon, Ringwood and Sunbury! Census data is like that (as I recall, someone in Banyule claimed to have gone to work by ferry).

What modes did people use overall?

Here is a chart showing the overall mode split for all CBD workers:

Trains accounted for almost half of all CBD arrivals.

While buses accounted for only 2% of all CBD commuters, they were the only mode used by 32% in Manningham west, 11% in Kew, 9% in Camberwell north, 7% in Maribyrnong, and 5% in Altona.

Next chart shows mode split in a more simplified form:

Public Transport dominates, but still over a quarter came by car – including over 32,000 car drivers.

Public transport took 67% of motorised commuter trips into the CBD.

Active transport is at 8%, which probably represents those who live within walking distance of the CBD.

So how does Melbourne compare to other large Australian cities? The following chart compares Sydney, Brisbane, Perth and Melbourne CBDs. I’ve used the SLA that represents the inner core of business activity in each city to try to make in a reasonably fair comparison. Unfortunately Adelaide does not have a true inner CBD SLA to compare against (the central SLA includes all of North Adelaide, including lower density residential areas).

Sydney has the highest public transport mode share, with Melbourne and Brisbane very close (to my surprise). Perth is very much a car CBD, although mode shares are likely to have changed following the opening of the Mandurah rail line since 2006. The 2011 figures will be very interesting.

Perth walking more share was 3.0%, lower than 5.3-5.8% in the other cities – probably because of a lack of inner city residents.

And for the record, cycling was highest in Melbourne at 2.3%, followed by Perth at 2.0%, Brisbane at 1.5%, and Sydney at 0.8%.

The number of car driver journeys to work in the Melbourne CBD actually decreased from 34,289 in 2001 to 30,570 in 2006, a mode share drop from 27% to 23% (ref). This happened despite a 20% increase in the number of parking spaces in the CBD between 2000 and 2006 (ref):

I’ve included Southbank and Docklands in this chart for interest – Southbank parking supply actually went down between 2006 and 2008.

[parking stats updated June 2012 with 2010 CLUE data:]

Looking at commercial parking spaces only:

The number of commercial parking spaces has actually declined in the CBD and there has been very little growth in Docklands (despite an increase in employment).

Here is the ratio of employees to commercial parking spaces:

While the ratios are flat in three of the areas, Docklands has seen strong growth in employment without equivalent growth in commercial car parking.

Colliers International have recently begun surveying CBD parking costs. Here are the results for Australia (adjusted to AUD using 1 July exchange rates):

I don’t pretend to be an expert in CBD parking markets, but the differences between daily and monthly rates suggest some complexity. In Melbourne at least, it is quite common to find “early bird” parking for $13-17 (and “early bird” usually means parking your car before 10am).

I’m perhaps more inclined to go on the monthly rates, as they are probably more competitive. Melbourne prices collapsed in 2010, at the same time that public transport patronage growth stalled. Prices also went down in all other cities except Perth (which had the strongest public transport growth of the major cities in 2009-10).

So is CBD parking price a driver of public transport patronage? Probably too early to tell because of a lack of much time series on parking cost data (including 2006 data), but worth looking at in future.

What modes are different commuters using?

Firstly, mode share of motorised journeys by age and gender:

As you might expect, public transport mode share is higher amongst younger people and females. But for females it is also high for older women, with a curious dip at 35-44 years (typical kids at primary school years?). For men, private transport mode share was higher for older men. I’ve not shown 65-74 because the total number of such commuters was very small.

I’ve put non-motorised modes on a separate chart as they are much lower shares:

Walking was much higher for younger people. Is this because of lower car ownership, less willingness/ability to pay for transport, higher residential proximity to the CBD, and/or higher health and fitness focus? Unfortunately I don’t have the datasets to answer those questions.

Cycling mode share peaked with men aged 35-44, with men much more likely to cycle than women.

For reference, here is a demographic breakdown of CBD workers – it peaks at 25-34, with women slightly younger on average:

And here are the same charts for Brisbane:


and Perth:

You can see:

  • cycling mode share peaked for men aged 35-44 in all cities
  • walking tended to peak for people aged 25-34
  • public transport mode share dipped for women aged 35-44 in all cities
  • In Perth, men aged over 35 had a higher private transport mode share than public transport, the only city where this occurred.

