Why are young adults more likely to use public transport? (an exploration of mode shares by age – part 3)

Wed 18 November, 2020

I’ve been exploring data to explain why younger adults are more likely to use public transport (PT) than older adults in Melbourne. This third post in a series looks at the relationship between public transport mode share and parenthood, the year in which people were born, whether people were born in Australia or overseas, and how recently immigrants arrived in Australia.

I’m using VISTA household travel survey data (all travel) and ABS Census data (journey to work only). For more detail about the data, see the first post in the series.

Parenthood

Are younger adults more likely to use public transport because they don’t (yet) have dependent children?

Consistent with previous analysis on this blog, there is a relationship between PT mode share and whether people are parents within family households. Here’s the data for general travel from VISTA 2012-18:

Parents were much less likely to use public transport than non-parents of the same age, with mums between 35 and 55 having a lower mode share (on average) than dads in the same age range.

The census tells us whether a worker did unpaid child care for a child of their own in the two weeks prior to the census, which I am using to distinguish parents and non-parents.

The following chart shows the proportion of working men and women who were parents, animated over censuses 2006 to 2016.

Parenting peaked around age 40 for male and female workers, and the proportion of workers who were parenting went up between 2006 and 2016.

So how do public transport mode shares vary by age if we separate out parents and non-parents? The following chart answers this, and also separates workers by whether or not they worked in the City of Melbourne local government area (a known major factor influencing mode shares), animating results over 2006, 2011, and 2016:

Note there is a different Y-axis scale for City of Melbourne and elsewhere.

There are a few really interesting take-aways here:

  • Parenting workers mostly had lower public transport mode shares than non-parenting workers of the same age, except for:
    • dads over 30 who worked in the City of Melbourne,
    • mums in their early 30s who worked in the City of Melbourne in 2016, and
    • mums and dads in their 50s who worked outside the City of Melbourne (who had low PT mode shares around 4-5%, similar to non-parenting workers of the same age)
  • Public transport mode shares increased over time for almost all age bands, work locations, and for parenting and non-parenting workers.
  • Public transport mode shares for journeys to work in the City of Melbourne mostly declined with increasing age between 20 and 50, regardless of parenting responsibilities. Other age-related factors must be at play.
  • For people who worked outside the City of Melbourne, the mode share profile across age changed significantly over time for young adults. In 2006 there was a steady decline with age, but in 2011 PT mode shares were generally flat for those in their 20s, and in 2016 PT mode shares peaked for women in their late 20s (and also had a quite new pattern for dads in their 20s).
  • For parenting workers who work outside the City of Melbourne there was actually a slightly higher PT mode share for those over the age of 50. Parents over 50 might have older children who are more independent and therefore less reliant on their parents for transport. This might make it easier for the parents to use public transport. However this trend did not hold for dads in 2016.
  • PT mode shares for non-parenting women increased slightly beyond age 55 for all work locations. This will include women who were never parents, as well mums with non-dependent children so might again reflect a small return to public transport once children become independent. It may also be influenced by discounted PT “Seniors” fares available to people over 60 who are not working 35+ hours per week.

Lower public transport mode shares for parents is not surprising – they may be more time-poor and need more transport flexibility to link trips – eg dropping kids at childcare on the way to work can be more difficult with public transport (although it doesn’t seem to impact men travelling to the city centre nearly as much as women – I suspect because women are more likely to be working part time and doing childcare drop-offs and pick-ups). Parents may decide that time saving and convenience moving children is more important to them than lower transport costs from using PT.

However, addition of parenting responsibilities does not fully explain why public transport mode share generally declined with increasing age, particularly for non-parenting workers.

But I’m curious about the changing profile of mode share by age over time. Could it be influenced by…

Birth year / generations

Does public transport mode share vary by age and/or does it vary by when people were born, with different mode choices by different generations? To answer this I’m going to look at mode shares by both age and birth year.

For this analysis, I want to compare mode shares of birth year cohorts over time. The exact composition of these cohorts will change over time as there are deaths, new immigrants, and people who move overseas. I can only easily control for immigrants using census data – so for this section of my analysis I’m going to remove people not born in Australia (I will return to look at mode shares of immigrants shortly). Of course some people born in Australia who worked in Melbourne in 2016 may have spent a significant time living outside Australia before a census so this isn’t perfect.

