Buses in Sydney

Buses account for close to six per cent of trips each day in the Australian city of Sydney, New South Wales, forming a key part of the city's public transport system. The network initially evolved from a privately operated system of feeder services to railway stations in the outer suburbs, and a publicly operated network of bus services introduced to replace trams in the inner suburbs. The bus network has undergone major reform in recent years, with the New South Wales Government taking responsibility for route and fare-setting, opening contracts for most routes up to competitive tendering, and introducing more cross-regional services.

Buses in Sydney
Scania K280UB with Bustech VST body, in Transport for NSW livery
Transit typeBus / Bus rapid transit
Annual ridership264.3 million in 2017-18
Began operation1905

The New South Wales Government's transport authority, Transport for NSW, administers the various bus networks in Sydney.

The networks, except the Olympic Park and On Demand routes, are part of Transport for NSW's Opal ticketing system.

Commuter and school services are assigned to one of 14 contract regions. In 2017-18, 264.3 million passenger journeys were made on services in Sydney's bus contract regions.


At the beginning of the 20th century, Sydney's public transport network was composed of a suburban railway and inner-city trams, both operated by the New South Wales Government Railways. These were complemented by various privately operated ferry services on Sydney Harbour and the Parramatta River, and a few horse-drawn services.

The Railways experimented with a steam-powered bus service from Potts Point to Darlinghurst in 1905, but the vehicles quickly proved unsatisfactory and the service was shut down within a year.[1] The city's second bus route ran from Newport, in the north of the Northern Beaches district, to Manly, commencing in 1906. This was operated by the privately owned Manly-Pittwater Motor Omnibus Company. The company did not prosper, however, and the business was wound up in 1908.[2]

The return of servicemen from World War I in the late 1910s provided fresh impetus to the motor omnibus industry. Here, suddenly, were thousands of men with experience working with heavy vehicles – all looking for work.[3] In 1915, only 15 motorised buses were known to operate in Sydney. By 1929, the city's bus fleet numbered more than 600. A private bus industry, dominated by owner-operators and small family businesses, was taking shape.[1]

Seeking to protect the tram system from competition, Premier Jack Lang introduced the Transport Act 1930, which empowered a new Metropolitan Transport Trust to shut down private bus routes that competed with trams, trains or other buses. The Railways were also restructured, with the tram system hived off into a new Department of Road Transport & Tramways in 1932.[4] The Department introduced its first bus service, route 144 from St Leonards to Manly, on Christmas Day of that year.

Lang's reforms established a structure for the bus network that was to endure for close to a century. On the one hand, the Department – forerunner to today's State Transit Authority – began to shut down its trams and build an extensive bus network serving the inner suburbs and Northern Beaches. On the other, the heavily regulated private operators remained small-scale, relegated to the status of feeder services for the Government's trains. But Lang's draconian Transport Act held at least one benefit for the bus companies: just as the trams were protected from them, so too were they protected from new entrants to the industry.[1]

From trams to buses

Route 144 started as a service in the 1920s connecting trains, trams and ferries. But the Department's focus began to shift inexorably towards building its bus network, starting in 1937 when Kogarah's steam trams were replaced with trolleybuses. Two years later, tram services from Manly were replaced with buses. In 1948, a recommendation was handed to the Department that the entire network be replaced with buses. Though initially controversial, the move to a bus network secured broad political support and was completed between 1957 and 1961. The Department, renamed 'Government Transport' in 1952, became an operator of buses only.[1][5]

For much of the 20th century, land use planning in Sydney restricted development to corridors within a short distance of the existing railway lines. This discipline broke down in the 1980s, however, when the Wran Government released new areas for development far from existing rail lines.[6][7] This meant that buses outside of the inner-city, government-operated network, would play an increasing role in meeting Sydney's transport needs.

Lang's model divided the city into hundreds of exclusive fiefdoms and did not allow for cross-regional services. Some private operators responded with joint ventures under the "Red Arrow" brand, agreeing to jointly operate routes between major centres in each other's territories. Some of these routes survive in whole or part today.


