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Public Transport Connection to the Airport

In March this year (2016) I decided to fly down to Sydney for a while and check out a few town-planning issues first hand. To get to the airport, rather than go all the way from Westcourt by taxi, I thought I'd catch a Translink bus to the Cairns Bus Station, another Translink bus to the Airport Connect bus stop in Sheridan Street and catch a Sun Palm coach from there and go happily on to the airport.

My first problem came on the day before my departure when I contacted Sun Palm. (Please see the NOTE at the end of this article). They wanted a credit card payment over the phone. For security reasons, I declined.

What actually happened on my day of departure ran like a comedy of errors with the bus that I caught not going to where it seemed it should go. But eventually, after a little bit of a walk, I got a taxi from the IGA on Sheridan Street to the airport in time to catch my plane, fortunately.

Returning to Cairns from Sydney was equally amusing. At the airport there was no Sun Palm coach and nobody had any idea if there would be one coming soon. After about a fifty minute wait one did come so I hopped on and got off at the Airport Connect bus stop in Sheridan Street. I waited there for a Translink bus, and when one came, I got off it at the Cairns Bus Station. Now, all I had to do is then catch a bus to Westcourt, so I thought. But it was not that simple. Not all buses that head south in Lake Street go all the way to Westcourt. Some only go to the bus stop in front of the Cairns Central Shopping Centre. So I waited at the Cairns Bus Station until the correct bus came along. Eventually I did make it home, but in about the same time that it took me to fly up from Sydney!

Some locals have described the public transport connection to the airport as "pathetic". From my recent experience I find it difficult to disagree. But there are at least two reasons why this is so:

The first reason goes back decades when GA (general aviation) was placed near the Captain Cook Highway and the passenger terminal put on the other side of the airstrip at a considerable distance from the bus routes of the highway. The obvious solution to this problem would be to swap these two around such that Translink buses can easily pick up and drop off passengers at the airport using the Captain Cook Highway. Please have a look at the map below:

Such a change of course would require a major upgrade of the airport and according to press reports this is going to happen as soon as we can afford it. What we must also factor in here is what will the role of the future airport be with the probable decline of the sugarcane industry. The over-consumption of sugar with the resultant effect upon human health may see sugar being taxed out of the market. If this does happen then there ought to be a switch to growing vegetables and fruit, at least in the area north of the Barron River. These perishable products would then be exported to Asia via the nearby Cairns airport. The existing passenger terminals would be converted to a new use as storage for the perishable products. Happily, there is no shortage of land at the airport. If Middle Creek was straightened and fill placed around it, a future development area could be established. (I have shown this on the map.) Construction of new (or temporary) GA buildings could be done in this space. This would enable the demolition of some of the existing GA buildings so that construction of new passenger terminals can start at that spot.

The second reason for the "pathetic" public transport are the current Translink bus routes. Why do their buses terminate in the CBD? Would it not be better to have the routes of the buses overlap? For example the southbound buses could go all the way to the Earlville Shopping Centre via Mulgrave Road. The northbound buses could go past the bus stop near the Base Hospital in Lake Street and then past the present airport connect bus stop on Sheridan Street. To head back south (by going around a small block) turn right along Rutherford Street, turn left at Seymour Street, turn right at Howe, Lake and Rutherford Streets and then go south past the Airport Connect bus stop in Sheridan Street.

However, once the new airport is complete, northbound buses would head onto the airport at the Whitfield Street intersection along the Captain Cook Highway, and after letting off and picking up passengers, would then head back south. The southbound buses would of course, simply enter the airport from the Captain Cook Highway.


In October 2016, I rang Sun Palm and ordered a seat on their coach which stops at the Airport Connect bus stop on Sheridan Street. Upon arrival there I waited and waited for the coach for some time. So I decided to ring Sun Palm. (Have you ever tried to use a touch screen mobile when there is bright sunlight everywhere?) Luckily I was able to contact them. The only advice they where able to give me was to wait. When a coach did come, it was by then about 45 minutes late.

But there's more… On the 12th of April 2017, the Sun Palm coach that I ordered the day before was again late. When one did come along it drove straight past despite yells from me and a frantic waving of arms. The driver didn't even glance at the bus stop. His eyes faced straight ahead and he was in the far lane in preparation to turn right up ahead to go to the Airport. Consequently I took the safe option and got a cab to the Airport.

After my return from Melbourne I rang Sun Palm on the third of May. I attempted to explain to the woman who answered the phone what actually happened on the 12th of April. There was no apology and she put the blame entirely on me. She said that one of the things that I got wrong was that I should have rung Sun Palm. As explained above, doing that is not easy in bright sunlight. When I asked if my credit card payment could be refunded there was no response to my question. I said if they did not do that I would take Sun Palm to Court. She then promptly hanged up the phone.

Clearly, at least from my own experience, the "Sun Palm solution" to get a good public transport connection to the Airport is not a solution at all. The gold medal winner I think, would be the one outlined in the essay above, that is, a location swap of general aviation and the passenger terminals which would then be near the bus routes of the highway. However according to recent media reports, we may have a long wait for a major upgrade of the Airport.

Perhaps a silver medal could go for a new Translink bus route that would go from the Airport and head to either the bus station in the CBD, or even better, to the bus station at the Earlville Shopping Centre via the CBD bus station. The buses on the route should also service all the bus stops on that route. For the northern areas of Cairns the passengers, when heading south, could get off at the bus stop in Sheridan Street opposite the present Airport Connect bus stop. They then would go to the other side of the highway to catch the airport bound bus. Minor modifications may have to be made to the buses going to the Airport such that they can easily accommodate some extra luggage.

Coming in for the bronze medal could be the use of coaches such as those used by Sun Palm. They could run as a shuttle service stopping at the two Airport Connect bus stops along Sheridan Street and the Airport. A good turnaround spot for the city bound coaches could be the roundabout at the intersection of Lily and Lake Streets.

Not deserving of any medal at all is the present system using Sun Palm.


For a discussion about local transport systems, click here

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