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Perths Public Transport Network – My First Impressions

Not so long ago I wrote a high level overview of Perth’s public transport system.

To be honest, this information was very much gleaned from research I had done on the web so now that I’ve been here for a couple of months and experienced some of Perth’s transport system first hand I thought I’d write a new entry to give you an idea of what to expect from Perth’s transport options if your thinking about coming to this part of Australia.

Since arriving in Perth at the end of December I’ve found myself using Perth’s public transport system a lot more then I’d have ever of imagined.

When we were renting in the Northern Suburb of Mindarie Keys, I think I only drove into the CBD once (on my first day) and to be honest, I was pretty surprised at how busy the freeway was at about 7am.

Many years ago the freeway in Perth was described as a new freeway looking for cars (or something like that) and even now, when driving on the freeway outside of rush hour it’s a positively pleasant place to be and that’s how I remembered it from our time in Perth last February.

The freeways in Australia are generally much wider then the motorways you’d find back in the UK and when you combine such a decent sized freeway in an area with the population of Perth your left with quite a lot of room to drive during the quieter times of the day.

At rush hour time (say between 7 – 9 am and 4 – 5 pm) you’re left with something a little more familiar. Traffic queuing nose to tail which gradually gets worse as you get nearer to the Central Business District (CBD).

During the morning, traffic leaving the CBD is pretty none existent. In the evening, traffic volumes entering the CBD also very low.

Like anywhere else in the world, Western Australians seem to use the freeway network in the main for one thing, getting to work. So, after spending two hours driving, or perhaps more to the point standing in stationary traffic I decided to investigate other alternatives.

As Mindarie keys was still about 30 minutes drive from the CBD during ‘off-peak’ times my only real alternative was the train.

Unusually, (although in hindsight an excellent idea when building a new infrastructure) the main rail line from the northern suburbs to the CBD runs down the centre of the freeway with stations dotted at intervals along the way.

The closest station to Mindarie was the one at Clarkson; just over 5 minutes drive away. As we were hiring a car, the missus kindly got up with me in the morning to drop me off at the station in Clarkson and picked me up again in the early evening.

This wasn’t as big a bind as it sounds as the in-laws were visiting at the time so this meant we could leave them, and our son soundly sleeping whilst we made the early morning trek to the station.

The stations are clean and roomy with ticket dispensers on the wall as you enter.
Tickets are costed on the number of zones you’ll be travelling through. As Clarkson was literally at the end of the line we were classed as zone 4 with tickets from this zone costing in the region of about $4.70 (just under 2.00 uk pounds at time of typing) for a one way ticket to the CBD.

Like most rail authorities. Transperth operate a number of  ‘packages’ which enable you to buy in bulk and save on your individual rail journey. A day return ticket for example could be yours for about $7.50. Buying journeys in batches of 20 – 40 would reduce this cost even further.

There are plenty of Electronic boards by the platforms advising you when the next train is due and I’ll tell you what, I have never seen a more frequent train service.

There are trains departing from every station in the Northern Suburbs to the CBD every seven minutes! This was a great plus point for me as it practically meant you never had to be worried about missing your train.

Worst case scenario would be that you’d arrive in work six minutes 59 seconds later then planned and this really was a worse case scenario as during the time (all be it two weeks) that I caught the train from Clarkson to the CBD, every train was on time!

The trains themselves are clean roomy and air conditioned with an automated tannoy announcement advising you which train station you are approaching next.

There is also an LCD display advising the same should you miss such an announcement.

On the down side, the trains get full…very full and very quickly.

Through speaking to local Aussies, this is one of the main reasons why the trains are so frequent. They are struggling to cope with the numbers of people using them.

A number of years ago, the trains, with two carriages ran every 20 – 30 minutes. The rail authorities found that these trains were getting increasingly full, so added another two carriages to handle the extra strain.

These four carriage trains then became increasingly full so we are now at the point where there are more trains running more frequently.

Similarly to the freeway network, during the peak times trains are full, during the daytime however there’s plenty of room on board.