From 1930 until 1990, private bus companies in Sydney operated as licensed local monopolies, with a relatively free hand to set fares, determine routes, set service levels and choose vehicles. The Greiner Government changed this with the introduction of the Passenger Transport Act 1990. Although the government was loth to challenge the operators' local dominance, it insisted on forming contractual relationships between bus companies and the Department of Transport. These formed the basis for improvements to service standards and – in time – would allow the Government to consolidate the industry and create a truly integrated public transport network. The Government also dismantled one of the shibboleths of the Lang era, allowing Forest Coach Lines and Westbus to run direct services to the City, rather than just the nearest train station. In 1992, an inbound bus lane was installed on the Sydney Harbour Bridge to facilitate the additional services.

Unsworth review

Development in the Hills and Forest districts, far from railway lines, meant that long-distance private bus services poured across the Harbour Bridge to the City each morning. The growth of employment centres outside of the City and inner suburbs, including the growing significance of Parramatta, meant that more and more commuters were making cross-regional, rather than suburb-to-city, trips. Finally, the profusion of bus networks – in 2004, they numbered more than 80 – was confusing to planners and passengers alike. In return for their acceptance of limits to their operations, the small family-owned bus companies had enjoyed immunity from competition themselves. The result was a disparity in fares, vehicles and service quality across Sydney.

The Government commissioned a report into the bus network from former premier Barrie Unsworth. This report, released in 2004, formed a blueprint for major changes to the bus network, including:

  • harmonisation of private and State Transit fares
  • consolidation of bus regions and competitive tendering for rights to operate
  • introduction of new, cross-regional routes.

Consolidation of bus contract regions, from more than 80 to just 15, forced the amalgamation of decades-old bus companies and cleared the way for the entry of players from interstate and overseas.

Starting in October 2008 a number of Metrobus routes were introduced.

Cross-regional connectivity received further boosts with the completion of dedicated T-way networks, between Liverpool and Parramatta and between Parramatta, Blacktown and Rouse Hill.

Contract regions

Most services are provided under a service contract between the operator and Transport for NSW. There are 14 contract regions, each of which is tied to a geographical area.

Current contracts operate for five years, with an option to extend for a further three years except for region 6 which is for an eight year period.[8]

RegionCurrent operatorsStart date of
current contract
Award methodEnd date of
current contract (if known)
1 Busways 6 October 2013 Open tender 5 October 2021[9]
2 Interline Bus Services 1 June 2014 Open tender
3 Transit Systems 13 October 2013 Open tender 12 October 2021[10]
4 Hillsbus 1 August 2014 Open tender
5 Punchbowl Bus Company 1 July 2014 Open tender
6 Transit Systems 1 July 2018 Open tender 30 June 2026[11]
7 State Transit 1 July 2017[12] Direct award 30 June 2022
8 State Transit 1 July 2017[12] Direct award 30 June 2022
9 State Transit 1 July 2017[12] Direct award 30 June 2022
10 Maianbar Bundeena Bus Service
Transdev NSW
1 January 2013 Direct award 31 December 2019[13]
12 Transdev NSW 1 June 2013 Open tender 30 May 2021[14]
13 Transdev NSW 1 May 2013 Direct award 30 April 2020[15]
14 Forest Coach Lines 1 April 2013 Open tender 31 March 2021[16]
15 Busabout 1 June 2014 Open tender


B1 Mona Vale to Sydney CBD

This is a limited stops route operating in the Northern Beaches region of Sydney. It is operated with a dedicated fleet of double deck buses.[17]

T80 Liverpool to Parramatta

This is a bus rapid transit route operating in the south western part of Sydney, mostly along dedicated bus-only roads.[18]

North-West T-way

A variety of routes operate along various sections of this T-Way, including some express services to the CBD.

Metrobus routes

Metrobus routes operate in various parts of Sydney. The original Metrobus routes run along major inner city corridors, passing through the Sydney central business district without terminating there. Later routes operate in areas further out from the city centre, connecting major suburban precincts.

