Public transport is generally cheaper than driving, frequently quicker and unquestionably better for the environment, but it poses its own challenges. From unpredictable schedules to maddening fellow passengers, it's easy to lose your mind. Follow these tips to make public transport less of a hassle.
Picture by g_kat26
The dominant mode of public transport in Australia is buses. Major capital cities also have train networks, and there are other options depending on your location (ferries in Sydney and Brisbane, trams in Melbourne). Whatever the mode, however, the basic survival tricks are the same. The short version? Planning and politeness go a long way to making life easier for you and your fellow commuters. In this post, we'll concentrate on using public transport in Australia, but the same basic rules apply everywhere.
Know Your Timetable And Routes
On a system like the London Underground, where the gap between trains is rarely longer than five minutes, you can simply rock up to the station and assume something will be along shortly. This doesn't work so well in most parts of Australia, where service frequencies can often be every half an hour or less, especially outside peak hours and on weekends. Don't leave it to chance; plan your journey in advance by checking the relevant web site. Here are the transport information sites for Australian capital cities, most of which feature handy point-to-point journey planners.
- Sydney: TransportInfo
- Melbourne: Public Transport Victoria
- Brisbane: TransLink
- Perth: Transperth
- Adelaide: Adelaide Metro
- Canberra: ACTION Buses
- Hobart: Metro Tasmania
- Darwin: Department Of Transport
As well, Google Maps incorporates public transport information for Sydney, Perth, Adelaide, Canberra and Cairns. (Brisbane and Melbourne need to get their act together.) As an added resource, you can search your favoured app store for public transport information for your city; these are rarely official but often very useful.
Research is even more important when you're travelling on an unfamiliar route. You can always ask for help, but driver friendliness varies hugely, so a little advance planning helps out.
Find Out How To Pay
Cities vary hugely in terms of ticketing systems and where you can purchase tickets. Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Canberra all have smart card systems, but the degree they impose these on visitors varies. Many Sydney buses require you to purchase tickets in advance before boarding. In Adelaide, the ticket machines are on trains rather than on platforms. We're not going to detail all the variations here, but the basic point remains: check before you venture out.
In an unfamiliar city, think carefully before buying a "tourist pass": a regular rail ticket may be more flexible and substantially cheaper. (For airport public transport, check our detailed guide).
The one rule that's invariably true? Buses don't have a lot of change. Pay for a ticket with anything bigger than a $10 note and you're likely to be unpopular and/or booted off the bus by the driver.
On The Ride: Keep Yourself Entertained
Depending on your disposition, public transport can either be a great place to chat with strangers, or a horrifying social situation you have to navigate. For those who like to chat, public transportation is a good place to spark up a random conversation with a stranger (who can't really walk away). If you're struggling for conversation starters, we've talked before about turning small talk into a conversation. For the most part, this means keeping yourself engaged in the conversation by asking relevant questions, starting with small ideas, and being relatively honest about your own reactions. Just remember, not everyone is interested in talking.
If keeping to yourself is more your thing, headphones are the easiest way to avoid unwanted interaction. There are also other tactics you can adopt, though you shouldn't go so far as to stop someone accessing a needed seat.
One of the great benefits of public transport (especially if you know the route) is that you can get other things done, whether that's catching up on email on your phone, playing games, or reading a book (whether electronic or old-fashioned paperback). In the smartphone era, the only real reason you shouldn't be entertained on public transport is if your device runs out of battery. Photo by Caitlin Regan.
Remember Your Manners
It's easy to disappear into your phone when you're on public transport, but that's no excuse to be a jerk. If you see someone who could use your seat more than you (they're sick, elderly, holding a tons of bags, etc), offer yours up. Slide over when the bus or train is full, and if someone needs a hand, help them out. Don't worry! You can still disappear back into your crossword puzzle when you're done. Also remember umbrella etiquette on rainy days.
Finally, remember that people don't want to hear your loud conversation on your mobile. If you have to make a call, keep it brief and as quiet as you can. If you're lucky, everyone else will do the same (and at least the very least you won't be the loud annoying person).