What impact has the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic had on road traffic volumes in Victoria?

Sun 3 May, 2020

[Last updated 25 July 2020, not all charts]

For the most recently analysis of road traffic volumes – see my twitter feed.

Roads in Victoria were noticeably quieter during the depth of the pandemic shutdown, but just how much did traffic reduced? Has it varied by day of the week, time of day, and/or distance from the city centre? How have volumes increased as restrictions have been eased? What has been the impact naming identifying hot spots and postcode lock downs?

To answer these questions I’ve downloaded traffic signal loop vehicle count data from data.vic.gov.au. The data includes vehicle detection loops at 3,760 signalised intersections across Victoria (87% of which are in Greater Melbourne).

I should state that it is not a perfect measure of traffic volume:

  • It may under-count motorway-based and rural travel which may cross fewer loop detectors.
  • There are occasional faults with loops, and I’m only able to filter out some of the faulty data (supplied with negative count values), so there is a little noise but I will attempt to wash that out by using median counts rather than sums or averages (although charts of averages show very similar patterns to charts of medians).
  • Some vehicles moving through an intersection might get counted at multiple loops, but I would hope this has minimal impact on overall traffic volume trends.

How have traffic volumes reduced during the pandemic?

Firstly, median 24-hour loop volumes for each day:

Note: the actual numbers aren’t very meaningful, it is the relative numbers that matter.

There are regular variances by day type (eg Fridays generally having the most traffic), so here is a chart looking changes by day of the week, relative to the first two weeks of March 2020. I’ve annotated various significant announcements and changes in rules.

At their lowest, weekday volumes went down around 40%, while weekend volumes went down more like 50%.

In late-June volumes were down only 10-20%, with significant growth on Saturdays. However volumes declined again as a second wave of infections hit, and more restrictions were reintroduced. The key turning point was Saturday 20 June when the first warnings were raised about outbreaks, increasing cases, and a slow down in easing of restrictions.

In the early part of the second lock down, volumes were similar to April, the bottom of the first lock down, but then they settled at higher levels (more on that shortly).

Some curious outliers:

  • Thursday 9 April – the day before Good Friday: there may have been some travel to holiday homes, and/or other travel that happens normally on the last workday of the week.
  • Wednesday 8 July – the day before Melbourne and Mitchell Shire re-entered stage 3 restrictions (lock down), suggesting many people brought forward travel activity that was about to no longer be allowed.
  • Saturday 16 May & Sunday 17 May: there was a surge in traffic volumes on the first weekend after restrictions where eased.

Have traffic trends been different in different parts of the state?

There have been many more COVID-19 cases in Melbourne than regional Victoria. Here’s a chart showing daily volume changes in Greater Melbourne:

There is very little difference compared to the whole of Victoria chart, as most signals are located within Greater Melbourne.

Here is a chart of only signals outside Greater Melbourne, showing much less decline in late June / early July.

A notable exception here is Sundays where there has been a decline in July – perhaps Sundays normally involve a lot of travel to/from Melbourne.

How has traffic changed during the second wave?

From late June, there were increasing warnings about outbreaks in LGAs, suburbs, specific postcodes entered lock down before all of Melbourne plus the Shire of Mitchell also went into lock down. This section looks at the impact of some of the responses to what has become a second wave.

On 25 June, 10 suburbs were announced as outbreak concerns, with door-to-door testing campaigns to be conducted. These suburbs were within 6 LGAs identified on 20 June, so this may have refined people’s concern.

It is possible to filter to signal sites in the listed hot spot suburbs, although there are only around 100 signalised such sites (and none at all fall into the small suburb of Albanvale) which makes for some noisy data. Also, I would dare say that a lot of traffic in these suburbs is through traffic rather than local traffic.

To overcome daily noise, I’ve calculated the rolling 7 day average volume – excluding public holidays with with some normalisation (see below chart explanation). That does mean that sudden daily changes in traffic are smoothed out over the following 7 days.

Boring but necessary technical notes: Many traffic signals are on roads that are LGA boundaries – and which LGA an intersection falls into is almost random – it depends on the coordinates of the intersection point. To normalise volumes, I have calculated the ratio of the average volume for each day of the week in February to the overall February average, and then adjusted daily volumes using these ratios to produce a relatively smooth daily time series. The rolling 7 day average then omits any public holidays. It’s not perfect, as you can see around Easter, but it was necessary to avoid having large gaps or blips in the above chart. For this analysis I used February as the baseline, as there was a public holiday in the first two weeks of March, complicating the normalisation.

Volumes immediately dropped more quickly in these suburbs compared to the rest of Melbourne, although they later settled at higher levels than the rest of Melbourne.

On 30 June there was an announcement that 10 postcodes would return to “lock down” (only four essential travel purposes allowed) from 2 July. Those postcodes mostly – but not entirely – lined up with the 10 warning suburbs. Here’s a similar chart that separates out those postcodes, from the rest of Melbourne (plus Mitchell Shire) that went into lock down on 9 July:

There was a step change from 2 July as the restrictions took hold (on top of a reduction from the school holidays), and the rest of Melbourne followed after 9 July.

During the first lock down, these 10 postcodes saw a slightly smaller traffic reduction compared to the rest of Melbourne, but in the second lock down other parts of Melbourne have not seen the same traffic reductions.

The 7 day averaging process hides a little of the behaviour change, so here is a daily volume chart for those 10 postcodes:

While volumes in these postcodes started declining from the first warning announcement on 20 June, if you look carefully you’ll see that on Wednesday 1 July there was little change in volume compared to the previous Wednesday. This was the last day before the lock down, and presumably some people made some extra travel that was about to become against the rules. Once the lock down had commenced, volumes were very similar to those experienced during the “stage 3” restrictions of early April. This is similar to the surge in traffic seen in Melbourne the day before the second lock down.

A more detailed look at Melbourne

The following animated map shows the change in weekday volume relative to the first two weeks of March, for each site, each week since the beginning of March. Note that there are anomalous sites for various reasons (eg faults, roadworks) – I’ve tried to filter out some sites with unusual data, but it’s difficult to get all of them.

If you ignore individual sites that look like outliers you can see some clear patterns:

  • Volumes haven’t reduced as much in industrial areas during lock downs, as freight and logistics largely keep operating, and factory workers continued to go to work.
  • Volumes didn’t recover in the central city as they have in the suburbs, which makes sense with so many office workers have continued to work from home.
  • Melbourne Airport volumes have been significantly below normal throughout, obviously due to national and international travel restrictions.
  • Volumes were slower to recover in the Clayton area – probably related to working from home, and Monash University not having on-campus teaching.
  • Volumes reduced from the week of 29 June, a mix of the school holiday impact, an increase in travel restrictions, and probably general fear about a second wave of infections.

I must apologise to the those with colour-blindness, it’s much more difficult to show the changes with only two-three colours.

This map doesn’t however explain the slightly smaller traffic reduction in Melbourne outside the initial 10 lock down postcodes.

The following map compares traffic volumes on Wednesday 22 July with those in the first two weeks of April (I’ve chosen a Wednesday to be clear of the Easter long weekend that happened in the second week of April). Note that the flip between orange and blue occurs at 110% (you might intuitively expect it to be at 100%).

This map pretty clearly shows that second lock down volumes were higher in the eastern and south-western suburbs, but much closer to April in the north-eastern suburbs. There have been fewer COVID-19 cases in the south-eastern suburbs, and this might reflect people’s self-regulation based on perceived local risk.

Indeed, here is a chart comparing active cases as at 19 July to traffic on 20 July relative to the first lock down:

Local government areas (LGAs) with higher numbers of active cases tend to have traffic levels closer to those in early April, while LGAs with fewer cases have seen higher traffic volumes in April. I might try to explore this relationship over time in future.

How does 2020 compare to 2019?

The above analysis hasn’t differentiated school days and school holidays, and any general seasonality across the year. Here is a chart comparing 2020 with 2019 for weekdays, Saturdays and Sundays (excluding public holidays):

I will emphasise that there will be week-to-week variations, particularly on weekends, due to short term factors such as weather and special events. Also, while school returned in week 16 of 2020, most students were not attending schools in person (ditto week 29).

The winter school holidays began in week 27, and traffic volumes in 2020 appeared to drop in proportion to the traffic reduction in the same week in 2019.

The following chart compares 2020 to 2019 on a daily basis (with 2019 days offset by -1 to align days of the week):

We can also look at the percentage difference between the years, but only for days that have the same day type in terms of school term or holidays, and public holidays where they fall on the equivalent day of the year. So there are some gaps in the following chart, plus some noise due to daily fluctuations:

This chart shows January to late July. There are gaps around the autumn school holidays and Easter as they didn’t perfect match days of the year perfectly.

