Note: I’ts been pointed out by Simon in the comments that buses feed in from Chalmers St, not just Cleveland St, and that those buses from there that continue through the city do so via Elizabeth St. These buses were all assumed to terminate at Railway Square, so it does not change any of the figures used below, though it should probably increase the number of buses on Elizabeth St (both now and in the future) by perhaps a few dozen.
The current CBD bus network is a spaghetti like tangle of lines that are difficult to understand and even harder to run efficiently. It can, however, be broadly broken down into 3 main corridors: Elizabeth St, George St, and York St/Clarence St. In total, 1,010 buses enter the CBD area during the busiest hour of the AM peak (Source: Sydney’s Light Rail Future, p. 18).
This is busiest in the Northbound direction during the AM peak. It is primarily fed by buses from William St (45/hr), Oxford St (99/hr), Campbell St (23/hr),
and Foveaux St (33/hr), and Chalmers St (85/hr). Many of the Chalmers St buses (those coming from Cleveland St) terminate at Railway Square, rather than continuing on to Circular Quay, so that equates to about 200 buses on Elizabeth St in the Northbound direction.
There are also Southbound express buses coming off the Eastern Distributor (56/hr) at the Northern end of the CBD, but this is not the peak direction so causes little congestion.
This is currently the main bus corridor in the CBD and is busiest in the Northbound direction in the AM peak. It is primarily fed by buses from
Cleveland St (85/hr), Parramatta Rd (175/hr), and the Anzac Bridge (113/hr). Most of the Cleveland St buses terminate at Railway Square, rather than continuing on to Circular Quay, so that results in about 288 buses on George St in the Northbound direction. The 2 main feeder roads into George St merge at Town Hall, and North of this point there are a significant number of half empty buses, causing unnecessary congestion. By running high capacity trams along this corridor and forcing some passengers to transfer onto half empty vehicles heading towards Circular Quay, there exists a real potential to raise both speed and capacity.
South of Town Hall, buses on the York St/Clarence St corridor also travel along George St. However, this is not the peak direction so causes little congestion.
York St/Clarence St
This is busiest in the Southbound direction during the AM peak. It is fed exclusively by buses from the Harbour Bridge (379/hr). Buses from the Northern Beaches terminate at Wynyard Station, while buses from the North West continue South to Central Station. The latter travel on George St South of Town Hall Station.
A number of changes are being looked at to reduce the number of buses travelling through the CBD. These include diverting buses from York St to the Cahill Expressway (implemented in February 2013), converting buses from North West Sydney to the CBD into feeder buses for the North West Rail Link (NWRL), making buses from the Anzac Bridge through-route to William Street and vice versa, reducing the number of buses when the new South East Light Rail Line opens, and moving any remaining George St buses to Elizabeth St to make way for a pedestrianised George St with light rail.
York St: Diverting buses that currently travel along York St to the Cahill Expressway began on 18 February 2013, with those buses now terminating at Market St and Pitt St. Passengers are able to show their ticket to continue South on another bus, which is a promising sign for integrated fares. This resulted in the removal of about 60 buses during the morning peak, or about 33 buses arriving in the CBD between 8AM and 9AM.
Once the NWRL comes online in 2019, a further 160 buses during the morning peak (which according to some rough estimates is about 103 buses between 8AM and 9AM) will be converted into feeder services for the NWRL. Together with the Cahill diversions, this will reduce the number of buses on York St in the AM peak from the current 379 in the busiest hour to about 243 buses. These buses will also now terminate at Town Hall rather than continuing to Central, and passengers will have to transfer at Town Hall onto an East/West bus or a North/South tram or train if they want to travel further into the CBD or elsewhere.
George St: 158 buses currently enter the CBD from the Anzac Bridge (113/hr) and William Street (45/hr) before continuing through to Circular Quay via George St. These will instead become East-West through-routed buses, requiring passengers to get off at either George St for a connecting tram, Elizabeth St for a connecting bus, or either for a connecting train in order to get to their final destination in the CBD. The previously mentioned buses, trams, and trains should by then have spare space due to some passengers disembarking, thus allowing a much greater capacity within the CBD via a more efficient use of the existing public transport infrastructure (rather than running lots of half empty buses and trains as is currently the case). Druitt St will become bus only between York St and Clarence St in order to accommodate this.
Elizabeth St: Once the George St and South East Light Rail Line comes online by 2020, an additional 93 buses will be removed, from Parramatta Road (33/hr); Foveaux St (33/hr); and Oxford St (27/hr), while an additional bus will be added to Campbell St (1/hr). This will result in the Foveaux St/Albion St routes disappearing, with passengers being shifted nearby either to buses on Crown St/Campbell St or trams on Devonshire St. Together with the removal of Anzac Bridge/William St buses, this will reduce the number of buses on the combined George St and Elizabeth St corridors from 488 buses to 238 buses. That in turn will allow all these buses to travel exclusively on Elizabeth St, which will see its number of buses increase from 200 to 238 in the busiest hour, thus becoming the main bus corridor in the CBD.
This loss of 92 buses during the busiest hour of the AM peak represent a loss of capacity equivalent to 4,600 passengers (assuming 50 passengers per bus). However, this will be offset by the 9,000 passengers per hour capacity of the new light rail line. Government figures suggest that this will result in a 50% increase in passenger capacity along the Anzac Parade corridor from the current 10,000 per hour to 15,000 per hour.
Express buses along the Eastern Distributor will remain, as these service the Northern end of the CBD and travel in the counter peak direction, thus don’t significantly contribute to congestion. The redesign will also include a new North/South corridor along the Western edge of the CBD up to Barangaroo, though details on this are limited.
For many passengers, these changes mean transferring from one vehicle to another, generally from a bus to a tram or vice versa. Passengers on Anzac Bridge/William St buses will need to change in order to continue travelling into the Northern end of the CBD, many passengers from North West Sydney will need to catch a feeder bus to a NWRL station and then catch a train the rest of the way, while passengers from South East Sydney might similarly need to catch a feeder bus before transferring to a tram to get into the CBD. All of these are multi-modal journeys, and would require passengers to pay a multi-modal fare.
Currently, this means a myMulti, which represents a fare penalty, with different passengers being charged a different fare for travelling the same route depending on how many vehicles they used. This is despite transfers generally being more efficient, from both a passenger time and operating cost perspective.
Opal does have a fare cap ($15/day and $60/week), but these would still be well above the cost of a myBus Travel Ten ($7.36/day and $36.80/week) or even a myMulti1 ($44/week).
It therefore makes a lot of sense for an integrated network (which relies on transfers) to be accompanied by an integration of fares. If it doesn’t happen with the Opal roll-out, then it should happen when the CBD bus network is redesigned at the end of this decade.