Suburban employment clusters and the journey to work in Australian cities

Sun 8 July, 2018

Relatively dense suburban employment clusters can deliver more knowledge-based jobs closer to people living in the outer suburbs. Sydney has many such clusters, and Melbourne is now aiming to develop “National Employment and Innovation Clusters” as part of the city’s land use strategy, Plan Melbourne.

So what can we learn about existing employment clusters in Australian cities, particularly in regards to journeys to work? Can relatively dense suburban employment clusters contribute to more sustainable transport outcomes? Do such clusters have lower private transport mode shares than other parts of cities? How are mode shares changing for these clusters? How far do people travel to work in these clusters? Is there a relationship between job density, parking prices, and mode shares? How well served are these clusters by public transport? How do these clusters compare between cities?

This post investigates 46 existing clusters in Australia’s six largest cities. This is a longer post (there is a summary at the end), but I hope you find at least half as interesting as I do.

What’s a dense suburban employment cluster?

That’s always going to be an arbitrary matter. For my analysis, I’ve created clusters based on destination zones that had at least 40 employees per hectare in 2011 or 2016, were more than 4km from the city’s main CBD, and where collectively at least around 6,000 employees travelled on census day in 2016.

Unfortunately I can only work with the destination zone boundaries which may or may not tightly wrap around dense employment areas. Also, in order to ensure reasonable comparisons between census years, I’ve had to add in some otherwise non-qualifying zones to keep the footprints fairly similar. To mitigate potential issues with low density zones being included, I’ve used weighted employment density for each cluster in my analysis. But still, please don’t get too excited by differences in weighted job density as it’s far from a perfect representation of reality.

In particular, the following clusters include destination zones comprising both dense employment and non-employment land and so will potentially have understated weighted job density:

  • Nedlands
  • Fremantle
  • Bedford Park
  • Tooronga
  • Camberwell Junction
  • Hawthorn
  • Belconnen
  • Campbelltown
  • Hurstville
  • Kogarah
  • Randwick
  • North Ryde (quite significant – actual density is probably double)
  • Macquarie Park (a destination zone for the university includes large green areas)
  • Rhodes (significant residential area)
  • Parramatta (includes parkland)
  • Penrith (residential areas)
  • Bella Vista – Norwest – Castle Hill (includes a golf course)

Some of these clusters are a little long and thin and so are literally stretching things a little (eg Bella Vista – Norwest – Castle Hill, and Alexandria – Mascot), but it’s hard to cleanly break up these areas.

I think my criteria is a fairly low threshold for suburban employment clusters, but raising the criteria too much would knock out a lot of clusters. I should note that some potential clusters might be excluded simply because they did not contain small destination zones concentrated on more dense areas.

Belmont in Perth was the lowest density cluster to qualify (weighted jobs density of 42 jobs / ha). Here’s what it looks like (in 3D Google Maps in 2018):

Chatswood in Sydney was the highest density cluster – with a weighted job density of 433 jobs / ha. Here’s what it looks like (in 3D Apple Maps in 2018):

Apologies if your favourite cluster didn’t make the criteria, or you don’t like my boundaries. You can look up the 2016 boundaries for each cluster here, or view them all through Google maps.

Where are these clusters?

On the following maps I’ve scaled the clusters by employment size and used pie charts to show the modal split for journeys to work in 2016. All pie charts are to the same scale across the maps (the size of the pie charts is proportional to the number of journeys to the cluster in 2016).

Note that North Sydney is excluded because it is within 4 km of the CBD.

All of Melbourne’s clusters are east of the CBD, with Clayton the largest. Places just missing out on the cluster criteria include parts of the Tullamarine industrial area (5271 jobs at 55 jobs/ha), Doncaster (around 5000 jobs at 40+ jobs/ha), Chadstone Shopping Centre (5375 jobs at 105 jobs/ha), and La Trobe (around 7700 jobs but low density – and even if there was a destination zone tightly surrounding the university campus I suspect it would still not qualify on density ground).

Only three suburban clusters qualified in Brisbane.

Note: the Nedlands and Murdoch clusters are essentially the hospital precincts only and do not include the adjacent university campuses.

Adelaide only has one suburban cluster that qualifies – Bedford Park – which includes the Flinders University campus and Flinders Medical Centre.

The Canberra clusters cover the three largest town centres, each containing at least one major federal government department head office.

What proportion of jobs are in these dense suburban employment clusters?

The following chart shows that Sydney and Canberra have been most successful at locating jobs in suburban employment clusters (well, clusters that meet my arbitrary criteria anyway!):

The proportion of jobs not in the inner 4km or a suburban employment cluster increased between 2011 and 2016 in all cities except Sydney (although the shift was very small in Melbourne).

Here’s a summary of private transport mode shares for the clusters, versus the inner city versus everywhere else:

Inner city mode shares vary considerably between cities, in order of population size. Total job cluster private mode shares are only 4-7% lower than elsewhere in most cities, except for Sydney where they are 17% lower.

Sydney’s clusters combined also have a significantly lower private mode share of 68% – compared to 84-89% in other cities.

How do the clusters compare?

Here is a chart showing their size, distance from CBD, and private transport mode share for journeys to work in 2016:

Next is a chart that looks at weighted job density, size, and private mode share for 2016. Note I’ve used a log scale on the X axis.

(Unfortunately the smaller Kogarah dot is entirely obscured by the larger Alexandria – Mascot dot – sorry that’s just how the data falls)

There is certainly a strong relationship between weighted job density and private mode shares (in fact this is the strongest of all relationships I’ve tested).

Sydney has many more clusters than the other cities (even Melbourne which has a similar population), it has much larger clusters, it has more dense clusters, and accounts for most of the clusters in the bottom-right of the chart.

And there’s just nothing like Parramatta in any other city. It’s large (~41,000 jobs in 2016), has relatively low private transport mode share (51%), is about 20 km from the Sydney CBD, and has a high jobs density.

Melbourne’s Clayton has about three-quarters the jobs of Parramatta, is around the same distance from its CBD, but is much less dense and has 90% private mode share for journeys to work.

Curiously Sydney’s Macquarie Park – which on my boundaries has about the same number of jobs as Parramatta – is closer to the Sydney CBD and has a much higher private transport mode share and a lower job density. However it’s rail service is relatively new, opening in 2009.

Perth’s Joondalup and Murdoch are relatively young transit oriented developments with relatively new train stations (opening 1992 and 2007 respectively), however they also have very high private transport mode shares, which I think highlights the challenge of creating suburban transit-adjacent employments clusters surrounded by low density suburbia.

Also, many of Sydney’s suburban clusters have a lower private mode share than that of the overall city (67.6%). That’s only true of Hawthorn and Camberwell Junction in Melbourne, Fremantle in Perth, and Woden and Belconnen in Canberra.

Some outliers to the top-right of the second chart include Heidelberg (in Melbourne), Liverpool (in Sydney), and Nedlands (in Perth). The Heidelberg and Nedlands clusters are relatively small and are dominated by hospitals, while 37% of jobs in Liverpool are in “health care and social assistance”. Hospitals employ many shift workers, who need to travel at times when public transport is less frequent or non-existent which probably explains their relatively high private transport mode shares. Heidelberg is located on a train line, and is also served by several relatively frequent bus routes, including one “SmartBus” route, but still has a very high private transport mode share of 85%.

Outliers to the bottom-left of the second chart include Randwick, Burwood, and Marrickville (all in Sydney). While these are less dense clusters, I suspect their relatively low private transport mode shares are because they are relatively inner city locations well served by public transport.

As an aside, if you were wondering about the relationship between job density and private mode shares for inner city areas, I think this chart is fairly convincing:

Of course this is not to say if you simply increase job density you’ll magically grow public transport patronage – there has to be capacity and service quality, and you probably won’t get the density increase without better public transport anyway.

How well connected are these job clusters to public transport?

Arguably the presence of rapid public transport is critical to enabling high public transport mode shares, as only rapid services can be time competitive with private transport. By “rapid” I consider services that are mostly separated from traffic, have long stop spacing, and therefore faster average speeds. For Australian cities this is mostly trains, but also some busways and light rail lines (but none of the clusters are served by what I would call “rapid” light rail). Of course there is a spectrum of speeds, including many partly separated tram and bus routes, and limited stops or express bus routes, but these often aren’t time competitive with private cars (they can however compete with parking costs).

I have classified each cluster by their access to rapid transit stations, with trains trumping busways (note Parramatta, Blacktown, Westmead, and Liverpool have both), and some clusters sub-classified as “edge” where only some edge areas of the cluster are within walking distance of a rapid transit station (although that’s not clear cut, eg Murdoch). Here are the public transport mode shares, split by whether journeys involved trains or not:

It’s probably of little surprise that all of the high public transport mode share centres are on train lines (except Randwick), and that most public transport journeys to these clusters involve trains. However the presence of a train station certainly does not guarantee higher public transport mode share.

Only four clusters have some degree of busway access (Chermside and Randwick are not actually on a busway but have a major line to them that uses a busway). Only Upper Mount Gravatt has a central busway stations, and it has the third highest non-train (read: bus) access share of 12%.

Randwick is an interesting exception – the University of New South Wales campus in this cluster is connected to Central (train) Station by high frequency express bus services which seem to win considerable mode share. A light rail connection is being constructed between Randwick and the Sydney CBD.

Non-rail (essentially bus) public transport mode shares are also relatively high in Bondi Junction (15%), Parramatta (11%), Belconnen (10%), Brookvale (10%), Woden (10%), Fremantle (9%), Macquarie Park (9%). These are all relatively strong bus nodes in their city’s networks.

Clayton and Nedlands are not on rapid transit lines, but both have high frequency bus services to nearby train stations which results in slightly higher train mode shares (4% and 5%). For Clayton, only the Monash University campus is connected by a high frequency express bus and it had a 17% public transport mode share, whereas the rest of the cluster had public transport mode shares varying between 3 and 7%.

The Bedford Park cluster is frustratingly just beyond reasonable walking distance of Tonsley Railway Station (12 minutes walk to the hospitals and almost half an hour’s walk to the university campus) – so only about 10 people got to work in the cluster by train in 2016. However that’s going to change with an extension of the train line to the Flinders Medical Centre.

The train-centred clusters with low public transport mode shares are mostly not in Sydney, and/or towards outer extremities of the train network (except Box Hill and Heidelberg in Melbourne). So what is it about Sydney’s trains that makes such a difference?

Sydney’s train network is distinctly different to all other Australian cities in that there are many more points where lines intersect (outside the central city), creating many “loops” on the network (for want of a better expression). In all other cities, lines only generally intersect in the central city and where radial lines split into branches, and cross city trips by public transport generally only possible by buses (in mixed traffic). In Sydney lines do branch out then but then often bend around to intersect other neighbouring lines. This provides significantly more connectivity between stations. For example, you can get to Parramatta from most lines directly or with a single transfer somewhere outside central Sydney. Indeed, Sydney is the only city with a regular non-radial train service (T5 Leppington – Richmond, although it only runs every half-hour).

I’ve roughly overlaid Sydney’s dense suburban job clusters (in red) on its rail network map, and then marked the train mode shares:

While some clusters can only be accessed by a radial train line (or are off-rail), many are at intersection points, and most can be accessed by multiple paths along the network. The 29%+ train mode shares for Chatswood, Parramatta, St Leonards, Burwood, and Rhodes might be partly explained by these being highly accessible on the train network.

Here are Melbourne’s dense suburban employment clusters and train mode shares overlaid on Victoria’s rail network map:

The clusters connected to more train lines (Hawthorn and Camberwell) have higher train mode shares, although they are also closer to the city.

The Spatial Network Analysis for Multimodal Urban Transport Systems (SNAMUTS) methodology (led by Professor Carey Curtis and Dr Jan Scheurer) uses graph-based analysis of public transport networks to develop several indicators of network performance. One indicator that measures network accessibility is closeness centrality, which looks and speed and frequency of services to connect to other nodes in the network (it actually uses inter-peak frequencies and speeds, but they probably correlate fairly well with services in peak periods). A lower score indicates better accessibility.

I’ve extracted the closeness centrality scores for public transport nodes in each employment clusters (from the nearest available data to 2016 at the time of writing, some as old as 2011 so not perfect) and compared this with private transport mode shares to these clusters:

Some clusters were not really centred on a public transport node in the SNAMUTS analysis (eg Osborne Park in Perth, Clayton in Melbourne) and hence are not included in this analysis. These clusters have very high private transport mode shares, and would likely be towards the top right of the chart.

There’s clearly a relationship between the closeness centrality and private mode shares, with low private more shares only occurring where there is high accessibility by public transport. But it’s not super-strong, so there are other factors at play.

Some of the outliers in the bottom right of the distribution include Upper Mount Gravatt (based on a large shopping centre but also on a busway), Murdoch (dominated by hospitals a moderate walk from the station), Nedlands (also dominated by hospitals), Chermside (a combination of hospital and large shopping centre, with the bus interchange remote from the hospital), and Bedford Park (where 63% of jobs are in health) . Again, the pattern of higher private transport mode shares to hospitals is evident.

So do you need strong public transport access to support higher job densities? Here’s the relationship between closeness centrality and weighted job density:

There are no clusters with poor public transport access and high job density, which is not surprising. But this does suggest it could be difficult to significantly increase job densities in clusters currently in the top left of this chart without significantly improving public transport access.

Interestingly, Box Hill in Melbourne does have a similar closeness centrality score to Parramatta and Chatswood in Sydney, suggesting it might be able to support significantly higher job density. However, it only has rapid (train) public transport from two directions. It might be more challenging to maintain bus and tram travel times from other directions if there is significant jobs growth.