Thankfully, leaving from Clarkson I always got a pick of the seats as the Clarkson station was effectively the first stop. As we progressed down the line, it only took another two to three stops before the trains became standing room only. Not quite the unhealthily close proximity to armpits full that I’ve experienced on the underground in London but not far from it.

There is talk that the rail authority is now looking at adding more carriages to the trains running every seven minutes in the hope that this would help alleviate the strain.

Unfortunately this would also necessitate a redesign of the station platforms that are only long enough to accommodate four carriages at the moment so there’s some interesting times ahead me thinks.

Would I use the train network longer term – too right!

At the end of the day, it’s only 25 minutes from Clarkson to the CBD and travelling at 100 kph down the centre of the freeway smiling at drivers, sat stationary and becoming increasing vexed at the lack of movement leaves a bloke feeling pretty smug and very satisfied with his choice of transport.

Now…let’s talk about Cats.

Don’t worry, this isn’t as big a tangent as it may look and I’m not simply digressing again to our ferry feline chums imprisoned at Byford.

The CAT is an acronym stemming from Perth’s Central Area Transit system.

The Perth CAT is a set of three bus routes in the centre of Perth, a bus route in Fremantle, and a bus route in Joondalup. Nothing particular fascinating there however unlike Perth’s other transport services; all CAT routes are fare-free.

Since we moved to the suburb of ‘North Perth’ just before Christmas I’ve found that the CAT provides a great way of travelling into work.

Now if I was feeling a little more energetic I’m sure I could probably walk into work within about 30 – 40 minutes but having said that, even when taking into account the relatively cool morning temperatures brought on by the adoption of daylight saving, the temperatures at 7am are still hitting the mid to high 70’s during the summer months.

I’m sure neither I nor my work colleagues for that matter would appreciate the litres of sweat I’d loose during the trek so I’m happy enough walking the couple of blocks to the nearest cat stop.

The three CAT routes going into and around the CBD are split into blue, red and yellow routes.

At any one time there are in the region of 22 busses ferrying people around the routes with the service operating from just before 7am in the morning and finishing at about 6:30pm.

There is also a later service running until around 1am for those revellers wanting to party the night away on a Friday or Saturday night.

In a similar guise to the rail service, the Perth CAT service is as regular as clockwork with a service being available approximately every 7 minutes.

Quite cleverly, at each stop is a small LCD display which tells you when the next CAT will arrive. This display updates in real time with the busses beaming updates to each stop via a centralised computer system as they travel along their route.

This means that if the display says the next CAT will arrive in two minutes, you know that the next CAT will arrive in two minutes. You can even see where your current next bus is online.

The CAT fleet consists of very new, modern, single decker busses, most of which run on low emission bio fuel/gas. Every CAT bus I have been on has been clean, fully air conditioned and a pleasure to ride on. Damn, dare I say the bus drivers are also friendly!

In a similar fashion to the train service, an automated announcement, coupled with an LCD display advises you which stop is approaching next.

Unfortunately however, like the train service the busses can get pretty full at peak times with standing room only being the case at the very busiest times of the day.For me though, I’ve had no issues finding a seat as I tend to travel outside of the peak times anyway.

It’s been a fair few years since I caught a bus on a regular basis and I must say I’m pretty impressed.

When I said goodbye to the company car last year I was pretty excited about treating myself to one of the large V8 5 litre Aussie monsters that I’d read so much about on the web before flying out.

At the moment though, living so close to the city with great (and free) public transport I can’t really see it happening.

I’d always be an advocate of using public transport if:

1) It provides a suitable alternative to owning a car
2) Its reliable and clean and
3) Its reasonably priced

The state of the current public transport system in the UK meant that I drove my own car everywhere.

The Perth public transport system seems to be ticking many if not all of these boxes so for this Car mad Pom, I’ll be sticking to the busses for the time being.

Now as far as a car for the missus is concerned? That’s another story ;-)



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    Written by Mark

    As the founder of Getting Down Under, Mark is passionate about demystifying the process associated with a move to Australia.

    Having launched Getting Down Under in early January 2006 and made the move to Australia from the UK in the same year, Mark continues to share resources and support for those looking for assitance, Getting Down Under.

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