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‘It could take years’: Slow recovery predicted for public transport

“There has been a significant behavioural change among the professionals in the CBD, as a lot of people realised they can work from home.”

He added that more people would choose to walk, cycle or drive to work in coming months amid fear of community transmission of COVID-19 on public transport.

Patronage for buses is less than half (47 per cent) of what it was in the previous two years on average and train patronage is down 39 per cent, he said.

Opal trips fell by more than 30 million between March and April alone, with more than half of the drop on the city’s trains. However the number of trips went from 18.9 million in May to 28 million in June.

Professor Stephen Greaves from Sydney University’s Institute of Transport and Logistics said it could take years before patronage recovers.

“We can only speculate about a [coronavirus] second wave [however] there will be a dip in July through school holidays with people going away, but I think it’s going to come back far more slowly,” Professor Greaves said.

Plenty of seats: commuters on the train at Sydney's Central Station.

Plenty of seats: commuters on the train at Sydney’s Central Station.Credit:Kate Geraghty

“It’ll be a long time before we get back to those levels we saw a year ago … we could be talking years.”

While trains were running at just over 40 per cent compared to June last year, buses had more than half of the usual commuters on board, Transport for NSW data shows.

Buses in the city’s inner west and eastern suburbs, as well as the Hills district and lower north shore, have remained quieter than those in Sydney’s outer suburbs, especially the south-west.

Commuter numbers on buses in Liverpool, Punchbowl, Bankstown and Blacktown were between 60 and 65 per cent through June, compared to the same time last year, while the Inner West (48 per cent) and the eastern suburbs (42 per cent) were well below 2019 levels.

Professor Greaves said people living and working in the east and inner-city had more transport options to get to work compared to those in Sydney’s west.

He added that there was likely a higher proportion of people able to work from home in the inner suburbs equating to less people using public transport.

A lack of tourists was likely affecting passenger numbers across the city and east as travellers were not visiting places like the Opera House and Bondi Beach.


The T5 Cumberland line, servicing a belt from Richmond to Campbelltown, had the strongest shift to normalcy in Sydney through June, running at about 65 per cent of what it was in June 2019.

The T7 Olympic Park line remains the quietest, with just 19 per cent of the patronage it had in June 2019.

While public transport remains quiet, the city’s roads have filled quickly, with traffic down just 7 per cent across the last week of June. And for the month of June, traffic was down just 5 per cent on last year’s level.

Ferries are running at just one-third of the Opal trips they were recording in June last year, with Taronga Zoo the most impacted route.

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