Melbourne’s largest cluster – Clayton – is not on the chart because it is not centred on a public transport node. There is however a bus interchange on the southern edge of the cluster at Monash University, which has a relatively low closeness centrality score of 64. I suspect the main employment area would probably have a higher closeness centrality score if it were to be measured because it not connected to the train network by a high frequency express shuttle service and has fewer bus routes. That would place it in the top-left part of the above chart (2016 weighted job density being 63 jobs/ha).

Do higher density clusters have fewer car parks?

The higher density centres certainly tended to have lower private mode shares, but does that mean they don’t have much car parking?

Well I don’t know how many car parking spaces each centre had, but I do know how many people travelled to work by car only, and from that I can calculate a density of car-only journeys (and I’ve calculated a weighted average of the destination zones in each centre). That’s probably a reasonable proxy for car park density.

Here’s how it compares to jobs density (note: log scales on both axes):

There is a very strong correlation between the two – in general centres with higher job density also have higher car density. The strongest correlation I can find is for a quadratic curve that flattens out at higher job densities (as drawn, with R-squared = 0.77), which simply suggests you get lower private mode shares in higher density clusters (in general).

The clusters on the bottom side of the curve have lower car mode shares, and so have a lower car density. Many are inner city locations with better public transport access, but also many nearby residents.

Heidelberg (a hospital-based cluster in Melbourne), has the highest car density of all centres and a high job density, but isn’t a large centre.

Do walking mode shares increase when there are many nearby residents?

If there are many residents living within walking distance of a cluster, relative to the size of that cluster, then you might expect a higher walking mode share, as more employees of the cluster are likely to live nearby.

I’ve roughly summed the number of residents who travelled to work (anywhere) and lived within 1km of each cluster. I’ve then taken the ratio of those nearby working residents to the number of journeys into the cluster, and then compared that with walk-only mode shares for 2016:

Yes, there’s definitely a relationship (although not strong), and this may explain some of the outliers in the previous charts such as Randwick, Marrickville, St Leonards and Bondi Junction.

Is there a relationship between parking costs and mode shares?

It’s quite difficult to definitively answer this question because I don’t have parking prices for 2016, and many car commuters might not be paying retail prices (eg employer-provided free or subsidised parking).

I’ve done a quick survey using Parkopedia of parking prices for parking 8:30 am to 5:30 pm on Monday 2 July 2018, and picked the best price available in each cluster. Of course not everyone will be able park in the cheapest car park so it’s certainly not an ideal measure. An average price might be a slightly better measure but that would be some work to calculate.

But for what it worth, here is the relationship between July 2018 all day parking prices and 2016 private transport mode shares:

You might expect an inverse correlation between the two. Certainly clusters with very cheap or free parking had very high private transport mode shares, but other centres are scattered in the distribution.

Looking at outliers in the top right: I suspect Bedford Park (63% health workers), Heidelberg (hospital precinct), Tooronga (with one major employer being the Coles HQ), Chermside (including Prince Charles Hospital), and Rhodes will have significantly cheaper parking for employees (with visitors paying the prices listed on Parkopedia). Indeed, I could not find many parking prices listed for Rhodes, but there are clearly multi-storey parking garages near the office towers not on Parkopedia.

Looking at outliers in the bottom left: Relatively cheap $15 parking is available at multiple car parks in Bondi Junction. The $10 price in Chatswood was only available at one car park, with higher prices at others, so it is probably below the average price paid. Maybe traffic congestion is enough of a disincentive to drive to work in these centres?

For interest, here’s the relationship between weighted car density and parking prices:

The relationship is again not very strong – I suspect other factors are at play such as unlisted employer provided car parking, as discussed above.

So does job growth in suburban employment clusters lead to lower overall private transport mode shares?

Here is a chart showing the effective private mode share of net new trips in each job cluster, plus the inner 4 km of each city:

(Fremantle, Dandenong, Burwood, and Woden had a net decline in jobs between 2011 and 2016 and so have been excluded from this chart)

The chart shows that although many suburban jobs clusters had a low private mode share of net new trips, it was always higher than for the inner 4 km of that city.

Here’s a summary of net new trips for each city:

So every new 100 jobs in suburban employment clusters did generate many more private transport trips than new jobs in the inner city, particularly for Sydney (45 : 10), Melbourne (68 : 13), and Canberra (84: 18). But then new jobs in suburban employment clusters had significantly lower private transport mode shares than new jobs elsewhere in each city.

So arguably if you wanted to minimise new private transport journeys to work, you’d aim for a significant portion of your employment growth in the central city, and most of the rest in employment clusters (ideally clusters that have excellent access by rapid public transport). Of course you would also want to ensure your central city and employment clusters were accessible by high quality / rapid public transport links (not to forget active transport links for shorter distance commutes).

One argument for growing jobs in suburban employment clusters is that new public transport trips to suburban employment clusters will often be on less congested sections of the public transport network – particularly on train networks (some would even involve contra-peak travel relative to central city). On the other hand, new jobs in the central city have much higher public transport mode shares, but relatively expensive capacity upgrades may be required to facilitate the growth.

New active transport trips to the central city and employment clusters probably requires the least in terms of new infrastructure, and there are probably very few congested commuter cycleways in Australian cities at present.

Another argument for suburban employment clusters is to bring jobs closer to people living in the outer suburbs.

Are new private transport trips to suburban employment clusters much shorter than new private transport trips to the central city, and therefore perhaps not as bad from a congestion / emissions point of view?

Certainly many of these clusters will have congested roads in peak periods, but the distance question is worth investigating.

So how far do people travel to work in different employment clusters?

The 2016 census journey to work data now includes on-road commuting distances (thanks ABS!).

Of course for any jobs cluster there will be a range of people making shorter and longer distance trips and it is difficult to summarise the distribution in one statistic. Averages are not great because they are skewed by a small number of very long distance commutes. For the want of something better, I’ve calculated medians, and here are calculations for Sydney job clusters:

(I’ve added a “Sydney” jobs cluster which is the “Sydney – Haymarket – The Rocks” SA2 that covers the CBD area).

There’s a lot going on in this data:

  • Median distances for private transport commutes to most employment clusters are longer than to the CBD (particularly the big clusters of Macquarie Park and Parramatta).
  • The clusters of Brookvale, Bondi Junction, and Randwick near the east coast have lower medians for motorised modes, probably reflecting smaller catchments. Randwick and Brookvale also do not have rail access, which might explain their low median public transport commute distances.
  • Public transport median commute distances were longer in the rail-based near-CBD clusters of Bondi Junction, Alexandria – Mascot, and St Leonards, but also in some further out rail-based clusters, including Parramatta, Westmead and Penrith.
  • Penrith – the cluster furthest from the Sydney CBD – curiously had the longer public transport median commute distance, which probably reflects good access from longer distance rail services (but public transport mode share was only 14%).
  • Active transport medians vary considerably, and this might be impacted by the mix of shorter walking and longer cycling trips. For example, North Ryde saw more cycling than walking trips, but also had only 1% active transport mode share.

Here’s the same for Melbourne (with a cluster created for the CBD):

Clayton, Dandenong, and Melbourne CBD median commute distances were very similar, whereas median commutes to other clusters were mostly shorter.

Here are results for clusters in the smaller cities:

In Perth, Joondalup had shorter median commuter distances, while Osborne Park and Murdoch (both near rapid train lines) had the longest median public transport journey distances (but not very high public transport mode shares: 7% and 15% respectively). Half of the suburban clusters had a longer median private transport distance than the CBD, and half were shorter.

In Brisbane, median private commute distances were shorter in Chermside, but similar to the city centre for other clusters.

Coming back to our question, only some suburban employment clusters have shorter median private transport commute distances. I expect the slightly shorter distances for those clusters would not cancel out the much higher private transport mode shares, and therefore new suburban cluster jobs would be generating more vehicle kms than new central city jobs.

But perhaps what matters more is the distance travelled by new commuters. New trips from the growing urban fringe to a CBD would be very long in all cities. While ABS haven’t provided detailed journey distance data for 2011, some imperfect analysis of 2011 and 2016 straight line commuter distances between SA2s (sorry not good enough to present in detail) suggests average commuter distances are increasing by 1-2 kms across Sydney and 2-3 kms across Melbourne, and these increases are fairly consistent across the city (including the central city). This may reflect urban sprawl (stronger in Melbourne than Sydney), with new residents on the urban fringe a long way from most jobs.

So did private transport mode shares reduce in suburban employment clusters?

Yes, they did reduce in most clusters, but some saw an increase of up to 2%.

The cluster with the biggest shift away from private transport was Rhodes in Sydney (relatively small and only moderately dense), followed by Perth’s fastest growing hospital cluster of Murdoch.

But perhaps more relevant is how fast each cluster is growing and the mode share of new jobs:

If you want to reduce private transport travel growth, then you don’t want to see many clusters in the top right of this chart (growing fast with high dependency on private transport). Those centres could be experiencing increasing traffic congestion, and may start to hit growth limits unless they get significantly improved public transport access.

Of the cluster in the top-right:

  • Bella Vista – Norwest – Castle Hill will soon have a rapid rail service with Sydney Metro.
  • Murdoch’s high private transport mode share might reflect the fairly long walking distance between the station and hospitals (up to 10 minutes through open space with no tree canopy), but also hospital shift workers who may find private transport more convenient.
  • Clayton might reflect most jobs being remote from the train line (although it is served by three SmartBus routes that have high frequency and some on-road priority). Note: my Monash cluster unfortunately does not include the Monash Medical Centre that is closer to Clayton Station and very job dense. The hospital precinct had its own destination zone in 2016 with 88% private transport mode share, but was washed out in a larger destination zone in 2011 which made it difficult to include in the cluster (for the record, that 2011 destination zone also had an 88% private transport mode share).
  • Joondalup is a large but not particularly dense employment area, and I suspect many jobs are remote from the train/bus interchange, and some local bus frequencies are low.

Can you predict mode shares with a mathematical model?

I have put the data used above into a regression model trying to explain private transport mode shares in the clusters. I found that only weighted job density, walking catchment size, and distance from CBD were significant variables, but this might be for want of a better measure of the quality of public transport accessibility (SNAMUTS Closeness Centrality scores are not available for many centres).

I also tested the percentage of jobs in health care and social assistance (looking for a hospital effect), the surrounding population up to 10km (nearby population density), median travel distances, and the size of clusters, but these did not show up as significant predictors.

Can you summarise all that?

  • Compared to other cities, Sydney has many more clusters and they are larger, more dense, and generally have much lower private transport mode shares.
  • With the exception of Canberra, less than half of all jobs in each city were in either the inner city area or a dense suburban jobs cluster. In Perth it was as low as 32%, while Sydney was 45%, and Canberra 54%.
  • Higher density clusters correlate with lower private transport mode shares.
  • Only higher density clusters centred on train stations with strong connections to the broader train network achieve relatively high public transport mode shares of journeys to work.
  • High quality bus services can boost mode shares in clusters, but the highest bus-only mode share was 15% (in 2016).
  • High-frequency express shuttle bus services can boost public transport mode shares in off-rail clusters.
  • Walk-only mode shares for journeys to work are generally very low (typically 2-5%) but generally higher in clusters where there are many nearby residents.
  • Private transport mode shares are generally 90%+ in clusters with free parking.
  • I suspect there is a relationship between parking prices and private mode share, but it’s hard to get complete data to prove this. Subsidised employer provided parking probably leads to higher private transport mode shares, and may be common at hospitals. However unexpectedly cheap parking in Bondi Junction and Chatswood needs to be explained (perhaps an oversupply, or just horrible traffic congestion?).
  • There is some evidence to suggest hospitals are prone to having higher private transport mode shares, possibly due to significant numbers of shift workers who need to commute at times when public transport service levels are lower.
  • Private transport shares in suburban clusters are much higher than central cities, but lower than elsewhere in cities. The private transport mode share of net new jobs in clusters is much higher than for central city areas, but generally lower than elsewhere in cities.
  • High density clusters still have large amounts of car parking.
  • Median commuter distances to suburban employment clusters are sometimes longer and sometimes shorter than median commuter distances to each cities CBD.
  • The clusters of Joondalup, Clayton, Murdoch, and Bella Vista – Norwest – Castle Hill have grown significantly in size with very high private transport mode shares. These centres might be experiencing increased traffic congestion, and their growth might be limited without significant improvements in public transport access.

What could this mean for Melbourne’s “National Employment and Innovation Clusters”?

One motivation for this research was getting insights into the future of Melbourne’s National Employment and Innovation Clusters (NEICs). What follows is intended to be observations about the research, rather than commentary about the whether any plans should be changed, or certain projects should or should not be built.

Firstly, the “emerging” NEICs of Sunshine and Werribee didn’t meet my (arguably) low criteria for dense employment clusters in 2016 (too small). The same is true for the Dandenong South portion of the “Dandenong” cluster (not dense enough).

Parkville and Fishermans Bend would have qualified had I not excluded areas within 4km of the CBD.