So, do executives (presumably many from wealthy inner city suburbs) shy away from using public transport?

Indeed they do. They represented 16% of Melbourne CBD workers, but 24% of car commuters (9538 car trips in total). Maybe because many of them get company cars/parking as parts of their packages? More on that coming up.

Lower paid clerical and administrative workers were most likely to use public transport (and probably least able to afford driving and parking costs).

Note that Machinery operators & drivers also had a higher private transport mode share – I expect many are professional drivers coming in their work car (there were only around 1000 in this occupational category).

Back to managers – the next chart shows they are also more likely to snub public transport in Sydney, Brisbane and Perth:

What about other trip purposes?

The following charts show data from the VISTA 2007 household travel survey, that includes all trip types and all of Melbourne.VISTA is a survey, not a census, so there is a margin or error involved, and unfortunately the sample sizes are not large (provided in charts as “n=”). The total VISTA 2007 dataset has 2955 surveyed trips into the Melbourne CBD (across all days of the week), of which 1973 were motorised.

First chart shows mode split for trip legs into and out of the CBD, by time of day on weekdays:

Weekday AM peak is 7-9am, and PM peak is 3-6pm, anything else is classed as off-peak. Unfortunately there are only 190 trips in/out of the CBD on weekends in the sample, which has too large a margin of error to be too meaningful (7%).

Active transport (walking and cycling) and public transport were clearly dominant. When looking only at motorised trips, Public transport took 74% of inbound AM peak and outbound PM peak trips, and 67%/62% of off-peak in/out bound trips.

Recall above that motorised journeys to work in 2006 were 67% by public transport, suggesting people travelling for reasons other than work in peak periods were slightly more likely to use public transport.

What about wealth? I’ve used average household income per occupant, to remove the impacts of household size, and grouped this by $500 amounts. Note: the sample sizes are quite small for larger income groups.

Sure enough, there appears to be a trend that people from higher income households were more likely to use private transport for travel into the CBD.

What about age?

While the sample sizes are relatively small, there certainly appears to have been a higher propensity to use private transport for travel to the CBD by middle-aged people.

There may be a trend back to public transport for older people, but the margin of error is around 10% for the last two age groups so this is not certain. However it would fit with Seniors being able to access cheaper public transport fares.

In terms of gender, 73% of females who used motorised transport came by public transport, compared to 67% of males – a similar difference to commuters.

Who’s paying for the private transport?

While for many people driving to the CBD for work everyday is something of a non-option, there are still tens of thousands who do. Is employer sponsored driving and parking costs influencing their mode choice?

VISTA lets us take a look at that also, although there is only a sample of 183 AM peak private transport trips (margin of error around 7%).

According to the data, around 29% of cars driven into the CBD in the AM peak had their running costs paid by a company, and 36% had parking paid for by employers. Remarkably, 34% reported no parking costs for off-street parking (these trips mostly for work purposes) – which doesn’t sound right for the CBD in the AM peak! I’m not aware of any publicly available free off-street parking spaces. Perhaps the respondents overlooked the fact that someone else was at least paying for the land on which they parked? If that is the case, then it would appear that less than a third of cars driven into the CBD in the AM peak were not employer subsidised in parking or running costs.

Employer subsidies appear to be an incentive to drive to the CBD. By contrast, only around 2% of general Melbourne AM peak car drivers had employee paid parking, and only around 13% had car running costs paid by an employer (VISTA 2007).

One of the most effective ways to reduce car mode share for journeys to work in the Melbourne CBD would appear to be reducing employer subsidies for parking and driving costs. Schemes such as parking cash out help employees see how much their parking and driving costs are being subsidised. If they have the option of receiving that money directly as salary they might make different choices (depending on tax treatment of course!).

That said, with current capacity issues on Melbourne’s trains and trams, trying to shift more CBD commuter trips from car to public transport in the short-term might not be a government priority just at the moment.

And lastly, for the record, 6 and 8 cylinder cars parked in the CBD did not appear to be over-represented. Cars of well-known luxury brands were over-represented (15% v 6% metro average).