You need to not get too excited about daily variations (the Tuesday in the second week of 2019 school holidays had unusually low volume in Melbourne for some reason, which shows up as a spike for 2020).

This chart gives a feel for variations from expected patterns. Traffic in the Melbourne was down a similar percentage in the first week of the winter school holidays compared to the previous week of school.

Melbourne traffic volumes began falling in the second week of winter school holidays with the rise in cases and commencement of some postcode lock downs, and then fell further with the Melbourne + Mitchell lock down from 9 July.

However in regional Victoria volumes were relatively higher in the winter school holidays – perhaps as Melbourne people were more likely to travel intrastate for holidays (interstate travel being heavily restricted, and travel not having been an option in the previous autumn school holidays). Regional Victoria travel volumes have been tracking around 10% below 2019 since early June.

The next chart compares each 2020 week with the same week 2019 for Melbourne LGAs plus Mitchell. However it is important to note that there was quite a bit of week to week variation in 2019, and the autumn school holidays started a couple of weeks earlier in 2020.

On this measure, weekdays bottomed out around 38% below 2019, but recovered to be ~10% down in week 24 (on weekdays and Saturdays). Weekends were down around 50%, but recovered to around 10-15% down before the second wave. However pre-pandemic volumes were around 5% higher than 2019, so you could perhaps add another 5% to the reduction figures.

How has traffic reduced by time of day?

The traffic signal data is available in 15 minute intervals, so it is possible to examine patterns in more detail.

Here’s a look at the traffic volumes by time of day for Wednesdays:

You can see a significant flattening of the traditional peaks from late March, although curiously the PM peak still commences around 3 pm, even during the school holidays. From late May there was a significant jump in peak period traffic, coinciding with the return to school of grades Prep, 1, 2, 11 and 12.

1 July was the first week of the winter school holidays and you can see substantial traffic reductions at school times, most notably in the AM peak. Meanwhile the PM commuter peak (around 5 pm) was very similar to late June.

There was a spike in traffic on 8 July – the last day before the second Melbourne full lock down.

Evening traffic was down considerably but it’s a little hard to gauge this reduction the chart. So here is a chart showing traffic volume changes relative to the first two weeks of March (with apologies to anyone with colour-blindness):

Volumes went down the most in the evenings (particularly around 9 pm) which might reflect the closure of hospitality venues, cessation of sports and reduced social activity. The AM and PM peak periods were down around 50% at the bottom, while the inter-peak period has held up the most – being only down around 30%.

Volumes recovered considerably over May and June, with volumes around 3pm back near pre-COVID levels (prior to the winter school holidays). The AM peak is interesting – at 7am, traffic on 17 June was still down around 28%, but at 8:45am is was only around 9% down – possibly reflecting the school peak, and/or a narrowing of the commuter peak (as lower congestion provides less incentive for peak spreading). As at mid-June, evening traffic was still down around 40%.

Again 8 July is an outlier – evening traffic was a lot busier, in fact traffic leading up to midnight was busier than early March, suggesting people cramming in travel activity that was about to become restricted.

I should point out that this analysis compares to a baseline of a two days in early March, and there may be some associated noise (eg weather or event impacts on particular days).

Here is the same for Fridays (excluding the Good Friday public holiday):

Late evening traffic was down even more than for Wednesdays, which probably reflects higher volumes of hospitality-related travel on Friday nights. Friday evening traffic jumped on 15 May when small social gatherings were allowed, and again on 5 June when restaurants and cafes were allowed to have dine-in patrons.

Here is Saturdays (excluding Anzac Day):

The Saturday profile shape hasn’t changed as much as weekdays, but the evenings were down most significantly.

Curiously there are several spikes in the curve in the morning – and they are the 15 minute intervals leading up to the hours of 7am, 8am, 9am, and 10am. Initially I wondered if it was a data quality issue, but I suspect it reflects a surge in travel just before work shifts and other activities that start on the hour.

For some reason traffic volumes were relatively low around 6 am on Saturday 7 March, which has resulted in other days showing less reduction.

Saturday night travel was down considerably – by over 70% by midnight at the depths of the shutdown, but jumped with restrictions easing, similar to Friday evenings. As of mid-June it was down around 25-30%.

You can also see early Saturday morning (Friday night) travel down around 60-70% at worst (discounting 11 April which was the Saturday morning following Good Friday).

Here is Sundays:

Sunday 8 March was on the Labour Day long weekend (including the Moomba festival), which probably explains the much busier traffic that Sunday night (not being a “school night”). You can more clearly see that on the following chart:

Another anomaly here is Sunday 7 June – which was another public holiday eve.

Here’s the profile by day of the week for each week since February (public holidays excluded):

This data suggests a roughly a one hour lag on Sunday mornings compared to Saturday mornings – ie travel volumes hold up an hour later on Saturday nights and ramp up an hour later on Sunday mornings. This pattern holds up for other weeks. It also shows the middle of the day on Saturdays to mostly be busier than the same time on weekdays.

Here’s another look at relative time of day traffic volumes for March through to July:

If you look closely (no, your eyes are not losing focus!) you can see:

  • Significant volume reductions after schools finished on 23 March
  • A surge in traffic on 9 April – the Thursday before Good Friday
  • Extremely quiet traffic on Good Friday (10 April)
  • Higher traffic volumes on 8 July (the day before the second lock down), particularly into the evening.
  • Generally higher traffic on the last weekday of the week, particularly in the afternoon and evening (including during the shut down period)

Have traffic impacts been different by distance from the CBD?

Here’s a chart showing year-on-year reduction in median traffic volumes at intersections by distance from the Melbourne CBD for weeks 14 and 15 (the lowest two weeks of the lock-down):

What is clear is that the central city experienced much larger traffic volume reductions than other parts of Melbourne, which makes sense as office workers stayed home, universities, cafes, restaurants and night-life closed, and (non-essential) retail activity slowed considerably.

There is some noise in the variations by distance from the CBD but I suggest not too much should be read into that as there will be various local factors at play.

The following animated chart shows median weekday volumes per week, by distance from the CBD, since the start of March 2020:

You can see the traffic decline has remained the largest in the central city. The reduction in traffic in the week of 28 June was mostly in the suburbs more than 3 km from the CBD.

Traffic signal data comes out daily, and so I will try to update this analysis at least once a week during the recovery period. There may be more frequent updates on Twitter.


Update on Australian transport trends (December 2019)

Mon 30 December, 2019

Each year, just in time for Christmas, the good folks at the Australian Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport, and Regional Economics (BITRE) publish a mountain of data in their Yearbook. This post aims to turn those numbers (and some other data sources) into useful knowledge – with a focus on vehicle kilometres travelled, passenger kilometres travelled, mode shares, car ownership, driver’s licence ownership, greenhouse gas emissions, and transport costs.

There are some interesting new patterns emerging – read on.

Vehicle kilometres travelled

According to the latest data, road transport volumes actually fell in 2018-19:

Here’s the growth by vehicle type since 1971:

Light commercial vehicle kilometres have grown the fastest, curiously followed by buses (although much of that growth was in the 1980s).

Car kilometre growth has slowed significantly since 2004, and actually went down in 2018-19 according to BITRE estimates (enough to result in a reduction in total vehicle kilometres travelled).

On a per capita basis car use peaked in 2004, with a general decline since then. Here’s the Australian trend (in grey) as well as city level estimates to 2015 (from BITRE Information Sheet 74):

Technical note: “Australia” lines in these charts represent data points for the entire country (including areas outside capital cities).

Darwin has the lowest average which might reflect the small size of the city. The blip in 1975 is related to a significant population exodus after Cyclone Tracey caused significant destruction in late 1974 (the vehicle km estimate might be on the high side).

Canberra, the most car dependent capital city, has had the highest average car kilometres per person (but it might also reflect kilometres driven by people from across the NSW border in Queanbeyan).

The Australia-wide average is higher than most cities, with areas outside capital cities probably involving longer average car journeys and certainly a higher car mode share.

Passenger kilometres travelled

Overall, here are passenger kms per capital for various modes for Australia as a whole (note the log-scale on the Y axis):

Air travel took off (pardon the pun) in the late 1980s (with a lull in 1990), car travel peaked in 2004, bus travel peaked in 1990 and has been relatively flat since, while rail has been increasing in recent years.