Significant sections of the Parkville, Fishermans Bend, Dandenong, Clayton, and La Trobe NEICs are currently beyond walking distance of Melbourne’s rapid transit network. Of these currently off-rail clusters:

  • Parkville: a new rail link is under construction
  • Fishermans Bend: new light and heavy rail links are proposed. In the short term, paid parking is to be introduced in some parts in 2018 (which had commuter densities of 47-63 per hectare in 2016). The longer term vision is for 80% of transport movements by public or active transport.
  • Clayton: New light and heavy rail links are proposed. The Monash University campus has had paid parking for some time, but there appears to be free parking for employees in the surrounding industrial areas to the north and east. It will be interesting to see if/when paid parking becomes a reality in the industrial area (commuter densities ranged from 48 to 74 jobs/ha in 2016, not dissimilar to Fishermans Bend). The Monash Medical Centre area is relatively close to Clayton train station, has very high commuter density (329 per hectare in 2016 before a new children’s hospital opened in 2017) and had 88% private transport mode share in 2016. No doubt car parking will be an ongoing challenge/issue for this precinct.
  • La Trobe: No rapid transit links are currently proposed to the area around the university, which had an 83% private transport mode share in 2016. There is a currently a frequent express shuttle bus from Reservoir station to the university campus, and a high frequency tram route touches the western edge of the campus.
  • Dandenong South: The area is dominated by industrial rather than office facilities, and the job density ranges from 7 to 33 commuters per hectare, which is relatively low compared to the clusters in my study. There are no commercial car parks listed on Parkopedia so I assume pretty much all employees currently get free parking. No rapid transit stations are proposed for the area. The area is served by a few bus routes, including one high frequency SmartBus route, but 98% of new jobs between 2011 and 2016 were accounted for by private transport trips. This suggests it is difficult even for high-frequency (but non-rapid) public transport to complete with free parking in such areas.

Another potential challenge is connectivity to Melbourne’s broader train network. Parkville (and Fishermans Bend should Melbourne Metro 2 be built) will be well connected to the broader network by the nature of their central location. The area around Sunshine station has excellent rail access from four directions (with a fifth proposed with Melbourne Airport Rail). Dandenong, La Trobe and Werribee are on or near 1 or 2 radial train lines.

You can read more about Melbourne’s employment clusters in this paper by Prof John Stanley, Dr Peter Brain, and Jane Cunningham, which suggests there would be productivity gains from improved public transport access to such clusters.

I hope this post provides some food for thought.

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What might explain journey to work mode shifts in Australia’s largest cities?

Mon 28 May, 2018

[Updated 29 June 2018 with further analysis of parking levies and their impact]

Between 2011 and 2016, journey to work public transport mode shares went up significantly in Melbourne and Sydney but dropped significantly in Perth and Brisbane. Private transport mode shifts did the opposite. Can this be explained by the changing distribution of jobs within cities, or other factors such as changes in transport costs?

In a recent post focused on Brisbane I found that stronger growth in suburban jobs relative to central city jobs could explain around half of the city’s mode shift towards private transport, with other factors (mostly the changes in relative attractiveness of modes) explaining the rest.

So how is job distribution changing in other Australian cities? How much of the mode shifts can be attributed to changing job distribution and how much could be attributed to other factors like changes in transport costs, or increasing employment density?

(for details about how I define public, private and active transport, see the appendix in this post)

How is job distribution changing in Australian cities?

Here’s a view of the changing distribution of all jobs within each city by workplaces distance from the city centre.

(Unfortunately I only have 2006 data for Sydney and Melbourne)

The changes are relatively subtle, but if look at how the bands shift between years, you’ll see increasing centralisation in Sydney but a decentralisation in all other cities between 2011 and 2016.

The strongest decentralisation was in Brisbane and Perth, which also showed the biggest increases in private transport mode share.

However Melbourne saw both a slight decentralisation of jobs and a mode shift away from private transport between 2011 and 2016.

So we need to dig deeper to find out what’s going on here.

How does private mode share vary by distance from the city centre?

The following chart shows private transport mode shares by distance from the city centre for the last two or three censuses for each city. The darkest line for each city is for 2016, with lighter lines being previous years (I only have 2006 data for Melbourne and Sydney).

There’s a clear pattern in all cities that private mode shares are lower in areas closer to the city centre, with Sydney the lowest, followed by Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide, and Canberra (which is also the order of their population size).

Notably Sydney private mode share averaged lower than 90% out as far as 24km from the city centre, whereas Adelaide sees 90% mode shares as close as 2km from the city centre.

If you look carefully you can see that Brisbane increased private transport mode shares in the central city between 2011 and 2016, while private mode shares dropped or were stable in all other cities at most distances.

You can also see that the central city mode shifts away from private transport were largest in Melbourne, something I’ll come back to.

Here’s the same again but for public transport:

Sydney and Melbourne saw mode shifts to public transport at most distances from the city centre, unlike all other cities.

What mode shift can we attribute to changing job distributions?

A city’s mode share (measured by place of work) will be fundamentally impacted by two types of changes between censuses:

  • Changes in the volume of jobs in each SA2 – because different SA2s generally have different mode shares due to factors like proximity to the city centre and public transport access. If there is stronger jobs growth in areas that already had lower private mode shares, you would get a mode shift away from private transport, all other things being equal.
  • Changes in the mode share in each SA2 – because different modes became more or less attractive for commuters between census years. This might be due to changes in public transport service quality, transport infrastructure provision, and relative changes in the cost of public transport, private motoring, and commuter parking. It could also be influenced by broader demographic changes.

For each city I have calculated what the city-level private transport mode share would have been in 2016, had mode shares in each workplace SA2 remained exactly the same as 2011, but the job volumes in each SA2s had still changed. The city level mode shift due to SA2 volume changes is then the difference between this hypothetical 2016 mode share and the 2011 mode share. The remainder of the city-level mode shift between 2011 and 2016 results can then be attributed to mode shifts at the SA2 level.

Here’s a chart showing the mode shift impact of both volume changes at the SA2 level, and mode shifts at the SA2 level:

As we noted above, Sydney saw a slight trend to centralisation of jobs between 2011 and 2016, and it had the largest volume change attributed reduction in private mode share (-0.4%). However other factors were responsible for a further 2.5% of the mode shift away from private transport.

The story is similar in Melbourne but to a smaller magnitude in both aspects. Both of these cities also saw increasing inner city job density – which matters – and I’ll back come to that in a moment.

In Brisbane you can see that the total mode shift towards private transport was roughly equally attributable to SA2 volume changes and SA2 mode shifts (as I discussed in my earlier post).

Perth had an overall 1.3% mode shift to private transport, and the majority of this was due to significant jobs growth in the suburbs compared to the CBD (in fact, the SA2 with the largest jobs growth was Murdoch in the southern suburbs). But there were also other factors that led to a mode shift to private transport.

In Canberra – Queanbeyan, volume changes by themselves would have seen a mode shift to private transport, but other factors were larger and led to an overall mode shift away from private transport (although it is actually complicated because the 2011 census day was in a federal parliamentary sitting week, while 2016 was not).

Nothing much changed in Adelaide.

Next I’m going to explore what could be behind the mode shifts at SA2 level, in terms of job density and real transport costs.

Can increases in workplace density impact mode shares?

As discussed in my Brisbane analysis, if the relative attractiveness of modes hadn’t changed, you might still expect a mode shift to public transport in high density employment areas with increasing jobs numbers because you would expect the cost of parking provision to increase with increasing land use density (i.e. more competition for space).

Indeed, in Sydney and Melbourne a number of inner city SA2s became significantly more job dense between 2011 and 2016, and also saw mode shifts away from private transport:

(inspect this data in Tableau)

A similar thing happened in Civic (the main centre of Canberra).

But Adelaide and Perth saw both declining job density and declining private transport mode share, which suggests something else is at play.

Job density didn’t really go down in Brisbane – see my Brisbane post for an explanation (basically, ABS redrew the SA2 boundary along the Brisbane River).

Could changes in the real cost of transport be causing mode shifts?

The following chart shows the real change in urban transport fares in Australian cities since 2000, as measured by the ABS as part of the Consumer Price Index series (which unfortunately includes public transport, taxis, and “ride share” but is for a representative sample of journeys so hopefully mostly dominated by public transport fares):

The lines are somewhat saw-toothed because public transport fares generally only rise once a year, and become better value in real terms over the course of the following 12 months.

Many cities have seen above-CPI public transport fare increases at various times, most notably Brisbane in 2010-2014. Melbourne has had above CPI fare increases, but also reduced zone 1+2 fares in 2015 which lead to a reduction on the ABS measure (the fare reduction only really applied to people travelling across zones 1 and 2 – which roughly summarised means travel between the outer and inner suburbs). Brisbane fares peaked in 2014, which was followed by a freeze and then a large reduction in 2017.

By contrast, here is the (negative) growth in the cost of “private motoring” (which includes vehicles, fuel and maintenance):

Private motoring costs have declined in real terms since 2000, although they increased a little during the second half of 2017.

The next chart shows the change in ratio between the two costs. Urban transport fares have become less competitive than private motoring over time in all cities:

But if we are looking at changes between census figures, we should probably also look at cost changes between the times of each census. Here’s how prices changed in real terms between the September quarters of 2011 and 2016 (which cover the August census dates):

The real cost of private motoring dropped in all cities, but so did the real “average” cost of urban transport fares in Sydney and Melbourne (the Melbourne drop being mostly around large fare reductions for travel across zones 1 and 2).

The biggest differences in cost changes were in Brisbane and Perth (around 18%), which I think will go a fair way to explaining why these cities had the biggest shifts to private transport attributable to SA2 mode shifts.

Brisbane saw a rapid increase in public transport fares between 2011 and 2014 which is likely to have changed many commuting habits, but those habits may or may not have changed back when fares were subsequently reduced (e.g. if someone bought a car due to fare increases, they may not have subsequently sold their car when fares reduced). Perth certainly had less mode shift at the SA2 level compared to Brisbane, which might support this hypothesis.

What about changes in car parking costs?

The ABS CPI’s private motoring cost index does not include car parking costs – which would be difficult as they vary considerably with geography.

However we do know about central city car parking levies that governments charge in a bid to reduce road congestion and fund inner city transport initiatives. Sydney, Melbourne, and Perth apply levies to central city non-residential car parking spaces, and ultimately these levies will need to be recovered through parking prices.

I’ve calculated these levies in 2017 dollars (adjusting for inflation as measured in June quarters), and here’s how they have changed since 2000:

Melbourne increased its central city parking levy by 40% per space in 2014 (category 1), and created a new lower-priced levy area in some neighbouring areas to the north and south in 2015 (category 2, see map). This is likely to have contributed to the larger mode shifts away from private transport in the central city area of Melbourne compared to most other cities (particularly considering there were similar changes in average private motoring and urban transport fares in Melbourne between 2011 and 2016).

Sydney’s category 1 fee applies in the Sydney CBD area, Milsons Points and North Sydney. It was $2390 in 2017, and has only risen with indexation since 2009 (when it was doubled). A lower category 2 levy applies in the business districts centres of Bondi Junction, Chatswood, Parramatta, and St Leonards.

Perth has an annual licence fee per bay which ranged from $1039 to $1169 in 2017.  The Perth fee was increased by around 167% in 2010, and there were also above-inflation increases from 2014. The fee increased 63% in real terms between 2011 and 2016 for “long stay” spaces, and 69% for “tenant” spaces.

I am not aware of any such fees or levies in place in Brisbane or Adelaide (a proposal for Adelaide was voted down).

So how are CBD parking prices changing?

Unfortunately good data is a little hard to find, but this Colliers Car Parking White Paper provides “average daily rates” for CBDs for 2009-2015, and early bird rates for 2015. I expect most commuters would pay early bird rates – which average between 28% and 62% of daily rates depending on the city (quite some variation!). I’ve adjusted the pre-2015 figures for inflation to be in 2015 dollars:

In real terms, “average daily” parking costs have declined in Melbourne, rocketed up in Brisbane and Canberra, and moved less in Sydney and Perth. I don’t know whether these reflect trends in early bird prices. And we don’t know how prices changed between 2015 and the census year of 2016.

So how much are parking levies contributing to parking prices?

I have to make some assumptions (guesstimates) here. Regular weekdays represent about 60% of the days of the year. If we assume say 80% of the levy is recovered from weekday commuter parking (there generally being less demand for parking on weekends), we can calculate the average weekday commuter cost of the levy to be 27% of the Sydney early bird price, 25% of the Melbourne early bird price, and 15% of the Perth early bird price. Certainly not insignificant.

Here’s a summary of the levy and “average daily” price changes and mode shifts in the central city parking levy areas:

Changes 2011 to 2016
Parking levy area or CBD SA2 Levy real increase Average daily real price change (2011 to 2015) Private mode shift New private trips Private share of new trips
Perth 63% -5% -0.8% -60 -3%
Melbourne – category 1 40% -11% -5.3% 3200 5%
Melbourne – category 2 (new) n/a -6.4% 5315 30%
Sydney CBD 0% +1% -2.6% 6204 9%
Brisbane City SA2 n/a +64% +1.7% 3135 68%
Adelaide SA2 n/a -11% -1.5% 2567 35%
Canberra Civic SA2 n/a +71% -3.2% 746 30%

Firstly, “average daily” parking prices don’t seem to be following the changes in parking levies in Perth and Melbourne (category 1 area). Other factors influencing parking prices will include supply (influenced by competition for real estate and planning rules) and demand (influenced by employment density) with the market ultimately determining prices.

Car park operators appear to be absorbing the increased cost of the levy (although we don’t know the trends in early bird prices so we cannot be entirely sure). But that’s not to say that the levy hasn’t had any impact on prices – for example, the price reductions might have been larger if the levies had not increased.

Secondly, price changes do not appear to be correlated with mode shifts as you might expect (except Canberra). Brisbane prices increased dramatically, but so did private mode share! Price reductions in Perth, Adelaide, and Melbourne did not result in increased private transport shares.