I think that’s enough now! 🙂

Active transport is at 8%, which probably represents those who live within walking distance of the CBD. In order to take out the walking component, I’ve also taken a sample that excludes an “inner ring” around the CBD, as shown in the following map:

If you take out the inner ring, the mode split is 69% PT, 28% car, 1.9% cycling and 1.4% walking longer distances.

Illustrating the perverse Fringe Benefits Tax statutory formula for employer-provided cars

Sun 9 May, 2010

There was a chart on page 10 of the recently released Henry Tax Review Overview report that really caught my attention. It shows the kms travelled by employer-provided cars in Australia.

The massive spikes are a result of rate thresholds in the much-despised Fringe Benefits Tax (FBT) statutory formula for employer-provided cars, where travelling more kilometres often reduces your total costs.

In this method, the taxable value of the fringe benefit is essentially a percentage of the value of the car, and the percentage used depends on the total kms travelled each year:

  • Less than 15,000km – 26%
  • 15,000 – 24,999km – 20%
  • 25,000 – 40,000km – 11%
  • Over 40,000km  – 7%

These are not marginal rates, because the kms travelled is not directly used in the calculation of taxable value. Hence getting into the next bracket reduces your rate and your total tax bill, despite the marginal increase in direct running costs. This is utterly perverse as it provides an incentive for people to drive more kms, increasing congestion and greenhouse emissions!

There is also an operating costs method where the taxable value is essentially the proportion of running costs that were for private use (which is actually quite logical!). People are currently free to choose whichever method involves paying less tax. If there is a lot of personal use, then the statutory formula is often the way to go (travelling to and from work is generally classed as private travel).

So I’ve looked at the total cost of car ownership for a $35,000 car that has per-km costs of 17 cents per km, and standing costs of $167 per week (roughly the running costs of a Holden Commodore according to the RACV), using the fringe benefits tax rate of 46.5%. I’ve also assumed 70% private use when using the operating costs method.

The following chart shows the net running cost of such a vehicle, depending on the annual kms travelled, by both the statutory formula and operating cost methods:

You can see the step reductions in total costs when reaching each threshold in the statutory formula. In this example:

  • Driving 15,000 kms instead of 14,999 kms saves you $976
  • Driving 25,000 kms instead of 24,999 kms saves you $1465
  • Driving 40,000 kms instead of 39,999 kms saves you $488

These are big incentives to drive more kms!

You can also see that the operating costs method is not particularly attractive if most of the car’s use is private.

The FBT year ends March 31st each year. So is there evidence of big driving holidays in March each year as people try to get their kms over the next threshold?

The following chart shows the average monthly automotive gasoline sales for Australia for the period 2005-2009 (Source: Australian Petroleum Statistics). March stands out as the second highest month of the year for automotive fuel sales.

The FBT statutory formula might be responsible for the high average March figure, but I am a little reluctant to make that conclusion because I just don’t know enough about the other influences on monthly fuel sale volumes in Australia. Perhaps someone more knowledgeable than me could comment.

Peak oil

Sun 14 March, 2010

[updated September 2011]

While there is a plethora of content on the web about peak oil, I can’t seem to find many charts that track the current medium-term trends in global oil supply and price (a lot of the reports go into great detail about explaining short-term trends, or show long-term trends without the most recent data).

So here is an attempt at some medium term analysis of the data (if anyone can suggest other/better sources of such analysis I’d be pleased to hear about them).

Current medium-term trends

The first chart uses International Energy Agency (IEA) quarterly data on world oil supply until 2011Q2, projected demand for the last two quarters of 2011 (as at September 2011), together with the average WTI oil price in $US for each quarter.

The second chart simplistically looks at the relationship between price and demand/supply for each quarter 2000 to 2011Q1. I’ve also added forecast 2011 demand for remaining 2011 (assuming a $91 price). Note: there are small differences between supply and demand each quarter due to stockpiling etc.


Yes this is a very simplistic representation of world oil markets (it doesn’t adjust for inflation or global exchange rates), but I think it is still interesting. You can see that there are differences between quarterly demand and supply as the red and blue lines don’t always overlap. For example, according to the data, supply exceeded demand in the quarters where prices peaked, but then demand exceeded supply for the two previous quarters.


