Lifehacker’s 2011 Australian Airport Public Transport Guide

Lifehacker’s 2011 Australian Airport Public Transport Guide

You’ve planned carefully to score yourself a cheap airline ticket — why jack up the budget by spending a fortune getting a taxi from the airport? Instead, check out Lifehacker’s comprehensive guide to public transport options for Australian airports.

Picture by NateCull

This is the 2011 version of the guide we’ve published before, incorporating new service options, price changes and other details. We’ve also timed it as part of our Earth Month coverage; using public transport is an obvious but still often overlooked way of reducing your impact on the planet.

With that said, it’s still apparent that the main reason why most people choose public transport is because it’s the cheapest option. That isn’t invariably the case. As we’ve noted several times before, taking a taxi will probably work out cheaper if you have more than a couple of people travelling. In those cities with a train service, one thing to bear in mind though is that a train may offer a faster journey, especially during peak hour, and that queues for taxis can sometimes be substantial. Airport public transport almost invariably concentrates on travel to the centre of town; if you’re heading somewhere entirely different, then a taxi or a door-to-door airport shuttle may be a more practical alternative.

In the list below, we’ve included options for each of Australia’s capital city airports, covering regularly scheduled services which offer transport from airports to the centre of each city. We haven’t included door-to-door or shuttle services (unless there’s no alternative offered) or taxis. Costs are for a single airport-CBD trip, with return options noted when they’re available. Some (but not all) services will offer student or senior concessions. Perth, Melbourne and Brisbane will also offer discounts for smartcard users, but that won’t apply to most one-off visitors.

In several cities, there’s a further choice between a cheap general bus service and a more specific airport service. The latter will usually cost more, but can make up for that with more frequent services and more dedicated luggage-carrying space.

A final point: if you’re planning to use public transport, you’ll need to think carefully about the timing of your flights. Cheap flights are often available first thing in the morning or late at night, but public transport options are usually limited at that point. If you really want to travel on a budget, factor in the total cost, not just the flights themselves.

Also, if you’re looking to move between domestic and international terminals at Australian airports, check out our guide to the available changeover options.


Cheapest option: The 400 bus between Bondi and Burwood via the domestic airport doesn’t attract any premium. It doesn’t pass through the centre of the city, but it’s easily the cheapest option if you are departing from somewhere along its route, and departs every 20 minutes or so (30 minutes on weekends).

A single myBus fare costs between $2.00 or $4.30, depending on your starting point. (Unless you purchase a $20 MyMulti Day or already have a weekly MyMulti ticket, you’d need a second ticket to travel on a train to Bondi Junction, Burwood, Banksia or Rockdale to connect with the service, so that’s not necessarily an economical choice.)

Most convenient option: Sydney’s Airport Link train runs every 15 minutes or so, with stops at both the domestic and international terminals. A single ticket to the domestic or international station from Central costs $15; tickets from other stations on the CityRail network cost a few dollars more. There’s no option for an open return, though you can buy a same-day return (minimum cost $25).

Notes: A recent change means that there’s no extra charge for exiting at Mascot station, which is about 20 minutes walk from the domestic airport. That makes it a potential option for cheaper travel, though in poor weather or with lots of luggage the bus is still going to be more appealing. If you’re already travelling on a MyMulti or other weekly ticket, buying a single, return or weekly gatepass when you reach the airport via train is a cheap but little-promoted option.


Cheapest option: There’s a number of public buses which leave Melbourne Airport and connect with various train stations allowing a connection to the city. By far the most frequent of these is the 901, which runs every 15 minutes on weekdays and every 30 minutes on weekends. This connects to numerous train stations, of which Broadmeadows is the first you’ll reach. In addition, the 478 and 479 go to Essendon, while the 500 goes to Broadmeadows; these are substantially less frequent, however.

The arrival of the 901 has made taking buses from Melbourne Airport much more practical, but has one disadvantage: all the buses now depart from a stop opposite the Toll building past the Tiger terminal (turn right when you exit the airport). Previously, the 478, 479 and 500 operated into the main airport bus area, but that’s now exclusively used by shuttle services.

A single 2-hour trip covering these services (all the way to the city) will cost you $6.00.