Maybe other factors are driving mode shift away from private transport in those cities. Maybe early bird prices are trending differently to “average daily” prices. Maybe increased traffic congestion persuaded people to shift modes. Maybe there were significant price changes between 2015 and 2016. Maybe most existing public transport users were not aware of reductions in parking prices.

I don’t know what happened to parking prices in the new category 2 areas of Melbourne but there was a large mode shift away from private transport (-6.4%), and they may well be linked. Indeed, Infrastructure Victoria has recently recommended the category 2 area be expanded to include the inner-eastern suburbs of Richmond, South Yarra, Windsor and Prahran. And the Grattan Institute has recommended increasing the levy to match Sydney’s rates.

Curiously, when I look at City of Melbourne Census of Land Use and Employment (CLUE) data, the category 1 area (approximated with CLUE areas) had an increase of only around 367 non-residential parking bays between 2011-12 and 2015-16 (a four year period), a lot less than the additional 3200 private trips, which might suggest increased average occupancy.

Also, it is likely that a significant portion of people who drive to city centres are not paying for their parking costs (eg employer provided car parking). Employers may simply be absorbing price increases.

For more interesting discussion and research about car parking in the City of Melbourne, see a recent discussion paper and background report prepared by Dr Elizabeth Taylor.

Did changes in population distribution impact mode shares?

While this post has been focused on changes by workplace location, it is possible to separate the overall mode shifts into the two components by home location. Here are the results:

In Sydney, Melbourne, and Canberra, stronger population growth in areas that already had low private mode shares in 2011 made a small contribution to overall mode shifts away from private transport. These cities have all seen densifying population in inner city areas better served by public transport.

The distribution of population growth in Perth and Brisbane had a small effect in the opposite direction.

And again, nothing much changed in Adelaide.

What about active transport?

Cycling-only mode share was pretty stable in most cities (except Canberra up 0.2%). Walking-only mode share declined in Sydney (-0.2%), Brisbane (-0.3%), Adelaide (-0.4%), Perth (-0.3%) but was steady in Melbourne and increased in Canberra (+0.2%). So Canberra has the biggest shift to active transport.

Can you summarise all that?

If your head is spinning with all that information, here’s a summary of what some of the major factors could be in each city between 2011 and 2016. I say “could be” because I’ve not looked at every possible factor influencing mode share.

Sydney: the 2.9% mode shift away from private transport was probably mostly to do with increasing job density in employment centres (more on that in my next post), but was also partly by a shift to more centralised jobs, and increasing population density in places well served by public transport.

Melbourne: The 1.8% mode shift away from private transport probably had a fair bit to do with increasing central city job density, the significant spatial expansion of the central city parking levy area and rates (although we don’t know if early bird prices also rose), a reduction in some public transport fares, and strong population growth in areas well served by public transport.

Brisbane: The 1.9% mode shift towards private transport appears roughly half about the decentralisation of jobs, and half the reduced attractiveness of public transport – particularly following significant fare rises between 2010 and 2014, and possibly/arguably declines in service quality.

Perth: The 1.2% mode shift towards private transport was probably mostly due to a decentralisation of jobs, and partly due to public transport becoming less cost competitive with private transport (despite an increase in the central city parking levy). Urban sprawl is probably also a factor.

Adelaide: The 0.2% mode shift to private transport is probably mostly due to public transport becoming less cost competitive with private transport. Changes in job and population distribution, and employment density do not appear to have had a significant impact.

Canberra:  The 1.0% mode shift away from private transport was probably the result of competing forces of higher jobs growth in car-dominated workplace areas with increasing job density in dense employment centres, increasing central city parking prices, higher population growth in areas better served by public transport (and possibly cycling facilities), and also the fact census 2016 was not a parliamentary sitting week while 2011 was (so really, it’s hard to be too sure!).

You might want to add your own views about changes in the service quality of public transport and cycling infrastructure in each city. I also haven’t looked at the impact of major new public transport infrastructure and service initiatives (such as the opening of new train stations), which we know does impact mode shares at a local level (maybe that’s for a future post).

I hope you found this interesting. My next post will look at suburban employment centres, and their role in changing mode shares in cities.


Introducing a census journey to work origin-destination explorer, with Melbourne examples

Sun 28 January, 2018

The Australian census provides incredibly rich data about journeys to work, with every journey classified by origin, destination, and mode(s) of transport. So you can ask questions such as “where did workers living in X commute to and how many used public transport?” or “where did workers in Y commute from and what percentage used private transport?”, or “What percentage of people in each home location work in the central city?”.

It’s very possible to answer these questions with census data, but near-impossible to produce an atlas of maps that would answer most questions.

But thanks to new data visualisation platforms, it’s now possible to build interactive tools that allow exploration of the data. I’ve built one in Tableau Public, using both 2011 and 2016 census data for all of Australia at the SA2 geography level (SA2s are roughly suburb sized). This means you can look at each census year, as well and the changes between 2011 and 2016.

I’m going to talk through what I’ve built with plenty of interesting examples from my home city Melbourne.

I hope you find exploring the data as fascinating and useful as I do. I also hope this tool makes it easier to inform transport discussions with evidence.

Also, a warning that this is a longer post, so get comfortable.

About the data (boring but important)

The census asks people which modes they used in the journey to work, and the data is encoded for up to three modes.

I’ve extracted a count of the number of trips between all SA2s within each state, by “main mode” for both 2011 and 2016. I’ve aggregated all responses into one of the following “main mode” categories:

  • Private (motorised) transport only – any journey involving car, truck, motorbike or taxi, but no modes of public transport, or people who only responded with “other”. Around 89% of journeys in this category were simply “car as driver”.
  • Walking/cycling only (or “active transport”) – journeys by walking or cycling only.
  • Public transport – any journey involving any public transport mode (train, tram, bus, and/or ferry). These journeys might also involve private motorised transport and/or cycling.

There are 466,597 rows of data all up – so you will need to be a little patient while Tableau prepares charts for you.

Things to note:

  • I’ve had to extract each state separately to stop the number of possible origin-destination combinations getting too large. This means that interstate journeys to work are not included in the data. I have however combined New South Wales (NSW) and the small Australian Capital Territory (ACT), as many people commute between Queanbeyan (NSW) and Canberra (ACT). Apologies to other areas near state borders!
  • When you ask the ABS for the number of people meeting certain criteria, the answer will never be 1 or 2. The ABS randomly adjust small numbers to protect privacy, and it’s not a good idea to add up lots of small randomly adjusted figures. That’s another reason why I haven’t gone smaller than SA2 geography and why I’ve aggregated mode combinations to just three modal categories. You will still see counts of 3 or 4, which need to be treated with caution.
  • Not all SA2s are the same size in terms of residential population, and particularly in terms of working population. The biggest source of commuters for a work area might simply be an SA2 with a larger total residential population.
  • The ABS change the SA2 boundaries between censuses. With each census some SA2s are split into smaller SA2s, particularly in fast growing areas. If you want to compare 2011 and 2016 figures, it is necessary to aggregate the 2016 data to 2011 boundaries, which the tool does where required. Some visualisation pages will give you the option of aggregating 2016 data to 2011 boundaries to make it easier to compare 2011 and 2016 data.
  • I’ve only counted journeys where the origin, destination and mode are known. Anyone who didn’t go to work on census day, didn’t state their mode(s) of travel, or didn’t state a fixed land-based work location are excluded.
  • Assigning “other” only trips as private transport might not be perfect, as it might include non-motorised modes like skateboards and foot scooters. It will also count air travel, and it’s arguable whether that is private or public transport (it’s certainly not low-carbon transport). However, overall numbers are quite small – 0.81% of all journeys with a stated mode in Australia.

Mode share maps to/from a location

First up, you can produce maps showing the main mode share of commuters from all home SA2 for a particular work SA2, or all workplaces for a particular home SA2.

Here is a map of private transport mode shares for journeys to work from Point Cook North:

Private transport dominates most middle and outer work destinations (even local trips), with many at 100%. Lower shares are evident for central city destinations, although Southbank next to the CBD is relatively high at 65%, and 100% of commuters who travelled to Fishermans Bend did so by private transport.

You can also look at it the other way around. Here’s private transport mode share for commutes to Parkville (just north of the CBD):

There was a low private transport mode share from the city centre and Brunswick to the north, roughly 40-50% mode shares from the south-eastern suburbs (accessible by train), but very high mode shares from the middle and outer suburbs to the north and west (public transport access more difficult). The new Metro Tunnel could make a dent in these mode shares, with a new train station in Parkville.

Here is a map of private transport only mode share for journeys to the “Melbourne” SA2 (which represents the Melbourne CBD):

Private transport (only) mode shares were lower than 30% for most areas, as public and active transport options are generally cheaper and more convenient for travel to the CBD. However you can see corridors with higher private transport mode share, including Kew – Bulleen – Doncaster – Warrandyte, and Keilor East – Keilor – Greenvale (around Melbourne Airport). These corridors are more remote from heavy rail lines. Other patches of higher private mode share include Rowville – Lysterfield, Altona North, and Point Cook East (including Sanctuary Lakes).

A high private transport mode share does not necessary mean a flood of private vehicles are coming from these areas. Kinglake is the rich orange area in the north-east of the above map, and according the 2016 census, 57% of people commuted to the Melbourne CBD by private transport only. Except that 57% is actually just 23 out of just 40 people making that commute – which is pretty small number in whole scheme of things.

Which leads me to…

Journey volume and mode split maps

These maps show the volume (size of pie) and mode split for journeys from/to a selected SA2.

The following map shows the volume and mode split of journeys to the “Melbourne” SA2 in 2016:

As I discussed in a recent post, not many people actually commute from the outer suburbs to the central city. Indeed, only 767 people commuted from Rowville to the Melbourne CBD in 2016, which is less than one train full.

Unfortunately all the pie charts in the inner city tend to overlap, while the pie charts in the outer suburbs are tiny. Here’s a zoomed in map for the inner suburbs with a lot less overlap:

You can see large green wedges in the inner city, where walking or cycling to the CBD is practical. You can also see that almost everywhere the blue wedges (public transport) are much larger than the red (private transport).

What does stand out more in this map is Kew – where 716 people travelled to the Melbourne CBD by private transport (highest of any SA2) – with a relatively high 41% mode share for a location so close to the city, despite it being connected to the CBD by four frequent tram and bus lines. Kew is also a quite wealthy area, so perhaps parking costs do not trouble such commuters (maybe employers are paying?). Other home SA2s with high volumes and relatively high private mode shares are Essendon – Alberfeldie (521 journeys, 28% private mode share), Brighton (493, 33%), Keilor East (419, 41%), Toorak (404, 35%) and Balwyn North (396, 35%). Most of these are wealthy suburbs, with the notable exception of Keilor East, which does not have a nearby train station.

Here is the same for Parkville:

The home areas with significant numbers of Parkville commuters are in the inner northern suburbs, and active and public transport were the dominant mode share for these trips. While 92% of commuters from Burnside Heights to Parkville were by private transport, there were only 35 such trips. The overall private transport mode share for Parkville as a destination was 50%.

Here is the same type of map for Fishermans Bend (Port Melbourne Industrial), which is just south-west of the CBD:

Private transport dominates mode share, and you can see a slight bias towards the western suburbs. Which means a lot of cars driving over the Westgate Bridge.

Around 30,000 people travelled to work in Clayton in Melbourne’s south-east. Here’s a map showing the origins of those commutes:

Almost half of the workers who both live and work in Clayton walked or cycled (only) to work, of which I suspect many work at Monash University. The public transport mode shares are higher towards the north-west, particularly around the Dandenong train line that connects to Clayton. Very few people put themselves through the pain of commuting from Melbourne’s western and northern suburbs to Clayton.

Over 60,000 people commuted to Dandenong in 2016, which includes the large Dandenong South industrial area. Here are the volumes and mode splits for where they came from:

You can see a significant proportion of the workforce lived to the south-east, and much less to the north and west. You can also see private transport dominates travel from all directions (despite there being two train lines through the Dandenong activity centre, and a north-south SmartBus route through the industrial area).

Here‘s a look at people who commuted to work at Melbourne Airport:

You can see that airport workers predominantly came from the nearby suburbs, and the vast majority commuted by private transport. The most common home locations of airport workers include Sunbury South (543), Gladstone Park – Westmeadows (411), and Greenvale – Bulla (351 – note Greenvale has a much higher population than Bulla).

The largest public transport volume actually came from the CBD (48 out of 67 commuters, which is a 72% mode share), probably using staff discount tickets on SkyBus. The biggest trip growth 2011 to 2016 was from Craigieburn – Mickelham: 367 more trips of which 355 were by private transport only.

The data can also be filtered to only show a particular main mode. For example, here is a map of the origins for private transport trips to the Melbourne CBD (ie who drives to work in the CBD):

Which can also be shown as a sorted bar chart:

The most common sources of private transport trips to the CBD were generally very wealthy suburbs, where many people are probably untroubled by the cost of car parking (they can easily afford it, or someone else is paying). However bear in mind that not all SA2s have the same population so larger SA2s will be higher on the list (all other things being equal).

This data can also be viewed the other way around. Here are the volumes and mode splits of journeys from Point Cook South in 2016. The Melbourne CBD was the biggest destination (994 journeys) with 69% public transport mode share followed by Docklands (342 journeys) with 64% public transport mode share.

Here is yet another way to look at this data, which is particularly relevant for the central city…

Percentage of commuters who travel to selected workplace SA2s

Here is a map showing the proportion of commuters in each home SA2 who work in the Melbourne, Southbank or Docklands SA2s (the tool allows selection of up to three workplace SA2s):

There are some interesting patterns in this map. Generally the percentage of people commuting to central Melbourne declined with distance from the CBD. There are however some outlier SA2s that had relatively high percentages of people travelling to central Melbourne, despite being some distance from the city centre.