I’m certainly not a qualified oil market analyst, and this isn’t rigorous analysis, but a few things do stick out:

  • World oil supply grew strongly between 2002 and 2005 and then was stuck around 84-87 million barrels per day (mb/d) until 2010. Supply grew to a new high of 88.5 mb/d in 2011 Q1, but then dropped in 2011 Q2. The September 2011 Oil Market Report suggests supply is now 89.1 mb/d.
  • During 2007 and the first half of 2008, oil prices grew strongly while supply was relatively unchanged, suggesting a demand-supply crunch.
  • After mid 2008, both prices and supply collapsed, around the same time as the global financial crisis hit.
  • During 2009, prices almost doubled, while supply only grew a small amount (although a devaluing of the US dollar explains some of this).
  • During the first three-quarters of 2010 supply grew but prices stabilised. But since 2010Q4, prices increased, even though supply reduced in 2011Q2. At the time of writing WTI oil was around US$91, and supply had increased again.
  • Looking at the second chart, it appears we have broken through the 88 mb/d threshold without the same prices seen in 2008.

The future?

It’s very hard to speculate, and I’m not particularly qualified. At present it appears oil prices have fallen with global economic conditions, supply has increased to a new high, and demand is also higher than ever.

Will it be possible to continue to ramp up supply to meet the further increases in demand?

The peak oil theory essentially suggests that new oil sources are harder to find and extract, that many existing fields are in unavoidable production decline, and so it is getting harder just to maintain current supply levels with new fields, let alone grow production overall. And harder still to grow production without increasing prices.

We’ve seen some supporting evidence in 2008, but conflicting evidence in 2010. That might have something to do with exchange rates. Oil prices fell in 2010Q3, but the US dollar was strong in mid 2010. Probably need more thorough analysis than what I have done. But the data is what it is. And all will be revealed in time.

But what will transport investors assume? Increasing global supply without significant price growth over the next 30 years does not look like a particularly safe assumption! But I fear it is the default assumption.

What’s a good PT fare system? And what does that mean for smartcards?

Sun 14 February, 2010

[This post has been fully revised in December 2011, including removal of Brisbane periodical paper tickets, the introduction of smartcard ticketing to Canberra, and the addition of Newcastle, Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch]

With smartcard public transport ticketing coming to more cities, and the recent adoption of the MyZone fare system in Sydney, I thought it might be worthwhile to compare the current fare systems, assess them against “desirable” design criteria, and then look at the complexity of implementing each fare system in a smartcard ticketing solution.

The analysis offers some potential explanations as to why some cities are probably doing better than others with smartcards, and I’ve made some suggestions how fare systems might be tweaked in some cities.

This post has come out longer than I intended, so get yourself a cuppa and get comfortable.

Fare products in Australasian Cities

Firstly, what types of fare products are available in each city? This table is a rough summary of the main ticket types available, depending on the ticketing systems in each major city:

City System single return all day 10 trip week month/
28 day
quarter year
Melbourne Metcard Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Myki Yes Yes** Yes Yes Yes
Sydney MyTrain Yes Yes* (Yes) Yes (Yes) Yes Yes
MyBus Yes Yes
MyFerry Yes Yes
MyMulti (Yes) Yes Yes Yes
Perth Paper Yes Yes*
SmartRider Yes
Adelaide paper Yes Yes Yes
Brisbane paper Yes
go card Yes
Canberra cash Yes Yes
MyWay Yes Yes** Yes**
Hobart Paper Yes Yes*
Greencard Yes Yes**
Newcastle Bus Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Auckland Bus – paper Yes Yes# Yes# Yes# Yes# Yes#
Bus – HOP Yes
Train Yes Yes* Yes
Wellington Bus – paper Yes Yes#* Yes#
Bus – Snapper Yes Yes
Train Yes Yes* Yes Yes
Train+bus Yes#* Yes#
Ferry Yes Yes# Yes# Yes#
Christchurch paper Yes
metrocard Yes Yes** Yes**