Most convenient option: The SkyBus service runs at 15 minute intervals most of the day, but is available 24 hours. An open return costs $26 and is valid for three months. The journey rarely takes more than 30 minutes even in peak periods.

Notes: If there’s a crowd at the Skybus Qantas/Jetstar boarding point, try taking a short walk and boarding at Virgin Blue instead.


Cheapest option: No public buses in sight, sadly. Coachtrans offers a bus service which is marginally more expensive than the Airtrain ($30 for a return), but worth noting because it continues to run after the train option has stopped.

Most convenient option: The Brisbane Airtrain runs to the Brisbane CBD and onwards to the Gold Coast. An open return ticket to the city, valid for 3 months, costs $28 (buying online attracts a discount, though you’ll still need to collect an actual ticket at the airport ticket office). The one major problem? It only runs every 30 minutes most of the day, and it doesn’t run at all after 8pm.


Cheapest option: The 37 bus runs to the city every 30 minutes, but takes almost an hour to do so. The 36 bus makes a quicker journey to Midland station, where you can board a city-bound train. In practice, catching whichever one appears first after you arrive would seem to be the best bet. A single journey to the city costs $3.70.

Most convenient option: If you don’t fancy the long bus journey, you’ll have to pay up for a taxi or point-to-point shuttle.

Notes: The bus stop is near the Virgin Blue end of the domestic terminal, but isn’t very obviously signposted.


Cheapest and most convenient option: Adelaide’s JetBus service is part of the regular transport system, so you won’t pay any premium. Buses run every 15 minutes for much of the day, and there’s a handful of early options. A single fare is $4.60, or $2.80 outside peak times.

Notes: Catch the bus on the departures level, not arrivals. Check that the bus you’re boarding heads to the city — there are also services to several Adelaide suburbs.


Cheapest option: Canberra’s Airliner A1 bus runs from the airport to the main city bus interchange. A return ticket costs $16.20; a single is $9. There’s no service after 7pm and limited service on weekends.

Gold Coast

Cheapest option: The 702 bus now runs directly from the airport along the Gold Coast Highway to Southport, with services every 30 minutes.


Darwin doesn’t have any public transport options; the Darwin Airport Shuttle costs $13 for a single, $18 for a return.


Hobart doesn’t have any public transport options; the Redline Airport Shuttle costs $15 for a single, or $25 for a return.

Missed a useful option? Let us know in the comments.

Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman has tested every option on this list, except the Darwin Airport Shuttle. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.


  • Canberra:
    Get the airliner from the city interchange and then get off at the Brindabella Business Park and walk the last 4 – 5 minutes to the terminal on the sealed footpaths.

    The price for the ticket then goes from $9.00 one way to around $3.00 becasue it is not an airport drop off.

    • Correct.

      Additionally, ACTION route 10 services during the interpeak period (about 9am to about 4pm) run to Brindabella Business Park. These take a rather long route that doubles back on itself one and a half times at Campbell and ADFA, but the fare is cheaper than the Airliner and it’s free if you’ve already bought an ACTION ticket with some validity time left on it.

      ACTION also runs the 737 service from the City to BBP in the morning (for morning departures) and from BBP to the City in the afternoon (for afternoon arrivals).

      The easiest bus stop to locate at BBP is between the cafes (Avion and Bread&Butter) and the Tennis Courts, due south of the terminal. Walk out the terminal, turn left to go into the airport multi-storey car park, walk diagonally through the car park, past the boom gate entry, and continue walking due south past a hangar, without actually entering the business park. Continue south until you see tennis courts on your left. You’re now at one of the BBP bus stops.

  • There are several other options to get to Melbounre Airport than the two options you have mentioned.
    Firstly Gull Airport shuttle offers a great efficient Service to the outer western suburbs and Geelong.
    Airportbus Eastside offers services to Melbourne”s North East and Eastern suburbs such as Coburg, Preston, Heidelberg, Box Hill, Doncaster, Blackburn, Mitcham, Glen Waverley, Ringwood Knox and other suburbs in that region.
    Their Website gives all the details

    Frankston & Peninsula Airport shuttle (03)9783 1199 offers services to St.Kilda,Elsternwick, Mentone, Mordialloc, Chelsea Frankson and basically all the suburbs along the Nepean Highway.
    The 901 Service reported in your article is quite slow if you are not near the airport. For example it takes around 3 hours to travel from Ringwood / Knox area to the Airport and 4 hours from Frankston.
    Another aspect is that Trains on the Eastern and south Eastern Line are often very crowded and a passenger trying to wrestle luggage on those trains is not a welcome guest with other passengers.