In fact, here is a chart showing distance from the CBD, and the percentage of commuters travelling to the central city:

Tableau has labelled some of the points, but not all (interact with the data in Tableau to explore more). The outliers above the curve are generally west or north of the city, with Point Cook South being the most significant outlier. Further from the city, the commuter towns of Macedon, Riddells Creek and Gisborne have unusually high percentage of commuters travelling to the central city for that distance from the city (made possible by upgraded V/Line train services).  Many of the outliers below the curve are less wealthy areas, where people were less likely to work in the central city.

The previous map showed the proportion of all commuters that went to the central city. The tool can also filter that by mode. Here’s a map showing the percentage of public transport commuters who had a destination of Melbourne, Docklands or Southbank:

Typically around two-thirds of public transport journeys to work from most parts of Greater Melbourne are to Melbourne, Docklands, or Southbank SA2s. The lowest percentages were in the local jobs rich SA2s of Clayton (49%) and Dandenong (40%).

Adding Carlton and East Melbourne to the above three central city SA2s roughly takes the proportion up to around 70%. That’s a lot of public transport commutes to other destinations, but still a vast majority are focussed on the central city.

We can also look at this data from the origin end…

Where do people from a particular area commute to?

As an example, here is a map showing the percentage of commuters from Point Cook – South (a new and relatively wealthy area in Melbourne’s south-west) who worked in each work SA2 (destinations with less than 20 workers excluded):

You can see that 20% worked in the Melbourne CBD, followed by 7% in Docklands, and 6% in each of Point Cook North and Point Cook South (local). The largest nearby employment area is the industrial areas of Laverton, but this industrial area only attracted 4% of commuters from Point Cook South.

Here is a map for “Rowville – Central” SA2:

You can see that journeys to work are very scattered, with only 6% travelling to the Melbourne CBD.

(these maps can also be filtered by mode)

Another way to look at that data is a…

List of top commuter destinations

Here’s a chart showing the top work destinations from Rowville – Central in 2016, split by mode (this is a screenshot so the scroll bar doesn’t work):

You can see local trips are most numerous, and are dominated by private transport (although there were 48 active transport local trips). Dandenong was the second most common destination, with 97% private transport mode share, followed by Melbourne CBD with 40% private transport mode share (137 private transport journeys). The only other destination with high public transport mode share was Docklands at 59% (48 private transport journeys).

Changes between 2011 and 2016

We’ve so far looked at volumes and mode shares, but of course we can also look at the changes in volumes and mode share between 2011 and 2016.

There were around 15,000 more commutes to Dandenong in 2016 compared to 2011. Here are the changes in volumes by main mode for home SA2s with the largest total number of journeys:

You can see almost all of the new journeys to work were by private transport, no doubt putting a lot of pressure on the road network. A lot of the growth was from the suburbs to the east and south-east, none of which had a direct public transport connection to the Dandenong South industrial area at the time of the 2016 census. That’s now changed, with new bus route 890 linking the Cranbourne train line at Lynbrook with the Dandenong South industrial area (it operates every 40 minutes).

Note: a row with no figure or bar drawn (quite common in the Active only column) means that there were no such trips in either 2011 and/or 2016. Unfortunately the tool doesn’t show the change in volume in such circumstances (I’ll try to fix this in the future).

Contrast this with Parkville:

Brunswick is Parkville’s biggest source of workers, and there were many more such workers coming in by public and active transport, and a decline in workers who commuted by private transport. However there was an increase in private transport from places further out like Coburg and Pascoe Vale.

Of course you can do this the other way around too. Here‘s the new trips from Tarneit, a major growth area in Melbourne’s south-west where a train station opened in 2015:

Access to the Melbourne CBD by public transport improved significantly with the new train station, and 527 more people did that trip in 2016 compared to 2011. But the number of people who drove declined by only 35. The train line didn’t reduce the number of people driving out of Tarneit in total, but there probably would have been a lot more had it not opened. In the case of the Melbourne CBD, there were simply a lot more CBD workers living in Tarneit in 2016 (some CBD workers may have moved to Tarneit, and people otherwise in Tarneit were probably more likely to choose the CBD for work).

Here is a map of private transport mode shifts for journeys to the Melbourne CBD (were blue is mode shift to private transport and orange is mode shift away from private transport):

The biggest shifts away from private transport include Narre Warren North (-19%, but small volumes), Tarneit (-17%, with a train station opening in 2015), Wyndham Vale (-15%, also new train station), Don Vale – Park Orchards (-15%, with buses being primary mode for access to the CBD), Melton (-13%), and then -12% in Point Cook (new train station and bus upgrades in 2013), West Footscray – Tottenham, Sunbury (rail electrification 2012), South Morang (new train station), and Warrandyte – Wonga Park (SmartBus to city).

The biggest mode shifts to private transport were in low volume areas, including Monbulk – Silvan (+14%, which is an extra 5 trips), Keilor (+8%, 8 extra trips), Tullamarine (+8%, 16 extra trips), Lysterfield (+7%, 4 extra trips), Panton Hill – St Andrews (+7%, 4 extra trips) and more surprisingly Coburg North (+6%, up from 47 to 97 trips).

Again, you can see the problem with mode share and mode shift figures is that the volumes may be inconsequential. The map doesn’t show regions with less than 30 travellers, or less than 4 travellers by the selected mode. There was an overwhelming mode shift away from private transport for travel to the Melbourne CBD.

Here’s another view of the data: the change in the number of private transport trips to the Melbourne CBD, mapped:

That’s a peculiar mix of increases in decreases, but most of the volume changes are relatively small (note the scale).

The biggest increase was +142 trips from Truganina, a growth area with two nearby train stations built between 2011 and 2016. If that sounds alarming, it should be compared with an increase of 555 public transport trips from Truganina to the Melbourne CBD.

The larger declines were from suburbs like:

  • -85 from Doncaster East (bus upgrades),
  • -67 from Donvale – Park Orchards (bus upgrades),
  • -66 from Templestowe (also bus upgrades), and
  • -61 from Deer Park – Derrimut (also bus and train service upgrades).

Curiously, there was an increase of 71 private transport journeys to work entirely within the Melbourne CBD (to a new total of 236). Why anyone living and working in the CBD would go by private transport is almost beyond me – it’s very walkable and the trams are now free. Digging deeper…in 2016: 137 drove a car, 20 were a car passenger, 17 used motorbike/scooter, 13 a taxi, and 31 were “other” (okay, some of those 31 might have been skateboards or kick scooters, but we don’t know).

We can do the same by home location. Here are the net new trip destinations from Wyndham Vale in Melbourne’s outer south-west:

Wyndham Vale added more trips to the Melbourne CBD than trips to local workplaces.

Find your own stories

As mentioned, I’ve built interactive visualisations for all of this data, in Tableau Public, which you can use for free.

If you have a reasonably large screen, you might want to start with one of these four “dashboards” that show you volumes and mode shares, or volume changes and mode shifts. Choose a state, then an SA2, then you might need to zoom/pan the maps to show the areas of interest (unfortunately I can’t find a way to change the map zoom to be relevant to your selected SA2). The good thing about these dashboards is that you see mode shares and volumes on the same page.

Play around with the various filtering options to get different views of the data, including an option to turn on/off labels (which can overlap a lot when you zoom out), and change the colour scheme for mode share maps.

If you want more detail and/or have a smaller screen, then you might want to use one of the following links to a single map/chart:

Journey volumes by mode on a map to selected work location from selected home location
on a bar chart to selected work location from selected home location
Mode share on a map to selected work location from selected home location
on a bar chart to selected work location from selected home location
Percent of journeys on a map to selected work location(s) from selected home location
on a box chart to selected work location from selected home location
Journey volume change 2011 to 2016 on a map to selected work location from selected home location
on a bar chart to selected work location from selected home location
Mode shift
2011 to 2016
on a map to selected work location from selected home location
on a bar chart to selected work location from selected home location

Once you have the tool open in Tableau Public you can switch between the dashboards and worksheets with the tabs at the top (note: it will reset if you don’t use it for a while). You can mouse over the data to see more details (I’ve tried to list relevant data for each area), and often your filtering selections will apply to related tabs.

Finally remember to be careful in your analysis:

  • A large mode share or mode shift might not be for a significant volume.
  • A large change in volume might not be a significant mode shift.

Have fun!

[This post and the Tableau tool were updated 3 February 2018 with better label positions on maps. For larger SA2s, label positions better reflect the centre of residential or working population, as appropriate to the type of map. The Tableau tool should also be faster to load]


Where are the unoccupied dwellings in Australian cities?

Sat 4 November, 2017

Over one million private dwellings in Australia were unoccupied on census night in 2016 – 11.2% of all private dwellings – up from 10.2% in 2011.

This raises many questions. Where are these unoccupied dwellings and where are they now more prevalent? What type of dwellings are more likely to be unoccupied? How long have these dwellings been unoccupied? Do we know why these dwellings are unoccupied?

This post will focus on dwelling occupancy by geography, dwelling types and trends over time. In a future post I hope look into those last two questions in more detail.

I’ve prepared data for sixteen Australian cities, with various maps in Tableau (you will need to zoom and pan to your city of interest).

Why am I blogging about dwelling occupancy on a transport blog? Well partly because I’m interested in urban issues, but also because land use is very relevant to transport. If dwelling occupancy rates in the inner and middle suburbs were higher, there would be more people living closer to jobs and activities who might be less reliant on private motorised transport for their daily travel.

If you’d like to read more around the associated policy issues, Professor Hal Pawson from UNSW has a good piece in The Conversation highlighting the increasing number of empty properties and spare bedrooms, and advocates  replacing stamp duty with a broad-based land tax to improve housing mobility. Also read Eryk Bagshaw in the Fairfax press, Jonathan Jackson in Finfeed, and a piece in Business Insider where the Commonwealth Bank state that 17% of recently built dwellings are left unoccupied (not sure how that was calculated).

What are the dwelling occupancy rates in Australian cities?

Here’s a chart showing private dwelling occupancy rates for sixteen Australian cities (using 2011 Significant Urban Area boundaries) from the last three censuses:

Note the y-axis only runs from 84% to 94%, so the changes are not massive. However a small change in dwelling occupancy can still have a large impact on housing prices (rental and sales).

The Sunshine and Central Coasts have the lowest occupancy, almost certainly explained by many holiday homes in those regions, although all three have been trending upwards. Curiously, the Gold Coast – Tweed Heads had a significant increase in occupancy between 2011 and 2016 to take it above Perth, Townsville, and Darwin.

Hobart and Cairns also had increased occupancy between 2011 and 2016, but all large cities declined between 2011 and 2016. Perth, Darwin and Townsville had big slides – quite possibly related to the downturn in the mining industry and slowing population growth (all three have seen slowing population growth in recent years after a boom period). Then again, if there are more fly-in-fly-out workers in a city you might expect dwelling occupancy on census night to go down as a portion of them will be away for work on census night.

How does dwelling occupancy in capital cities compare to the rest of the country?

Private dwelling occupancy is significantly lower outside the capital city areas. While the capital city areas contain 63% of all private dwellings, they only contain 51% of unoccupied private dwellings.

How does dwelling occupancy vary by dwelling type?

Here’s a chart of 2016 dwelling occupancy by Greater Capital City Statistical Areas and the most common dwelling types:

In many cities there is a strong correlation between housing type and occupancy, with separate houses having the highest occupancy rates, and multi-storey flats/apartments having the lowest. The pattern is strongest in Perth – perhaps reflecting reduced demand for apartment living following the end of the mining boom(?).

The data suggests higher density apartments are more likely to not be occupied on census night, but it doesn’t tell us why. Of course different dwelling types have different spatial distributions, so is it the dwelling type that drives the occupancy rates? I’ll come back to that shortly.

Where are the unoccupied dwellings?

Quite simply, here is a map showing the density (at SA2 geography) of unoccupied dwellings in Melbourne over time (you might need to click to enlarge to read more clearly):

(I’ve not shaded SA2s with less than 1 unoccupied dwelling per hectare. You can look at other cities in Tableau by zooming out and then in on another city).

You can see a fairly significant increase in the number of unoccupied dwellings in the inner and middle suburbs (at least at densities above 1 per hectare).

From a transport perspective – this isn’t great. If people lived in those dwellings rather than dwellings on the fringe of Melbourne, the transport task would be easier as there would be many more people living closer to jobs and other destinations with non-car modes being more competitive.

But these areas with a relatively high density of unoccupied dwellings are also areas with a high density of dwellings in general. The density of unoccupied dwellings has risen in the same places where total dwelling density has risen:

(see in Tableau – you may need to change the geography type)

Given you would expect a small percentage of dwellings to be unoccupied for good reasons (eg resident temporarily absent, or property on the market), it makes sense that the density of unoccupied dwellings has gone up with total dwelling density.

But a decrease in the dwelling occupancy rate requires the number of unoccupied dwellings to be growing at a faster rate than the total number of dwellings. We already know that is happening at the city level through declining occupancy rates, so how does that look inside cities?

How does dwelling occupancy vary across Melbourne?

Here’s a map of dwelling occupancy in Melbourne and Geelong at CD/SA1 level geography:

(see also in Tableau)

You can see very clearly that occupancy is lowest on Mornington Peninsula beaches to the south – which almost certainly reflects empty holiday homes on census night (a Tuesday night in winter).

