Sydney public transport commuters return in swathes post-lockdown

More than half a million Sydneysiders have returned to public transport in the first two weeks after the Delta lockdown, pouring back onto the network three times faster than after the 2020 shutdown.

Patronage has increased by close to 200 per cent since the depths of lockdown in July, according to Transport for NSW data, with an average of 825,000 trips taken each day last week as students returned to school and workers began trickling back into offices.

Patronage on Sydney’s public transport network has boomed in the two-weeks after lockdown.

Patronage on Sydney’s public transport network has boomed in the two-weeks after lockdown.Credit:Nick Moir

“In the first two weeks after lockdown restrictions were eased we saw over 500,000 customers return to the network. After the April 2020 lockdown it took six weeks for the network to see that kind of return,” a Transport for NSW spokeswoman said.

Despite the recent surge, patronage remains 65 per cent lower than pre-COVID levels, while road traffic has almost returned to normal as people opt for their cars instead of trains and buses, with the roads recorded at 91 per cent of 2019 levels.

Senior transport management lecturer at Sydney University Geoffrey Clifton said many commuters had opted to drive during the pandemic to avoid the risk of contracting COVID-19, with the habit likely to continue post-lockdown.

“The pandemic has created the perception that private cars are healthier than public transport. Many people who switched to cars will keep driving even as we open up,” Dr Clifton said.

He added that it could take years before Sydney’s public transport returned to pre-pandemic levels given the work-from-home boom.

“We will see more people returning to public transport next year as more offices and universities open up but it will be many years before we see crowding on public transport back to pre-COVID levels,” Dr Clifton said.

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