If you are new to Sydney, you will soon realise the difficulty in navigating through the city of similar street corners, never-ending streets and by-roads every 10 steps. I referred to it as a maze because when I moved here, I more often get lost or walk for 20 minutes to realise I am back where I started. Good times! Since I did not have wheels at the time, I relied on public transport, it was dependable, cheaper than hailing a taxi and less strenuous than walking.
New South Wales (NSW) has the best public transport network in all of seven states, hands-down. Having quality public transport can be highly beneficial, especially for International Students, to explore and get around the new city. Transport is fairly reliable, apart from the unexpected delays; but coming from a developing country where delays are so frequent, I consider this a premier service. Obviously, nothing of quality comes cheap. The travel fares are relatively expensive to other states. Worse part is that NSW and Victoria are the only states in Australia that don’t offer concessions to International Students. I heard on the grapevine that this will be changing soon, but for now we have to live with it.
In this post, I will address how to efficiently and effectively get around using public transport.
Purchase an Opal card
Opal is a smart travel card that allows travel on buses, trains, light rail and ferries by simply reloading with a minimum of $10.00. This reusable public transport card has no setup cost – you only incur the cost you wish to reload. Buying an Opal card is about $2.00 cheaper per trip than purchasing single travel tickets. International Students in NSW must purchase the Adult Card (not the Student Card). You can purchase and reload your card from Opal website, 7-Eleven or at any of the 2100 authorised Opal retailers. I would advise against purchasing through unauthorised sellers on online sites like Gum Tree.
Remember to tap-on and off
For an accurate fare calculation, you must tap-on when you start your journey and tap-off at the end of the journey. If you forget to tap-on there is a likelihood you will be fined up to $400.00 if you get caught to a random ticket-checkers. There is no way you can evade paying for travel, so don’t even take the risk. If you forget to tap-off, you will be automatically charged the price of a full journey.
Take advantage of travel concessions
Who doesn’t want to know how to reduce their travel cost? I most certainly did when I was an International Student.
Avoid peak travel
Peak hours are on weekdays between 7.00 am to 9.00 am and 3.45 pm to 6.30 pm. You can travel at 3/4 the cost if you travel outside these hours. What’s important is that you tap-on your card before the peak period begins. For instance, if you tap-on at 6.59 am, you will be charged the off-peak fare even though your final arrival time is within the peak hours. Plan your travels ahead, and avoid non-essential travels during these times. Next time if your train is at 9.05 am, don’t be shy, stick around and tap-on at 9.01 am.
Plan long travels on Sunday
Fancy a day trip to Manly in ferry or take the morning train to Blue Mountains? Save these trips for a Sunday because there is a daily cap, you pay no more than $2.70 no matter where and which public transport method you use. This is a smart way to save on travel costs for long distance travel and expensive modes like the ferry.
Do short trips at beginning of the week
This tip doesn’t apply to those who live close to the University, but relevant for those who travel on a regular basis.
Opal has a weekly travel rewards – after eight paid journeys, rest of the travel for the week is at half rate. Remember, if you make a transfer (eg. train to bus) to reach your destination, that is considered as one paid journey.
Try to do short travels, like travelling to the local supermarket or mall, between Mondays and Wednesdays. This way you can reach your weekly travel reward quicker and enjoy rest of the week at half rate.
Finish your errands within 60 minutes
If you make several transfers from the same mode of transport within 60 minutes of tapping off, it counts as a single travel. Say you take the bus to the local Woollies, if you can catch the return bus within 60 minutes, you will not be charged for the return travel.
You can calculate your fare online using the fare calculator. This is helpful for budgeting purposes and understand how to minimise your weekly travel costs.
Download TripView app
TripView is best $5.00 I spent during my University days. This iOS / Android app is THE Sydney transport app that shows real-time data for all public transport methods. It regularly updates the timetable, shows any delays, disruptions in the network and current passenger capacity. This is especially useful if you are to catch a bus. You will know exactly what time it will be reaching your stop and you don’t have to idle and hold your breath to sight your bus.
Google Maps is your mate
As I mentioned earlier, in the start, it feels like you are living in a maze. Thanks, to Google Maps, navigating is simple and easy. In NSW, the transport network is integrated into Google Maps. Once you learn to navigate the maps correctly, it becomes quite easy to find the correct bus number, train connections, closet bus stop / train station and the fastest or least transfer route to your destination. I would still refer to TripView for the timetable once I refer Google Maps to pick the best route.
One month after moving to Sydney, one evening, I was navigating through Google Maps as I had to transfer from one bus to another to reach my destination. For my unfortunate circumstance, Google network crashed! I got off the bus at an unknown location, completely lost, and feeling petrified. Long story short, the wonderful people here helped me to get to my destination, but I was late by an hour. Moral is that Google Maps and TripView are apps that may not work in your favour at times. If you ever face such situation, don’t panic, just ask for help from bypassers, bus drivers or station staff – people here are friendly and hospitable.
Things to remember
- If you do not plan on purchasing a vehicle, find accommodation close to public transport (bus stand or train station) and ensure there are direct and frequent transfers to your University.
- Public transport in regional suburbs are not frequent as in the metropolitan regions.
- Buses may end as early as 5.30 pm on certain routes, so refer to timetables.
- Trains do not operate after 12.00 midnight to most suburbs during weekdays, and 1.00 am during weekends.
- There are direct routes to Airport via buses and trains. Sometimes it can be far cheaper than Uber. The Airport line train cost between $16.00 to $19.00 on Opal (higher than usual), public buses are at normal rate.
Leave a comment if this helped you or if you believe this would have helped when you first arrived as an International Student.
Until next time…