It’s possible to look at car passenger kilometres per capita, which takes into account car occupancy – and also includes more recent estimates up until 2018/19.

Here’s a chart showing total car passenger kms in each city:

The data shows that Melbourne has now overtaken Sydney as having the most car travel in total.

Another interesting observation is that total car travel declined in Perth, Adelaide, and Sydney in 2018-19. The Sydney result may reflect a mode shift to public transport (more on that shortly), while Perth might be impacted by economic downturn.

While car passenger kilometres per capita peaked in 2004, there were some increases until 2018 in some cities, but most cities declined in 2019. Darwin is looking like an outlier with an increase between 2015 and 2018.

BITRE also produce estimates of passenger kilometres for other modes (data available up to 2017-18 at the time of writing).

Back to cities, here is growth in rail passenger kms since 2010:

Sydney trains have seen rapid growth in the last few years, probably reflecting significant service level upgrades to provide more stations with “turn up and go” frequencies at more times of the week.

Adelaide’s rail patronage dipped in 2012, but then rebounded following completion of the first round of electrification in 2014.

Here’s a longer-term series looking at per-capita train use:

Sydney has the highest train use of all cities. You can see two big jumps in Perth following the opening of the Joondalup line in 1992 and the Mandurah line in 2007. Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth have shown declines over recent years.

Here is recent growth in (public and private) bus use:

Darwin saw a massive increase in bus use in 2014 thanks to a new nearby LNG project running staff services.

In more recent years Sydney, Canberra, and Hobart are showing rapid growth in bus patronage.

Here’s bus passenger kms per capita:

Investments in increased bus services in Melbourne and Brisbane between around 2005 and 2012 led to significant patronage growth.

Bus passenger kms per capita have been declining in most cities in recent years.

Australia-wide bus usage is surprisingly high. While public transport bus service levels and patronage would certainly be on average low outside capital cities, buses do play a large role in carrying children to school – particularly over longer distances in rural areas. The peak for bus usage in 1990 may be related to deregulation of domestic aviation, which reduced air fares by around 20%.

Melbourne has the lowest bus use of all the cities, but this likely reflects the extensive train and tram networks carrying the bulk of the public transport passenger task. Melbourne is different to every other Australian city in that trams provide most of the on-road public transport access to the CBD (with buses performing most of this function in other cities).

For completeness, here’s growth in light rail patronage:

Sydney light rail patronage increased following the Dulwich Hill extension that opened in 2014, while Adelaide patronage increased following an extension to the Adelaide Entertainment Centre in 2010.

We can sum all of the mass transit modes (I use the term “mass transit” to account for both public and private bus services):

Sydney is leading the country in mass transport use per capita and is growing strongly, while Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth have declined in recent years.

Mass transit mode share

We can also calculate mass transit mode share of motorised passenger kilometres (walking and cycling kilometres are unfortunately not estimated by BITRE):

Sydney has maintained the highest mass transit mode share, and in recent years has grown rapidly with a 3% mode shift in the three years 2016 to 2019, mostly attributable to trains. The Sydney north west Metro line opened in May 2019, so would only have a small impact on these figures.

Melbourne made significant gains between 2005 and 2009, and Perth also grew strongly 2007 to 2013.

Here’s how car and mass transit passenger kilometres have grown since car used peaked in 2004:

Mass transit use has grown much faster than car use in Australia’s three largest cities. In Sydney and Melbourne it has exceeded population growth, while in Brisbane it is more recently tracking with population growth.

Mass transit has also outpaced car use in Perth, Adelaide, and Hobart:

In Canberra, both car and mass transit use has grown much slower than population, and it is the only city where car growth has exceeded public transport growth.

Car ownership

The ABS regularly conduct a Motor Vehicle Census, and the following chart includes data up until January 2019.

Technical note: Motor Vehicle Census data (currently conducted in January each year, but previously conducted in March or October) has been interpolated to produce June estimates for each year, with the latest estimate being for June 2018.

In 2017-18 car ownership declined slightly in New South Wales, Victoria, and Western Australia, but there was a significant increase in the Northern Territory. Tasmania has just overtaken South Australia as the state with the highest car ownership at 63.1 cars per 100 residents.

Victorian car ownership has been in decline since 2011, which is consistent with a finding of declining motor vehicle ownership in Melbourne from census data (see also an older post on car ownership).

Driver’s licence ownership

Thanks to BITRE Information Sheet 84, the BITRE Yearbook 2019, and some useful state government websites (NSW, SA, Qld), here is motor vehicle licence ownership per 100 persons (of any age) from June 1971 to June 2018 or 2019 (depending on data availability):

Technical note: the ownership 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 likely to be an over-estimate of the proportion of the population with any licence.

There’s been slowing growth over time, but Victoria has seen slow decline since 2011, and the ACT peaked in 2014.

Here’s a breakdown by age bands for Australia as a whole (note each chart has a different Y-axis scale):

There was a notable uptick in licence ownership for 16-19 year-olds in 2018. Otherwise licencing rates have increased for those over 40, and declined for those aged 20-39.

Licencing rates for teenagers (refer next chart) had been trending down in South Australia and Victoria until 2017, but all states saw an increase in 2018 (particularly Western Australia). The most recent 2019 data from NSW and Queensland shows a decline. The differences between states partly reflects different minimum ages for licensing.

The trends are mixed for 20-24 year-olds: the largest states of Victoria and New South Wales have seen continuing declines in licence ownership, but all other states and territories are up (except Queensland in 2019).

New South Wales, Victoria, and – more recently – Queensland are seeing downward trends in the 25-29 age bracket:

Licencing rates for people in their 70s are rising in all states (I suspect a data error for South Australia in 2016):

A similar trend is clear for people aged 80+ (Victoria was an anomaly before 2015):

See also an older post on driver’s licence ownership for more detailed analysis.

Transport greenhouse gas emissions

[this emissions section updated on 8 January 2020 with BITRE estimates for 1975-2019]

According to the latest adjusted quarterly figures, Australia’s domestic non-electric transport emissions peaked in 2018 and have been slightly declining in 2019, which reflects reduced consumption of petrol and diesel. However it is too early to know whether this is another temporary peak or long-term peak.

Non-electric transport emissions made up 18.8% of Australia’s total emissions as at September 2019.

Here’s a breakdown of transport emissions:

A more detailed breakdown of road transport emissions is available back to 1990:

Here’s growth in transport sectors since 1975:

Road emissions have grown steadily, while aviation emissions took off around 1991. You can see that 1990 was a lull in aviation emissions, probably due to the pilots strike around that time.

In more recent years non-electric rail emissions have grown strongly. This will include a mix of freight transport and diesel passenger rail services – the most significant of which will be V/Line in Victoria, which have grown strongly in recent years (140% scheduled service kms growth between 2005 and 2019). Adelaide’s metropolitan passenger train network has run on diesel, but more recently has been transitioning to electric.

Here is the growth in each sector since 1990 (including a breakdown of road emissions):

Here are average emissions per capita for various transport modes in Australia, noting that I have used a log-scale on the Y-axis:

Per capita emissions are increasing for most modes, except cars. Total road transport emissions per capita peaked in 2004 (along with vehicle kms per capita, as above).

It’s possible to combine data sets to estimate average emissions per vehicle kilometre for different vehicle types (note I have again used a log-scale on the Y-axis):

Note: I suspect the kinks for buses and trucks in 2015, and motor cycles in 2011 are issues to do with assumptions made by BITRE, rather than actual changes.

The only mode showing significant change is cars – which have reduced from 281 g/km in 1990 to 243 g/km in 2019.

However, the above figures don’t take into account the average passenger occupancy of vehicles. To get around that we can calculate average emissions per passenger kilometre for the passenger-orientated modes:

Domestic aviation estimates go back to 1975, and you can see a dramatic decline between then and around 2004 – followed little change (even a rise in recent years). However I should mention that some of the domestic aviation emissions will be freight related, so the per passenger estimates might be a little high.

Car emissions per passenger km in 2018-19 were 154.5g/pkm, while bus was 79.4g/pkm and aviation 127.2g/pkm.

Of course the emissions per passenger kilometres of a bus or plane will depend on occupancy – a full aeroplane or bus will have likely have significantly lower emissions per passenger km. Indeed, the BITRE figures imply an average bus occupancy of around 9 people (typical bus capacity is around 60) – so a well loaded bus should have much lower emissions per passenger km. The operating environment (city v country) might also impact car and bus emissions. On the aviation side, BITRE report a domestic aviation average load factor of 78% in 2016-17.

