Public transport is generally cheaper than jumping in a car, but in capital cities, you can often get around the CBD without paying at all. Here's the options for free buses and trams across Australia's major cities.
Picture by misterbenben
NOTE: This guide has been superseded. Click here for the most recent version.
Free bus services are often designed to appeal to tourists, which explains why they're largely found in the middle of major cities. However, whether you're a visitor to town or a seasoned local, they can be a useful option for getting around, especially in inclement weather. The main restriction is that many don't operate outside of standard business hours; if you're looking for a late night solution, you're going to end up paying almost everywhere (except Adelaide and Perth).
We published a similar guide last year; we've updated this one to incorporate reader comments and new options. Combined with our airport transfers guide, you can enjoy a visit to any of Australia's major cities at minimal fiscal and environmental cost. Click on the links for access to the relevant timetables and route information.
The 555 bus runs in a loop in both directions between Circular Quay and Central Station. The frequency is pretty good — once every 10 minutes. On weekdays, it runs from 9:30am to 3:30pm (extended to 9:00pm on Thursdays). On weekends, it operates from 9:30am to 6:00pm.
The City Circle Tram is Melbourne's most visible free option, running every 12 minutes around the outer edge of the Melbourne CBD (both clockwise and anti-clockwise). It runs between 10:00am and 6:00pm Sunday to Wednesday, and 10:00am to 9:00pm Thursday to Saturday. The City Tourist Shuttle bus offers more access to tourist destinations, but is less frequent and slower. It runs every 30 minutes, takes 90 minutes to do a full loop, and operates between 9:30am and 4:30pm daily.
Brisbane offers two loop buses, one for CBD covering the main area of the city and one for Spring Hill. The CBD loop runs 07:00am to 6:00pm , with departures every 15 minutes. Spring Hill runs from 08:16am to 6:00pm, with departures every 10 minutes. Annoyingly, neither service runs on weekends or public holidays.
Perth remains the champion city for free public transport, with three free loop buses as well as free use of all transit services (trains and buses) within the CBD area bounded by City West and Claisebrook. There's a map of the Free Transit Zone and a slightly onerous list of conditions on the Transperth site.
If you're worried about overstepping the boundaries with that option, there are also three free CAT bus services which operate entirely within the free CBD area: the east-west Red and Yellow services, and the North-South Blue service. Services generally operate from around 07:00am to 06:00pm on weekdays, with frequencies of roughly once every seven minutes. Weekends have later starting times and lower frequencies. As well, there are free CAT buses which operate in Fremantle and Joondalup (though the latter don't run on weekends). Full details for all the services are on the CAT information page
The iconic Glenelg tram is free between North and South Terrace within the city, and along Jetty Road within Glenelg. It runs every 7 or so minutes between 8:00am and 6:00pm Monday to Friday, every 15 minutes between 09:00am and 6:00pm Saturdays and Sundays, and every 20 minutes at other times.
If you'd prefer a bus, the 99C runs a loop across the northern half of the CBD from 08:00am to 09:00pm, with services every 15 minutes until 06:00pm and additional services on Friday nights. Weekend services run every 30 minutes. Adelaide City Council operates the Adelaide Connector service, which covers a wider area (incorporating North Adelaide as well) but with only one bus an hour.
The Fare Free Bus scheme allows free travel on any government bus between 07:30am and 6:00pm every day.
The Gong Shuttle (route 55) runs from Wollongong Station to Wollongong University and back. It operates every 10-20 minutes between 7:00am and 10:00pm Monday to Friday, and every 20 minutes between 8:00am and 6:00pm on weekends.
Know of a free transport option we've missed? Share it in the comments.
Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman will always take the free bus, thanks. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.