In fact, I’ve created a map of dwelling occupancy at SA2 level for all of Australia, and you can see many coastal holiday areas around Melbourne (and other cities) with low occupancy (with Lorne – Anglesea at 32% and Phillip Island at 40%):

The previous Melbourne map at CD/SA1 level is very detailed and so it’s not easy to see the overall trends. Also, apart from the Mornington Peninsula, occupancy rates are almost all above 80%.

So here is a zoomed-in map with a different (narrower) colour scale, with data aggregated at SA2 level (also in Tableau):

Things become much clearer.

The highest dwelling occupancy is generally on the fringe of Melbourne.

Apart from holiday home areas, the lowest occupancy in 2016 was concentrated in wealthier inner suburbs, including Toorak at 83% and South Yarra west at 84%. This was closely followed by the CBD, Docklands, East Melbourne, Southbank, and Albert Park between 84% and 86%. These areas have all had declining occupancy since 2011.

It can be a little difficult to see the changes in occupancy rates, so here is a non-animated map the change in dwelling occupancy rates between 2006 and 2016 (also in Tableau):

There are at least small declines in most parts of Melbourne. The biggest decline was 7% in Bundoora North (with lowest 2016 occupancy of 79% in these new units in University Hill ), followed by 5% in Doncaster (lowest around Doncaster Hill where there are new apartments, perhaps too new to be occupied on census night?), 4% in South Yarra East (lowest in the new apartments around South Yarra Station, again possibly because some are very new) and Prahran – Windsor.

Curiously, Docklands dwelling occupancy increased by 9% from 75% to 85% (rounding means that those numbers don’t perfectly add). Perhaps there were many new yet-to-be-occupied dwellings in 2006? For reference, Dockland’s 2011 occupancy was 84%, only slightly below the 2016 level.

The outer growth areas are a mixed bag of increases and decreases. This possibly depends again on how many brand new but not yet occupied dwellings there were in 2006 and 2016.

What are the dwelling occupancy patterns in other cities?

Sydney

You can see lower occupancy around the CBD, North Sydney, Manly, and the northern beaches, and higher occupancy in the western suburbs.

The largest declines are evident in the city centre and North Ryde – East Ryde:

Brisbane

Brisbane has some big declines to the north-east of the city centre, Rochedale – Burbank, Woodridge, Logan, and Leichhardt – One Mile. The Redland Islands in the east are presumably a popular place for holiday homes.

Perth

Low occupancy is evident around Mandurah in the south (a popular holiday home area). Lower occupancy has spread around the inner city, and beach-side suburbs of Scarborough, Cottesloe, Fremantle, and Rockingham (many of which are areas with higher concentrations of Airbnb properties).

The biggest declines were in Maylands, Victoria Park – Lathlain – Burswood, and South Lake – Cockburn Central. For the first two of these areas the decline was mostly in flats/units/apartments.

Adelaide

The lowest occupancy is on the south coast and in Glenelg. The biggest decline was in Fulham (-5%), followed by Payneham – Felixstowe (-4%):

[Canberra, Hobart and Darwin added 6 November 2017]

Canberra

Dwelling occupancy was lowest around Parliament House (the census was not during a sitting week in 2016), and highest in the outer northern and southern suburbs. The 2006 census was during a sitting week, so it’s little surprise that big dwelling occupancy reductions were seen around Capital Hill between 2006 and 2016.  There was also a 5% decline in Farrer and a 6% growth in Gungahlin between 2006 and 2016 (Gungahlin’s dwellings almost doubled between 2006 and 2011, so the 2006 result might reflect brand new dwellings awaiting occupants).

Hobart

Dwelling occupancy was lowest in central Hobart, with the biggest decline of 4% in Old Beach – Otago, but overall there was little change between 2006 and 2016 (average occupancy did drop slightly in 2011 though).

Darwin

Darwin dwelling occupancy was lowest in the city centre at 82% in 2016, while Howard Springs had 100% occupancy (in 2016). Declines are evident between 2006 and 2016 across most parts of Darwin.

Gold Coast

Here’s a map of 2016 occupancy at SA1 level, with the original broader colour scale:

You can see quite clearly that the beach-side areas have low occupancy, while the inland areas have much higher occupancy (some at 100%). Presumably many permanent residents cannot or choose not to compete with tourism for beach-side living.

Sunshine Coast

Similar patterns are evident on the Sunshine Coast, particularly around Noosa and Sunshine Beach in the north:

If you want to see other cities, move around Australia in Tableau for occupancy maps at CD/SA1 and SA2 geography (choose you year of interest), and occupancy change maps (at SA2 geography).

So are there lots of unoccupied inner city apartments in Melbourne?

Some commentators have spoken about many inner city apartments being unoccupied – perhaps through a glut or investors chasing capital gains and not interested rental incomes.

Here is dwelling occupancy in central Melbourne at SA1 geography for 2016, using the broader colour scale (also in Tableau):

There are quite a few pockets of very low occupancy, particularly areas shaded in yellows and greens. The average private dwelling occupancy for the City of Melbourne local government area was 87%, lower than the Greater Melbourne average of 91%.

The lowest occupancy is a block between Adderley, Spencer and Dudley Street in North Melbourne at 56%, which is probably related to the recent completion of an apartment tower not long before the census (from Google Street view we know it was under construction in April 2015 and completed by October 2016).

There are several patches of yellow  (65-70% occupancy) in the CBD, Docklands and Southbank.

But what about apartment towers? For that we need to drill down to mesh blocks – and thankfully 2016 census data is actually provided at this level.

Here’s a map showing dwelling occupancy of mesh blocks in the City of Melbourne (local government area) with at least 100 dwellings per hectare (as an arbitrary threshold for large apartment building – see the appendix for an example of this density):

(explore in Tableau)

Some notable low occupancy apartment towers include:

  • 48% for an apartment tower at 555 Flinders Street (Northbank Place Central Tower) between Spencer and King Street and the railway viaduct. It wasn’t brand new in 2016.
  • 47% in a block that includes the Melbourne ONE apartment tower, possibly because it was only just opened (as I write there are still apartments for sale)
  • 65% for one of the towers at New Quay, Docklands (which seems to include serviced apartments)
  • 66% for a tower at 28 Southgate Ave (corner City Road), and 67% for the Quay West tower next door (almost certainly popular places for Airbnb / serviced apartments).

Several of these towers include advertised serviced apartments, and I expect the towers would contain a mix of serviced apartments, owner-occupied apartments and rentals (regular and Airbnb). However ABS advises me that field officers do speak to building managers, and are therefore likely to not code serviced apartments as private dwellings.

That said, according to the 2016 census data there were only 11 non-private dwellings in Docklands that were classified as “Hotel, motel, bed and breakfast”, and zero non-private dwellings in the New Quay apartment towers.

I snapped this picture at 9pm on a Sunday in September 2017 of the apartments at New Quay (Docklands) that at the 2016 census had 65-70% occupancy:

Of course you wouldn’t expect lights to be on in all rooms in all occupied dwellings at 9pm on a particular Sunday, but I dare say it’s probably a time when fewer people would be out. It looks like a lot less than a quarter of rooms are lit. I know very few of these are on Airbnb (more on that in a future post!), but I don’t know how many are actually serviced apartments.

There’s huge variation in dwelling occupancy across these mesh blocks. So is the lower occupancy more concentrated in higher density areas? Here’s a scatter plot of all mesh blocks in the City of Melbourne by dwelling density and occupancy:

There’s not a strong relationship between density and occupancy. The variation in dwelling occupancy between mesh blocks will probably depend on a lot of local factors.

What about occupancy by dwelling type for the inner city?

(data points removed where dwelling counts were small, the isolated blue dot at the bottom is for Southbank).

There’s no evidence that flats / apartments have lower occupancy than other housing types in the central city. However there is evidence that inner city areas have relatively lower occupancy.

So how does the occupancy of apartment blocks of 4+ storeys vary across Melbourne?

Box Hill had the lowest apartment occupancy of 50% (perhaps some were brand new?), followed by Ringwood, Glen Waverley, and Brighton in the 70-75% range.  Croydon East, Templestowe , Seddon – Kingsville, Clayton, Carnegie, West Footscray, Braybrook and Frankston reported occupancy above 95%. The inner city areas were around 84-85% occupied, and these would make up the majority of such dwellings in Melbourne.

Apartments in blocks of 4+ storeys seem to have lower occupancy on average because most of them are located in the central city, which generally has lower dwelling occupancy.

Here’s a similar map (with a different colour scale) for dwelling occupancy of separate houses across the Melbourne region:

The lowest rates in metropolitan Melbourne are 82-83% in some inner city areas, while the urban growth shows up in pink and purple, mostly 94-96%.

Explore the 2016 occupancy rates at SA2 geography for different dwelling types for any part of Australia in Tableau. You can also view changes in occupancy rates since 2006 for separate houses, flats/units/apartments, and semi-detached/townhouses.

Why are there lower dwelling occupancy rates in the central city?

The census doesn’t answer this, and I’m not a housing expert, but I dare say there are plenty of plausible explanations:

  • Many dwellings are rented out on Airbnb (and/or other platforms) – but are not in high demand on a weeknight in mid-winter (more on that in this post).
  • Many dwellings are serviced apartments that are indistinguishable from regular private dwellings (in buildings with a mixture of dwelling use). ABS say they don’t count these as private dwellings, however they are not showing up as non-private dwellings.
  • Dwellings are more likely to occupied by executives who travel more frequently.
  • Dwellings might be second homes for people living outside the city.
  • Dwellings might be owned by employers for interstate staff visiting Melbourne.
  • Dwellings might be poorly constructed and uninhabitable (eg mould issues).
  • Investors who are not interested in rental income might deliberately leave properties vacant (something that is disputed).

But I’m just speculating.

What about dwelling occupancy in the centre of other cities?

Here’s a map of the Sydney CBD area at SA1 geography:

There are some very low occupancy rates in the north end of the CBD, but very high occupancy rates around Darling Harbour and Pyrmont.

Here’s central Brisbane:

Here are occupancy rates for different dwelling types for selected inner city SA2s in Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth:

In all SA2s except Surrey Hills (Sydney) and South Brisbane, flats or apartments in 4+ storey blocks had the lowest dwelling occupancy in 2016. Only in Perth City SA2 (which is quite a bit larger than the CBD) is there a reasonably clear relationship between housing type and occupancy.

Summary of findings

Couldn’t be bothered reading all of the above, or forgot what you learnt? Here’s a summary of findings:

  • Dwelling occupancy, as measured by the census, has declined in most Australian cities between 2006 and 2016 (particularly larger cities).
  • Dwelling occupancy is generally very low in popular holiday home areas, but also relatively low in central city locations.
  • Dwelling occupancy is generally highest in outer suburban areas.
  • Higher density housing types generally have lower occupancy, but that is probably because they are more often found in inner city areas.
  • There are examples of low occupancy apartment towers in Melbourne, but there’s not a clear relationship between dwelling density and dwelling occupancy in central Melbourne.

In a future post I plan to look more at why properties might be unoccupied, and for how long they are unoccupied, drawing on Airbnb and water usage datasets.  I might also look at bedrooms and bedroom occupancy which is a whole other topic.

 

Appendix – About the census dwelling data

I’ve loaded census data about occupied and unoccupied private dwellings data into Tableau for 2006, 2011, and 2016 censuses for sixteen Australian cities at the CD (2006) / SA1 (2011,2016) level, which the smallest geography available for all censuses. I’ve mapped all these CDs and SA1s to boundaries of 2016 SA2s and 2011 Significant Urban Areas (as per my last post). Those mappings are unfortunately not perfect, particularly for 2006 CDs.

The ABS determine a private dwelling to be occupied if they have information to suggest someone was living in that dwelling on census night (eg a form was returned, or there was some evidence of occupation). Under this definition, unoccupied dwellings include those with usual residents temporarily absent, and those with no usual residents (vacant).

For my detailed maps I’ve only included CDs / SA1s with a density of 2 dwellings per hectare or more.

For reference, here is a Melbourne mesh block with 100 dwellings per hectare:

And here is a mesh block with 206 dwellings per hectare (note only a small part of mesh block footprint contains towers):


Trends in journey to work mode shares in Australian cities to 2016 (second edition)

Tue 24 October, 2017

[Updated 1 December 2017 with reissued Place of Work data]

The ABS has now released all census data for the 2016 journey to work. This post takes a city-level view of mode share trends. It has been expanded and updated from a first edition that only looked at place of work data.

My preferred measure of mode share is by place of enumeration – ie how did you travel to work based on where you were on census night (see appendix for discussion on other measures).

I’m using Greater Capital City Statistical Areas (GCCSA) geography for 2011 and 2016 and Statistical Divisions for earlier years. For Perth, Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane and Hobart the GCCSAs are larger than the Statistical Divisions used for earlier years, but then those cities have also grown over time. See appendix 1 for more discussion.

Some of my data goes back to 1976 – I’ll show as much history as I have for each mode/modal combination.

Public transport mode share

Sydney continues to have the largest public transport mode share, and the largest shift of the big cities. Melbourne also saw significant positive mode shift, but Perth and particularly Brisbane had mode shift away from public transport.

There’s so much to unpack behind these trends, particularly around the changing distribution of jobs in cities that I’m going to save that lengthy discussion for another blog post.

But what about the…

Massive mode shift to “public transport” in Darwin?!?

[this section updated 26 Oct 2017]

Yes, I have triple-checked I downloaded the right data. “Public transport” mode share increased from 4.3% to 10.9%. The number of people reporting bus-only journeys went from 1648 in 2011 to 5661 in 2016, which is growth of 244%. There has also been a spike in the total number of journeys to work in 2011, 30% higher than in 2011, while population growth was 13%.