Cost of transport

The final topic for this post is the real cost of transport. Here are headline real costs (relative to CPI) for Australia:

Technical note: Private motoring is a combination of factors, including motor vehicle retail prices and automotive fuel. Urban transport fares include public transport as well as taxi/ride-share.

The cost of private motoring has tracked relatively close to CPI, although it trended down between 2008 and 2016. The real cost of motor vehicles has plummeted since 1996. Urban transport fares have been increasing faster than CPI since the late 1970s, although they have grown slower than CPI (on aggregate) since 2013.

Here’s a breakdown of the real cost of private motoring and urban transport fares by city (note different Y-axis scales):

Note: I suspect there is some issue with the urban transport fares figure for Canberra in June 2019. The index values for March, June, and September 2019 were 116.3, 102.0, and 118.4 respectively.

Urban transport fares have grown the most in Brisbane, Perth and Canberra – relative to 1973.

However if you choose a different base year you get a different chart:

What’s most relevant is the relative change between years – eg. you can see Brisbane’s experiment with high urban transport fare growth between 2009 and 2017 in both charts.

Hopefully this post has provided some useful insights into transport trends in Australia.


What impact does paid car parking have on travel mode choice in Melbourne?

Thu 3 October, 2019

Paid parking is often used when too many people want to park their car in the same place at the same time. Does it encourage people to cycle or use public transport instead of driving? Does that depend on the type of destination and/or availability of public transport? Are places with paid parking good targets for public transport upgrades?

In this post I’m going to try to answer the above questions. I’ll look at where there is paid parking in Melbourne, how transport mode shares vary for destinations across the city, and then the relationship between the two. I’ll take a deeper look at different destination types (particularly hospitals), explore the link between paid parking and employment density, and conclude with some implications for public transport planners. There’s a bit to get through so get comfortable.

This post uses data from around 158,000 surveyed trips around Greater Melbourne collected as part of a household travel survey (VISTA) between 2012 and 2018, as well as journey to work data from the 2016 ABS census.

Unfortunately the data available doesn’t allow for perfect analysis. The VISTA’s survey sample sizes are not large, I don’t have data about how much was paid for parking, nor whether other parking restrictions might impact mode choice (e.g. time limits), and I suspect some people interpreted survey questions differently. But I think there are still some fairly clear insights from the data.

Where is there paid parking in Melbourne?

I’m not aware of an available comprehensive car park pricing data set for Melbourne. Parkopedia tells you about formal car parks (not on street options) and doesn’t share data sets for free, while the City of Melbourne provides data on the location, fees, and time restrictions of on-street bays (only). So I’ve created my own – using the VISTA household travel survey.

For every surveyed trip involving parking a car, van, or truck, we know whether a parking fee was payable. However the challenge is that VISTA is a survey, so the trip volumes are small for any particular place. For my analysis I’ve used groups of ABS Destination Zones (2016 boundaries) that together have at least 40 parking trips (excluding trips where the purpose was “go home” as residential parking is unlikely to involve a parking fee). I’ve chosen 40 as a compromise between not wanting to have too small a sample, and not wanting to have to aggregate too many destination zones. In some cases a single destination zone has enough parking trips, but in most cases I have had to create groups.

I’ve tried to avoid merging different land uses where possible, and for some parts of Melbourne there are just not enough surveyed parking trips in an area (see appendix at the end of this post for more details). Whether I combine zones or use a single zone, I’m calling these “DZ groups” for short.

For each DZ group I’ve calculated the percentage of vehicle parking trips surveyed that involved someone paying a parking fee. The value will be low if only some circumstances require parking payment (eg all-day parking on weekdays), and higher if most people need to pay at most times of the week for both short and long stays (but curiously never 100%). The sample for each DZ group will be a small random sample of trips from different times of week, survey years, and durations. For DZ groups with paid parking rates above 20%, the margin of error for paid parking percentage is typically up to +/- 13% (at a 90% confidence interval).

Imperfect as the measure is, the following map shows DZ groups with at least 10% paid parking, along with my land use categorisations (where a DZ group has a specialised land use).

There are high percentages of paid parking in the central city, as you’d expect. Paid parking is more isolated in the suburbs – and mostly occurs at university campuses, hospitals, larger activity centres, and of course Melbourne Airport.

The next chart shows the DZ groups with the highest percentages of paid parking (together with the margin of error).

Technical note: the Y-axis shows the SA2 name, rather than the (unique but meaningless) DZ code(s), so you will see multiple DZ groups with the same SA2 name.

At the top of the chart are central city areas, major hospitals, several university campuses, and Melbourne Airport.

Further down the chart are:

  • larger activity centres – many inner suburban centres plus also Dandenong, Frankston, Box Hill, and curiously Springvale (where some controversial parking meters were switched off in 2017),
  • the area around Melbourne Zoo (Parkville SA2 – classified as “other”),
  • some inner city mixed-use areas,
  • two shopping centres – the inner suburban Victoria Gardens Shopping Centre in Richmond (which includes an IKEA store), and Doncaster (Westfield) – the only large middle suburban centre to show up with significant paid parking (many others now have time restrictions), and
  • some suburban industrial employment areas (towards the bottom of the chart) – in which I’ve not found commercial car parks.

These are mostly places of high activity density, where land values don’t support the provision of sufficient free parking to meet all demand.

While the data looks quite plausible, the calculated values not perfect, for several reasons:

  • Some people almost certainly forget that they paid for parking (or misinterpreted the survey question). For example, on the Monash University Clayton campus, 45% of vehicle driver trips (n = 126) said no parking fee was payable, 2% said their employer paid, and 12% said it was paid through a salary arrangement. However there is pretty much no free parking on campus (at least on weekdays), so I suspect many people forgot to mention that they had paid for parking in the form of a year or half-year permit (I’m told that very few staff get free parking permits).
  • Many people said they parked for free in an employee provided off-street car park. In this instance the employer is actually paying for parking (real estate, infrastructure, maintenance, etc). If this parking is rationed to senior employees only then other employees may be more likely to use non-car modes. But if employer provided is plentiful then car travel would be an attractive option. 22% of surveyed trips involving driving to the Melbourne CBD reported parking in an employer provided car park, about a quarter of those said no parking fee was required (most others said their employer paid for parking).
  • As already mentioned, the sample sizes are quite small, and different parking events will be at different times of the week, for different durations, and the applicability of parking fees may have changed over the survey period between 2012 and 2018.
  • The data doesn’t tell us how much was paid for parking. I would expect price to be a significant factor influencing mode choices.
  • Paid parking is not the only disincentive to travel by private car – there might be time restrictions or availability issues, but unfortunately VISTA does not collect such data (it would be tricky to collect).

How does private transport mode share vary across Melbourne?

The other part of this analysis is around private transport mode shares for destinations. As usual I define private transport as a trip that involved some motorised transport, but not any modes of public transport.

Rich data is available for journeys to work from the ABS census, but I’m also interested in general travel, and for that I have to use the VISTA survey data.

For much of my analysis I am going to exclude walking trips, on the basis that I’m primarily interested in trips where private transport is in competition with cycling and public transport. Yes there will be cases where people choose to walk instead of drive because of parking challenges, but I’m assuming not that many (indeed, around 93% of vehicle driver trips in the VISTA survey are more than 1 km). An alternative might be to exclude trips shorter than a certain distance, but then that presents difficult decisions around an appropriate distance threshold.

Here’s a map of private transport mode share of non-walking trips by SA2 destination:

Technical note: I have set the threshold at 40 trips per SA2, but most SA2s have hundreds of surveyed trips. The grey areas of the map are SA2s with fewer than 40 trips, and/or destination zones with no surveyed trips.

For all but the inner suburbs of Melbourne, private transport is by far the dominant mode for non-walking trips. Public transport and cycling only get a significant combined share in the central and inner city areas.

Where is private transport mode share unusually low? And could paid parking explain that?

The above chart showed a pretty strong pattern where private transport mode share is lower in the central city and very high in the suburbs. But are there places where private mode share in unusually low compared to surround land uses? These might be places where public transport can win a higher mode share because of paid parking, or other reasons.

Here’s a similar mode share map, but showing only DZ groups that have a private mode share below 90%:

If you look carefully you can see DZ groups with lower than 80% mode share, including some university/health campuses.

To better illustrate the impact of distance from the city centre, here’s a chart summarising the average private transport mode share of non-walking trips for selected types of places, by distance from the city centre:

Most destination place types are above 90% private transport mode share, except within the inner 5 km. The lowest mode shares are at tertiary education places, workplaces in the central city, secondary schools and parks/recreation. Up the top of the chart are childcare centres, supermarkets and kinders/preschool. Sorry it is hard to decode all the lines – but the point is that they are mostly right up the top.

