When it comes to make a travel plan and figure out all travel expenses for travelling to Australia, Public transport is also something you need to include in your budget. Australian cities are spread out, and going from A to B implies long distances. These tips will help you maximise your stay in Australian cities.
Why use public transport cards in Australia
All main Australian cities like Melbourne, Sydney, Perth, Adelaide offer public transport cards that you can purchase everywhere. While purchasing a travel card may seem very practical, it’s not always the best choice. If you stay 2-3 days in cities, getting a day-rider is probably the best choice.
But if you plan to stay longer, then getting a public transport card is the best way to save money on your trip. The average cost of purchasing the ticket is between 2 and 10 Australian dollars.
Pros and Cons of using Australia Public Transport Cards
The big advantage of using an Australian public transport card is the save-money aspect. If you plan to get about by public transport on a regular, daily basis, you will need a ticket.
Public transportation in cities is the only sustainable way that allows you to travel cheaply on long distances within metropolitan areas and city suburbia. It’s also an environmental way of exploring a city, and it’s better than using a rental car and paying high parking fees. You can read more here on how to save money in Australian cities.
All Australian public transport cards under-the-lens
In my solo trips around Australia, I had the opportunity to try out all public transport cards in 6 different Australian cities. Here you can read about my detailed portrait of each travel card with all features, benefits and prices.
How Australian travel cards work
All Australian Transport Cards work more or less the same way. After purchasing the card, you can add money to it and use it on all city public transport services. You can top-up your card whenever you want, and there is no limitation concerning money and time of use. Usually, cards do not expire so that you can keep them for future city trips.
Tag-on-Tag-off also plays an important role. If you accidentally forget to tag off your card, the system will automatically charge the card with the highest daily ride fare. Each public transportation network has its website to consult for info about fares, train and buses timetables. Furthermore, each public transport city website offers a useful journey planner page, which I highly recommend if you are a first time traveller to Australian cities.
The Go-Card for Brisbane and Gold Coast City Public Transport
This is one of the last 2 Australian transport cards I have tried. I could use it during my five weeks in the Gold Coast City, Australia. It costs 2 dollars, and the highlight of this card is that you can top it up on all buses, so you don’t need to go to a newsagent or use the counter or the automatic machine.
That’s a plus, as you can hop on a bus and top it up straight away. Ticket fares are structured according to peak time and low-traffic time, so from 7-9 am and 3 pm, it is more expensive to travel with public transport than during the day’s core hours. You can use it to go to the airport from and to Brisbane and the whole metropolitan area. Another benefit is that if you make 8 journeys in a week, you’ll pay half-price for all other journeys.
The Opal-Card for Sydney Public Transport
In June this year, I tried out the Opal Card for Sydney. The Opal Card is the only one in Australia to be free. You can get it at the airport, train stations or any newsagent shop at zero cost. You can add money and top it up like all other cards. You can also use a contactless credit/debit card or linked Apple Pay or Google Pay devices. The contactless is very useful if you have a card that doesn’t have international exchange fees. The card can be used on the entire metropolitan transport network, with tag-on tag-off as usual.
This card’s great benefits are the daily, weekly, and Saturdays and Sundays caps. It used to be a 2.50 AUD Sunday cap, but this increased to 8.15 AUD on all public transport, including the Sydney Ferries. The same cap for Saturday. For the day cap, the price is 16.30 AUD, and the weekly cap is 50 AUD.
Over the weekend, you can travel wide and far within the Sydney metropolitan transport network for half-prices of the daily cap. It does include cruising the Sydney harbour on all public ferries too.
On top of that, there are more benefits if you use the Opal card for the airport transport. For frequent flyers leaving on Monday and returning before Sunday, you will get a free return ticket. You get a 2 dollars discount on transit mode (switching from rail to ferry), and if you make 8 journeys in a week, the rest of your journeys, you’ll pay half price.
I’d say this is the less complicated Australian transport card among all other cards in Australia. Moreover, the fact that it is free is a huge benefit for short-term visitors to Sydney.
The Myki Card – Melbourne Public Transport
The Miky Card was the first card I purchased in Melbourne. As I stayed with friends in Melbourne, eastern suburbia, I needed a transport card to save money on travelling around. The Myki Card is very popular among locals and travellers alike. After purchasing it for 10 Dollars, you can top it up everywhere. You can use the digital mobile version on Android/Google Pay.
