Is it better to commute by car or bus?


It’s probably cheaper to commute by bus in Sydney. However, the choice between a car or a bus is not always financial. We look at the average cost of running a car or catching a bus and the average commute times by car or bus. In fact, it may be better not to commute at all, if you can choose.

Is it cheaper to commute by bus?

Our comparison of public transport or a car looks at the costs of using them, not the costs of registration, insurance or servicing.

According to the Automobile Association Australia’s (AAA) March Quarter Transport Affordability Index, a Sydney household spends $50 a week on public transport. If they used their car for commuting, fuel and tolls together cost nearly three times more at $145 per week. This includes the new $60 weekly toll cap. Monash University’s Public Transport Research Group found public transport is significantly cheaper than all other options.

If you were focused on spending only, you would commute by bus. However, how long will the journey take

How long will the commute take?

BITRE estimates traffic congestion in Sydney could cost over 12.83 billion in 2024. If it weren’t for public transport, urban peak hour delays would increase by 47% and travel time by 42%. Tom Tom’s Traffic Index says Sydney drivers spend an extra 13 days, 20 hours in rush-hour traffic every year. Sydney is 47th most congested city in the world (London is first):

  • A one-way 40 km commute to Sydney CBD, say from Liverpool, takes 815 hrs per year, of which 332 hrs are due to congestion.
  • This trip costs $3,019 per year, of which $698 is due to congestion.

In fact, morning and rush-hour drives add around 86 minutes each of extra driving time, for the 40km round trip. The worst day is Wednesday 5-6pm, when the drive takes 114 minutes. That’s only 21 kms per hour.

Is it faster to commute by car?

Here’s an interesting example of the 30 kms trip from Mona Vale, Northern Beaches to Wynyard in Sydney CBD. We used Google Maps for distances, time taken and Transport for NSW Opal fares.

At 11am, considered off-peak, the journey took:

  • 38 mins in the car for $9.30 ($6 petrol, $3.20 toll)
  • 57 mins on B1 bus for $3.73.

At 8am, peak hour, the journey took:

  • 65 mins in the car for $11.77 ($7.50 petrol with idling time, $4.27 toll)
  • 63 mins on B1 bus for $5.33.

There’s no difference in travel time at peak hour, whether you use the car or the bus, but it costs you more than double to drive. Travel time by bus may vary less with time of day because of dedicated bus lanes.

Off-peak, it’s faster to drive than to take the bus but costs you nearly 2.5 times more. This is partly because a 30% discount applies on public transport when you travel off peak (NOT Mon-Thurs 6:30am-10am, 3pm-7pm) or on Fridays, weekends and public holidays.

Which is the best way to commute?

The choice to travel by bus or by car more than financial. If it were a purely financial choice, everyone would travel by bus (assuming one was available).

The decision may be related to personal comfort, need for space, or the ability to do other things while travelling. Some people aren’t prepared to travel a long way and are willing to pay more to live closer to work. Others would prefer a higher quality house or suburb and are prepared to drive further to work.

However, the wisest choice may be not to commute at all. In this way, you save money spent on the car or bus and you save time that would have been wasted in Sydney peak-hour traffic. It certainly explains one reason why many people now choose to work at home.

Postscript: From 5 August, Queenslanders will pay only 50 cents to catch public transport in a 6-month trial.