The next chart brings together the presence of paid parking, distance from the CBD, destination place type, and private transport mode shares. I’ve greyed out DZ groups with less than 20% paid parking, and you can see they are mostly more than 3 km from the CBD. I’ve coloured and labelled the DZ groups with higher rates of paid parking. Also note I’ve used a log scale on the X-axis to spread out the paid DZ groups (distance from CBD).

Most of the DZ groups follow a general curve from bottom-left to top-right, which might reflect generally declining public transport service levels as you move away from the city centre.

The outliers below the main cloud are places with paid parking where private modes shares are lower than other destinations a similar distance from the CBD. Most of these non-private trips will be by public transport. The biggest outliers are university campuses, including Parkville, Clayton, Caulfield, Burwood, and Hawthorn. Some destinations at the bottom edge of the main cloud include university campuses in Kingsbury and Footscray, and parts of the large activity centres of Box Hill and Frankston.

Arguably the presence of paid parking could be acting as a disincentive to use private transport to these destinations.

Contrast these with other paid parking destinations such as hospitals, many activity centres, and Melbourne Airport. The presence of paid parking doesn’t seem to have dissuaded people from driving to these destinations.

Which raises a critical question: is this because of the nature of travel to these destinations means people choose to drive, or is this because of lower quality public transport to those centres? Something we need to unpack.

How strongly does paid car parking correlate with low private transport mode shares?

Here’s a chart showing DZ groups with their private transport mode share of (non-walking) trips and percent of vehicle parking trips involving payment.

Technical note: A colour has been assigned to each SA2 to help associate labels to data points, although there are only 20 unique colours so they are re-used for multiple SA2s. I have endeavoured to make labels unambiguous. It’s obviously not possible to label all points on the chart.

In the top-left are many trip destinations with mostly free parking and very high private transport mode share, suggesting it is very hard for other modes to compete with free parking (although this says nothing about the level of public transport service provision or cycling infrastructure). In the bottom-right are central city DZ groups with paid parking and low private transport mode share.

There is a significant relationship between the two variables (p-value < 0.0001 on a linear regression as per line shown), and it appears that the relative use of paid parking explains a little over half of the pattern of private transport mode shares (R-squared = 0.61). But there is definitely a wide scattering of data points, suggesting many other factors are at play, which I want to understand.

In particular it’s notable that the data points close to the line in the bottom-right are in the central city, while most of the data points in the top-right are mostly in the suburbs (they are also the same land use types that were an exception in the last chart – Melbourne Airport, hospitals, some university campuses, and activity centres).

As always, it’s interesting to look at the outliers, which I am going to consider by land use category.

Melbourne Airport

The airport destination zone has around 62% paid parking and around 92% private transport mode share for general trips (noting the VISTA survey is only of travel by Melbourne and Geelong residents). The airport estimates 14% of non-transferring passengers use some form of public transport, and that 27% of weekday traffic demand is employee travel.

Some plausible explanations for high private mode share despite paid parking include:

  • shift workers travelling when public transport is infrequent or unavailable (I understand many airport workers commence at 4 am, before public transport has started for the day),
  • unreliable work finish times (for example, if planes are delayed),
  • longer travel distances making public transport journeys slower and requiring transfers for many origins,
  • travellers with luggage finding public transport less convenient,
  • highly time-sensitive air travellers who might feel more in control of a private transport trip,
  • active transport involving long travel distances with poor infrastructure, and
  • many travel costs being paid by businesses (not users).

It’s worth noting that the staff car park is remote from the terminal buildings, such that shuttle bus services operate – an added inconvenience of private transport. But by the same token, the public transport bus stops are a fairly long walk from terminals 1 and 2.

The destination zone that includes the airport terminals also includes industrial areas on the south side of the airport. If I aggregate only the surveyed trips with a destination around the airport terminals, that yields 69% paid parking, and 93% private mode share. Conversely, the industrial area south of the airport yields 6% paid parking, and 100% private mode share.

Hospitals

Almost all hospitals are above the line – i.e. high private mode share despite high rates of paid parking.

The biggest outliers are the Monash Medical Centre in Clayton, Austin/Mercy Hospitals in Heidelberg, and Sunshine Hospital in St Albans South.

The Heidelberg hospitals are adjacent to Heidelberg train station. The Monash Medical Centre at Clayton is within 10 minutes walk of Clayton train station where trains run every 10 minutes or better for much of the week, and there’s also a SmartBus route out the front. Sunshine Hospital is within 10 minutes walk of Ginifer train station (although off-peak services mostly run every 20 minutes).

It’s not like these hospitals are a long way from reasonably high quality public transport. But they are a fair way out from the CBD, and only have high quality public transport in some directions.

The DZ containing Royal Melbourne Hospital, Royal Women’s Hospital, and Victoria Comprehensive Cancer Centre in Parkville is the exception below the line. It is served by multiple high frequency public transport lines, and serves the inner suburbs of Melbourne (also well served by public transport) which might help explain its ~45% private transport mode share.

The Richmond hospital DZ group is close to the line – but this is actually a blend of the Epworth Hospital and many adjacent mixed land uses so it’s not a great data point to analyse unfortunately.

So what might explain high private transport mode shares? I think there are several plausible explanations:

  • shift workers find public transport infrequent, less safe, or unavailable at shift change times (similar to the airport),
  • visitors travel at off-peak times when public transport is less frequent,
  • longer average travel distances (hospitals serve large population catchments with patients and visitor origins widely dispersed),
  • specialist staff who work across multiple hospitals on the same day,
  • patients need travel assistance when being admitted/discharged, and
  • visitor households are time-poor when a family member is in hospital.

The Parkville hospital data point above the line is the Royal Children’s Hospital. Despite having paid parking and being on two frequent tram routes, there is around 80% private transport mode share. This result is consistent with the hypotheses around time-poor visitor households, patients needing assistance when travelling to/from hospitals, and longer average travel distances (being a specialised hospital).

We can also look at census journey to work data for hospitals (without worrying about small survey sample sizes). Here’s a map showing the relative size, mode split and location of hospitals around Melbourne (with at least 200 journeys reported with a work industry of “Hospital”):

It’s a bit congested in the central city so here is an enlargement:

The only hospitals with a minority private mode share of journeys to work are the Epworth (Richmond), St Vincent’s (Fitzroy), Eye & Ear (East Melbourne), and the Aboriginal Health Service (Fitzroy) (I’m not sure that this is a hospital but it’s the only thing resembling a hospital in the destination zone).

Here’s another chart of hospitals showing the number of journeys to work, private transport mode share, and distance from the Melbourne CBD:

Again, there’s a very strong relationship between distance from the CBD and private transport mode share.

Larger hospitals more than 10 km from the CBD (Austin/Mercy, Box Hill, Monash) seem to have slightly lower private mode shares than other hospitals at a similar distance, which might be related to higher parking prices, different employee parking arrangements, or it might be that they are slightly closer to train stations.

The (relatively small) Royal Talbot Hospital is an outlier on the curve. It is relatively close to the CBD but only served by ten bus trips per weekday (route 609).

To test the public transport quality issue, here’s a chart of journey to work private mode shares by distance from train stations:

While being close to a train station seems to enable lower private transport mode shares, it doesn’t guarantee low private transport mode shares. The hospitals with low private transport mode shares are all in the central city.

So perhaps the issue is as much to do with the public transport service quality of the trip origins. The hospitals in the suburbs largely serve people living in the suburbs which generally have lower public transport service levels, while the inner city hospitals probably more serve inner city residents who generally have higher public transport service levels and lower rates of motor vehicle ownership (see: What does the census tell us about motor vehicle ownership in Australian cities? (2006-2016)).

Indeed, here is a map showing private transport mode share of non-walking trips by origin SA2:

Technical notes: grey areas are SA1s (within SA2s) with no survey trips.

Finally for hospitals, here is private transport mode share of journeys to work (from the census) compared to paid parking % from VISTA (note: sufficient paid parking data is only available for some hospitals, and we don’t know whether staff have to pay for parking):

There doesn’t appear to be a strong relationship here, as many hospitals with high rates of paid parking also have high private transport mode shares.

In summary:

  • The distance of a hospital from the CBD seems to be the primary influence on mode share.
  • Specialised hospitals with larger catchments (eg Children’s Hospital) might have higher private transport mode shares.
  • The quality of public transport to the hospital seems to have a secondary impact on mode shares.

