3 mins read

News report by Jenny Wiggins, Infrastructure Reporter – As published in The Australian Financial Review on Monday, May 18, 2020

The number of cars on the road is rising as people return to work and cities are forecast to be clogged with traffic within six months as some states introduce social distancing on public transport.

NSW on Monday became the first state to formally declare it expected people to stay well apart from one another on public transport and “stick to the dot” – green stickers marking seats at least 1.5 metres apart.

It says two-door buses will have a safe capacity of 12 people; Waratah commuter train carriages 32 people; and the large ferries that commute to Manly 245 people.

This means that the buses can only operate at 14 per cent of its typical capacity, trains at 24 per cent and ferries at 22 per cent.

States have been slow to announce restrictions on public transport, but NSW is understood to have been concerned by the numbers of people catching the virus on public transport overseas and how quickly trains and buses are filling up as people return to work.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said on Monday buses and trains were “pretty much at capacity” in peak hours.

“We recommend that people who aren’t already on the system in the peak, especially on buses and trains, travel in the off-peak [after 10 am or before 2 pm],” the Premier said.

The state is asking people to “self-regulate” and check apps for colour codes to see how crowded buses, trains and ferries are before getting on them. It has warned it will close train platforms if they get too crowded but has not threatened fines.

Pop-up car parks

NSW is turning big parks such as Moore Park into pop-up car parks so people can drive there and then take shuttle buses or light rail trains into the city.

NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance said he expected more congestion on roads. “Ultimately people are going to opt to drive because it’s safe,” he said

Traffic flows around Australia are now around half of what they were a year ago, up from less than a third of historical levels in early April, according to Intelematics, which gathers real-time data from hundreds of thousands of cars around Australia.

John Cardoso, a senior manager at transport data group Intelematics said that increases in traffic were gradual, with many people still working from home.

The numbers of people who used to take public transport but who are now driving was not yet offsetting the initial big drop in traffic after the virus outbreak, he said, forecasting it would take about six months for traffic nationally to return to previous levels.

“As a proxy for the recovery for economic activity, we are seeing around 2-3 per cent improvement [in traffic] week over week, so that would loosely point us to a six-month scenario,” he said.

Big companies like Wesfarmers and Fortescue Metals Group have encouraged staff to return to offices in Perth and Brisbane. Western Australia’s government has told people to go back to work, while Queensland schools are set to fully reopen on May 25.

Intelematics road traffic data - Traffic jams coming back as NSW tells commuters to 'stick to the dot'

In NSW, traffic is coming back faster with 86 million vehicle movements around the state’s transport network on Friday compared with pre-COVID levels of 105 million movements, Mr Constance said.

The state’s public transport network usually carries 2.2 million-2.3 million people daily, but the numbers on Friday were around 570,000 people.

The state government is urging people to be dropped off at light rail and ferry routes, which are not yet at capacity, instead of taking the bus or train, and is also putting in pop-up bike paths in Sydney and considering adding more transport services.

Around 90 per cent of car parks across Sydney’s CBD are currently empty, according to the government.