Urban sprawl makes Perth cover a footprint about the same size as Sydney, yet it only has one third Syndey's population. Perth's low population density and spread makes it difficult to develop a commercially viable public transport network. The city therefore has the highest propensity of private automobile usage over public transport than any other city in Australia - perhaps any other city in the world outside the United States. Indeed there are 725 cars per 1,000 inhabitants in Perth, which is greater than the US average of 587 cars per 1,000 inhabitants.

However Perth does have a respectable public service system that is reasonably convenient for people living in such a spread-out city, and is economically viable (at least while we enjoy a mining boom).

Ferries

The first semblence of public transport were ferries. They travelled along the foreshores of the Swan River, starting in the 1830s with sailboats and later paddle steamers that travelled down to Fremantle and upriver to Guilford. In 1930 the running of ferry operations was taken over by state government, under the aegis of the multi-tasked 'Western Australian Government Railways, Tramways, Ferries and Electricity Supply' agency.

Ferries now mainly operate between South Perth and the jetty at William Street in Perth's central business district.

Trains

In 1881 the Fremantle to Perth and Perth to Guilford railway lines were opened. In 1893 a third line down to Armadale was opened, and then for the next hundred years or so no further railways were established. Indeed in 1979 the Fremantle line was closed down to save the state government money; it was reopened four years later as a election promise by Premier Brian Burke.

Starting with steam powered locomotives, ADG diesel mechanical railcars were introduced in 1954, and the entire network was eventually electrified by 1991. The following year the Joondalup line was opened, offering train services to residents in the fast growing northern suburbs. Unlike the other lines the Joondalup line runs along the middle of a major freeway (the Mitchell Freeway). There are fewer stations along the Joondalup, but they are larger and all serve to collect passengers arriving by bus.

In 2005 a spur was established on the Armadale line to Thornlie, and in 2007 a fifth line is expected to be opened - a high speed service to Rockingham and Mandurah. About six kilometres of the 81km line will be underground, and the line will cross under the Swan River. The Mandurah line will use high-speed three-car EDI Rail-Bombadier railcars that can travel at a maximum speed of 130 km/hr.

Trams

The first trams began operating in 1899 and ran along Hay Street from East Perth to West Perth, electically powered. The network in a very short time expanded out to the inner suburbs, down to Fremantle and across the Swan River causeway to Victoria Park. The government took over the running of trams in 1914. Eventually due to the cost of maintenance, access to spare parts and a lack of patronage due to the improved affordability of private motor vehicles and the ugliness of the overhanging cables, trams were eventually phased out entirely by 1958.

Buses

Horse-drawn buses operated in Perth from the 1890s. The first motorised omnibus commenced services in 1903, and buses quickly rose to claim the largest share of passenger patronage. Several bus companies sprung up, with many competing on the Stirling Highway route from Perth to Claremont, Cottesloe and Fremantle. From 1933 to 1967 Perth's bus system was supplemented by a couple of trolley bus services.

Some order was established when in 1926 nine companies merged to become the Metropolitan Omnibus Company, or 'Metro'. In 1958 the government of Western Australia acquired Metro and several other bus companies to form the Metropolitan Transport Trust (the 'MTT'). The MTT absorbed Perth's railway services in 1974 and took on the role of integrating Perth's public transport networks. In 1986 the trust was renamed Transperth.

There are 670 Mercedes Benz and 314 Renault buses in the Transperth fleet, providing scheduled, charter and school bus services across the metropolitan area. An additional 451 gas-powered OC 500LE Mercedes Benz buses are being added to the network from 2004 onwards. In the Perth CBD and in Fremantle a free 'CAT' bus operates using fuel cell powered EvoBuses.

ref: www.transperth.wa.gov.au

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