Finding opportunity in a pandemic

Coronavirus has changed how we work, play and connect with friends, family and loved ones. It’s also changing how and when people move around our state’s biggest city. Restrictions, more people working from home and social distancing haven’t always been easy to navigate but they are giving us and our customers the opportunity to rethink and reshape what travelling in Sydney looks like. Along the way we’re tackling some of Transport’s toughest challenges including reducing crowding, spreading trips across the day, and encouraging more people to walk and cycle.

For the moment, we’ve asked the people of NSW to stay off public transport if possible to help reduce the spread of coronavirus. Although fewer people are travelling right now, public transport is, and always will be, an essential service. Our commitment is to keep people who have no choice but to travel, including essential workers, students and people with a disability, moving safely and with confidence.

Data distancing

One of the ways we’re supporting our customers to maintain physical distancing when travelling is by giving them access to real-time data about public transport capacity. Thanks to the work of our Customer Strategy and Technology team, a quick check of the apps like Opal Travel or Trip View or the station indicator board lets our customers know instantly how much space is available on an approaching bus or train. That helps people decide if there is enough room for them to board and sit safely apart from their fellow travellers, or if they should wait for the next service.

Behind the scenes a new dashboard brings together data from different sources to give our Transport Management Centre a complete view of what’s happening across the network so they can make operational decisions on the fly to help reduce crowding.

Find out more about how we’re using data to keep Sydney moving in this itnews article featuring Joost de Kock, Deputy Secretary Customer Strategy and Technology.

Yvonne Lee from Customer Strategy and Technology said the urgency and pressure of the public health crisis helped people across the organisation pull together and do things differently with data.

“We already worked well within our team and we were able to lay out clearly what we needed around data sharing, permissions and approvals from teams upstream,” Yvonne said.

“We found people were more open about sharing data and streamlining the flow of information and there was a more co-ordinated approach to approvals that allowed them to happen very quickly.

“Remote working actually turned out to be a strength too. We were able to call Teams meetings, share our screens and collaborate at short notice, and sometimes at weird hours,” Yvonne said.

Watch a video which explains how we’re using data to manage public transport capacity.

Beyond the peak

A big area of focus at Transport is to even out the use of public transport across the day to reduce crowding during the morning and evening peaks and provide a better, more frequent service for all customers no matter when they need to travel.

While thousands of Sydneysiders, including many of our own people, have been working from home peak times have been a lot quieter and customers have been able to experience first-hand the benefits of a less congested public transport system – but what happens as more people return to workplaces?

Chief Operations Officer for Greater Sydney, Howard Collins says he genuinely believes many won’t go back to a nine to five routine and that gives us a unique opportunity to actively work on flattening or spreading the peak. Howard said, “If you guarantee a bus every 10 minutes all day as opposed to every 5 minutes in the peak and every 20 minutes off-peak – customers will switch.”

He offered this analogy from the pioneering days of building railways, “If you slice the top off the ‘peak demand’ mountain and spread the surplus ‘mountain material’ into the off-peak valleys, we have a smoother, flatter service and a much more reliable journey for the customer,” Howard said.

It’s not just customers who might benefit from this change. A flattened peak could lead to more full time jobs as well as shift work, better working hours and a smoother work day rather than two “calls to arms” every weekday.


Howard Collins

Chief Operations Officer, Greater Sydney

If you guarantee a bus every 10 minutes all day… customers will switch.

Howard Collins

So what are we doing to encourage customers to rethink the way they travel, including considering commuting outside the peak?

Discounting off-peak travel: Off-peak trips on buses, trains, light rail and metro have been discounted by 30% to encourage our customers to keep travelling outside peak times even once we are able to get up close and personal again.

Redefining the peak: So that we can sustainably offer the 30% discount we’ve slightly extended the peak period cut-off so that off-peak now runs from 10am-3pm during the day and 7pm-6:30am overnight (or until 6am for intercity trains).

Promoting travel choices: Through our Travel Choices program we’ve met with over 850 businesses, universities, hospitals and government agencies, helping them to see what can be done to permanently reduce peak public transport loads through things like flexible and remote working and more walking and cycling.

Firsthand from the frontline

Greg Glass

Guard, Sydney Trains

Our frontline people have been doing incredible work keeping customers safe during restrictions and then ramping up again to deliver over 4,000 extra services per week when customers started returning to public transport. We asked Sydney Trains Guard, Greg Glass what it’s been like to ride that wave and what positive travel behaviours he would like to see continue once coronavirus is behind us.

“Customers have been really calm and most of the time following directions to spread out along the platform, which has helped the speed and efficiency of boarding times,” said Greg, whose home depot is Hornsby. If this was kept up after the pandemic it would continue to have a great impact on dwell times, “Especially in busy stations like Rhodes and Hornsby,” he said.

Greg also says he really appreciates the additional cleaning of customer and crew areas that have made him feel safer at work.

Fast-tracking active transport

Building on years of work by many different teams across Transport, James Dobinson, our Active Transport lead, and his team are on a mission to make it safer and easier to walk and ride so people across NSW have more choices for how they get to work, school, health services, and other key destinations.

One of the most recent additions to our bike network has been six new pop-up cycleways in the City of Sydney that were rapidly installed over a few short months to provide customers with more transport choices in response to the impact of coronavirus.

James said rider safety was a big focus. “If people are going to make the switch to riding they need to feel confident and safe. To keep riders safe we’ve installed separated cycleways and reduced speed limits.

“What’s been most unique about this initiative is the speed with which the cycleways were planned and built. We delivered in a few weeks what would normally take years to do,” James said.

“Next, the race is on to give more people the infrastructure, information, and encouragement they need to cycle during the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes upgrading our digital infrastructure, such as Trip Planner, and changing travel behaviours.”

We’re also delivering pop-up cycleways totalling 35km across Newcastle, Wollongong, Goulburn, Batemans Bay, and Nowra. And, we’ve announced plans for more pop-up cycleways across Greater Sydney – in the city’s Eastern Suburbs, North Shore, and Inner West.

We’re focused on place-making and making our streets safer for pedestrians, with 30km per hour speed zone trials underway in Manly, Liverpool, and Newcastle.

We’re tracking more than 10,000 trips a week taken on the first pop-up cycleways in the City of Sydney

James Dobinson

Making the shift

There were a few reasons why Senior Transport Modeller, Tanja Grabowski, decided to take up cycling for her trip to work. Firstly she wanted to make space on public transport for people who needed it more and secondly she was attracted by the convenience and safety of the new Henderson Road pop-up cycleway near her home.

“Being so close, and cordoned off, with visible signage and good barriers between cyclists and cars, made me feel confident using the cycleway”.

Now Tanja has a much quicker and more enjoyable commute and she wouldn’t have it any other way. When asked if she could see any downside to cycling to work Tanja said “No, and I’m looking forward to seeing more people take it up.”

Watch a video where Tanja shares her pop-up cycleway experience.

Is cycling for you?

If you live within 20 minutes or about 5km from your workplace then riding a bike might be a good option if you’re not working from home. Here are some tips:

  • Find a cycle buddy
  • Promote and participate in NSW Bike Week in October each year
  • Check with your local council if they provide free bike servicing or tune-ups.


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