Firstly, here’s a chart of journey to work PT mode shares by age, work location, and parenting status across 2006, 2011, and 2016 for people born in Australia:

Technical note: I’ve excluded data points where there was a small number of commuters, or a small number of public transport journeys where calculations are impacted by ABS randomisation to protect privacy.

You can see the general shape of the census year curves are similar within each quadrant (with a little noise at the extremes of age probably due to smaller volumes), suggesting a similar relationship between PT mode share and age holds over time.

We can clearly see how mode shares have increased over time for age bands, including:

  • those who work in the City of Melbourne (top row),
  • non-parenting younger adults who worked outside the City of Melbourne (bottom-left), and
  • to a smaller extent parents in their 30s and 40s who worked outside the City of Melbourne (bottom-right).

There were PT mode share spikes at age band 16-17 (at least for people working outside the City of Melbourne), which is just before people can gain independent licences. Those aged 18-19 working outside the City of Melbourne had a much lower PT mode share than those aged 16-17, and PT mode shares were lower again for those aged 15 who are perhaps more likely to work locally or be driven to work by parents.

So is this a general mode shift over time, or is it something intrinsic to birth years or “generations”? The next chart is similar to the previous, but the X-axis is notional birth year (approximated by census year – age at census time, which will be within a year of actual birth years).

Technical notes: For this chart I’ve calculated the 2 year birth year bands so that the youngest birth band is for ages 15-16 in all census years.

Let’s walk through the quadrants:

  • Non-parenting, City of Melbourne (top-left): PT mode shares have increased over time for those born between the 1940s and mid-1980s, despite these commuters getting older (assuming the same people still work within the City of Melbourne). This suggests general mode shift to PT over time has been stronger than any mode shift away from PT due to aging.
  • Parenting, City of Melbourne (top-right): PT mode shares have increased over time for almost all birth years, despite getting older (although the membership of this cohort will change as people acquire and lose parenting responsibilities). This is the same as non-parenting workers in the City of Melbourne.
  • Non-parenting, outside City of Melbourne (bottom-left): Ignoring those aged 15-22, mode shifts are generally smaller and not all in the same direction. If there was a negative relationships between age and PT mode share, you’d expect to see a shift away from PT between 2006 and 2016 for all cohorts. But for those born between around 1975 and 1985 (younger generation X and older millennials) and those born between 1940 and 1958 (mostly Baby Boomers) there was a small shift towards PT over time, despite them getting older. However these mode shifts were in the order of only 1-2%. Those born between 1960 and 1974 (mostly Gen X) shifted away from PT over time.
  • Parenting, outside City of Melbourne (bottom-right): For people born between around 1955 and 1980 (baby boomers and gen X) there was a shift towards PT between census years 2011 and 2016, despite people ageing. However in this quadrant mode shares were pretty flat and low over most ages (except at the young and old extremes of the cohort).

Of course many people will move from the left column to the right column as they start families, and then perhaps back to left column when they have adult children who no longer need care, so this analysis isn’t perfect.

So are there generational effects on PT mode share? Between 2006 and 2016 there was a significant shift towards PT in Melbourne for most birth years, parenting statuses and work locations, with only non-parenting workers born between 1960 and 1974 and working outside the City of Melbourne shifting away from PT. So the answer is no – any impact from birth year appears to be very small, and was generally swamped by an overall mode shift towards public transport.

That analysis was for for people born in Australia, but what about immigrants?

Immigrants to Australia

Are people who immigrated into Australia more recently, more likely to use PT to get to work? The next chart provides a clear “yes” answer to that question. I’ve included parenting status and work location as known significant factors, and animated the chart over censuses 2006, 2011 and 2016.

While the lines appear to shift left, they are really shifting up or down (people’s birth year doesn’t change), and are growing on the left with new younger workers entering the labour market, and falling away on the right as people leave the workforce.

Time of immigration had a big impact on PT mode shares – with people who arrived in Australia in the five years before a census most likely to use PT to get to work. The biggest difference in PT mode shares was for recent non-parenting immigrants working outside the City of Melbourne (bottom-left quadrant). Perhaps if public transport quality was boosted in areas with many recent immigrants there might be less loss of mode share over time. Or the drop in mode share might reflect people moving to areas with lower quality public transport.

For those working outside the City of Melbourne, PT mode share quickly fell after arrival into Australia, and after around 20 years living in Australia immigrant’s mode shares are similar to those who have been in Australia longer (or were born in Australia).