Other routes

Many other routes operate throughout Sydney. Most of these routes are classified with three-digit route numbers based on the area of the city they operate in:

Special services are denoted by letter prefixes in their route number:

  • M - Metrobus services
  • B - B-Line services
  • E or X – Express service (used by State Transit (regions 7, 8 and 9) and Transit Systems (region 6); "E" is used for region 8 services, "X" elsewhere)
  • L – Limited Stops service (used by State Transit (regions 7, 8 and 9) and Transit Systems (region 6). Some Limited Stops routes use normal three-digit numbers)
  • T – Services operating, at least for the most part, via a T-Way
  • S – "Shopper Hopper" route (used for some private operators' routes that typically run between morning and afternoon peaks, Monday-Friday only)

Additionally, NightRide services are prefixed with N (although these services are not provided under a region contract).

Some routes have a suffix to their route numbers instead of prefixes:

  • N - Overnight services for the routes concerned with some minor variations (used since 2018)
  • X - Express service equivalents for the routes concerned (used by Hillsbus and since 2018, State Transit. Hillsbus uses this suffix for services via Lane Cove Tunnel).
  • H - Used by Transdev 594H. Route discontinued since December 2018

The suffixes W and K are used by Busabout to denote variants of routes 884 and 883 that service Wedderburn and Kentlyn respectively.

State Transit and Transit Systems Region 6 school bus services are suffixed with n, s, e and w depending on their geographical locations north, south, east and west respectively.

Rail replacement bus services

Rail replacement bus services in Sydney replace or supplement train services, but charge train or metro fares. Two rail replacement bus services have been operated so far, with Station Link operating between September 2018 and May 2019, followed by the North West Night Bus since May 2019.

From September 2018 to May 2019, Station Link bus services replaced rail services between Chatswood and Epping, while the Epping to Chatswood rail link was converted and upgraded to metro services. The main service SL1, operated frequently throughout the day, stopping at all stops between Chatswood and Epping.[19] The other services SL2 - SL7, operated only during weekday peak hours. Fares on these bus routes were charged at train rates. The services were jointly operated by Transdev NSW and Hillsbus.[20]

Two weeks before its cessation, over 4.3 million trips had been taken on Station Link.[21]

North West Night Bus

From 26 May to 5 November 2019, North West Night Bus operated on two supplementary late night bus services, NW1 and NW2, to supplement the Metro North West Line metro operations on Sunday to Wednesday nights.[22] They are successors to the Station Link, which was discontinued due to the opening of Sydney Metro. Metro fares were charged on these bus routes. Like Station Link, both Night Bus services were also operated by Transdev and Hillsbus.[23][24]

Future services

Beginning in December 2019, bus services will operate between Bankstown and Sydenham during certain periods so that the Bankstown Line could be converted and upgraded to metro services. This procedure will continue until 2023, after which that section of the line will be temporarily closed to complete its integration into the City & Southwest Metro Line.[25]

Trackwork Buses

Buses are also frequently used to replace train lines that are closed for trackwork, mainly on weekends or late nights. These replacement services are contracted out to a bus company by Sydney Trains. Because it is impossible for one bus company to provide enough buses, the company will then subcontract some of the work to other bus companies. On most of these services, no fare is charged as these routes are not programmed into the Opal system and there is no requirement for buses provided to have Opal equipment installed. However, this is slowly changing, with some rail replacement services now having Opal set up to charge rail fares. The routes are defined by Sydney Trains, with route numbers consisting of one or two numbers, optionally followed by A (usually indicates short working variant), then the train line the route replaces. Examples include 35T3, 61T8 etc.

On Demand services

Since late 2017 a number of On Demand services have been introduced throughout the metropolitan and outer metropolitan bus regions. These are not part of the Opal card ticketing system and most do not accept concession fares. However, OpalPay and concession fares can be used and accepted on some of these services.[26]

As of November 2019, the on demand services in Greater Sydney are:[27]

Other on demand services have also been trialled but have since ceased.


