Lifehacker's Free Public Transport Guide, 2010 Edition

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NOTE: This guide has been superseded.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.

Sydney

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.

Melbourne

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

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

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

Adelaide

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.

Newcastle

The Fare Free Bus scheme allows free travel on any government bus between 07:30am and 6:00pm every day.

Wollongong

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.


Comments

    Hey Angus, It's Fremantle. ;)

      D'oh! Self-evidently I have free stuff on the brain. Fixed now, thanks for the spot.

    As a Perth citizen I'm kind of surprised to see we're ahead of the game here. The Free Transit Zone is a great idea and I used to regularly catch the CAT buses to work and most likely will be again soon. If it wasn't for them I'd end up driving into the city and the less cars the better.

    You are certainly correct in not mentioning Canberra, as there are NO free bus services here (unless the ticket machine on the bus is malfunctioning; this is more prevalent than should be the case.)

    You should also do a rundown on the various public transport smart cards, with a eye to visitors rather than residents. Canberra will soon be trialling the "My Way" card in this quarter, and of course there are programs already running in Brisbane, Melbourne and Perth.

    It's a bit of a shame that Canberra has no free public transport.

      Canberra barely has a bus service let alone trying to get them for free. Going by bus in Canberra to work takes me 45 minutes, it takes 25 minutes to walk there!

    personally i think public transport should be free.

    there is a movement which is starting to happen in melbourne. What you do is if you are exiting public transport & still have time left on your ticket, then place the ticket on the ledge below the coinslot on the ticket machines. That way the (lucky) next person to use the ticket machine will find a valid ticket to use..

    It is of course illegal to transfer a valid ticket, but i've left mine a few times & also found a few tickets & scored a free ride & it's always brightened up my day.

      I used to know homeless kids who'd pose as staff and collect tickets (and occasional fees) from unmanned stations. This gave them second hand tickets so they could travel all day and sleep on the trains overnight. Automatic ticket turnstiles and a well organised youth refuge system have ended the practice, as far as I know, but I'm sure it brightened up their day, too.

    Wollongong has the "Free Gong Shuttle" which operates in a loop (clockwise and anticlockwise) every 10 minutes (20 outside peak) between Wollongong City and beaches, Fairy Meadow and the University of Wollongong.

    Wollongong has the free "Gong Shuttle."

      Thanks John and Bigmac for the 'Gong tip -- have added it to the main article.

    Actually, three free bus routes currently operate in Wollongong. http://www.uow.edu.au/about/transport/shuttles/index.htm

    There's barely any point in Adelaide. The CBD is so small you might as well just walk and get the exercise!

      I wouldn't fancy walking the entirety of the 99C bus route in the rain myself!

    Metro trains in Melb are free before 7am, both zone 1 + 2.

    You are able to claim early bird tickets from the counter but I never bothered. All gates at the stations are open.

    Parramatta CBD 'loop' every ten minutes- details at http://www.parracity.nsw.gov.au/traffic_and_transport/transport/the_loop

    .. and, while it's not just about free public transport, I can't recommend the Sydney (region) public transport phone line 131 500 strongly enough. As an occasional visitor to the city, I have that number on autodial. I've been able to ring and say (for example) 'I'm at central station, I have to fly home at 5pm, but I'd like to spend the day at x' and the guy is able to tell me times, bus numbers, exactly where at Central to catch the bus (it's a huge station) etc. Their website at www.131500.com.au is equally spectacular, finding combinations of train, bus and ferry that I would never have considered.

    Canberra is missing from the list of cities. Unsurprisingly, our national capital offers diddley-squat for free on it's poorly serviced public transport routes.

    In Townsville, we have the best free service, "FREE of usable public transport" Just love it here, the mentality is if we have *usable* public transport, then we'd turn into commies and socialism. So, we are all forced to drive around in our cars everywhere we go.

      I have caught the bus in Townsville. It wasn't crowded, I must say.

    "NOTE: This guide has been superseded. Click here for the most recent version." - the link goes to the 2011 Airport guide, which kind of isn't the same thing.

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