How COVID hit PT around Australia

I was wondering if there was any data on how public transport patronage around Australia had fallen COVID-19 took hold, and how it has recovered in different cities.

It turns out most jurisdictions provide month-by-month or even week-by-week patronage data. Here’s how 2020 patronage compares as a percentage of 2019 patronage:

PT patronage 2020 - Australian cities

Some observations:

All these cities are amazingly similar – patronage dropping rapidly in late March as workplaces closed and those who could switched to working from home. Patronage hit a low in April and May.

After that, the numbers slowly rose as most states got past their peak in COVID-19 cases, but a long way from normal – even in states which have had very few locally-acquired cases for the past few months.

February had an extra (weekend) day in 2020, which may account for overall patronage being slightly higher than in February 2019. This doesn’t explain January, though it may reflect that some cities have been seeing growth – for instance Sydney and Canberra following recent new light rail lines openings.

It does of course remain unclear if PT usage will fully recover in the longer term.

Different cities publish data at different rates. Source details and caveats are below. Sydney and Canberra have updated to August; others either June or July. I’ll be interested to check back and update this data in coming months.

The obvious city missing from this chart is… Melbourne. This would look quite different due to a second wave of cases in the past few months.

Unlike every other major city in the country, Melbourne provides no regular detailed publication of patronage, and nothing with monthly or weekly data. All we get is an annual update (by mode) every Budget Day, some years-old spreadsheets, and occasional numbers given to the media.

Clearly there is room for improvement here.


  • Perth boardings – including by mode and by line – monthly data
  • Brisbane/SE Queensland boardings – weekly data – I’ve allocated each week into a month, and then done a comparison between years
  • Sydney Opal trips – monthly data – this may not include non-Opal trips, but again, I’m comparing year on year
  • Adelaide Metrocard validations – daily data by stop, but banded ranges (eg 1-9, 10-19, 20-29), not exact numbers. This therefore couldn’t give me actual patronage numbers, I’m only wanting a rough year on year comparison. The have boarding figures too, but only quarterly.
  • Canberra boardings – weekly by ticket type
  • Of the other capital cities, Hobart and Melbourne do not provide anything other than annual data. A quick look didn’t find anything publicly available for Darwin.

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.

9 replies on “How COVID hit PT around Australia”

Fascinating, but totally believable.
Amazing that Sydney is still under 50% recovered when the harbour city has so few cases. Commuters are staying home.
Regarding comparable data for Melbourne, I’m sure I’ve seen graphs on the TV showing transport usage well down on last year. Perhaps this is from google data and not from PTV.

Much of the world is at about the same level (except for Melbourne). A train on the Glen Waverley line cross Glen Iris Station at 830am had under 20 people in it (I am over estimating). One carriage had just 1 person in it. Did you do any specific comparisons by mode? Are Bus and Rail at those levels?

@Roger, most of the data published has been secondary sources, such as usage of PT-related apps. Not very reliable at all, especially for tracking regular commuters who don’t need to map/plan their trips.

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