The following table lists patronage figures for the network of contract regions (in millions of journeys) during the corresponding financial year. Australia's financial years start on 1 July and end on 30 June. Major events that affected the number of journeys made or how patronage is measured are included as notes.

Bus patronage in Sydney by financial year
Year 2010-112011-122012-132013-142014-152015-162016-172017-18
198.7 203.3 204.6 209.0 232.0
[lower-alpha 1][lower-alpha 2]
N/A 253.1
[lower-alpha 3]
Reference [34] [35] [36]
  1. Opal rollout completed in November 2014
  2. Includes School Student Travel Scheme boardings and boardings on free shuttle services from January 2015
  3. Figures from 2016-17 onwards are based on Opal tap on and tap off data. Non-Opal tickets were discontinued in August 2016.
2017-18 Sydney bus patronage by contract region[37]
Region 1 12662000
Region 2 3710000
Region 3 12637000
Region 4 23441000
Region 5 3650000
Region 6 50509000
Region 7 30176000
Region 8 27496000
Region 9 71556000
Region 10 7888000
Region 12 3491000
Region 13 8559000
Region 14 5028000
Region 15 3504000
2017-18 patronage of Transport for NSW's Sydney services by mode[38]


Bus types

As the Government has moved to a contestable contract model since the Unsworth report, so it has acquired a greater interest in the buses acquired to operate its routes. The NSW Government buys many of the new buses entering service in private operator fleets, and enjoys step-in rights where a private operator loses a contract. State Transit and the private operators must buy new vehicles from approved panel suppliers. These are Asia Motors, Bustech, Custom Coaches, Heavy Vehicles Australia, Hino, Iveco, MAN, Scania, Volgren and Volvo.

The approved bus types are:[39]

  • 14.5-metre two-door city bus, with a combined seating and standing capacity of 80
  • 18-metre articulated two- or three-door city bus, with a combined seating and standing capacity of 110
  • 12-metre two-door double deck city bus, with a combined seating and standing capacity of 90
  • 10-metre single-door 'mini' bus, with a combined seating and standing capacity of 40
  • 12.5-metre single-door city bus, with a combined seating and standing capacity of 65
  • 12.5-metre single-door school bus, with a combined seating and standing capacity of 70
  • 12.5-metre two-door school bus, with a combined seating and standing capacity of 65.

In 2017 the government announced that articulated buses would be progressively phased out in favour of double-deckers.[40]


Until 2010, each bus operator determined the livery for their vehicles. In late 2010, the NSW Government introduced a new livery for use on all new vehicles entering service on the network. The design is composed of a light blue (Pantone Matching System 297) background, a white chevron shape pointing in the direction of travel, and dark blue (Pantone Matching System 281) bumpers. Although there was some resistance from bus operators, including Forest Coach Lines, who feared losing their brand identity, all operators had accepted the new requirements by 2013.[41][42][43]

Bus priority infrastructure

Many roads in Sydney have bus priority lanes. There are two types of bus lanes in Sydney;[44]

  • Bus Lane - For use by Taxis, Hire Cars (Not Rentals), Motorcycles, Bicycles, Emergency Vehicles and special purpose vehicles and vehicles also operated by or under the direction of Roads and Maritime Services.
  • Bus Only Lane - For the exclusive use of Buses and authorised special purpose vehicles.

Many of them are operational for 24 hours, or during the peak hour. Cameras are often set up along bus lanes and drivers who break rules by driving along bus lanes at dedicated times are fined.[45]

Dedicated bus only roads include a separate road in Moore Park which shadows parts of Alison Road and Anzac Parade,[46] as well as dedicated roadways at the centre of M2 Hills Motorway[47] and T-ways.

