A Driver's Guide To Mastering Public Transit

If you're used to driving everywhere, taking the train or the bus might seem overwhelming and just too much hassle. Even so, if you live in an urban area (and most Australians do), it's a sensible option and a way to escape rising petrol prices and car maintenance costs. Here's how to learn the ropes of your local public transit system quickly and painlessly.

Photos by Paulo Ordoveza, Raevyns, Raevyns, Alan Wolf, and Marcin Wichary.

When I moved to the inner-city from the suburbs, there was a lot for me to love. but taking the subway and the bus from place to place instead of just hopping in my car — which I had always done — was a major shift. I was used to being in complete control of when I left somewhere and when I got to my destination.

Still, frustrations like parking, parking tickets, petrol prices and traffic started to mount, so I decided it was time to get better acquainted with my transit options. Here's what I learned, along with some tools and tricks that you can use to become a transit ninja in your town.

Use Web Sites And Mobile Tools

Most major Australian cities have their own websites with trip planners, schedules, and other useful tools to help you plan your route. Some also offer mobile-specific apps, or open up their data feeds for others to develop them. Here are the sites for Australia's capital cities:

In some cases, you can also turn to Google Maps for updates and data, though this depends on where you live: Melboune and Brisbane are the big holdouts.

Use Street View To Double-Check

We've discussed some clever uses for Google Street View before, and it's also a useful tool to help you navigate public transit. If you know you'll be taking a bus to the office, you can use Street View to look around the nearby roadways, zoom in on signage, and see which stop is the one you need to remember, and which buses will pick you up or drop you off at which stops. It's also helpful for helping you figure out where the closest bus stop to your house, favourite lunch spot, or other destination really is, and how far you'll have to walk to get there (so you'll be ready for a hike if you know the bus will drop you off some distance from the office).

Do A Dry Run

For travelling to and from work, it can be useful to do a dry run when your commute changes. Whether it's a new office address or a new job, it's worth testing the route you plan to take so you can get the hang of how long it'll take before you're crunched for time on your first day. Check the details: many services run in a different way on weekends. Make sure you're comparing like with like.

Don't Overburden Yourself

One of the things you'll have to get used to when you don't drive is that you don't have a car to go back to or use as supplemental storage. Everything you need during the day will have to be with you, but on public transport you don't want a massive backpack loaded down with stuff or a box under each arm.

With that said, leave a little room for entertainment: train trips and bus rides aren't the most interesting things in the world. You don't have to watch the road, so pack a good book or an e-reader, or load up your phone with games, music, and podcasts to keep you occupied. Don't forget to pack a nice pair of headphones. We have some in-ear and over-ear suggestions for you.

Watch, Learn, and Be Courteous

Transit etiquette isn't something taught in school, but it's not hard to pick up; it largely amounts to good manners and common sense. If you're sitting on a crowded train or bus, don't spread out — keep your bag or backpack on your lap and leave the seat open. When riding an escalator, stand to the left so faster-moving people can climb the steps on your right. If you need to stop and look at your phone, talk to someone, or check something in your bag, move out of the flow of foot traffic. Beyond that, some cultural nuances are only apparent once you start taking transit in a specific

location. Keep your eyes open and be aware of your surroundings — don't get overwhelmed, and if you're a tourist, don't fall into the glassy-eyed-tourist-stare. Watch the people around you and move in time with them: you'll get to your destination faster.

It all may sound like a hassle, but it's actually really liberating to know your way around the transit system enough that you can get anywhere you need to go quickly — often in less time than it takes to get to your car and drive to your destination. That's especially the case during rush hour.

With a little attention to the people around you and a little prep, you'll be able to navigate even the most complex transit systems in far-away cities easily. Even if you do prefer to drive, knowing how to decipher a map, make a tricky bus transfer, and get where you're going smoothly is a valuable skill to have.

Additional reporting by Angus Kidman. The Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.


Comments

    I can't recomend Öffi - Public Transport Buddy for Android enough. It works for NSW and VIC (and many other places around the world). A bit overwhelming to begin with becuase of it's many features, but I think of it as the Swiss Army Knife of public transport.

    Transit etiquette isn’t something taught in school, but it’s not hard to pick up; it largely amounts to good manners and common sense. If you’re sitting on a crowded train or bus, don’t spread out — keep your bag or backpack on your lap and leave the seat open. When riding an escalator, stand to the left so faster-moving people can climb the steps on your right. If you need to stop and look at your phone, talk to someone, or check something in your bag, move out of the flow of foot traffic.

    Can we please have an article on this, just this, and this alone? Good manners and common sense seem to be excruciatingly hard to find in the populace, so any reminder to people in general of these very VERY simple things you've listed here is a bonus.

    Tripview for Android is the best app for buses, trains and ferries - with some of the timetables updated in real-time. Use it to plan routes and journeys, using any combination of modes of transport. It really is that good.

    Hey, I know that subway! That's the (Washington) DC metro, isn't it? My metro-fu isn't what it once was (in the mid 90's when I commuted there), so I can't tell you what stop, but the platforms, ceilings and trains all look very familiar.

    A far better option to Perth's Transperth website is google maps. The Transperth maps are terrible, and the website is very slow.
    However, gogglemaps (like Transperth) does not recognise that most trains run into the city carry onwards out of the city too (Mundurah line runs onto the Joondulap line; Armadale line onto the Fremantle line - at present). And so the timetables assume that the train that you come in with will disappear, and the next one at the same station will carry you further. The trains leading into Perth all show Perth as the final destination - never seen than in other cities.

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