If you’re in the middle of a capital city, chances are you’re not too far from a free public transport service. Find one near you with Lifehacker’s comprehensive guide to free public transport in Australia.
Picture by Monica D
This is an updated version of our guide from last year, reflecting the changes that have happened since then and incorporating additional reader suggestions. Most of the free options are heavily geared towards tourists, which often means limited hours in the evening and, in some cases, weekends. Even if you’re a local, free services can be useful when the weather turns nasty.
If you combine this list with our guide to cheap airport transfers, you can enjoy a visit to any of Australia’s major cities without spending a fortune. The links to each service provide detailed timetable information. (Double-check if you’re planning to use one on a public holiday, as many don’t operate then.)
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.
Outside the CBD, there are also free shuttle services in numerous Sydney suburbs; there’s a complete list on the 131500 site.
The City Circle Tram is Melbourne’s most prominent 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.
If you’re an early riser, trains in Melbourne are free prior to 7am. However, you’ll need an Early Bird metcard, which is only available from premium stations, and your journey must finish before 7am.
Brisbane offers a pair of loop buses, one for the 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 06:52am to 6:00pm, with departures every 10 minutes. Annoyingly, neither service runs on weekends or public holidays.
Perth has by far the broadest range of free options for any city. With the Free Transit Zone (which essentially covers the CBD, as you can see on the map, you can catch any bus or train for free. Note that the entire journey has to be within the free zone, and that if you want to use a train you’ll need a SmartRider card (since Perth has stations with electronic gates).
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 06:00am to 07:00pm on weekdays, with frequencies of roughly once every seven minutes. Weekends have later starting times and lower frequencies. Outside the city, 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 handily collected on the CAT information page.
Adelaide’s iconic Glenelg tram is free between South Terrace within the city and the Entertainment Centre, 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.
On the 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. The Adelaide Metro site captures both these options on a single page. Additionally, Adelaide City Council runs 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 in the city centre between 07:30am and 6:00pm every day.
The Gong Shuttle 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? Tell us about it in the comments. (We’re aware of the various tricks to get extra time on tickets, such as buying after 3pm for a weekly in Sydney to get an extra day, but we want to focus on purely free options here.)
Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman hasn’t used all of these options, but he’s working on it. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.