Sydney has three operating transitways (or T-ways):

These T-ways can only be used by buses or authorised T-way vehicles. Cameras have been set up along the three T-ways and vehicles without authorised access are fined. For Bennelong bridge, separate fines apply to cyclists using the T-way instead of the adjacent shared pedestrian path on the bridge.[48]

Ticketing and fares

The bus network uses the smartcard-based Opal ticketing system. Opal is also valid on light rail, train and ferry services but separate fares apply for these modes. Opal's bus fares are the same as those for light rail but the fares are not combined when interchanging between the two modes. This is due to change once the CBD and South East Light Rail opens; all bus passengers interchanging with light rail will only pay one fare, calculated from the start of their trip on one mode to the end of their trip on the other.[49][50] Bus drivers also sell non-smartcard Opal single trip tickets - however this facility has been withdrawn from bus regions 4, 7. 8 and 9.[51] The single trip tickets are more expensive than the standard Opal fare. They are only valid for travel on the bus service on which they are purchased.[52] The following table lists Opal fares for reusable smartcards and single trip tickets:[53]

Bus or light rail
as of 24 June 2019
0–3 km3–8 km8 km+
Adult cards $2.24 $3.73 $4.80
Other cards $1.12 $1.86 $2.40
Adult single trip $2.90 $4.60 $6.00
Child/Youth single trip $1.40 $2.30 $3.00

