For Uber Passengers

Sydney Airport: Train v Uber

Before I go into today’s article, I want to mention something up front. On Sunday – when this was written – a construction crane collapsed onto an apartment building in Wolli Creek. At the time of writing, three people were reported injured, with the most serious being a possible broken leg. In addition to this, 200 residents of both buildings affected were evacuated. (The building the crane collapsed on, and the building it had been mounted on.) There are two reasons why I mention this up front:

  1. It’s what prompted me to publish this post, even though the incident itself isn’t Uber-related.
  2. I am aware that the people I’m going to refer to here were affected in a comparatively minor way. Obviously those injured and evacuated had and have it much worse.

If it seems like I’m being disrespectful to or dismissive of them, that is definitely not my intention. Except to say that I hope their situation is dealt with quickly, safely and fairly, I won’t be talking any further about them only because they’re not part of a topic relevant to this site.

Sunday mornings can be interesting times to drive with Uber. In fact Sundays tend to be pretty good throughout the day. Whereas on a weekday there’s usually a lull around lunch time, Sunday’s are pretty consistent in terms of being able to find passengers wanting a ride. The usual reason Sunday mornings are interesting is the number of passengers making the “Uber of shame” from the night before.

Last Sunday had a couple of rides that seemed like they could’ve qualified for that, one of which got me close to the airport. Knowing from experience what at least Melbourne and Brisbane Airports are like on Sundays, I figured it wouldn’t take too long for the queue of drivers to cycle through and for me to get a decent fare, so I headed to the domestic terminal waiting area. I wasn’t wrong, though the reason the queue moved as quickly as it did wasn’t one I was expecting.

When I first got to the pick-up area I was surprised by how quiet it looked. Given the speed with which the queue had moved for me I expected there to be quite a few people waiting to be picked up, along with a corresponding number of cars waiting for their passengers to appear. Instead it looked fairly empty. As a drove around the u-shape of the pick-up area, I got to a point where I could see where the passengers would be walking to reach the car park, and the outside entrance to the train station. What I saw there was not dissimilar to this:

003329-crowded-bus-stop[1]

Imagine this at the station entrance, but everyone has at least one large bag or suitcase with them. That’s roughly what it looked like on the day.

As I was processing this I saw someone waving at me who turned out to be my passenger, so I didn’t get much of a chance to sort it out in my head. (I’m sure you already have, but any friends of mine reading this, this is a perfect opportunity for you to make a joke about not being able to sort it out even if I had plenty of time to do it. Your welcome.) They told me that there’d been some sort of incident that meant the Airport train line was closed. Apparently it had only recently happened, with passengers being directed to different places by different people to catch replacement buses that were being organised but hadn’t started to arrive yet.

After I dropped the passenger off, I did some checking and sure enough found this alert:

I continued on through my day, while seeing similar scenes at Sydenham and Mascot stations, with people waiting at bus stops for their replacement bus (or in my case, their Uber) to arrive. When I got home, I saw some tweets that indicated people weren’t happy with how leaving Sydney Airport had gone:

What I found interesting and surprising with these and others that I saw, was that the people complaining seemed to be unaware of Uber. Whether they had never heard of it, had the idea that it wasn’t allowed for pick-ups at the airport (it’s been OK for over a year now), thought it was more expensive than using the train, or some other reason I don’t know. (It’s also possible that they reject the idea of using Uber given recent negative press. I would hope that’s not the case, for fairly obvious reasons.)

In terms of cost, I don’t have all the details and though the cost for a train trip is relatively easy to find out ahead of time, the cost of Uber trips are a little more tricky, given that they depend on the specific route and time taken for the trip. What I can do is show you the comparison between trips I’ve actually done and the costs for a trip to the nearest station. Like this:

Terminal FromDestination
(Nearest Station)
Actual Uber CostOpal Peak FareOpal Off-Peak Fare
InternationalAshfield$28.11$18.10$16.81
InternationalBarangaroo (Wynyard)$32.91 (2 trips)$18.10$16.81
InternationalBronte (Bondi Junction)$31.52$18.10$16.81
DomesticCamperdown (Macdonaldtown)$24.96 (2 trips)$17.26$16.22
InternationalConcord (Concord West)$31.77$18.74$17.25
DomesticDawes Point (Circular Quay)$31.60$17.26$16.22
DomesticLidcombe$65.95$18.74$17.25
InternationalNewtown$20.15$17.26$16.22
DomesticPaddington (Edgecliff)$29.30$18.10$16.81
DomesticPyrmont (Town Hall)$26.35$17.26$16.22
InternationalRockdale$13.92$17.26$16.22
DomesticRozelle (Stanmore)$31.55$18.74$17.25
DomesticSummer Hill$29.27$18.10$16.81
DomesticSutherland$53.88$18.74$17.25
DomesticUltimo (Central)$25.49$17.26$16.22
InternationalWinston Hills (Toongabbie)$98.84$20.41$18.41

To keep things above board, the costs for the train trips come from Sydney Trains themselves, and were correct when written. (If poked about it to remind me, I’ll probably update them if prices change while this site is still active.) Any costs relating to getting from the station to the destination would be on top of these. The costs for the Uber fares are using UberX, from real rides I’ve driven since a couple of weeks before the date this is published. They include all costs to the passenger relating to the fare such as tolls, and have the potential to vary a bit based on the time of day the ride took place and the traffic on the route taken.

Also keep in mind that those train trip fares are for one person when an UberX can fit up to four people, though possibly less if you’ve got a lot of luggage, and that the Uber trip is right to your destination, which means unless you live on top of or at a train station you’ll either have less distance to walk with your bags, won’t have to get a bus or other ride from the station to where you’re going, or both.

So it seems that for short trips near the airport, Uber is cheaper than getting the train. It makes sense since the minimum Uber fare in Sydney is $9, less than the airport station access fee. A little beyond that and the train is cheaper for one person, but more expensive for two. Uber trips to the city that have to go through the city (so around the harbour foreshore) tend to be about the same cost as between two or three people on the train. None of the fares I’ve done in the time frame shown have been more expensive than four equivalent train fares.

Generally speaking, getting the train from the airport will be cheaper for one person than getting an Uber. The more people travelling though, the more likely that an Uber will be the cheaper option. But remember:

  • The train doesn’t get you to your front door, meaning either a walk, bus, taxi, Uber or ride from a friend to get all the way home. An Uber will go all the way in one go.
  • You may have to wait up to 15 minutes for the train to arrive to pick you up. An Uber will normally take no more than 5 minutes to arrive.
  • There’s no one to help you with your luggage on the train. Most Uber drivers will at least help you get your luggage into and out of their car.
  • Unless you happen to be on the airport line, you’ll have to change trains to get to your destination. An Uber will take you door-to-door.
  • Its tough getting even a section of a train carriage, let alone the whole thing to yourself. That means other people’s conversations, music, food, and general life intruding on your’s. You don’t share an Uber except with your friends or family. Your driver won’t force conversation or weird smells on you and will let you listen to your music in peace.
  • The closest thing to climate control on a train is being able to open a window, and that’s generally only on the older carriages. You can adjust the windows, adjust the temperature of the AC, even the direction the air vents point in an Uber.

With all those benefits – and any others you might think of – is it worth the money you might save to get the train instead of an Uber? Next time I’m flying somewhere, I know how I’ll be getting to and from the airport…

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What do you think about all this?