Australian cities among cheapest for public transport fares

15 January 2023 3 min. read
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A number of Australian cities have proven to have relatively affordable public transport according to an international benchmarking study, including Darwin which ranks among the top five cheapest.

The city of Darwin has ranked in the top five among 45 transit systems in 20 countries worldwide for low wage public transport affordability, according to a report from economics and strategy consultancy NineSquared, with the New Zealand government’s recent slashing of fares seeing the country hog most of the top spots.

The cheapest carrier of those assessed was Beijing's bus system, which has continually topped the annual list.

Minutes worked at minimum wage to afford a public transport fare

To compile its benchmark, which is drawn from a larger dataset detailing various fare prices for almost 100 cities worldwide, NineSquared looks at the number of working minutes required at minimum wage in order to afford the lowest-priced single one way ticket in each location. For example, the cost of such a ticket on a Beijing bus equates to 2.4 minutes at local minimum wage, whereas in Sao Paulo it adds up to almost 38 minutes of labour.

Accounting for the difficulties in comparing different fare structures such as flat, zonal or duration-based, and then the time (peak or off-peak) and distance of a given journey, the researchers also provide other comparative categories, including the required minutes worked at an average local wage for the lowest-priced applicable ticket. Here, Darwin clocks in at 5.6 minutes for low income earners, and 2.8 minutes at average wages.

A number of other Australian cities also came out as relatively cheap compared to global peers, ranking among the top 20 across both measures. Hobart, Perth, Canberra, Brisbane and Sydney’s bus system all came in at under ten minutes worked for minimum wage earners, with none exceeding five minutes for passengers of average incomes. Hobart ranked 12th overall in the former bracket, while Perth landed at 13th on the global list in the latter.

Further down the list was Australia’s second-most populous city in Melbourne, with its often intensely criticised fare system and structure also ranking at 30 or below in both affordability measures. On the flip side, both Auckland and Wellington have claimed a top-six spot in each bracket following the New Zealand government’s slashing of fares by half last year in response to soaring petrol prices, which is set to expire at the end of March.

Spread of percentage change in average fare by city

Currently, minimum wage earners in Wellington work just two and a half minutes to buy a concession ticket on the bus, while those on an average income have to put in less than 90 seconds. Meanwhile, someone earning the minimum wage in London would have to work for 20 minutes to hop on the Underground, and when assessed as to a zonal 15 km journey, not unusual for low income commuters, this extends to almost 27 minutes.

Now into its eight edition, NineSquared’s benchmarking report shows that public transport prices had remained relatively stable as a reflection of wages in most places since 2015, whereas various strategic responses to the impacts of Covid-19 have led to heightened fluctuation. While the minutes worked to catch a ride on Wellington’s rail system have dropped by 68 percent from 2021, London’s Underground jumped by almost 30 percent year-on-year.