You're Not Imagining It, Sydney's Public Transport Does Fall Apart In The Rain

Ever thought your city falls into chaos with the slightest drizzle of rain? You're right. Public transport is totally out of whack during bad weather.

Experts have confirmed -- Sydney's transport system struggles in the wet.

Imagine it's raining. You're on the way to work, cold and wet and grumpy. Your bus arrives many minutes late, and it's already full of similarly cold wet and grumpy passengers. The bus trundles along packed and flooded streets, dodging jaywalkers who are dodging the rain. You arrive to work late.

Or you're standing on the train platform, waiting for your express service. You look up at the information screens, to see the words DELAYED or CANCELLED. Other services arrive, but the carriages are so packed, you couldn't squeeze one foot on, let alone your whole body, your big coat and umbrella.

We've all been here. Photo: AAP

"Sydney can't deal with the rain": some form of this phrase escapes from your lips, muttered to yourself or a fellow commuter, or is tapped out on your phone and blasted to your social media followers.

It's not just you -- experts say the harbour city isn't built for the rain, and our basic systems fall apart when we get hit with that downpour.

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"Sydney is particularly affected by rain," Geoffrey Clinton, senior lecturer at the University of Sydney's Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies, told 10 daily.

"Sydney is a city built around the Harbour, the bays, the rivers and the beaches. This is why it is a such a lovely city to live in but when it rains the water has to go somewhere and that means parts of Sydney are always going to be susceptible to flooding."

Experts say Sydney struggles in the rain. Photo: AAP

This makes roads harder to use, clogging lanes and swelling traffic, causing some drivers to be more cautious and some to take more risks. Experience says rain makes people more likely to use their car instead of getting public transport, and more likely to use public transport than walk.

More people flood onto buses and trains, which are already struggling; a potent combo to slow your day down.

"Melbourne and Brisbane also get some major flooding but their cities are more grid-shaped than Sydney so there are usually more options to get around the flooding," Clinton said.

"[Sydney's] railway network is mostly above ground too, unlike many cities overseas which have more underground train lines. That means that wet weather or high winds slow down our trains or lead to cancellations."

Photo: AAP

Many of the transport and cities experts we spoke to for this story said they hadn't considered the question of "why does Sydney seem to fall apart in the rain?" much in their academic lives, and said it was a question worth pondering.

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Dr Kasun Wijayaratna, a roads and transport lecturer at the University of Technology Sydney, said generally that "it is evident that there are considerable reductions in speed and traffic volumes associated with rainy weather conditions."

He pointed us to a 2018 study which found people in Brisbane used public transport more in warmer weather.

Photo: AAP

But while some of our experts indicated Sydney is perhaps more affected by bad weather than other cities, another gave us a slightly different answer. Dr Claudine Moutou, also of UTS, is the Research Principal (Transport) at the Institute for Sustainable Futures. She gave us the perspective of a 'transport sociologist', saying that maybe delays and issues during rain are not real -- but simply perceived.

She hypothesised rain might be affecting our mood more than our transport networks actually do.

"We start our day viewing the rain as an inconvenience. It slows us down in our morning routine, of getting out of bed and finding the brolly. It slows the traffic as safe braking distance becomes longer," she told 10 daily.

"We are more compelled to give that lift to school or the station for our loved ones. It adds some additional travel time to our own trip, and we become one more car in the queue of vehicles behind us."

Puddle-dodging is an Olympic sport in this city. Photo: AAP

Moutou said every part of the commute is impacted by the weather, from the minute you wake up to the minute you arrive in the office, which can put people in a bad mood and make them more susceptible to noticing irritations.

"Boarding the train becomes that bit longer as people negotiate a seat or space to stand. Willingness to be brushed up against another person's wet jacket or brolly gets even more unappealing than normal," she said.

"There may even be a few more passengers as those who normally walk or cycle choose the convenience of catching a ride. And if ferry services are cancelled then, of course, we see even more demand for the buses."

Photo: AAP

Moutou suggested there were ways for the public transport system to be updated to counteract some of these issues, both real and imagined.

"The current [Sydney] train timetable is tightly packed and does not have much wiggle room. So when there are delays our system struggles to recover quickly," she said.

"Cumulatively these individual behavioural responses of Sydneysiders to the inconvenience of wet weather add increases to dwell time at each station or stop."

So, it's true -- Sydney does struggle in the rain. But at the same time... maybe you're just imagining that things are worse than they really are.