Most Australian capital cities offer discounts for "off-peak" travel, but the rules vary widely from state to state. Here's what you need to know.
Discounted fares for off-peak travel exist for one main reason: to reduce crowding on already-packed trains filled with people commuting to 9-to-5-ish jobs. Offering a discount discourages non-regular travellers from using those services, reducing the impact of crowding. While that might seem to impose a heavier price burden on regular commuters, most of them should be travelling on weekly or longer tickets which have their own discount structure.
If you're self-employed or have a flexible arrangement that allows you to work from home, then taking advantage of off-peak tickets can make a major difference to how much you spend (as well as making the journey more expensive). Just how much of a difference depends on where you live and what you need to do. It's also a useful option if you're visiting an unfamiliar city for work or holidays, when you're less likely to be constrained by working hours.
Most off-peak tickets apply after 9am and throughout weekends, though there are specific differences in some cities (some have an afternoon peak as well). This roundup of the transport options for capital city trains and buses looks at the main off-peak discounts on offer. Full-fare prices have been listed when there's only a single ticket on offer, but not where multiple zones might apply — those price details can be found on the linked pages for each transport provider.
Getting maximum savings will often rely on other tactics as well (for instance, using the SmartRider card in Perth offers cheaper fares, and students and pensioners get discounts almost everywhere). And if you're only travelling in the city centre, be sure to check out the free transport options as well.
CityRail offers an off-peak discount of up to 30% on return tickets from 9am weekdays and throughout weekends. In some areas of outer Sydney, the deadline is set earlier than 9am. You don't get the discount on single tickets, and there aren't any similar schemes for buses or ferries (which don't support the concept of return tickets at all) . Sydney's addiction to single-ticket, single-mode transport is a stark and embarrassing contrast to the rest of the country. More information: CityRail
An off-peak daily ticket (which works on trains, buses and trams) can be purchased after 9am on weekdays only, but only for travel across Zones 1 and Zone 2 (outer areas of Melbourne). At $9.90. it's 70 cents cheaper than the standard Zone 1+2 daily. Zone 1 only travel has no off-peak discounts. On Sundays, a Sunday Saver (valid across the entire network) costs $3.10. There's no single discounted Saturday ticket, but a set of 5 weekend daily tickets (which can be used on Saturdays or Sundays across Zones 1 and 2) costs $15.00. Melbourne's other interesting off-peak quirk is free travel on all train journeys which finish prior to 7am, for which a free 10-use Early Bird ticket is available at major stations. More information: Metlink
Off-peak daily tickets allow unlimited travel between the relevant zones between 9:00am and 3:30pm, and again from 7pm, on weekdays, and all day weekends. The tickets are valid for any Translink service, which includes all buses, trains and ferries. More information: Citytrain
Discounted DayRider tickets can be purchased after 9am on weekdays and all day on weekends. Like all Perth tickets, these cover any applicable service for the relevant number of zones. More information: Transperth
Interpeak tickets are available both in single trip and multi trip format, and in both 2-section (short trip) and Zone (all Adelaide transport) options. They're valid between 9:01am and 3:00pm on weekdays. More information: Adelaide Metro
Canberra's ACTION bus network offers off-peak daily tickets for $4.10 (versus the standard daily price of $6.60). They can be used between 9am and 4:30pm, and again from 6pm, on weekends, and all day on weekends. More information: ACTION Buses
The Day Rover fare of $4.40 allows travel throughout the Hobart bus network after 9am. (Prior to that time, the fare is $6.50.) More information: Metro Tasmania
I've tried to research all the main options for capital cities here, but I'm not a national expert, so if there's another off-peak option you know of in your hometown, share it in the comments.
Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman tries to avoid appointments before 10am to keep his train tickets cheap. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.