Evolving Sydney’s public transport with Bus Rapid Transit

Published March 25, 2024 in Blog

Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is coming. It is the backbone of the 40:80:1000 future vision for Sydney and will make a big difference to travelling by bus.

BRT is known to work and can do so with minimal technology. But it works much better if you give it the right tools. This blog focuses on the HOW of making more BRT a reality, leveraging experiences in bus tracking and control systems that can easily scale up high speed bus routes to full BRT solutions.

High-capacity urban public transport

BRT is also known as a busway or a transitway. It describes a high-capacity urban public transport system with its own right of way, vehicles at short headways, platform-level boarding, and pre-ticketing. Purists will argue that a BRT needs all these attributes, but often the ticketing system is on-board – albeit cashless and fast – so as not to slow down boarding times.

What do you really need for a practical BRT? Certainly, the right physical infrastructure. Separation of the bus corridor from traffic is mandatory and grade separation to avoid intersections is ideal. Dedicated bus stations for boarding are needed, as are supporting services to operate the system and keep passengers informed.

BRT systems are at the top of the bus service tree because they can move a lot of people quickly. Think of a train line without the rails. The bus stops are like stations where connections are easily identified, passenger information is everywhere, and services are reliable and frequent. It is no wonder that the recent NSW Bus Industry Taskforce report supports Transport for News South Wales’ (TfNSW) 40:80:1000 vision.

Just turn up and ride

In addition to the buses and physical infrastructure, a combination of ITS systems are necessary to deliver reliable service from a passenger’s point of view. Planned high frequency services require planning tools like the Trapeze Austrics solution to calculate the optimum combination of buses and drivers, so that a bus starts a service every 5, 6 or 7 minutes in peak and only marginally less frequently out of peak. This means passengers do not need a timetable and can just show up.

With lots of buses, the timetable is not used by passengers so it is important that buses arrive with a regular cadence. Nothing annoys passengers more than having a long gap followed by multiple buses arriving nose to tail. An effective headway management tool will pace the buses, maintaining the planned gap between services when possible despite unplanned events like heavy rain or an accident.

Giving buses automatic traffic light priority through at-grade intersections will help them speed through the network and minimises passenger inconvenience.

The passenger interchange pain point

It is also important for passengers to know what is happening. The second NSW Bus Industry Taskforce Report identified that passenger service interchange is one of the biggest pain points on a public transport journey¹.  On board travel times to upcoming destinations helps with this, as does information on available transfers.

Figure 1connecting services shown to passengers

Showing this information to passengers is technically viable, and many passengers across Europe already receive this on every trip. In the canton of Zurich, there are over 2,000 multifunction displays on buses and trams to inform and direct passengers. The displays show connecting services at each stop (see Figure 1). When the bus approaches the stop the displays change to show connection details specific to that stop, as shown in Figure 2.

The right combination of services and information works and today, each of Zurich’s inhabitants uses a bus, tram, or ferryboat more than 500 times per year. This is more than twice the trips per capita in Europe’s largest cities like London, Paris, and Berlin, and represents one of the highest per-capita usages of public transport in the world².

At a more advanced level, connection protection will tell the driver of a connecting service to wait until the BRT bus arrives, making the interchange frictionless and minimising passenger delays to improve the overall journey for passengers.

We see this in Zurich and many German cities, but connection protection is not a panacea and has its limitations. It cannot hold up high frequency services like the BRT, and contractual issues can also get in the way as delaying a bus departure for passengers to connect to a service may clash with the contractual need to run to a timetable. More work is needed by transport authorities to address this if we are to move to the next level in passenger service.

Figure 2 – Stopspecific connections in real time 

Global examples

The 40:80:1000 vision for New South Wales is supported by the taskforce report’s call for funding to establish the higher frequency routes and put in place the necessary infrastructure.

With three rapid routes and eight frequent routes shortlisted for Sydney, and 10 rapid routes and 27 frequent routes confirmed with TfNSW in the short to medium term, it is good to know that technological solutions to passenger pain points are already deployed elsewhere.

Tshwane in South Africa runs a modern BRT with dedicated access and efficient stations loaded with passenger information.

London and Singapore track thousands of buses in real time, providing passenger information and service compliance. These cities run a combination of scheduled services and headway managed high frequency services across the city.

There are also regional variants of BRT systems in Brisbane (South East and Inner Northern, Northern, and Eastern Busways, soon to be complemented by the Brisbane Metro service), Sydney (B-Line and the T80-Liverpool Paramatta Transitway), Melbourne (Eastern Busway), Adelaide (O-Bahn), and Auckland (Northern Busway).

Figure 3Brisbane Busway 

But the scale of BRT planned for NSW and Sydney is what pushes it to the next level.

With a commitment to make it work and the right tools to accurately track buses, manage operations and inform passengers, the vision of BRT as Sydney’s public transport backbone can be a reality.

Want to know more about how BRT solutions can be applied in your region? Our team is happy to continue the conversation so please get in touch here.


  1. NSW Bus Industry Task force second report Oct 2023 S5.8.3
  2. https://www.metro-magazine.com/10009082/why-zurich-is-a-model-for-public-transportation
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David Panter

Industry Solutions Manager, ITS

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