Wednesday, June 29, 2016

BrizCommuter becomes PerthCommuter

Perth Train Station
BrizCommuter recently went on a business trip to Perth and tried to use the public transport system as much as possible. Here are BrizCommuter's thoughts on Perth's public transport system.

First Impressions

Before departing Brisvegas, BrizCommuter looked to see if Perth's smart card called "SmartRider" could be purchased online or at the airport. The answer seems to be no - not a good start. This forces new arrivals to have to pay the inflated paper ticket fare to get the CBD.

The 380 airport to CBD bus runs every 30 minutes. More frequent would be preferred, but it seems that with terminals split across two geographic locations, and lack of demand, more frequent buses may not be currently justifiable. The timetable at the bus stop was 10 minutes later than the online timetable, and the bus turned up exactly halfway in between the two times. Of the 10 passengers boarding at the airport, BrizCommuter was the only passenger travelling all the way to the CBD. It seems that most take the taxi. Thankfully rail services will start running from the Airport to the CBD early in the next decade.

Once at Elizabeth Quay Busport, Perth's large 1980's bus station, BrizCommuter purchased a SmartRider card, which is $10 for the card, and then at least $10 credit. Purchase was smooth. There are some useful cheap food outlets at this bus station.


As with many cities, Perth has a confusing mix of bus routes. Perth's bus system is thankfully loaded into google maps, which makes it easier to find a group of routes that may serve the same location. It is easy to find timetables on Transperth's website. No online realtime information could be found.
It is easy to find the right platform at Elizabeth Quay Busport, with good signage. With most bus routes running from one place, it is far less confusing than trying to find the right bus route in Brisbane. There is also a smaller bus station serving Northern suburbs near Perth Train Station.

Perth has a geographically very long CBD (East to West). With buses stopping at all closely spaced bus stops, it often took the bus more than 20 minutes to travel from Elizabeth Quay Busport to The Causeway. Perth could maybe do with an East to West bus tunnel?

Most buses had automatic fold out ramps (rather than manual in Brisbane) which makes life easier for the disabled, elderly, those with prams, and the driver!

Perth has some high frequency bus routes such as the 950 that runs every 8 mins off-peak and every couple of minutes during the peaks. However, many bus routes are infrequent, including rail feeder services in the suburbs.

CAT Buses

Perth has a free fare zone in the CBD, which makes life easier for the tourist, business traveller, or local. A smart rider card is required for free fares within the CBD on trains. Perth has four free bus routes called Central Area Transit (CAT) which run every 5 to 15 minutes during the day. Three of these routes run on weekends. This is a big improvement on just 6 years ago when one route ran on weekends, and only every 45 mins. Whilst being very useful, allow a bit of extra time when depending on the CAT buses. BrizCommuter tried to use one route in the am peak, to find a 17 minute wait (according to the indicator at the bus stop) on a 8 minute frequency route, so walked a block to catch a different CAT route, only to not be able to board due to the bus being full. What a CATastrophe! The rest of BrizCommuter's CAT bus experiences were great. The CAT bus services stop abruptly at around 7pm.


Perth is well known for having an excellent frequent off-peak train service, with pretty much everywhere on the network having a 15 minute day-time off-peak frequency or better, even on weekends. The daytime off-peak on the central part of the Mandurah and Joondalup Lines through the CBD should really be better than the current 15 minute frequency.

Peak frequencies are also pretty good on the Mandurah, Joondalup, and Armadale Lines. Strangely the Fremantle and Midland Lines gets worse in the peak for some commuters as the lines split into two express stopping patterns, each running approximately every 20 minutes. Only a few stations are served by both stopping patterns. The express services only saves 5 minutes or less for commuters from Perth to Fremantle or Midland, yet doubles the average wait time for many commuters from 10 to 20 minutes. BrizCommuter would rather see an all stations service running every 10 minutes instead on these lines.

Counter peak frequencies were often as good a the peak frequencies (every 5 to 20 minutes) unlike the commonly encountered 30 minute counter peak service gaps in Brisbane.

BrizCommuter tried to observe some peak services for crowding without looking suspicious. Most trains only had standees only around the doors, though one Fremantle to Perth train was observed being "overcrowded" with standing passengers all down the aisles. Having read up a bit online, it seems that Perth has overcrowding issues caused by insufficient trains, as with Brisbane. All trains in the peak were observed to be "full length" 4 or 6-car services rather than 2 or 3-car services.
B-series train at Canning Bridge
Trains are similar to Brisbane's SMU trains (both generations). The older A-series trains are made up of 2-car units, usually coupled to make 4-car trains. The newer B-series train are made of of 3-car units, usually coupled to make 6-car trains in the peaks. Trains appeared to be well kept, and clean inside. It was quite odd to be riding on a "Brisbane-like" train through a newly constructed rail tunnel!

Elizabeth Quay Train Station

An interesting thing to note is the tight curve as the trains enter and exit Elizabeth Quay station to/from the South. The squeals from the wheels can be heard a kilometre away. Some form of noise control may be required (maybe more lubrication on the curve or covering the open cutting).

Finally on the subject of trains, it seems that Perth's train system runs quite happily without guards. There is a noticeable high security and/or platform staff presence in the CBD, which is good a Perth seems to have a few more undesirables than some other Australian capitals.


Perth uses the SmartRider smart card system, though paper tickets are also available at an inflated (though still cheaper than in Brisbane) price. The zones are quite large, with zone 1 extending more than 8km from the CBD. The short journey fares are much lower than in Brisbane (including Brisbane's 2017 fares). For example a single zone 1 fare in Perth from June 2016 is $2.25 or $2.55 using SmartRider, compared to $3.20 in Brisbane using a go card in 2017. The Perth system positively encourages short distance journeys, whilst in Brisbane it will still be cheaper to use a car for short journeys. There is also automated daily capping, using the DayRider functionality.  As mentioned previously, there is also a free fare zone in the CBD, and free CAT buses in Perth and Fremantle. Even though Perth has no off-peak discount, and no weekly capping/periodical options,  it is difficult for frequent public transport users to rack of high fares as in Brisbane. It seems that Perth's fare system tries much harder to attract locals and tourists to use public transport.

The SmartRider readers at suburban train stations are not particularly noticeable, being a dark green colour. BrizCommuter walked straight past the reader on his first exit! BrizCommuter also experienced one bus with unreliable SmartRider readers (? maybe low power).


Perth sets the standard for high frequency off-peak train services in Australia, though is being overtaken by Melbourne in this respect. Peak train services could be better on some lines, and more trains seem to be required. Fares are well priced, and short distance journeys are cheaper than all other major Australian cities. The free CAT and high-frequency routes are very useful, but many suburbs are served by infrequent bus services. The opening of the airport train line will be very useful for locals and visitors. Overall, Perth's public transport system seems to be generally well governed and operated.

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