Yes* = the product is not useable in peak periods and is only of value for certain numbers of trips/zones.
Yes** = a cap applies
(Yes) = available but no discount ahead of smaller tickets for peak travel.
Yes# = only available for some operators/services

A few things to note:

  • All cities have bulk ticket products and/or smart card systems that in effect provide for bulk purchase discounts.
  • At the time of writing Melbourne was in transition from metcard to myki, with both metcard and myki fare systems active.
  • I’ve only really looked at products available to regular full fare passengers in the above (eg it does not include things like all day Seniors tickets).
  • Translink in Brisbane has removed most paper ticket options other than single fares.
  • I’ve not included Auckland ferries as different operators have different tickets, although most have 10-trip and monthly tickets (some have week and 40 trip tickets)

For the following analysis I have used fares current as at November 2011 for each system, and compared the costs of full fare travel of about 9-10 km. There may be some variations for different distances, so this analysis isn’t going to be perfect.

Why bulk purchase discounts?

Encouraging bulk purchasing has a couple of major benefits for transport authorities:

  • Fewer ticketing machines and staffed ticketing windows are needed as fewer tickets are purchased for the same amount of travel.
  • In the case of disposable paper tickets, fewer physical tickets are required.
  • On buses, minimising ticket purchases from drivers can reduce a sometimes significant cause of delays, particularly as patronage increases.

Financial incentives for bulk purchase are often provided, but there is always a convenience incentive to buy fewer tickets (up to the limits of people’s available cash flow).

Bulk purchase discounts for the weekday peak commuter

I have taken the case of a straight forward weekday commuter, who makes a trip in the morning and afternoon peaks on weekdays only. Thus they don’t qualify for any off-peak discounts. Not all cities allow for free transfers on single and return tickets (see table further below), and I’ve assumed a transfer-less journey for the purposes of this analysis.

This first charts show the maximum discount possible given the purchasing frequency for people with this travel pattern. Because Sydney is so complicated I’ve put it on a separate chart.

A note on Sydney’s MyMulti: There is no “single” MyMulti ticket in Sydney. As a substitute I’ve used a 5km train trip ($3.20) followed by a 5 section bus trip ($3.30) = $6.50, which is relatively expensive compared to single mode 10km journeys. This is in line with the 10km base I am using as bus sections in Sydney seem to be roughly 1km apart, but you’ll see the implied bulk discounts are very high.  Also, I have used MyMulti1 fares where they are better value for bus and ferry users.

The lines show whether more discounts are available when purchasing less frequently. The last point where the line increments is the maximum purchasing frequency that gives you the most discount.


  • Most smartcard systems have a discount price for single trips, but most don’t appear on the chart above because the price of a single trips is less than the minimum top-up amount of $5 or $10. Melbourne is the exception where the minimum top up amount is $1 – less than the price of almost any fare.
  • Discounts kick in at the daily level for Adelaide and Canberra mostly because they have a daily or return ticket that is less than the price of two singles.
  • Melbourne, Sydney and Newcastle are the only cities where discounts continue until a yearly purchasing frequency.
  • Most cities have a 20-35% discount at a weekly purchasing interval. They outliers are:
    • Canberra which has a very strong incentive for Smartcard based travel over cash fares
    • Wellington trains that have a high value monthly ticket
    • Most Auckland buses have a monthly ticket, however the zones available vary between operators. In the above chart, the “all zones” monthly pass for NZ Bus operators was used – $200, which is not better value for simple weekday commuters travelling 3 stages. Other operators have monthly tickets priced as low as $97. The complexity of the ticket offerings makes it difficult to accurate represent  available discounts to Auckland bus travellers.