Initially I thought this might have been a data error, but I’ve since learnt that there is a large LNG gas project just outside Darwin, and up to 180 privately operated buses are being used to transport up to 4700 workers to the site. This massive commuter task is swamping the usage of public buses.

Here’s the percentage growth in selected journey types between 2011 and 2016:

Bus + car as driver grew from 74 to 866 journeys, which reflects the establishment of park and ride sites around Darwin for the special commuter buses. Bus only journeys increased from 1953 to 5744. So it looks like most workers are getting the bus from home and/or forgot to mention the car part of their journey (in previous censuses I’ve seen many people living kilometres from a train station saying they got to work by train and walking only).

So this new project has swamped organic trends, although it is quite plausible that some people have shifted from cycling/walking to local jobs to using buses to commute to the LNG project (which is outside urban Darwin). When I look at workplaces within the Darwin Significant Urban Area (2011 boundary), public transport mode share is 6.0%, in 2016, still an increase from 4.4% in 2011. More on that in a future post.

Train

Sydney saw the fastest train mode share growth, followed by Melbourne, while Brisbane and Perth went backwards.

Bus

Darwin just overtook Sydney for top spot thanks to the LNG project. Otherwise only Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne saw growth in bus mode share. Melbourne’s figure remains very low, however it is important to keep in mind that trams provide most of the on-street inner suburban radial public transport function in Melbourne.

Train and bus

Sydney comes out on top, with a large increase in 2016 (although much of this is still concentrated around Bondi where there are high bus frequencies and no fare penalties for transfers – more on that in an upcoming post). Melbourne is seeing substantial growth (perhaps due to improvements in modal coordination), while Perth, Adelaide and Brisbane had declines in terms of mode share (Brisbane and Adelaide were also declines on raw counts, not just mode share). I’m sure some people will want to comment about degrees of modal integration in different cities.

Train and bicycle

Some cities are also trying to promote the bicycle and train combination as an efficient way to get around (they are the fastest motorised and (mostly)non-motorised surface modes because they can generally sail past congested traffic). The mode shares are still tiny however:

Sydney and Melbourne are growing but the other cities are in decline in terms of mode share.

As this modal combination is coming off an almost zero base, it’s also probably worth looking at the raw counts:

The downturns in Brisbane and Perth are not huge in raw numbers, and probably reflect the general mode shift away from public transport (which is probably more to do with changing job distributions than bicycle facilities at train stations).

Cycling

I have a longer time-series of bicycle-only mode share, compared to “involving bicycle”, so two charts here:

Observations:

  • Darwin lost top placing for cycling to work with a large decline in mode share (refer discussion above about the massive shift to bus).
  • Canberra took the lead with more strong growth.
  • Melbourne increased slightly between 2011 and 2016 (note: rain was forecast on census day which may have suppressed growth, more on that in a moment).
  • Hobart had a big increase in 2016, following rain in 2011.
  • Sydney remains at the bottom of the pack and declined in 2016.

Walking and cycling mode share is likely to be impacted by weather. Here’s a summary of recent census weather conditions for most cities (note: Canberra minimums were -3 in 2001, -7 in 2006, 0 in 2011 and -1 in 2016):

Perth had rain on all of the last four census days, while Adelaide had significant rain only in 2001 and 2011 (and indeed 2006 shows up with higher active transport mode share). Hobart had significant rain in 2011, which appears to have suppressed active transport mode share that year.

But perhaps equally important is the forecast weather as that could set people’s plans the night before. Here was the forecast for the 2016 census day,  from the BOM website the night before:

Note that it didn’t end up raining in Melbourne, Adelaide, or Hobart.

The census is conducted in winter – which is the best time to cycle in Darwin (dry season) and not a great time to cycle in other cities. However the icy weather in Canberra clearly hasn’t stopped it getting the highest and fastest growing cycling mode share of all cities!

Indeed here is a chart from VicRoads showing the seasonality of cycling in Melbourne at their bicycle counters:

And in case you are interested, here are the (small) mode shares of journeys involving bicycle and some other modes (other than walking):

Walking only

Canberra was the only city to have a big increase, while there were declines in Darwin, Perth, Adelaide, Brisbane, and Sydney.

The smaller cities had the highest walking share, perhaps as people are – on average – closer to their workplace, followed by Sydney – the densest city. But city size doesn’t seem to explain cycling mode shares.

Car

The following chart shows the proportion of journeys to work made by car only (either as driver or passenger):

Sydney has the lowest car only mode share and it declined again in 2016. It was followed by Melbourne in 2016. Brisbane and Perth had large increases in car mode share in 2016 (in line with the PT decline mentioned above). Darwin also shows a big shift away from the car to public transport (although the total number of car trips still increased by 24%). Adelaide hit top spot, followed by Hobart and Perth.

Here is car as driver only:

And here is car as passenger only:

Car as passenger declined in all cities again in 2016, but was more common in the smaller cities, and least common in the bigger cities. I’m not sure why car as passenger declines paused for Perth and Sydney in 2006.

We can calculate an implied notional journey to work car occupancy by comparing car driver only and car passenger only journeys. This is not actual car occupancy, because it excludes people not travelling to work and excludes journeys that involved cars and other modes. However it does provide an indication of trends in car pooling for journeys to work.

There were further significant decreases in car commuter occupancy, in line with increasing car ownership and affordability.

Private transport

Here is a chart summing all modal combinations involving cars (driver or passenger), motorcycle/scooter, taxis, and trucks, but excluding any journeys that also include public transport.

The trends mirror what we have seen above, and are very similar to car-only travel.

 

Overall mode split

Here’s an overall split of journeys to work by “main mode” (click to enlarge):

Note: the 2001 data includes estimated splits of aggregated modes based on 2006 data.

I assigned a ‘main mode’ based on a hierarchy as follows:

  • Any journey involving train is counted with the main mode as train
  • Any other journey involving bus is counted with the main mode as bus
  • Any other journey involving tram and/or ferry is counted as “tram/ferry”
  • Any other journey involving car as driver, truck or motorbike/scooter is counted as “vehicle driver”
  • Any other journey involving car as passenger or taxi is counted as “vehicle passenger”
  • Any other journey involving walking or cycling only as “active”

How different are “place of work” and “place of enumeration” mode shares?

[this section updated 1 December 2017 with re-issued Place of Work data. See new Appendix 3 below for analysis of the changes]

The first edition of this post reported only “place of work” data, as place of enumeration data wasn’t released until 11 November 2017. This second edition now focuses on place of enumeration – where people were on census night.

The differences are not huge, as most people who live in a city also work in that city, but there are still a number of people who leave or enter cities’ statistical boundaries to go to work. Here’s an animation showing the main mode split by place of work and enumeration so you can compare the differences (you’ll need to click to enlarge). The animation dwells longer on place of work data.

Public + active transport main mode shares are generally higher for larger cities with place of work data, and smaller for smaller cities.

Here’s a closer look at the 2016 public transport mode shares by the two measures:

See also a detailed comparison in Appendix 1 below for 2011 Melbourne data.

I’d like to acknowledge Dr John Stone for assistance with historical journey to work data.

Appendix 1 – How to measure journey to work mode share

Firstly, I exclude people who did not work, worked at home, or did not state how they worked. The first two categories generate no transport activity, and if the actual results for “not stated” were biased in any way we would have no way of knowing how.

I prefer to use “place of enumeration” data (ie where people were on census night). “Place of usual residence” data is also available, but is unfortunately contaminated by people who were away from home on census day. The other data source is “Place of work”.

Some people might prefer to measure mode shares on Urban Centres which excludes rural areas within the larger blobs that are Greater Capital City Statistical Areas and Statistical Divisions (use this ABS map page to compare boundaries). However, “place of work” data is not readily available for that geography, and this method also excludes satellite urban centres that might be detached from the main urban centre, but are very much part of the economic unit of the city.

Another option is “Significant Urban Area”, which includes more fringe areas, and some more satellite towns, and in Canberra’s case crosses the NSW border to capture Queanbeyan.

What difference does it make?

Here’s a comparison of public transport mode shares for the different methods for 2011.

If you look closely, you’ll notice:

  • The more than you remove non-urban areas, the higher your public transport mode share, which makes sense, as those non-urban areas are mostly not served by public transport.
  • Place of usual residence tends to increase public transport mode shares for smaller cities (people probably visiting larger cities) and depresses public transport mode share in larger cities (people visiting smaller cities and towns).
  • Place of work is only readily available for Greater Capital City Statistical Areas. For the bigger cities it tends to inflate PT mode share where people might be using good inter-urban public transport options, or driving to good public transport options on the edges of cities (eg trains). However it has the opposite impact in Darwin and Canberra, where driving into the city is probably easier.

But I think the main point is that for any time series trend analysis you should use the same measure if possible.

If you want to compare the two, I’ve created a Tableau Public visualisation that has a large number of mode shares by both place of work and place of enumeration.

Appendix 2 – Estimating pre-2006 mode shares from aggregated data

For 2006 onwards, ABS TableBuilder provides counts for every possible combination of up to three modes (other than walking, which is assumed to be part of every journey). For example, in Melbourne in 2006, 36 people went to work by taxi, car as driver, and car as passenger (or so they said!). Unfortunately for years before 2006 data is not readily available with a full breakdown.

The 2001 data includes only aggregated counts for the following categories:

  • train and other (excluding bus)
  • bus and other (excluding train)
  • other two modes (no train or bus)
  • train and two other modes
  • bus and two other modes (excluding train)
  • three other modes (no train or bus)

Together these accounted for 3.7% of journeys in Melbourne and 4.5% of journeys in Sydney.

However all but two of those aggregate categories definitely involve train and/or bus, so can be included in public transport mode share calculations.

Journeys in the aggregate categories “Other two modes” and “Other three modes” might involve tram and/or ferry trips (if such modes exist in a city), but we don’t know for sure.

I’ve used the complete modal data for 2006 to calculate the percentage of 2006 journeys that fit into these two categories that are by public transport. I’ve then assumed these same percentage apply in 2001 to estimate total public transport mode shares for 2001 (for want of a better method).

Here are the 2001 relevant stats for each city:

(note: totals do not add perfectly due to rounding)

The estimates add up to 0.2% to the total public transport mode shares in cities with significant modes beyond train and bus (namely ferry and tram in Sydney, tram in Melbourne, ferry in Brisbane, tram and Adelaide). This almost entirely comes from “other two modes” category while “other three modes” is tiny. For these categories, almost no journeys in Perth, Canberra and Hobart actually involved a public transport mode.

In the past I have knowingly ignored public transport journeys that might be part of these categories, which almost certainly means public transport mode share is underestimated (I suspect most other analysts have too). By including some assumed public transport journeys my estimate should be closer to the true value, which I think is better than an underestimate.

But are these reasonable estimates? Are the 2001 modal breakdowns for these categories likely to be the same as 2006? Maybe not exactly, but because we are multiplying small numbers by small numbers, the impact of slightly inaccurate estimates is unlikely to shift the total by more than 0.1%. I tested the methodology between 2006 and 2011 results (eg using 2011 full breakdown against created 2006 aggregate categories and vice versa) and the estimated total mode shares were almost always exactly the same as the perfectly calculated shares (at worst there was a difference of 0.1% when rounding to one decimal place).

In the first edition of this post I had to estimate 2016 place of work mode shares in a similar way for public and private transport, but I wasn’t confident enough to estimate mode share of journeys involving cycling.

I now have the final data and I promised to see how I went, so here’s a comparison:

If you round to one decimal place, the estimates were no different for public and private transport and out by up to 0.1% for cycling (which is relatively significant for the small cycling mode shares).

I’ve applied a similar approach to estimate several other mode share types, and these are marked on charts.

Appendix 3 – How different is the re-issued place of work data?

In December 2017, ABS re-issued Place of Work data due to data quality issues. This is how they described it:

**The place of work data for the 2016 Census has been temporarily removed from the ABS website so an issue can be corrected. There was a discrepancy in the process used to transform detailed workplace location information into data suitable for output. The ABS will release the updated information in TableBuilder on December 2. The Working Population Profiles will be updated on December 13.**

I have loaded the new data, and here are differences in public transport and private transport mode shares for capital cities:

You can see differences of up to 0.3% (Melbourne PT mode share), but mostly quite small.


What does the census tell us about motor vehicle ownership in Australian cities? (2006-2016)

Sun 30 July, 2017

With the latest release of census data it’s possible to take a detailed look at motor vehicle ownership in Australian cities.  This post will look at ownership rates across time and space, and compare trends between car ownership, population growth, and population density. And this time I will cover 16 large Australian cities (but with a more detailed look at Melbourne).

I’ve measured motor vehicle ownership as motor vehicles per 100 persons in private occupied dwellings. If you want the boring but important details about how I’ve analysed the data, see the appendix at the end of this post.

I’ve used Tableau Public for this post, so all the charts and maps can be explored, and they cover all sixteen cities.

Is motor vehicle ownership increasing in all cities?

Elsewhere on this blog I’ve shown that motor vehicle ownership is increasing in all Australian states, but what about the cities? Here are the overall results for Australia’s larger cities, on motor vehicles per 100 persons basis. Note that the Y-axis only goes from 54 to 70, so the rate of change looks steeper than it really is.

(you can explore this data in Tableau)

Sydney unsurprisingly has the lowest average motor vehicle ownership, followed by Melbourne, Brisbane (Australia’s third biggest city), and then Cairns and Darwin. Perth was well on top, with Sunshine Coach rapidly increasing to claim second place. Most of the rest were around 66-68 motor vehicles per 100 persons in 2016.