Notes and references

  1. Lee, Robert (2010). Transport: an Australian history. Sydney: UNSW Press.
  2. JMacR. "Manly's first bus". Manly Library Local Studies Blog. Retrieved 6 March 2016.
  3. Simpson, Margaret (2006). "New South Wales Government and private bus ticket collection" (published 1960). Retrieved 6 March 2016.
  4. State Records Authority of New South Wales. "Department of Road Transport & Tramways". Archived from the original on 1 February 2016. Retrieved 3 March 2016.
  5. State Records Authority of New South Wales. "Department of Government Tram and Omnibus Services (1952) / Department of Government Transport (1952-1972)".
  6. Department of Environment & Planning (1988). Sydney Into Its Third Century: Metropolitan Strategy for the Sydney Region. Sydney.
  7. Ashton, Paul; Freestone, Robert (2008). "Planning". Dictionary of Sydney. Dictionary of Sydney Trust.
  8. Transport for NSW 2013/14 Annual Report (PDF), Transport for NSW, p. 38-39, archived from the original (PDF) on 5 December 2014, retrieved 17 April 2015
  9. "Sydney Metropolitan Bus Service Contract (SMBSC) - SMBSC01". eTendering NSW. Retrieved 14 October 2019.
  10. "Sydney Metropolitan Bus Service Contract (SMBSC) - SMBSC03". eTendering NSW. Retrieved 14 October 2019.
  11. "Region 6 Bus Services - SBSC 006". eTendering NSW. Retrieved 14 October 2019.
  12. "State Transit Authority Annual Report 2017/2018" (PDF). Transport for NSW. 23 November 2018. p. 23. Archived (PDF) from the original on 27 November 2018. Retrieved 27 November 2018.
  13. "Sydney Metropolitan Bus Service Contract (SMBSC) - SMBSC10". eTendering NSW. Retrieved 14 October 2019.
  14. "Sydney Metropolitan Bus Service Contract (SMBSC) - SMBSC12". eTendering NSW. Retrieved 14 October 2019.
  15. "Sydney Metropolitan Bus Service Contract (SMBSC) - SMBSC13". eTendering NSW. Retrieved 14 October 2019.
  16. "Sydney Metropolitan Bus Service Contract (SMBSC) - SMBSC14". eTendering NSW. Retrieved 14 October 2019.
  17. New B-Line to transform Northern Beaches Bus travel Archived 2 February 2016 at the Wayback Machine Transport for NSW 9 November 2015
  18. Transit Systems secures Region 6 Bus Contract (Final Paragraph) Transit Systems
  19. "Station Link". Transport Info NSW. Archived from the original on 15 November 2018. Retrieved 8 May 2019.
  20. "Upgrade of the Epping to Chatswood line - Station Link bus services" (PDF). MySydney - NSW Government. Archived (PDF) from the original on 8 June 2018. Retrieved 10 May 2019.
  21. "Upgrade complete between Epping and Chatswood". Sydney Metro. 23 May 2019. Retrieved 24 May 2019.
  22. "North West Night Bus". Transport Info NSW. Archived from the original on 25 October 2019. Retrieved 25 October 2019.
  23. "NW1 Timetable - May 2019" (PDF). Transport Info NSW. Archived from the original (PDF) on 5 May 2019. Retrieved 10 May 2019.
  24. "NW2 Timetable - May 2019" (PDF). Transport Info NSW. Archived from the original (PDF) on 5 May 2019. Retrieved 10 May 2019.
  25. "Rail line closure to force 100,000 commuters a day to catch buses". Sydney Morning Herald. 18 July 2019.
  26. How OpalPay works Transport for NSW
  27. "On Demand public transport". Transport for NSW. Retrieved 6 August 2018.
  28. Inner West On Demand service Transport for NSW
  29. Catch The Pod will be ceasing at 11:59PM, 14 October 2018 Punchbowl Bus Co.
  30. Carlingford and North Rocks On Demand service Transport for NSW
  31. Manly on demand service Transport for NSW]
  32. Transport on demand. Ready when you are. TransdevLink]
  33. "Wetherill Park On Demand service". Transport for NSW. Archived from the original on 7 August 2018. Retrieved 7 August 2018.
  34. "Transport for NSW Annual Report 2013-14" (PDF). Transport for NSW. p. 395. Archived from the original (PDF) on 29 May 2015. Retrieved 1 August 2016.
  35. "Transport for NSW Annual Report 2014-15" (PDF). Transport for NSW. p. 131. Retrieved 1 August 2016.
  36. "Bus Patronage - Monthly Figures". Transport for NSW. Retrieved 13 September 2018.
  37. "Bus Patronage - Monthly Figures". Transport for NSW. Retrieved 14 September 2018.
  38. See Transport for NSW patronage in Sydney by mode for sources
  39. Transport for NSW (July 2015). "Outer and metropolitan bus system bus specification guidelines".
  40. Gerathy, Sarah; Raper, Ashleigh (13 June 2017). "NSW Budget: New hospital, bus boost and roads planning announced with one week to go". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 20 June 2017.
  41. Smith, Alexandra (22 December 2010). "Out of the blue, an illusion of more buses, all dressed alike". Sydney Morning Herald.
  42. Blue over green Forest Coach Lines buses Archived 2013-04-29 at the Wayback Machine Manly Daily 11 January 2013
  43. Transport for NSW (October 2013). "Livery specification, Custom Coaches rigid 12 metre" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 26 March 2016. Retrieved 4 March 2016.
  44. NSW, Roads and Maritime Services,. "Bus lanes". Roads and Maritime Services. Retrieved 2 May 2016.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
  45. "Bus lanes". rms.nsw.gov.au. Retrieved 15 October 2015.
  46. "Temporary closure of Moore Park Bus Roadway from 5 June - 26 Feb 2015". State Transit. Archived from the original on 2 July 2015. Retrieved 2 July 2015.
  47. Tan, Su-Lin (12 March 2015). "Traffic chaos as bus catches on fire on M2 motorway". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 2 July 2015.
  48. "A camera has been set up to catch drivers sneaking across the Bennelong Bridge between Wentworth Point and Rhodes". The Daily Telegraph. 1 November 2016. Retrieved 7 May 2019.
  49. "Opal to go live on light rail months ahead of schedule". Transport for NSW. 24 November 2014. Archived from the original on 1 December 2014.
  50. Opal extends to Inner West and Rockdale State Transit bus services Archived 6 October 2014 at the Wayback Machine Transport Info NSW 12 September 2014
  51. Most buses in the North West of Sydney are moving to Opal only services Transport for NSW 16 June 2019
  52. "Opal single trip tickets". Transport for NSW. Retrieved 4 August 2019.
  53. "Opal fares". transportnsw.info. Transport for NSW. Retrieved 22 June 2019.
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