Activity centres

Suburban activity centres such as Frankston, Box Hill, Dandenong, and Springvale have high private mode shares, which might reflect lower public transport service levels than the inner city (particularly for off-rail origins).

Box Hill is the biggest outlier for activity centres in terms of high private mode share despite paid parking. But compared to other destinations that far from the Melbourne CBD, it has a relatively low private transport mode share. It is located on a major train line, and is served by several frequent bus routes.

In general, there are fewer reasons why increased public transport investment might not lead to higher public transport mode share compared to airports and hospitals. Travel distances are generally shorter, many people will be travelling in peak periods and during the day, there are probably few shift workers (certainly few around-the-clock shift workers).

University campuses

The biggest university outliers above the line (higher private mode shares and higher paid parking %) are Deakin University (Burwood) and La Trobe University (Kingsbury). Furthermore, private transport also has a majority mode share for Monash University Clayton, Victoria University Footscray Park, Monash University (Caulfield) and Swinburne University (Hawthorn).

As discussed earlier, I suspect the rates of paid parking may be understated for university campuses because people forget they have purchased long-term parking permits.

The following chart shows the full mode split of trips to the University DZ groups in various SA2s (this time including walking trips):

Of the campuses listed, only Hawthorn and Caulfield are adjacent to a train station. Of the off-rail campuses:

  • Parkville (Melbourne Uni, 43% public transport) is served by multiple frequent tram routes, plus a high frequency express shuttle bus to North Melbourne train station. In a few years it will also have a train station.
  • Clayton (Monash, 22% PT) is also served by a high frequency express shuttle bus service to Huntingdale train station.
  • Burwood (Deakin, 19% PT) is on a frequent tram route, but otherwise moderately frequent bus services (its express shuttle bus service to Box Hill train station – route 201 – currently runs every 20 minutes)
  • Footscray (Park) (Victoria Uni, 14% PT) has bus and tram services to Footscray train station but they operate at frequencies of around 15 minutes in peak periods, and 20 minutes inter-peak.
  • Kingsbury (La Trobe Uni, 13% PT) has an express shuttle bus service from Reservoir station operating every 10 minutes on weekdays (introduced in 2016).

The success of high frequency express shuttle bus services to Parkville and Clayton may bode well for further public transport frequency upgrades to other campuses.

University campuses are also natural targets for public transport as university students on low incomes are likely to be more sensitive to private motoring and parking costs.

However university campuses also have longer average travel distances which might impact mode shares – more on that shortly.

Central city

Most central city DZ groups are in the bottom-right of the scatter plot, but there are some notable exceptions:

  • A Southbank DZ around Crown Casino has 65% paid parking and 70% private transport mode share. This was also an exception when I analysed journey to work (see: How is the journey to work changing in Melbourne? (2006-2016)) and might be explained be relatively cheap parking, casino shift workers, and possibly more off-peak travel (eg evenings, weekends).
  • Similarly, a Southbank DZ group around the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre / South Wharf retail complex has 62% paid parking and around 74% private mode share. Many parts of this area are a long walk from public transport stops, and also there are around 2,200 car parks on site (with $17 early bird parking at the time of writing).
  • Albert Park – a destination zone centred around the park – has around 54% paid parking and 87% private transport mode share. Most of the VISTA survey trips were recreation or sport related, which may include many trips to the Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre. The park is surrounded by tram routes on most sides, but is relatively remote from the (rapid) train network.
  • Northern Docklands shows up with around 50% paid parking and around 88% private transport mode share, despite being very close to the Melbourne CBD. While this area is served by multiple frequent tram routes, it is a relatively long walk (or even tram ride) from a nearby a train station (from Leven Avenue it is 16 minutes by tram to Southern Cross Station and around 18 minutes to Flagstaff Station, according to Google). The closest train station is actually North Melbourne, but there is currently no direct public transport or pedestrian connection (the E-gate rail site and future Westgate Tunnel road link would need to be crossed).

Inner suburbs

Some places to the bottom-left of the cloud on the chart include inner suburban areas such as South Yarra, Fitzroy, Richmond, Abbotsford, Brunswick, and Collingwood. While paid parking doesn’t seem to be as common, private transport mode shares are relatively low (even when walking trips are excluded). These areas typically have dense mixed-use activity with higher public transport service levels, which might explain the lower private transport mode shares. These areas probably also have a lot of time-restricted (but free) parking.

What is the relationship between paid parking and journey to work mode shares?

For journeys to work we thankfully have rich census data, with no issues of small survey sample sizes.

The following chart combines VISTA data on paid parking, with 2016 census data on journey to work mode shares (note: the margin of error on the paid parking percentage is still up to +/-12%).

The pattern is very similar to that for general travel, and the relationship is of a similar strength (r-squared = 0.59).

There are more DZ groups below the line on the left side of the chart, meaning that the private transport mode share of journeys to work is often lower than for general travel.

Indeed, here is a chart comparing private transport mode share of general travel (VISTA survey excluding walking and trips to go home) with journeys to work (ABS census):

Note the margin of error for private transport mode shares is around +/-10% because of the small VISTA sample sizes.

For most DZ groups of all types, private transport mode shares are lower for journeys to work compared to general travel (ie below the diagonal line). This might reflect public transport being more competitive for commuters than for visitors – all-day parking might be harder to find and/or more expensive. This suggests investment in public transport might want to target journeys to work.

The DZ groups above the line include Flemington Racecourse (census day was almost certainly not a race day so there was probably ample parking for employees, while many VISTA survey trips will be from event days), Deakin Uni (Burwood), and a few others. Some of these DZ groups are dominated by schools, where workers (teachers) drive while students are more likely to cycle or catch public transport.

What about public transport mode shares?

The following chart shows VISTA public transport mode shares (for general travel) against paid parking percentages:

There are similar patterns to the earlier private transport chart, but flipped. The outliers are very similar (eg hospitals and Melbourne Airport in the bottom-right), although the top-left outliers include some destinations in socio-economically disadvantaged areas (eg Braybrook, Broadmeadows, Dandenong).

The DZ group in Blackburn South with no paid parking but 22% public transport mode share contains several schools but otherwise mostly residential areas, and the survey data includes many education related trips.

Are shift workers less likely to use public transport?

Shift workers at hospitals, Melbourne Airport, and the casino might be less likely to use public transport because of the inconvenience of travelling at off-peak shift change times, when service levels may be lower or non-existent.

Here’s a chart showing the mode split of VISTA journeys to work by destination type categories, and also type of working hours:

For hospitals, rostered shifts had a lower public transport mode share, compared to fixed and flexible hours workers, so this seems to support (but not prove) the hypothesis.

Public transport use is actually higher for rostered shift workers at other destination types, but I suspect these are mostly not around-the-clock shifts (eg retail work), and are more likely to be lower paid jobs, where price sensitivity might contribute more to mode choice.

Unfortunately there are not enough VISTA journey to work survey responses for Melbourne Airport to get sensible estimates of mode shares for different work types.

Do longer travel distances result in lower public transport mode shares?

Another earlier hypothesis was that destinations that attract longer distance trips (such as universities, hospitals, and airports) are more likely to result in private transport mode choice, as public transport journeys are more likely to require one or more transfers.

Trip distances to specialised places such as airports, suburban employment areas, universities and hospitals are indeed longer. But the central city also rates here and that has low private transport mode shares.

Digging deeper, here are median travel distances to DZ groups around Melbourne:

The central city has higher median trip distances but low private mode shares, while many suburban destinations (particularly employment/industrial areas, universities, and hospitals) have similar median travel distances but much higher public transport mode shares.

I think a likely explanation for this is that public transport to the central city is generally faster (often involving trains), more frequent, and involves fewer/easier transfers. Central city workers are also more likely to live near radial public transport lines. On the other hand, the trip origins for suburban destinations are more likely to be in the suburbs where public transport service levels are generally lower (compared to trip origins in the inner suburbs).

Cross-suburban public transport travel will often require transfers between lower frequency services, and will generally involve at least one bus leg. Very few Melbourne bus routes are currently separated from traffic, so such trips are unlikely to be as fast as private motoring (unless parking takes a long time to find), but they might be able to compete on marginal cost (if there is more expensive paid parking).

Of course this is not to suggest that cross-suburban public transport cannot be improved. More direct routes, higher frequencies, and separation from traffic can all make public transport more time-competitive.

How does parking pricing relate to employment density?

My previous research has confirmed a strong relationship between job density and lower journey to work private transport mode shares (see: What explains variations in journey to work mode shares between and within Australian cities?). Can this be explained by more paid parking in areas with higher job density?