But Melbourne is showing a very different trend to most other cities, with hardly any increase in ownership rate across the ten years (also, Canberra-Queanbeyan saw very little growth between 2011 and 2016).

At first I wondered whether Melbourne was a data error. However, I did the one data extract for all cities for both population and motor vehicle responses, and I’ve also checked for any potential duplicate SA1s. So I’m confident something very different is happening in Melbourne.

So let’s have a look at Melbourne in more spatial detail, starting with maximum detail over time:

(you can zoom in and explore this data in Tableau).

You can see lower ownership in the inner city, inner north, inner west, and the more socio-economically disadvantaged suburbs in the north and south-east. You can also see lower motor vehicle ownership around train lines in many middle suburbs. Other pockets of low motor vehicle ownership are in Clayton (presumably associated with university students) and Box Hill, and curiously some of the growth areas in the west and north. Very high motor vehicle ownership can be seen in wealthier areas and the outer east.

It’s a bit hard to see the trends with such a detailed map, so here’s a view aggregated at SA2 level (SA2s are roughly suburb-sized).

No doubt you are probably distracted by the changes in the legend. That’s because in 2006 there were no SA2s in the <20 and 30-40 ranges at all, and the 30-40 range is only present in 2016. That is, the legend has to expand over time to take into account SA2s with lower motor vehicle ownership rates.

You’ll notice a lot more light blue and green SA2s around the city centre, plus Clayton in the middle south-east switches to green in 2016.

Looking at it spatially, more areas appear to have increasing rather than decreasing motor vehicle ownership. But not all SA2s have the same population – or more particularly – the same population growth. So we need to look at the data in a non-spatial way.

Here’s a plot of population and motor vehicle ownership for all Melbourne SA2s, with the thin end of each “worm” being 2006 and the thick end being 2016.

Okay yes that does looks like a lot of scribbles (and you can explore the data in Tableau to find out what is what), but take a look at the patterns. There are lots of short worms heading to the right – these have very little population growth but some growth in motor vehicle ownership. Then there are lots of long worms that are heading up and to the left – which means large population growth and mostly declining motor vehicle ownership.

Here’s a similar view, but with a Y-axis of change in population since 2006:

(explore in Tableau)

The worms heading up and to the left include both inner city areas and outer growth areas. These areas seem to balance out the rest of Melbourne resulting in a stable ownership rate overall.

Some SA2s that are moving up and to the right more than others include Sunbury – South, Langwarrin, and Mount Martha. And there are a few in population decline like Endeavour Hills – South, Mill Park – South, and Keilor Downs.

The inner city results are not surprising, but declining ownership in outer growth areas is a little more surprising.

Is this to do with growth areas being popular with young families, and therefore containing proportionately more children?

Here’s a map of the percent of the population in each CD/SA1 that is aged 18-84 (ie approximately of “driving age”):

(view in Tableau)

The rates are highest in the central city and lowest in urban growth areas. And if you watch the animation closely, you’ll see areas that were “fringe growth” in 2006 have since had increasing portions of population aged 18-84, presumably as the children of the first residents have reached driving age (and/or moved out).

So what is happening with motor vehicles per 100 persons aged 18-84? Is there high motor vehicle ownership amongst driving aged people in growth areas?

Yes, a lot of growth areas are in the 80-85 range, similar to many middle suburban areas (view in Tableau)

Here’s the same thing but aggregated to SA2 level (explore in Tableau):

Motor vehicle ownership rates in most growth areas are similar to many established middle suburbs, but lower than non-growth fringe areas which show “saturated” levels of ownership (where there is roughly a one motor vehicle per person aged 18-84), particularly the outer east.

However in the outer growth areas of Sunbury (north-west) and Doreen (north-north-east), ownership rates are close to saturation in 2016.

But is the rate of motor vehicle ownership still declining amongst persons aged 18-84 in the outer growth areas? Here’s a similar chart to the previous one, but with ownership by persons aged 18-84 (explore in Tableau):

You can see most of the outer growth areas still have declining ownership rates. You can also see some established suburbs with strong population growth and increased ownership, including Dandenong and Braybrook (which includes the rapidly densifying suburbs of Maidstone and Maribyrnong).

Here’s a spatial view of the changes in ownership rates (area shading), as well as total changes in the household motor vehicle fleet (dots ). (I’ve assumed non-reporting private dwellings have the same average motor vehicle ownership as reporting dwellings in each area).

(explore in Tableau)

You can see outer growth areas shaded green (declining ownership), but also with large dots (large fleet growth).

But also you can see some declines in ownership in the middle eastern and north-eastern suburbs, and some non-growth outer suburbs, which is quite surprising. I’m not quite sure what might explain that.

You’ll also notice the scale for the dots starts at -830, which accommodates Wheelers Hill (in the middle south-east) where there has been a 2% decline in population, and 6% decline in motor vehicle fleet.

Okay, so that’s Melbourne, what about ownership rates amongst “driving aged” people in other cities?

Trends in motor vehicles per persons aged 18-84

(explore in Tableau)

The trends are similar, but Melbourne is even more interesting on this measure. It has declined from 81.3 to 80.7, bucking the trend of all other cities (although Canberra only grew from 88.4 in 2011 to 88.5 in 2016).

How does motor vehicle ownership relate to density?

Here’s a chart showing population weighted density and motor vehicle ownership for persons aged 18-84 for SA2s across all the big cities in 2016 (explore in Tableau):

Some dots (central Melbourne and Sydney) are off the chart so you can see patterns in the rest. I’ve labelled some of the outliers. The general pattern shows higher density areas generally having lower motor vehicle ownership.

Is densification related to lower motor vehicle ownership?

Here’s a chart showing how each city has moved in terms of population-weighted density (measured at CD or SA1 level) and ownership for persons aged 18-84, with the thick end of each worm 2016, and the thin end 2006.

(Note that the 2006 population weighted density figures are not perfectly comparable with 2011 and 2016 because they are measured at CD level rather than SA1 level, and CDs are slightly larger on average than SA1s)

(explore in Tableau)

You can see Sydney is a completely different city on these measures, and also that Melbourne is the only city heading to the left of the chart. Canberra is also bucking the trend between 2011 and 2016.

We can look at this within cities too. Here’s all the Local Government Areas (LGAs) for all the cities (note: City of Sydney and City of Melbourne are off the top-left of the chart)

(explore in Tableau)

Many Melbourne and Sydney LGAs are rising sharply with mostly declining motor vehicle ownership. But then there are Sydney LGAs like Woollahra, Mosman and Northern Beaches in Sydney that are showing increasing motor vehicle ownership while they densify (probably not great for traffic congestion!).

And we can then look inside cities. Here is Melbourne (again, several inner city SA2s are off the chart):

Some interesting outliers include:

  • The relatively dense Port Melbourne, Albert Park, Elwood with relatively high motor vehicle ownership.
  • The land-locked suburb of Gowanbrae with medium density but rapidly increasing car ownership (which has a limited Monday to Saturday bus service).
  • The growth area of Cranbourne South with reasonable density but more than saturated car ownership.
  • Relatively medium dense but low motor vehicle ownership of Clayton and Footscray.

Explore your own city in Tableau. You know you want to.

What are the spatial patterns of motor vehicle ownership in other cities?

The detail above has focussed on Melbourne, so here are some maps for others cities. You can explore any of the cities by zooming in from this Tableau map (be warned: it may take some time to load as I’ve ignored Tableau’s recommendations about how many showing more than 10,000 data points!). In fact for any of the maps you’ve seen on this blog, you can pan and zoom to see other cities.

To help see the changes in motor vehicle ownership between censuses more easily, I’ve prepared the following detailed animations.

Sydney

 

Brisbane

 

Adelaide

Perth

(Find Mandurah in Tableau)

Canberra

Hobart

Darwin

Cairns

Townsville

Sunshine Coast

Geelong

Central Coast (NSW)

Newcastle – Maitland

This post has only looked at spatial trends and the relationship with population density. There’s plenty more to explore about car ownership with census data, which I aim to cover in future posts.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post, and found the interactive data at least half as fascinating as I have.

Oh, and sorry about some of the maps showing defunct train lines. I’m using what I can get from the WMS feed from Geoscience Australia.

Appendix – About the data

The Australian census includes the following question about how many registered motor vehicles were present at each occupied private dwelling on census night. This excludes motorcycles but includes some vehicles other than cars (probably mostly light vehicles).

96% of people counted in the 2016 census were in a private dwelling on census night, and 93.6% of occupied dwellings filled in the census and gave an answer to the motor vehicle question. So the data can give a very detailed – and hopefully quite accurate – picture.

I’ve used two measures of motor vehicle ownership:

  • Motor vehicles per 100 population (often referred to as “motorisation” in Europe), and
  • Motor vehicles per 100 persons aged 18-84

The first is easy to measure and easily comparable with other jurisdictions, but the second gives a better feel for what proportion of the “driving aged” population own a car. In an area with good alternatives to private transport, you might expect lower ownership rates.

Setting the lower age threshold at 18 works well for Victoria (imperfectly for other states with a lower licensing age), and 84 is an arbitrary threshold during the general decline in drivers license ownership by older people. So it’s not perfect, but is indicative, and certainly takes most children out of the equation.

As the motor vehicle question is based on what was parked at the dwelling on census night, I’ve used population present on census night (place of enumeration). That works well if someone was absent on census night and took their car with them, but not so well if they were absent and left their car behind (e.g. they took a taxi to the airport). You cannot win with that, but the census is timed in August during school and university term to try to minimise absences.

When calculating ownership rates, I’ve excluded people in dwellings that did not answer the motor vehicle question, and people in non-private dwellings. This is more robust than assumptions I made in previous posts on this topic so results will vary a little.

For 2011 and 2016, the census data provides counts of the number of dwellings with 0, 1, 2, 3, .. , 29 motor vehicles, and then bundles the rest as “30 of more”. For want of a better assumption, I’ve assumed dwellings with 30 or more motor vehicles have an average of 31 motor vehicles, which is probably conservative. But these are so rare they shouldn’t make any noticeable difference on the overall results.

As shorthand, I’ve referred to “motor vehicle ownership” rates, but you’ll note the census question includes company vehicles kept at home, so it’s not a perfect term to use, but then company vehicles are often available for general use.

I’ve used the 2011 boundaries of Significant Urban Areas (SUA) for each city, which are made up of SA2s and leave a good amount of room for urban fringe growth in 2016. However they do exclude some satellite towns (such as Melton, west of Melbourne).

I’ve extracted data at SA1 level geography for 2011 and 2016, and Collector District (CD) geography for 2006. In urban areas, SA1s average around 400 people while the older Collector Districts of 2006 averaged around 550 people. These are the smallest geographies for which motor vehicle and age data is available in each census. ABS do introduce some small data randomisation to protect privacy so there will be a little error well summing up lots of parcels.

I’ve generally excluded parcels with less than 5 people per hectare as an (arbitrary) threshold for “urban” residential areas. I’ve mapped all parcels to the 2016 boundaries of Local Government Areas and SA2s, and the 2011 boundaries of SUAs (2016 boundaries have not yet been released). Where boundaries do not line up perfectly, I’ve included a parcel in an SAU, LGA, or SA2 if more than 51% of the parcel’s area is within that boundary. The mapping isn’t perfect in all cases, particularly for growth area SA2s and 2006 CDs. See the alignments for SA2s, LGAs in Tableau.


Update on trends in Australian transport

Sat 28 January, 2017

This post charts some key Australian transport trends based on the latest available official data estimates as at January 2017 (including the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport, and Regional Economics 2016 Yearbook).

Car use per capita has continued to decline in most Australian cities (the exceptions being Adelaide and Brisbane, but still well down on the peak of 2004):

car-pass-kms-per-capita-5

Mass transit’s share of motorised passenger kms was very slightly in decline in most cities in 2014-15 (the exceptions being Sydney and Adelaide)

mass-transit-share-of-pass-kms-6

(note: “mass transit” includes trains, trams, ferries, and both public and private buses)

At the same time, estimated total vehicle kilometres in Australian cities has been increasing:

city-vkm-growth

However, mass transit use has outpaced growth in car usage since 2003-04 across the five big cities:

car-v-pt-growth-aus-large-cities-3

In terms of percentage annual growth, car use growth only exceeded mass transit in 2009-10, and 2012-13.

Car ownership has still been slowly increasing (note the Y axis scale):

car-ownership-2000-onwards-by-state-3

Australia’s domestic transport greenhouse gas emissions actually ever-so-slightly declined in 2015-16:

australian-domestic-transport-emissions

Here is driver licence ownership by age group for Australia:

au-licence-ownership-by-age

(note: the rate is calculated as the sum of car, motorbike and truck licenses – including learner and probationary licences, divided by population. Some people have more than one driver’s licence so it’s not a perfect measure)

From June 2014 to June 2015, license ownership rates increased in all age groups except 30-39, 60-69 and 80+.

2015 saw a change in the trend on licence ownership rates for teenagers, with a slight increase after four years of decline. However the trends are quite different in each state:

au-licence-ownership-by-aged-16-19-trend

(note: in most states 16 is the age where people are able to obtain a learner’s permit)

I’m really not sure why Western Australia has such a low licence ownership rate compared to the other states (maybe the data doesn’t actually include learner permits).

And finally, here are licence ownership rates for people aged 20-24, showing quite different trends in different states:

au-licence-ownership-by-aged-20-24-trend

I’ll aim to elaborate more on these trends in updates to subject-specific posts when I get time.