Oddities (skip these if you don’t care about the detail)

  • Canberra :
    • There is a higher discount for weekly travel because the additional 5% discount for auto-load means the price of two trips (on one day) is less than the minimum top up ($5).
    • There is a monthly discount because travel is free after 36 trips.
    • I’m not sure whether the $5 minimum top-up applies if topping up with BPay.
  • Sydney:
    • For 6+ section bus travel, a quarterly MyMulti1 is cheaper than using MyBus TravelTen tickets
    • For <9km ferry travel, a weekly or longer MyMulti1 is cheaper than using MyFerry TravelTen tickets.
    • Yearly train tickets offer no discount over quarterly train tickets
  • Newcastle:
    • The quarterly ticket (Orange TravelPass) is more expensive than travelling with weekly tickets if you are just making two trips per weekday.
  • Wellington bus
    • Wellington does have three monthly bus passes, with cheaper passes limited to fewer operators. Only the Go Wellington 30 day pass is of value to 5 day a week commuters, and this ticket is limited to one operator (GO Wellington, with a 36% saving over single cash fares). For the charts, the all-operator Platinum Pass ($210) has been used.

I’ll look at the discounts for lower purchase frequencies later in this post.

Bulk purchase discounts for the everyday traveller

Many systems have weekly or monthly caps, or offer discounts after a certain number of trips in a week or month. This provides an incentive for a regular weekday travellers to also travel on weekends. The discounts over single tickets can be quite high!

As you might expect, the discounts are greatest for those cities with periodical tickets. Those systems without periodical tickets (Perth, Hobart, Wellington bus, Adelaide and Brisbane) have the least discount for everyday travellers.

Bulk purchase incentives for the irregular traveller

All cities (except Sydney trains and multi-modal) have either a 10 trip ticket, or discounts over cash prices when using stored value on a smartcard:

Canberra and Brisbane offer strong incentives for people to use smartcards, while Adelaide provides a high discount for ten-trip travel (but has no higher value tickets such as periodicals). Bulk purchase discounts for irregular travel are lowest in Auckland (around 10%).

Why is Hobart Greencard and Melbourne myki money showing a 0% discount? For myki the minimum top up is $1, it is possible to pay for a single trip and get the same 21% discount over a metcard 2-hour (single) ticket that you get when you load value for 10 trips worth. There is no financial incentive for irregular travellers to top up less often than every trip. In Hobart, smartcard fares are the same as cash fares, but there is a 25% bonus value when topping up an amount of $20 or more (which equates to a 20% discount).

Sydney’s MyTrain and MyMulti do not offer 10 trip tickets. It would seem there might be much advantage in introducing these products (or a stored value smartcard equivalent) for irregular travellers to be rewarded and reduce congestion at ticket machines and windows.

Incentives for off-peak travel

From a policy perspective, there are benefits in getting peak period PT commuters to also use PT in off-peak periods (such as reducing emissions and off-peak traffic congestion). Usually there is ample spare capacity in off-peak times, so the costs of carrying extra people at these times are minimal and the resulting benefit/cost ratio is very high.

That said, Melbourne has to provide extra lunchtime peak trams in the CBD to meet demand, but arguably this adds to the liveability and productivity of the Melbourne CBD so is worthwhile anyway.

In cities with daily tickets, daily/weekly/monthly caps or weekly, monthly, quarterly and/or yearly periodicals, additional off-peak trips are have a zero marginal cost. That’s a 100% discount!

In cities with weekly tickets (and Brisbane through the frequent user scheme), regular weekday commuters often pay a lot less – or nothing at all – to also travel on weekends.

The table further below will show these discounts.

So what might an ideal fare system look like?

The following list builds on the above, and adds a few other criteria I think are worthwhile for a PT fare system:

  1. There are several points where the bulk purchase discount increases. Ideally a system would at least have discounts applying at the weekly and monthly purchasing frequencies. I’d argue the monthly discount is particularly important as it reduces the number of purchase transactions by a factor of 4 compared to weekly tickets (from 52 to 12 per year). Quarterly and yearly tickets are probably still worthwhile, but only for people with enough cash flow available to make a larger up-front purchase.
  2. For Smartcard systems, the minimum top-up amount is at least $10 (usually covering three trips), to reduce transaction costs.
  3. For Smartcard systems, there is an incentive to make larger top-ups, to reduce the number top-up transactions (and associated overhead costs).
  4. There is an incentive for people to set up automatic top-up of smartcards (via a linked bank account). This avoids any physical interaction with the ticketing system, reducing congestion, staffing and maintenance costs at ticket machines and windows. It also reduces the risk of inadvertent fare evasion when a customer forgets to top-up. Ad hoc online top ups also reduce load on ticketing machines and windows, but can require complex distribution of the top up transaction to every device on the network (such that the smartcard will be topped up when it next touches any piece of ticketing equipment). This can be problematic and delays in top-ups coming through are not unknown. The Hopper card in Auckland and Wellington only allows top ups online if the user has a device that can interact with the smartcard, or if the user has a smartcard that has a USB attachment built-in.
  5. There are strong incentives for regular weekday commuters to also use PT in off-peak periods/weekends. Ideally no marginal cost of additional off-peak trips.
  6. Passengers who have to transfer between services do not have to pay more to travel the same distance just because there is no single service connecting their origin and destination. Already, the need to transfer introduces inconvenience, usually a travel time penalty, a wait time penalty and missed connection risk into the journey, so why add a cost penalty on top? A desire for passengers to avoid transfers can put pressure on bus networks to connect many origins and destinations directly, at lower average frequencies. Also, incentives for train users to get to the station by bus – at no extra cost to the train fare – reduces the pressure on station car parks. Many train stations are in “activity centres” – where inactive land uses such as all day commuter parking are not desirable. Sydney, Auckland, Hobart and Wellington currently have financial penalties for most transfers (unless using periodicals).
  7. Fares are simple to understand in terms of which ticket type is best value depending on your purchasing frequency. A customer should not have to do complex calculations to determine the best fare product (a problem when offering both multi-modal and mode-specific fare options).
  8. Reduce production of physical materials to cut environmental impacts through waste and litter. Long life smartcards are obviously one solution to this issue, but so are periodical paper tickets.

Note: I’m not going to enter the debate about zonal v distance based fares in this post.

How do Australasian cities’ fare systems measure up?

The following table summarises how Australasian cities’ fare systems measure up to the above criteria, with colour coding giving a rough compliance rating (you will probably need to click on this and then zoom in to read it – sorry about that – nice formatted tables are difficult with wordpress).

Note: I have used the best value fare for each purchasing frequency for a roughly 10km trip to the CBD (for Sydney buses and ferries, a MyMulti ticket is sometimes better value than a single mode ticket). That took a lot of deduction which I haven’t documented here.

How do the fare systems compare?

Compared to the above criteria:

  • No fare system is perfect.
  • Melbourne (myki and Metcard) meets most criteria, except for financial incentives for automatic top-up, and higher minimum top-up amount.
  • Sydney buses and ferries and Wellington buses meet the fewest criteria.
  • Sydney MyMulti meets most criteria, but lacks a strong incentive to use a daily MyMulti ticket, and has the overlaying complexity where customers need to do complex calculations to establish whether or not MyMulti is good value.
  • Brisbane go card does not provide significant bulk purchase discount incentives, and additional off peak trips are not free (although they are around half price or less).
  • Adelaide lacks any periodical tickets, and hence any weekend travel incentives (indeed discounts applicable to inter-peak weekday travel do not apply on weekends!). This probably reflects the older ticketing technology in that city.
  • Perth fails to provide off-peak travel incentives for regular commuters. But it is the only city with an automatic top-up discount, which offsets the impact of the smaller bulk purchase incentive.

Reducing ticket waste

Since the first edition of this post, more cities now have either a SmartCard ticketing system, or have strong discounts for quarterly or yearly tickets.

This means to get the best discount, you’ll only buy one physical ticket (or less) per year. The notable exceptions are:

  • Adelaide – you need to buy a ticket every 10 trips (until their smartcard system comes online)
  • Auckland and Wellington trains – the best value option may be to buy monthly tickets.
  • Auckland buses – depending on your travel patterns and operator, you might be best off buying monthly paper tickets.

Is a good fare system easy to implement with smartcards?

There is obviously a link between the complexity of the fare system and the cost of a smartcard ticketing system. The Sydney T-Card project was abandoned (many blamed the complexity of the fare system), and Victoria’s myki system is costing considerably more than other cities (I have tried to get comparable system cost data but this isn’t easy).

The following table attempts to compare the network and fare complexity between cities (or states for systems that extend beyond the main metro area). Green denotes simple, and red denotes complex.

