How to Navigate Sydney's Public Transportation System

Feb 1, 2017 1:30:00 PM / by Stephanie Sadler

CAPAStudyAbroad_Sydney_Spring2017 - Profile.jpgColin Gilbert is an official CAPA blogger for spring 2017, sharing his story in weekly posts on CAPA World. A marketing and supply chain management major at the University of Pittsburgh, he is studying abroad in Sydney this semester.

In this week's post, Colin talks about his experience navigating Sydney's extensive public transportation system.


A warm breeze sweeps across your face; the energizing scent of fresh espresso looming in the thick, humid air. Melodies of a spirited performer play in the background as a number of shops pass by: the bookstore, the pharmacy, the deli, the barber, and more. You’re tempted to stop for a quick bite to eat, but realize you need to run. Fast. No, you’re not meandering through a quaint street in Sydney. You’re underground in Central Station’s tunnel and the next train to Circular Quay leaves in three minutes—enough time to catch it if you pick up the pace.

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There is so much more to Sydney than the Opera House; so many lively neighborhoods, inviting parks, and appetizing eateries—not to mention stunning beaches—scattered across the city. Fortunately, Sydney also has an incredible public transit system to ensure residents and visitors can experience these offerings without needing a vehicle. As a student abroad, I can’t praise the public transit enough. Reliable, clean, and efficient schedules make traveling about the city a breeze.

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Sydney’s network of public transit consists of four means of travel: buses, trains, ferries, and light rail. Each work together seamlessly to create an extensive map of routes spanning all across the city, and all are available to CAPA students at no additional cost with the provided Opal Card. An Opal Card is essentially a universal ticket which allows admittance to all of Sydney’s public transit options. Simply tap on when you board and tap off when you exit, and everything else is taken care of by CAPA.

Two major transit hubs are located a short, ten-minute walk from our accommodation at Urbanest. Central Station offers underground service throughout the city via trains, and Railway Square—which, ironically, is actually shaped more like a rhombus—puts the city at your fingertips with several bus stands (or stops). An array of cafes, shops, and restaurants surround this area, so I like to grab a coffee before hopping the bus to my internship.

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Side note: Coffee culture here is something that’s taken getting used to; Starbucks is next to non-existent, with dozens of local coffee shops compensating for its absence. Likewise, the offerings found on the menu look different as well. For instance, when asking for my Americano, I learned that it is known as a “Long Black” here—which, as an after thought, isn’t too shocking that an Australian coffee shop doesn’t serve an Americano. Learn from my mistakes.

Anyway, while having so many options of travel at your disposal may seem daunting, navigating the way and learning the routes couldn’t be easier with the help of Google Maps or similar apps. Enter the address and the app automatically calculates travel time, including walking distance to the stop, stand, or wharf, and lists all the stops in between so it’s easy to keep track of your exact location. Still, it’s easy to get sidetracked by taking in the city out the window, so I like to leave myself a little extra time in case I miss a stop!


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And what’s a wharf, you ask? It’s essentially a bus stop for a ferry. A unique addition to its public transit, Sydney’s ferry service stops a number of places: Taronga Zoo, Darling Harbour, Circular Quay, and my personal favorite, Manly Beach. Equipped with a bathroom, café, and ample outdoor seating, it’s almost as if each trip is a chartered Harbour Cruise! While I’m sure ferry rides will eventually become as monotonous as a typical bus ride, for now, it’s exciting to pass by the Opera House, the Harbour Bridge, and the clusters of sailboats as I’m shuffled off to my destination via atypical means.

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While I came to Sydney with a general understanding of public transit, I am confident that with an armory of apps, a positive attitude, and a bit of time, someone with no urban experience can navigate throughout the city. It’s a luxury to have the ability to be transported virtually anywhere, at any time, free of charge, and it’s our responsibility to take advantage of it!

I fully intend to do so.


Thanks Colin!

Colin's journey continues every Wednesday so stay tuned!

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Topics: Sydney, Australia, Official Bloggers and Vloggers, Practical Study Abroad Advice