As you may have guessed from the title, this post is going to be a rant/complaint about the absurd fees we need to pay to use the Sydney Airport Link.

Firstly, a couple of quick facts:

  1. Sydney Airport is the busiest Airport in Australia
  2. It costs $15.00 to travel by train between Central Station and the Domestic Airport (6.7km)
  3. It costs $15.40 $15.00 to travel by train between Central Station and the International Airport (8.2km)
  4. The above mentioned train is the only direct method of transport between Sydney Airport and Sydney CBD (excluding taxis, private coaches)
  5. This train service is not a dedicated Airport Train and therefore there is no dedicated area/space for luggage
  6. The only real 'pure' public transport that passes through the Airport is the 400 bus that travels between Burwood and Bondi Junction

Fact #1 is probably not surprising at all - Sydney is Australia's largest city so Sydney Airport being the busiest Airport in Australia is in my opinion expected.

On the other hand Facts #2-#6 may raise a few eyebrows. $15+ to travel from the airport to Sydney CBD on a train that does not accommodate for your luggage? Looking for another form of public transport to the city - none exists. Need somewhere to put your luggage when travelling? Don't think about public transport at all - get a taxi or private coach.

Maybe it's just me, but that doesn't sound very inviting at all. Definitely not a very good first impression of Sydney for first time visitors. Though, having lived in Sydney for a few years now, I've come to accept how troublesome and absurd it is to travel to Sydney Airport.

Airport Line Network Map

Let's have a look at the cost first. To travel roughly the same distance by train on the Sydney rail network it will cost you $3.60 (Central to Wollstonecraft, 8.34km). Yes, you read correctly $3.60 - a difference of roughly $11.40 or $11.80. The reason is there are four stations along the Airport and East Hills Line (solid green line in above image) - Green Square, Mascot, Domestic Airport, International Airport - that are not owned by the government, instead they are owned by the private company Airport Link Pty Ltd.

So the railway line itself is owned by Sydney's RailCorp, while the stations/gates are owned by a private company, therefore as a commuter you have to pay a $11.80 gate fee to pass through the gates of the Domestic or International stations. If you think the gate fee is rather steep given a $3.60 journey, I whole heartedly agree with you.

This begs the question - why? Why does a private company "randomly" own four stations on a public railway system? Why is the gate fee so ridiculous? Answer: NSW Government. I don't know the full details, but this is my understanding (main source: Wikipedia).

  • In 1995, in preparation for 2000 Sydney Olympics, NSW government decided it needed to improve travelling to/from the airport.
  • Due to the costs of building the Olympic venues, Sydney government went into a public private partnership. NSW Government will pay, build and operate the line, while the private company (Airport Link) will pay, build and operate the stations.
  • As part of this agreement NSW Government gave Airport Link a guarantee on passenger numbers and train reliability.

This all sounds good until you realise that the NSW Government was overly optimistic and over estimated passenger numbers and train reliability. The inability for the NSW Government to correctly estimate these key factors in the agreement led to:

  • Sydney government cancelling the existing City to Airport Express bus services (300, 350) that had dedicated luggage space in hope that this would increase the number of passengers using the train.
  • The need to pay a station fee - which is determined by Airport Link (I assume they have made it so expensive to try and make up for the lack in numbers).

There is quite a bit more detail to the entire promise of passenger numbers etc, but basically NSW Government stuffed up. In order to try and fix this stuff up, they crippled transport to and from Sydney Airport.

Whilst writing this blog post, I came across this article from ABC News: Sydney Airport slams "absurd" transport links. The news article echoes a similar message to this post, but I would like to point out the end of the article which shocked me when I read it.

"People get horrified when they go to the local railway station and say how much to the airport and they say '$13.'"

But the chief executive of Airport Link, Tim Anderson, has rejected claims that it is too expensive.

"We think that our airport connection fee is comparable with all airport connection fees around Australia which are generally in the range of 14 to 16 dollars," he said.

To Tim Anderson, chief executive of Airport Link:

  • Do you not realise that just because "someone else does it" doesn't mean it is the right thing to do?
  • Also, other airport connections around Australia are dedicated airport links. They have dedicated luggage areas. They are not normal suburban trains that just stop by the airport. Passengers of these dedicated airport links do not have to fight for a seat with normal commuters.
  • Maybe consider lowering the gate fee? It might mean less people will be scared away (or pissed off) and actually use the Airport Link.
  • Do you not think that forcing commuters to pay $11.80 to walk through the station and let the gate open for you is absurd?

To NSW Government:

  • Please fix up this major stuff up - but don't stuff it up even more!
  • Do include some form of 'pure' public transport between Sydney Airport and Sydney CBD. A railway that requires passing through a private station and paying an insane gate fee does not count as public transport. Also, don't forget to include dedicated luggage area!
  • The 400 bus service that services the Airport is a great start - but we need more bus services to different parts of Sydney (or at the very minimum to the CBD).
  • Fix up the website - searching for journeys between Central station and Sydney Airport (Domestic or International) with "Trips with least service charges" selected, returns the Airport Link option. This is not the cheapest option - taking the longer route of 400 bus + another bus/train is approximately half price. Unless the cost to use Airport Link option is reduced to be less than taking the bus, this is providing false and misleading information.

To close off this rant - despite Australia being a first world country, Sydney being Australia's largest city and Sydney Airport being Australia's busiest airport, the current state of public transport to and from Sydney Airport is as follows:

  • There is currently no public transport that takes you directly from Sydney Airport to Sydney CBD.
  • The only 'pure' public transport available is the 400 bus service that runs between Burwood and Bondi Junction.
  • To travel directly by train to Central Station you need to pay a total of $15.00 (Domestic or International) for a single trip. This consists of a $11.80 gate fee. This train is a normal suburban train, thus it will not have dedicated luggage area, and many seats maybe already occupied by other suburban commuters.