Canberra is one of the most spread out cities in the world. There are not many cities of 400,000 people where a walk around the perimeter is 145kms long. I know this because I have walked the Canberra Centenary Trail which encircles the city. The LOOP, or to give it its full name the London Outer Orbital Path, is 245kms – not much longer when you consider the relative populations contained within each.
Before I digress too far. You, Dear Reader, need not walk this distance in Canberra, unless you want to. You can take a bus!
Until very recent years I would have recommended that visitors to Canberra hire a car due to the abysmal public transport system. In recent years things have changed and while we still do not have a great public transport system it is certainly now a feasible option for the visitor, though you should plan trips in advance and not turn up at a bus stop expecting a bus in five minutes. If you do this you could have a long wait, particularly after 6pm, at weekends and on holidays. Use the timetables and the interactive planning tool on the website below. Also http://www.nxtbus.act.gov.au/ lets you see live bus information from selected stops and stations as well as route details.
Canberra’s buses (ACTION) are clean, comfortable, air-conditioned/heated as appropriate, and run on time and are accessible for the less able bodied as well as those with prams and strollers.
Additionally a number of buses have cycle carrying racks fixed to the front and are thus capable of carrying two bicycles.
In terms of tickets, ACTION uses a MyWay smartcard prepaid ticketing system as well as accepting cash fares. The MyWay card can be bought at any of 30 or so outlets in Canberra (details on the website) while single trip or daily cash tickets can be bought on board the bus from the driver. All single fares (card or ticket) entitle passengers to a free 90 minute transfer period. This enables you to connect to a different bus or commence your return journey using the same ticket if within 90 minutes of purchasing your ticket. Daily tickets are valid until midnight on the day of purchase.
Adult (various concessions available) cash fares are (Dec)
Single fare $4.80
Daily ticket $9.20 – pays for itself just on one return trip!
While individual fares are significantly cheaper using the MyWay card, noting that the card itself costs $5 there is no saving using MyWay if you are taking more than 3-4 trips on a weekday (MyWay price varies a bit between peak and non peak trips) as the daily cap is $9.20, as per the daily cash ticket cost. In fact it costs more – the price of the card. If you are travelling at weekends or on holidays the MyWay cap is $5.59 so there is a small saving in having the card. The longer you are in Canberra the more sense it makes to get a card, particularly if you are not travelling sufficient to hit the daily cap in individual fares.
Though unlikely to impact on many visitors, a MyWay standard adult card is capped at 40 paid trips per calendar month (differs a bit on concession cards).
If using a MyWay card it is necessary to ‘tag on/tag-off’ when entering and leaving the bus.
There is an excellent summary of how to get to Canberra’s leading attractions by bus here – http://www.transport.act.gov.au/routes-and-timetables/canberra-attractions – with links to relevant timetables – and in particular that of the ‘Tourist Loop’ bus, number 81(weekdays)/981(on weekends/holidays).
ACTION buses operate a free city loop bus on which I have written a separate review – Route 101. While you may be able to avail of this service for the odd short hop within the central city area it is of no value whatsoever in terms of getting to the main tourist sites you will want to visit!