This year has changed many of the habitual behaviours that shape our cities including the daily commute and booming Central Business Districts. Our weekday journeys are not yet as frequent as they once were, and our CBDs are a little bit quieter. However, further easing of restrictions and recent data shows the growing resurgence of the daily commute – with people choosing public transport to get to their destination.

With 1.5 million extra hours of cleaning carried out across public transport since March in NSW alone, our state governments are ensuring that people feel safe on their commute. Increased journeys at key suburban interchanges throughout Sydney has shown that although daily commuter travel to the CBD has not yet returned to pre-COVID levels, essential travel within the greater community started bouncing back as early as July this year.

Patronage across public transport continues to increase with most current data showing commuter numbers across TorchMedia’s portfolio above 50% of pre-pandemic levels and growing (excluding Melbourne Trains).

The light rail networks in both Canberra and Sydney have shown large positive increases in passenger numbers. Sydney Light Rail’s October patronage reached 65% of pre-COVID levels, growth of 20% from September. November data for Canberra Light Rail shows passenger numbers now at 62% of pre-COVID levels, 13% growth from October. Sydney Ferries patronage has also begun to spike now the weather is warning up, increasing 25% from September to October.

In anticipation of further public transport demand, Transport for NSW is adding 1200 extra services this Summer: including 70 additional weekly light rail services and an increase in frequency of the Manly ferry services to every 20 minutes. Service frequency has also increased on the Canberra Light Rail, up to every 5 minutes in peak, and an additional 105 weekly services have been added on Brisbane trains.

“There has never been a better time to invest in Transit Media,” said Aaron Morton, TorchMedia Head of Sales. “Patronage levels are surging and with additional services added to our transport networks, every vehicle is completing more trips – meaning your media spend is working that much harder.”

Despite these overwhelmingly positive signs within transport networks, mobility data shows our CBDs have remained significantly quieter than usual. Key reasons behind lower CBD movements are the millions of city workers working from home who are not expected to start returning until early 2021, as well as domestic and international border closures limiting tourism. The NSW Government began phasing back public sector workers to the office from December. Major corporates are expected to follow suit in January.

Even hardest hit state Victoria is experiencing a strong bounce back since the easing of lockdown restrictions with mobility data showing movements around key transport hubs growing rapidly in the past 6 weeks to only 35% below pre-COVID baseline. This recovery will continue to climb into 2021 as both public and private sector employees are able to return to the office in greater numbers in January.

“The opening of domestic borders this month and an influx of summer tourism and holiday celebrations across the country is bound to see CBD activity continue to increase. Combined with increased services and frequency across our public transport networks, we can expect the resurgence of the daily commute to continue into the new year, with passengers returning to their public transport journeys and more eyes on transit media” said Morton.


Transport for NSW and Transport Canberra Open data, Queensland Rail Patronage data