You can do the Myki Recharge at the Top-Up machines, but if you want, you can activate the online top-up too. However, the automated top-up doesn’t bring any bonus nor discounted transport fares.
Melbourne public transport‘s fares work upon travel zones, and the maximum you will spend on a day is 7.80 Dollars, the same fare as a day rider. Although this may sound expensive, you must consider that all Melbourne trams are free within Melbourne CBD (since Jan 2015).
Moreover to travel long distances across various zones is not expensive. I remember going for 2,5 hours from Eastern Melbourne to the northern suburbs for 7.80 dollars, both ways.
That’s cheap about the travel distances covered. So the Myki card fares are going to save you money on long travel distances. On this page, you can read more about the Myki Card. The MyKi Card is free for early birds travelling between 5 am -7.15 am from Monday-Friday.
I know Australians are not so happy with Australian public Transport and often complain about its being expensive. While there is something that could improve, I didn’t find the Australian public transport system so bad at all.
Adelaide Metro Card – the most complicated card
When I touched base in Adelaide, I was unsure whether the Adelaide Metro Card was something for me. After spending 5 dollars on bus fare to travel within the city, I thought the metro card would save money. In Adelaide, public transport consists mainly of buses and trams.
There is no underground. I found the Adelaide Metro Card fares expensive about travel distances (within the city), and also, the transport fare structure is somewhat complicated.
It differentiates fares from weekdays from weekends. Peak time is around office time and is the most expensive; if you don’t have the Metro Card, a ride on a Saturday will cost you 5.10 dollars (the most expensive day) while Sunday is the cheapest, only 1.80 dollars.
The Adelaide Metro Card itself is cheaper than in other Australian cities, but because Adelaide public transport is mainly buses and trams, it could improve service and fare structure.
Smart Rider Perth – the most rewarding card
Perth was the last Australian city and where I spent the longest time, nearly seven weeks. If you stay in the town, you will not probably need a Smart Rider because the Perth free buses: The yellow Cat, the Red Cat and the Blue Cat cover the Perth CBD and suburban areas.
If you stay in Perth’s outskirts, then you need a SmartRider. The Smart Rider Perth Card works at all major public transport cards in Australia, with a topping-up to recharge the card and the tag-on-tag-off charge system.
However, the SmartRider card offers some extra perks. a 15% discount on all Perth transport fares and a 25% if you decide to activate the online Smartrider Autoload. How does this work? You need to register your card with your details and credit cards to allow an automated top-up whenever your card has reached the minimum of around 4 dollars.
That’s very helpful because you don’t have to rush to the counter or queue up at the top-up machines. The autoloading system does that for you, and it automatically entitles you to a 25% discount on all transport fares.
I have calculated that I saved 40-50 dollars on autoloading for only over one month. The Smart Rider Perth card is the most rewarding, easier to use than other cards, with an excellent public transport network service (most trains ride every 15 minutes).
Perth public transport network is cheaper concerning travel distances. I travelled with my SmartRider Card from Perth to Mandurah for only 8 dollars considering there are 75 km, the train ride was cheap.
Darwin Public Transport – Tap and Ride Card – 20 dollars 7 day-ride
While Darwin is not always easy to get information as a traveller, it is built for locals, which often disregards travellers’ needs.
In August, I found out about this great Darwin Card and got the connected card. You can purchase the card for seven days at the cost of 20 Dollars for unlimited use. Considering Darwin is a very spread out city, you need a card to get around.
If you don’t want to hire a car, then this card is a must. The Darwin bus network is good, and it covers all of Darwin attractions and much of the city suburbs worth visiting. So definitely, I give a thumbs-up to this card. By the way, you can also use the Tap & Ride Darwin Car in Alice Spring.
Final thoughts about public transport cards in Australia
I find Australia public transport is excellent regarding networks and services. Among these six city transport cards, the two best cards are the Opal Card Sydney and the Smartrider Card in Perth for the smooth and rewarding fare system, the network and the train timetables.
The second place is Myki Card in Melbourne, and the Go-Card in Brisbane, as they offer a great value public transport card to travellers. The third place is Darwin, and the last is Adelaide, where I think there could be room for improvement. Brisbane and Adelaide are also moving soon to contactless payment for their transport cards.
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Last updated in Jan 2022 – Many thanks to our reader Dean Le for sending in the precious updates!