    Airport Bus Dandenong offers a service from the Dandenong, Cranbourne area including Noble Park, Springvale and Oakleigh areas.

    These buses are Privately operated services and unlike the 901 Service receve no Government subsidy.

    • Hi Geoff, The article points out quite clearly that it’s about _public_ transport options that go (or connect) to the city centre — we didn’t list private options for Melbourne (or any other city) unless there was literally no other option available, and we don’t list options that don’t travel to the city centre, since those invariably have the biggest range of transport options for other places. From personal experience, I’m well aware the 901 takes a long time if you go further than Broadmeadow — on the other hand it runs a lot more frequently than the shuttle services to that part of town do.

      • Thanks Angus for your speedy reply.
        The Services that I referred to are controlled by the Dept of Infrastruture Victoria within the Dept of Transport. they are dictateded and controlled by that Dept and operate under Licence Agreements with the Victorian Government. That Dept approves Fares, Timetables and routes of Operation. The only thing different to the 901 is that they are not given any form of Government Subsidy which is rather an anomoly since the 901 receives around $80m PA .
        Also Skybus is not a Public Transport Service, it is the same as the other services I have mentioned.

        • Not entirely true, Geoff — a zone 1+2 ticket could be used on the 901 (or 478 or 500) and also for any other Melbourne public transport option, which isn’t true for any of the shuttles. (You’ve apparently got some kind of ideological objection to subsidised public transport, which I don’t share — and the point of this article is indentifying _cheaper_ options, which generally involves using public transport when it’s available.)

          It’s true Skybus is a private service — but it goes to the city centre, which was the focus of this article, is scheduled much more frequently, and you can board without booking.

  • In Brisbane the Coachtrans service from the airport to the CBD offers a door to door service with many hotels, motels and backpackers. They also offer discounts for couples and families. Plus like the airtrain they go to the Gold Coast too – in fact they have some services all the way the Byron Bay from Brisbane airport if that is what you require. It is best to book online with them especially if you wish to be dropped off or picked up from ur accommodation. If they dont service your motel then they will advise the nearest pick up point which they do service. Airport to CBD is $15 one way. It can be pre-booked online so you dont have to wait around at counters etc. There is additional charge if you have more than 2 bags per person or for strollers, surfboards, golf clubs etc. All information is very well laid out on their webpage and booking online is very easy too. I found that this service was actually better than the airtrain because of the door to door service otherwise I would have had airtrain then a cab from local station to my hotel, which would work out much more expensive all up than the Coachtrans bus.
    Another point to remember if using the airtrain is not to use ur public transport prepaid card but instead purchase a ticket at the airtrain counter or online. If you use ur prepaid transport card on the airtrain you will be charged the full fare for the entire trip to the Gold Coast of over $30 each way instead of the $15 one way through purchased airtrain ticket at the airport counter at either International or domestic airports.
    Hope this has been of some help.

  • Hi Angus,
    Can you tell me where I would find out information about short term bag minding at Melbourne airport please?
    I realise this site is about public transport predominently, but such information used to be contained on a similar information sheet for each capital city, to that you have compiled on here. I thought Id saved that in my favourites but cant find it now unfortunately.
    Thanks for any help you or your readers can offer me!

  • There’s another cheaper option for Brisbane airport, if you don’t mind doing a few transfers – get a bus/train to the main shopping centre at Toombul, where the bus interchange is. From there get a bus to the airport DFO and then from there there’s a free link shuttle to/from the airport.

  • Does anyone know if the $10 buck bus in Hobart is up again?

    I know the provious owners had shut down the business, but the ten buck bus website still “seems” live.

    I don’t work for them, but the taxi fare from Hobart Airport to the city is scary.

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