If you’re a Sydneysider who relies on the public transport network to get around, you have most likely had to contend with the prospect of riding a late-night bus through the city’s cold, deserted streets.
Whether you’re returning home from work, a rave or a night out in Newtown, sometimes this is your only option. You may be left with no choice because, after midnight, suburban train services wind down, and an hour later there are very few passenger services operating anywhere in New South Wales. The rails through the City Circle freeze, and a layer of ice envelopes them through usually-busy Redfern station. Trains are replaced with NightRide services, buses which loosely follow the rail lines. This makes it even worse when they’re nowhere to be seen; only on the most significant thoroughfares can one expect not to be waiting for an eternity. No cold bites like the cold that one feels shivering in Mosman or – shudder – inner-suburban Rozelle at 3am, waiting for a bus to whisk you to Town Hall to join the night’s other forsaken souls. Many bus routes also take a hiatus in these same hours, forcing you to go via Town Hall to travel two suburbs over.
When finding yourself in this situation, you realise that Sydney’s public transport system is not designed for disreputable members of society like yourself.
If you decide to consult Google Maps, good luck. There is essentially no correlation between when night buses actually run and when Google Maps or the timetable says they do. Get ready for awfully long gaps between stops on NightRide services down Parramatta Road — not so much an issue if, like me, your house is close to one of the stops. Still, I tire of the walk from the bus stop just after Sloane Street to my residence in the dead of night. If your house is along the route of the 438N and you miss the bus, my condolences. It’s often that you’ll get home sooner if you just walk.
If you’re stranded in suburbia waiting for a bus in the late night, you truly have nowhere to go. It’s surreal to see Sydney like this; the busiest roads are close to abandoned; every shop is shut. Truly no one is around. You won’t be thinking too much about the surreality of this all if your extremities are turning blue, so if there’s ever any chance of you finding yourself in this situation, be sure to bring ample insulation, even if this means lugging around extra layers in your tote bag. It’s worth it to avoid the suffering and trauma one experiences when even the BP isn’t letting people in and the only other place near you that is open is a members’-only gym.
The prudent late-night traveller will have some awareness of what’s open until when. The Hungry Jack’s at Town Hall is open 24 hours and is an ideal spot for food before heading to the bus stand immediately outside. McDonald’s restaurants are a good bet. Pubs vary, with Newtown’s Marlborough Hotel being a good place to wait the cold out, as it’s open until 4am Monday-Saturday. The Madison Hotel next to Central is open 24 hours, though I have no personal experience of it other than briefly entering to use the bathroom in the daytime.
Sometimes, you may be waiting for a bus for so long that by the time you get to Town Hall, where the NightRide network is centred, it’s past 4:30am. The sky is changing colour. You’ve suffered horrendously, but mercifully, the trains are now running. Around you are respectable commuters travelling to work. Then there’s you, dressed in yesterday’s attire. You decided to have a bit of fun and this is what you get.
It wasn’t always like this. NightRide services were introduced from 1989 as late-night train services were cut back. These train services had little ridership — one can imagine they whisked home the same disreputes that are forced to put up with the buses today (tonight). If you lived in London, New York or Berlin, you would at least have some ability for most of the week to catch a train at any hour. Unfortunately, the best you can expect is 24-hour light rail service between Central and The Star and a few intercity services. Alas, you’re a Sydneysider. You brave the heat and the cold. You curse the trains but, were it not for them, you would be in agony in the day as well as the night.