Australia’s Greater Sydney area is one of the fastest-growing regions in the Western world, not only in population numbers but also population density. That’s driving the need for more public transportation that’s fast, comfortable, efficient and meets passengers’ evolving expectations of a connected transport experience.

In the last 25 years, Sydney’s population grew by 75% from 3.8 million to 5.1 million, with almost another 1 million expected by 2036. The city has a diverse mix of public transport options to help people get around, from light rail and metros to buses and ferries. Green, sustainable alternatives are also popping up, with rideshares, eScooters and eBikes increasingly common around town. With the new airport planned in Sydney basin and the growing transport network, the need for more new mobility options will continue to rise.

Sydneysiders are showing definite preferences for the public transport experience they’re looking for, with the ability to be productive on the go a big part of it. According to the 2021 BAI Sydney Connectivity outlook *, 76% of Sydney passengers said they’d be more inclined to take the bus or the train if they could upload documents to the cloud enroute, and nearly the same number would be similarly inclined if they could use video conferencing consistently.

Two-thirds of Sydney survey respondents would consider living farther from work if they could get more done during their commute. Some companies are encouraging this “work on the move” ethos as people return to the office in the wake of COVID-19 by counting productive time in transit as part of employees’ workday hours.

More connectivity means more benefits

When it comes to enhancing the transport experience, 53% of Sydneysiders say they’d like to receive notifications that make travel easier, and they’re willing to share anonymised data to get those kinds of personalised transport services. Eighty-four percent say they’d like their data used to predict their travel patterns and issue alerts.

In recent years, networks and technologies have been rolled out to satisfy Sydney public transport users’ expectations, from Wi-Fi in certain stations, tap-and-go payment options, enhanced information displays and audio systems, and even some real-time information about carriage crowding. The opportunity today is to take this even further, with ubiquitous high-bandwidth connectivity that can support more applications and cope, for example, with the morning streaming spike that tends to happen when commuters try to tune in to live sports events in North America and Europe.

What are the ‘quick wins’?

There are some immediate opportunities for Sydney’s public transport authorities to increase connectivity, from extending Wi-Fi and 5G coverage throughout the entire system to gathering more real-time data on crowding and sharing that out to passengers. Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) are keen to partner with transport operators to deliver the kinds of services passengers want. But with much of their budgets tied up in 5G deployments, they have limited resources to also roll out transport networks themselves.

This is where the neutral host model applied by BAI in other major cities such as London, New York, and Toronto (and in Australia in the broadcasting industry) can help. A neutral host is a third-party partner specialised in network deployment and operations who is willing to co-invest in building communications infrastructure that can be shared by transport authorities, MNOs, city governments and a wide array of other users.

The neutral hosting model can free up transport authorities to embrace 5G wireless, IoT, AI, edge computing and other advanced technologies that will further enhance their services, improve the customer experience, and increase operational efficiency and cost efficiencies for the MNOs and transport operators.

Sydney passengers support government investment in connectivity

Ninety percent of Sydney respondents in BAI’s 2021 survey are in favour of government spending on advanced connectivity, aligning all the major cities we studied. Passengers seem increasingly aware of the fact that connected infrastructure combined with smart, data-driven systems can improve the public transport experience. The survey results also underscore the importance of transport authorities working with cities, governments, and other partners on establishing a connectivity infrastructure that supports safer, more enjoyable public transport and lays the foundation for smart, sustainable communities.

BAI is actively involved in these kinds of major projects in other centres. In Sunderland, UK, we’ve been awarded a 20-year strategic partnership to design, build, and operate the next generation of digital infrastructure, helping Sunderland achieve its smart city goals through innovations in health, education, and industry. We’re helping lay a similar smart city platform in London, expanding connectivity through the city’s famous Underground that will help contribute to a smarter, safer London through infrastructure supporting police, fire, and ambulance services.

Public transport systems generally provide an excellent foundation for citywide connectivity because they reach so many corners of urban areas. We’re exploring those possibilities today in Seattle and San Francisco, Toronto, and New York. There are even ways to use the existing public transport infrastructure to extend connected services to more places, as proven by our recent pilot deploying wireless antennas in streetlamps outside subway stations in Manhattan, delivering coverage without cluttering the urban landscape.

Sydney is in a great position to join these other centres in providing a smarter, more connected public transport system and a smarter, more connected city as it continues to grow and evolve over time.

Read the full Sydney Connectivity outlook report here.

* In 2021, BAI surveyed over 2,500 public transport passengers in Sydney, Hong Kong, London, New York and Toronto for their annual global Connectivity outlook report. The report highlights what passengers expect from public transport systems, what they value, and what affects their transport-related decisions. Following the global survey, BAI in Australia produced a Sydney Connectivity outlook report focused on the results from Sydney respondents.