Sydney and Melbourne traffic – which is worst?

New research on peak travel times in both cities has found some surprising results

Sydney Traffic Main Jpg

Melbourne drivers are kidding themselves if they think traffic is worse in Sydney, according to research by public policy think tank the Grattan Institute. 

The analysis dispels several myths about traffic congestion in Australia’s two biggest cities – including the notion that Sydney-siders are doing it tougher.

The research, for a forthcoming report authored by the Institute’s Transport Program Director Marion Terrill, found that Melbourne roads are just as congested as Sydney’s despite the latter having 340,000 more people and relatively few harbour crossings.

According to Terrill, during the morning peak, trips from the Melbourne’s suburbs into the CBD can take on average 70 percent longer than they would in the early hours of the morning, while comparative trips in Sydney take 50-60 percent longer.

Sydney Melbourne travel times

In Melbourne, the 11km trip from bayside Brighton takes an extra 13 minutes, while the 30km trip from Caroline Springs in the outer northwest takes an extra 20 minutes than at say, 4am. The 9km from Coburg in the inner north takes an extra 14 minutes, while the 17km from Doncaster down the Eastern Freeway takes an extra 20 minutes.

In Sydney, the 40km trip from Liverpool in Sydney’s south west takes an extra 32 minutes, while a trip of similar length from Blacktown in the northwest typically takes an extra 20. Driving the 17km from Manly takes an extra 21 minutes while you’ll need to factor in an extra 12 minutes to drive that 7kms from the airport.

While it doesn’t always seem like it, the trip home is generally a little shorter with afternoon peak travel times being on average just 55 percent longer than the wee hours in both cities. However the evening ‘peak hour’ in each now runs from 3.30pm to 6pm meaning that even if your working day finishes early your trip can still be 40 percent longer than when there’s no traffic.

Melbourne travel times

Terrill writes the patterns were found by analysing Google Maps estimates of travel times for more than 300 routes across Sydney and Melbourne.

“The data includes 25 travel-time estimates every day for several months. This includes commutes to the CBD and other employment centres, important freight routes, shorter trips within the inner, middle and outer rings, and cross-city trips.”

Worst places to drive to commute from

While much attention is paid to the struggle drivers have coming across the West Gate Bridge from Melbourne’s western suburbs, the worst commute in the southern city is actually endured by those using the Eastern Freeway from the northeast, with travel times being more than 100 per cent longer than in the early hours. 

Trips from other directions vary between 50 and 70 percent longer, including around 65 percent from the west and 70 percent from the south east along routes including the Monash Freeway.

Sydney travel times

The trip home to the northeast is also the worst, about 75 percent longer than non-peak periods with trips to other directions hovering either side of 50 percent.

Sydney doesn’t have a stand out basket case, with most trips within that average 50-60 percent longer than the early hours. Where Sydney does seem to suffer more is cross town trips that don’t include the CBD, particularly to the north and southwest of the city.


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