The following chart compares weighted job density (from census 2016) and paid parking percentages (from VISTA):

Technical notes: Weighted job density is calculated as a weighted average of the job densities of individual destination zones in a DZ group, with the weighting being the number of jobs in each zone (the same principle as population weighted density). I have used a log-scale on the X-axis, and not shown DZ groups with less than 1 job/ha as they are not really interesting

There appears to be a relationship between job density and paid parking – as you would expect. The top right quadrant contains many university campuses, hospitals, and central city areas with high job density and high paid parking percentages.

In the bottom-right are many large job-dense shopping centres that offer “free” parking. Of course in reality the cost of parking is built into the price of goods and services at the centres (here’s a thought: what if people who arrive by non-car modes got a discount?). An earlier chart showed us that employees are less likely to commute by private transport than visitors.

The outliers to the top-left of the chart are actually mostly misleading. An example is Melbourne Airport where the density calculation is based on a destination zone that includes runways, taxiways, a low density business park, and much green space. The jobs are actually very concentrated in parts of that zone (e.g. passenger terminals) so the density is vastly understated (I’ve recommended to the ABS that they create smaller destination zones around airport terminal precincts in future census years).

Inclusion of significant green space and/or adjacent residential areas is also an issue at La Trobe University (Kingsbury data point with just under 50% mode share), RMIT Bundoora campus (Mill Park South), Royal Children’s Hospital (Parkville), Sunshine Hospital (St Albans South), Victoria University (Footscray (Park)), Albert Park (the actual park), and Melbourne Polytechnic Fairfield campus / Thomas Embling Hospital (Yarra – North).

I am at a loss to explain paid parking in Mooroolbark – the only major employer seems to be the private school Billanook College.

Can you summarise the relationship between paid parking and mode shares?

I know I’ve gone down quite a few rabbit holes, so here’s a summary of insights:

  • Distance from the Melbourne CBD seems to be the strongest single predictor of private transport mode share (as origin or destination). This probably reflects public transport service levels generally being higher in the central city and lower in the suburbs. Destinations further from the central city are likely to have trip origins that are also further from the central city, for which public transport journeys are often slower.
  • Paid parking seems to be particularly effective at reducing private transport mode shares at university campuses, and the impact is probably greater if there are higher quality public transport alternatives available.
  • There’s some evidence to suggest paid parking may reduce private transport mode shares at larger activity centres such as Box Hill and Frankston.
  • Most hospitals have very high private transport mode shares, despite also having paid parking. Hospitals with better public transport access have slightly lower private transport mode shares.
  • Destinations with around-the-clock shift workers (e.g. hospitals and airports) seem generally likely to have high private transport mode shares, as public transport services at shift change times might be infrequent or unavailable.
  • Suburban destinations that have longer median travel distances (such as hospitals, airports and industrial areas) mostly have higher private transport mode shares.
  • Even if there isn’t much paid parking, destinations well served by public transport tend to have lower private transport mode shares (although this could be related to time-restricted free parking).

If you’d like more on factors influencing mode shares, I’ve also explored this more broadly elsewhere on this blog, with employment density (related to parking prices), cycling infrastructure quality, proximity to rapid public transport, and walking catchment density found to be significant factors (see: What explains variations in journey to work mode shares between and within Australian cities?).

Are places with paid parking good targets for public transport investments?

Many of my recent conversations with transport professionals around this topic have suggested an hypothesis that public transport wins mode share in places that have paid parking. While that’s clearly the case in the centre of Melbourne and at many university campuses, this research has found it’s more of a mixed story for other destinations.

While this post hasn’t directly examined the impact of public transport investments on mode shares in specific places, I think it can inform the types of destinations where public transport investments might be more likely to deliver significant mode shifts.

Here’s my assessment of different destination types (most of which have paid parking):

  • Suburban hospitals may be challenging due to the presence of shift workers, patients needing assistance, visitors from time-poor households, and long average travel distances making public transport more difficult for cross-suburban travel. There’s no doubt many people use public transport to travel to hospitals, but it might not include many travellers who have a private transport option.
  • Larger activity centres with paid parking show lower private transport mode shares. Trips to these centres involve shorter travel distances that probably don’t require public transport transfers, and don’t suffer the challenges of around-the-clock shift workers, so they are likely to be good targets for public transport investment.
  • Universities are natural targets for public transport, particularly as many students would find the cost of maintaining, operating and parking a car more challenging, or don’t have access to private transport at all (around 35% of full time university/TAFE students do not have a full or probationary licence according to the VISTA sample). Universities do attract relatively higher public transport mode shares (even in the suburbs) and recent investments in express shuttle services from nearby train stations appear to have been successful at growing public transport patronage.
  • Melbourne Airport has high rates of paid parking and private transport mode share. It is probably a challenging public transport destination for employees who work rostered shifts. However already public transport does well for travel from the CBD, and this will soon be upgraded to heavy rail. Stations along the way may attract new employees in these areas, but span of operating hours may be an issue.
  • Job dense central city areas that are not currently well connected to the rapid public transport network could be public transport growth opportunity. In a previous post I found the largest journey to work mode shifts to public transport between 2011 and 2016 were in SA2s around the CBD (see: How is the journey to work changing in Melbourne? (2006-2016)). The most obvious target to me is northern Docklands which is not (yet) conveniently connected its nearby train station. Public transport is also gaining patronage in the densifying Fishermans Bend employment area (buses now operate as often as every 8 minutes in peak periods following an upgrade in October 2018).
  • Lower density suburban employment/industrial areas tend to have free parking, longer travel distances, and very high private transport mode shares. These are very challenging places for public transport to win significant mode share, although there will be some demand from people with limited transport options.

An emerging target for public transport might be large shopping centres that are starting to introduce paid or time-restricted car parking (particularly those located adjacent to train stations, e.g. Southland). That said, Westfield Doncaster, which has some paid parking (around 19%), has achieved only 6% public transport mode share in the VISTA survey (n=365), athough this may be growing over time. Meanwhile, Dandenong Plaza has around 16% public transport mode share despite only 6% paid parking.

Upgraded public transport to shopping centres might be particularly attractive for workers who are generally on lower incomes (we’ve already seen staff having lower private transport mode shares than visitors). Also, customer parking may be time-consuming to find on busy shopping days, which might make public transport a more attractive option, particularly if buses are not delayed by congested car park traffic.

There’s a lot going on in this space, so if you have further observations or suggestions please comment below.

Appendix: About destination group zones

Here is a map showing my destination zone groups in the central city area which have 15% or higher paid parking. Each group is given a different colour (although there are only 20 unique colours used so there is some reuse). The numbers indicate the number of surveyed parking trips in each group:

Some of the DZ groups have slightly less than 40 parking trips, which means they are excluded from much of my analysis. In many cases I’ve decided that merging these with neighbouring zones would be mixing disparate land uses, or would significantly dilute paid parking rates to not be meaningful (examples include northern Abbotsford, and parts of Kew and Fairfield). Unfortunately that’s the limitation of the using survey data, but there are still plenty of qualifying DZ groups to inform the analysis.

I have created destination zone groups for most destination zones with 10%+ paid parking, and most of the inner city area to facilitate the DZ group private transport mode share chart. I haven’t gone to the effort of creating DZ groups across the entire of Melbourne, as most areas have little paid parking and are not a focus for my analysis.


How radial is general travel in Melbourne? (part 2)

Wed 11 September, 2019

In part 1 of this series, I looked at the radialness of general travel around Melbourne based on the VISTA household travel survey. This part 2 digs deeper into radialness by time of the day and week, and maps radialness and mode share for general travel around Melbourne.

A brief recap on measuring radialness: I’ve been measuring the difference in angle between the bearing of a trip, and a straight line to the CBD from the trip endpoint that is furthest from the CBD (origin or destination). An angle of 0° means the trip is perfectly radial (directly towards or away from the CBD) while 90° means the trip is entirely orbital relative to the CBD. An average angle in the low 40s means that there isn’t really any bias towards radial travel. I’ve been calling this two-way off-radial angle. Refer to part 1 if you need more of a refresher.

How does trip radialness vary by time of week?

The first chart shows the average two-way off-radial angle for trips within Greater Melbourne by time and type of day, for private transport, public transport, and walking.

Technical notes: I’ve had to aggregate weekend data into two hour blocks to avoid issues with small sample sizes. I’m only showing data where there are at least 100 trips for a mode and time (that’s still not a huge sample size so there is some “noise”). Trips times are assigned by the clock hour of the middle of the trip duration. For example, a trip starting at 7:50 am and finishing at 9:30 am has a mid-trip time of 8:40 am and therefore is counted in 8 – 9 am for one hour intervals, and 8 – 10 am for two hour intervals.

