Nationwide, population increases and ongoing prosperity drive an increasing need for road space, public transport capacity, freight capacity and improved gateways for trade (Infrastructure Australia 2015). However, some reports are suggesting that gross domestic product and car use are decoupling in developed cities (Newman & Kenworthy 2015).
Roads, public transport, freight, active transport (in some cities) and air travel are all experiencing increasing levels of activity in Australian cities (Australian Government 2015a). With population growth happening largely in the centre and outer suburbs of our largest cities, there are significant impacts on demand for transport. Although there has been high-density development in inner-city locations, the development of new suburbs on city fringes has continued (see Urban sprawl). These new greenfield suburbs tend to be constructed at relatively low densities, where distances between all urban services and activities are longer, on average. This results in more travel, and, with such a dispersed set of trip origins and destinations, this travel is frequently undertaken by car. New suburbs also tend to exhibit lower employment densities, suggesting that residents must travel further to jobs, which contributes to the increase in vehicle-kilometres travelled (Australian Government 2015a).
There is also a disparity between access to transport infrastructure in the inner and outer suburbs of Australia’s cities, with those living on the outskirts generally serviced by less reliable road and public transport services (Infrastructure Australia 2016), which are much slower than urban rail. Hence, many cities are now building fast urban rail to the outer suburbs (see Box BLT14).
People travel in different ways, depending on which part of a city they live in, particularly when commuting to work (Atkins et al. 2015).
Most people in Australia travel to work or study by private motor vehicle—more than 8.4 million, or 78 per cent of Australian commuters in 2012 (ABS 2012b). In 2012, Melbourne overtook Sydney as the capital city with the most people travelling to work or study by private motor vehicle (1.49 million people compared with Sydney’s 1.47 million people—an increase of just under 6 per cent since 2009, compared with a small decrease of nearly 2 per cent for Sydney). The other populous capital cities of Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth all saw increases in the number of people commuting to work or study via private motor vehicle, the largest being a 9 per cent increase in Adelaide between 2009 and 2012 (Figure BLT29).
Overall, however, the proportion of commuters using a private motor vehicle to get to work or study decreased for nearly all capital cities between 2009 and 2012—the exceptions being Adelaide (from 78 per cent in 2009 to 80 per cent in 2012) and Canberra (from 85 per cent to 88 per cent). This can mostly be attributed to a rise in the proportion of commuters using public transport as their main form of transport to work or study. In Sydney, public transport use increased by 35 per cent from 2009 to 2012, with 31 per cent of Sydneysiders using public transport to get to work or study in 2012. Twenty-two per cent of Melbourne commuters travelled to work or study by public transport in 2012, neither an increase nor a decrease on 2009 levels, although active travel increased during this period (from 4 per cent of commuters in 2009 to just under 7 per cent in 2012) (Figure BLT29). It should be noted that Melbourne experienced a 38 per cent increase in public transport use for commuting to work or study between 2006 and 2009 (see also Figure BLT33 for a longer-term view).
Public transport commutes increased by 31 per cent between 2009 and 2012 in Brisbane (with public transport’s share of commuters shifting from 16 per cent to 20 per cent during this period) (Figure BLT29). Perth experienced a 15 per cent increase in commuters using public transport between 2009 and 2012 (compared with a 3 per cent increase in private car use)—this followed a 57 per cent increase in the use of public transport by Perth commuters between 2006 and 2009.
Sydney (and Hobart) saw small declines in the number of people using private motor vehicles as their main transport mode to work or study between 2009 and 2012. The largest increases in journey to work or study by private car between 2009 and 2012 occurred in Adelaide (an increase of nearly 10 per cent), followed by Brisbane and Melbourne (each a 6 per cent increase) (ABS unpublished data, 2012).
In 2012, 31 per cent of Sydney commuters used public transport as their main mode of transport to work or study. This compares with less than 10 per cent of commuters in the smaller cities of Hobart, Darwin and Canberra. Capital cities with the largest increase in public transport use between 2009 and 2012 were Hobart (not shown), Sydney (a 35 per cent increase) and Brisbane (a 31 per cent increase) (Figure BLT29).
A small proportion (less than 4 per cent) of Australians use active travel (walking and cycling) as their main form of transport to or from work or full-time study (see Active transport). Although figures are less reliable because of the small numbers, Hobart consistently reports the highest proportion of commuters using active travel as their main form of transport to work or study (11 per cent).
In noncapital cities, the rate of private motor vehicle use for journeys to work is higher than in capital cities, with just over 90 per cent of noncapital-city commuters using private vehicles as their main form of transport (compared with 71 per cent of capital-city commuters). Public transport as the main form of transport to work or study was just under 3 per cent for noncapital-city commuters (compared with 22 per cent for capital-city commuters), whereas journey to work by active travel (walk or cycle) was just over 5 per cent for capital-city and noncapital-city commuters (ABS unpublished data, 2012).