Note that many of the positive attributes of fare systems introduce complexity into smartcard systems. There’s clearly a trade-off involved!


  • Victoria’s myki system has the most complexity on all but two dimensions in the table. Perhaps this partly explains the implementation issues?
  • Perth, Hobart, Brisbane and Christchurch smartcard systems have much less complexity, but meet fewer of the desirable fare system features above (particularly discounts for purchasing less frequently than weekly).
  • Adelaide looks set to follow these cities with a simple stored value smartcard system.
  • Canberra has a relatively simple system, although daily and monthly caps, and large top-up incentives have been implemented. The monthly cap is a simple maximum paid trips per calendar month, which probably simplifies implementation.
  • Auckland and Wellington have very similar systems, but neither has been fully extended onto rail which involves monthly tickets. Wellington has implemented monthly bus passes on Snapper, but none of these are zone-based. Auckland’s HOP system uses the same technology and Wellington’s Snapper.
  • Sydney has the periodical challenge made more complex by having both zonal mode-specific and multi-modal tickets.
  • Adelaide probably has the easiest fare system to translate onto smartcards.

So there seems to be a clear choice in smartcard ticketing:

  • Include the complexity of zonal periodical fare products to create incentives for larger bulk purchasing and off-peak PT use,
  • Have a simpler trip-based system without periodicals, but maybe daily/weekly/monthly caps and/or incentives for larger top ups.

Victoria and Sydney have adopted the first option, whilst most other cities have gone the second option (Wellington trains may prove an issue when people use Snapper and over-run their monthly zones).

The use of daily, weekly or monthly caps combined with incentives for larger top-ups, can offset the downside of the second approach. Ideally this would involve caps that reward people for making more than two trips in a day, and more than 10 trips in a week. Canberra’s MyWay has managed to introduce relatively simple caps (although this is assisted by having only one fare zone).

Ideas for improving fare systems in each city

How might you try to improve the fare systems for the current smartcard systems to meet the criteria above? I’m not pretending I know how complex or expensive these would be, but here are some ideas:

  • Perth SmartRider
    • introduce a daily cap to encourage off-peak use by peak commuters (probably different for each number of zones).
    • potentially introduce weekend discounts or a weekly cap as a reward for travelling Monday-Friday.
  • Victoria myki
    • increase the minimum top up amount to $5 or $10.
    • Consider introducing an incentive for larger and/or automatic top ups.
  • Tasmania Greencard
    • introduce an incentive for automatic top ups.
  • Brisbane gocard:
    • introduce an incentive for larger and/or automatic top ups.
    • Consider introducing a daily and/or monthly cap.
  • Adelaide:
    • Consider introducing daily, and weekly or monthly caps based on number of trips (similar to Canberra MyWay, given the single fare zone).
    • Include an incentive for larger and/or automatic top ups.
  • Auckland and Sydney:
    • Adopt a fare system that removes financial penalties for passengers who have to transfer (ie time-based rather than single-boarding tickets)
    • Introduce consistent fares and fare bands for all modes and operators
    • Consider introducing daily and weekly or monthly caps (unless periodicals are retained)
    • (note that monthly MyMulti tickets have been introduced since the first edition of this post)
  • Wellington:
    • Adopt a fare system that removes financial penalties for passengers who have to transfer (ie time-based rather than single-boarding tickets)
    • introduce an incentive for larger and/or automatic top ups.
    • Reduce complexity by eliminating special fare products where possible.
    • Consider introducing daily and weekly or monthly caps

I must stress here that suggestions in this blog are my personal ideas only. I’m sure there are good reasons why many of these things haven’t happened. Apart from anything, there would need to be an assessment as to whether the benefits would offset the implementation cost and any loss in fare revenue.


Metro Tasmania fares

Translink South East Queensland (inc Brisbane) fares

Transperth fares

Melbourne metcard fares

Melbourne myki money fares

Melbourne myki pass fares

Sydney MyZone fares

Newcastle fares

Adelaide Metro fares

Canberra ACTION fares

Canberra MyWay fares

Auckland MAXX fares

Auckland HOP fares

Wellington Metlink fares

Christchurch fares