You can see:

  • Public transport trips are much more radial at all times of the week, but most particularly in the early AM peak and in the PM commuter peak. They are least radial in the period 3-4 pm on weekdays (PM school peak), which no doubt reflects school student travel, which is generally less radial.
  • Private transport trips are more radial before 8 am on weekdays, and in the early morning and late evening on weekends. Curiously private transport trips in the PM peak don’t show up as particularly radial, possibly because there is more of a mix of commuter and other trips at that time.
  • Walking trips show very little radial bias, except perhaps in the commuter peak times on weekdays.

When I drill down into specific modes, the sample sizes get smaller, so I have used 2 hour intervals on weekdays, and 3 hour intervals on weekends. Also to note is that VISTA assigns a “link mode” to each trip, being the most important mode used in the journey (generally train is highest, followed by tram, bus, vehicle driver, vehicle passenger, bicycle, walking only). I am using this “link mode” in the following charts.

Some observations:

  • Train trips are the most radial, followed by tram trips (no surprise as these networks are highly radial).
  • Bicycle trips are generally the third most radial mode, except at school times.
  • Public bus trips are more radial in the commuter peak periods, and much less radial in the middle of the day on weekdays. The greater radialness in commuter peaks will likely reflect people using buses in non-rail corridors to travel to the city centre (particularly along the Eastern Freeway corridor). Most of Melbourne’s bus routes run across suburbs, rather than towards the city centre, which will likely explain bus-only trips being less radial than train and tram, particularly off-peak.

How does radialness vary by trip purpose and time of week?

The following chart shows the average two-way off-radial angle of trips by trip purpose (at destination) and time of day:

Some observations:

  • Work related trips are generally the most radial, particularly in the AM peak (as you might expect), but less so on weekdays afternoons.
  • Weekday education trips are the next most radial (excluding trips to go home in the afternoon and evening), except at school times (school travel being less radially biased than tertiary education travel).
  • Social trips become much more radial late at night on weekends, probably reflecting inner city destinations.
  • Recreational trips are the least radial on weekends.
  • Otherwise most other trip purposes average around 35-40° – which is only slightly weighted towards radial travel.

What is the distribution of off-radial angles by time of day?

So far my analysis has been looking at radialness, without regard to whether trips are towards or away from the CBD. I’ve also used average off-radial angles which hides the underlying distribution of trip radialness.

I’m curious as to whether modes are dominated by inbound or outbound trips at any times of the week (particularly private transport), and the distribution of trips across various off-radial angles.

So to add the inbound/outbound component of radialness, I am going to use a slightly different measure, which I call the “one-way off-radial angle”. For this I am using a scale of 0° to 180°, with 0° being directly towards the CBD, and 180° being directly away from the CBD, and 90° being a perfectly orbital trip with regard to the CBD. For inbound trips, the one-way off-radial angle will be the same as the two-way off-radial angle, but outbound trips will instead fall in the 90° to 180° range.

One-way off-radial angles are still calculated relative to the trip end point (origin or destination) that is furthest from the CBD. I explained this in part 1.

Here is the distribution of one-way off-radial angles by time of day for trips where train was the main mode:

A reminder: only time intervals with a sample of at least 100 trips are shown.

In the morning, trips are very much inbound radial, with around three-quarters being angles of 0°-10°. Likewise in the PM peak, almost three-quarters of train trips are very outbound radial with angles 170°-180°.

As per the second chart in this post, train trips remain very radial throughout the day. But there is slightly more diversity in off-radial angles 3-4 pm on weekdays, when many school students use trains for journeys home from school that are less radially biased. Less radial trips could be a result of using two train lines, using bus in combination with train, or using a short section of the train network that isn’t as radial (eg Eltham to Greensborough, Williamstown to Newport, or a section of the Alamein line).

On weekends it’s interesting to see that there are many more inbound than outbound journeys between 12 pm and 2 pm on weekends. The “flip time” when outbound journeys outnumber inbound journeys is probably around 2 pm. This is consistent with CBD pedestrian counters that show peak activity in the early afternoon.

One problem with the chart above is that volumes of train travel vary considerably across the day. So here’s the same data, but as (estimated) average daily trips:

You can see the intense peak periods on weekdays, and a gradual switch from inbound trips to outbound trips around 1 pm on weekdays. There’s also a mini-peak in the “contra-peak” directions (outbound trips in the AM peak and inbound trips in the PM peak).

The weekend volumes are for two hour intervals so not directly comparable to weekdays (which are calculated for one hour intervals), but you can see higher volumes of inbound trips until around 2 pm, and then outbound trip volumes are higher.

Those results for trains were probably not surprising, but what about private vehicle driver trips?

There is much more diversity in off-radial angles at all times of the day, and a less severe change between inbound and outbound trips across the day.

On both weekday and weekend mornings there is a definite bias towards inbound travel. Afternoons and evenings are biased towards outbound travel, but not nearly as much (it’s much stronger late at night). This is consistent with the higher average two-way off-radial angle seen for private transport in the PM peak compared to the AM peak.

Here is the same data again but in volumes:

This shows the weekday AM peak spread concentrated between 8 and 9 am, while the PM peak is more spread over three hours (beginning with the end of school).

Here are the same two charts for tram trips (the survey sample is smaller, so we can only see results for weekdays):

Again there is a strong bias to inbound trips in the morning and outbound in the afternoon, with slightly more diversity in the PM school peak, and early evening.

Next up public bus (a separate category to school buses, however many school students do travel on public buses):

There is a lot more diversity in off-radial angles (particularly 2-4 pm covering the end of school), but also the same trend of more inbound trips in the morning and outbound trips in the afternoon.

Next up, bicycle:

There’s a fair amount of diversity, across the day, with inbound trips dominating the AM peak and outbound trips in the PM commuter peak (but not as strongly in the PM school peak). Weekend late afternoon trips show a little more diversity than morning and early afternoon trips, but the volumes are relatively small.

Next is walking trips:

There is considerable diversity in off-radial angles across most of the week, although outbound trips have a larger share in the late evening.

Walking volumes on weekdays peak at school times. On weekends walking seems to peak between 10 am and 12 pm and again 4 pm to 6 pm, but not considerably compared to the rest of the day time.

Mapping mode shares and radialness

So far I’ve been looking at radialness for modes by time of day. This section next section looks at radialness and mode shares by origins and destinations within Melbourne.

In recent posts I’ve had fun mapping journeys to work from census data (see: Mapping Melbourne’s journeys to work), so I’ve been keep to explore what’s possible for general travel.

VISTA is only a survey of travel (rather than a census), so if you want to map mode shares of trips around the city, you unfortunately need to lose a lot of geographic resolution to get reasonable sample sizes.

The following map shows private transport mode shares for journeys between SA3s (which are roughly the size of municipalities), where there were at least 80 surveyed trips (yes, that is a small sample size so confidence intervals are wider, but I’m also showing mode shares in 10% ranges). Dots indicate trips within an SA3, and lines indicate trips between SA3s. I’ve animated the map to make try to make it slightly easier to call out the high and low private mode shares.

You can see lower private transport mode shares for radial travel involving the central city (Melbourne City SA3), particularly from inner and middle suburbs (less so from outer suburbs). Radial travel that doesn’t go to the city centre generally has high private transport mode shares.

I also have origin and destination SA1s for surveyed trips. Here is a map showing all SA1-SA1 survey trip combinations by main mode, animated to show intervals of two-way off-radial angles:

It’s certainly not a perfect representation because of the all the overlapping lines (I have used a high degree of transparency). You can generally see more blue lines (public transport) in the highly radial angles, and almost entirely red (private transport) and short green lines (active transport) for larger angle ranges. This is consistent with charts in my last post (see: How radial is general travel in Melbourne? (Part 1)).

You can also see that few trips fall into the 80-90° interval, which is because I’m measuring radialness relative to the trip endpoint furthest from the CBD. An angle of 80-90° requires the origin and destination to be about the same distance from the CBD and for the trip to be relatively short.

So there you go, almost certainly more than you ever wanted or needed to know about the radialness of travel in Melbourne. I suspect many of the patterns would also be found in other cities, although some aspects – such the as the geography of Port Phillip Bay – will be unique to Melbourne.

Again, I want to the thank the Department of Transport for sharing the full VISTA data set with me to enable this analysis.