The chart also shows that there are age-related factors at play (beyond parenting and work location), regardless of whether people were born in Australia or immigrated – although much less so if they are parenting.

So could it be that recent immigrants make up a greater share of young adults, and might this explain the overall average mode shares across age groups?

The next chart shows the distribution of working population in five-year age bands by year of immigration / those born in Australia. I’ve animated this over 2006 to 2016. While the chart appears to animate with vertical movements, people actually shift one column to the right between census years.

If you watch the chart you’ll see that the immigrant share of the working population under 45 years increased between 2006 and 2016, with strong surges in immigration after 2006. This will undoubtedly impact the overall mode share for younger adults, but it doesn’t explain all of the mode share variance by age. The previous chart showed age-related factors influencing PT mode shares, regardless of when people moved to Australia.

I will explore potential reasons why recent immigrants were more likely to use public transport to get to work in an upcoming post.

Can we now explain why young adults are more likely to use public transport?

So far we’ve established that the following factors appear to have a strong impact on public transport mode shares:

  • Workplace distance from the CBD
  • Recency of immigration to Australia
  • Parenting status
  • Age

If the first three of these factors are the most important, and age or other age-related factors were not important, then we would expect flat mode shares across ages when you control for the other three factors.

The following matrix-of-worms chart combines all four factors. But please note that the Y axis within each row has a different scale and doesn’t necessarily start at zero. I am really looking at the slope of the line within each matrix cell, so I’m not too concerned about the actual values. I’ve only shown data points that included at least 400 commuters, and I’ve removed some columns and rows where data was too sparse to show meaningful trends.

How to make sense of this chart? Well, if the factors of parenting, arrival year and work distance from the CBD explained all the differences between age groups, then you would expect these lines to be flat within each matrix cell.

On the parenting (right) side of the chart, many of the worm lines are indeed quite flat, with the exception of those who arrived between 2006 and 2015 and those who worked within 2 km of the Melbourne CBD. Even though many of these matrix cells only have two or three data points, most data points include thousands of commuters so I don’t expect much false “noise” in the chart.

Within non-parenting commuters:

  • There is generally either a relationship with age, or a very low and flat PT mode share across ages, suggesting age itself, or some other age-related factors were at play.
  • The relationship with age appears to be strongest for more recent immigrants. The Born in Australia column also shows a strong relationship with age but this also has the widest age range. The columns for those who arrived between 1976 and 1995 only contain 3 to 5 age bands (all 30+), which will partly explain why there is less of an evident slope in the line.
  • Age band 60-69 is often an outlier to the trend, particularly for those born in Australia or who arrived between 1976 and 1985, again perhaps related to discounted “Seniors” public transport fares.

So I haven’t been able to fully explain variations in PT use by age. Age itself may be a factor, there may be other age-relevant factors that are important, or more likely there are lots of complex interactions between factors that are hard to unpick.

The next post in this series will look at the impact of income, socio-economic advantage/disadvantage, and occupation on PT mode shares across ages.


Why are younger adults more likely to use public transport? (an exploration of mode shares by age – part 2)

Sun 27 September, 2020

This is the second post in a series that explores why younger adults are more likely to use public transport (PT) than older adults, with a focus on the types of places where people live and work, including proximity to train stations, population density, job density, motor vehicle ownership and driver’s licence ownership.

In the first post, we found younger adults in Melbourne were more likely to live and work close to the CBD, but this didn’t fully explain why they were more likely to use public transport.

This analysis uses 2016 ABS census data for Melbourne, and data for the years 2012-18 from Melbourne’s household travel survey (VISTA) – all being pre-COVID19. See the first post for more background on the data.

Proximity to train stations

Melbourne’s train network is the core mass rapid transit network of the city offering relatively car-competitive travel times, particularly for radial travel. It’s not Melbourne’s only high quality public transport, but for the want of a better metric, I’m going to use distance from train stations as a proxy for public transport modal competitiveness, as it is simple and easy to calculate.

In 2016 younger adults (and curiously the elderly) were more likely to live near train stations:

Almost 40% of people in their 20s lived within one km of a station. Could this partly explain why they were more likely to use public transport?

Well, maybe partly, but public transport mode shares of journeys to work were quite different between younger and older adults at all distances from train stations:

Public transport mode shares fell away with distance from stations, and age above 20 (the 15-19 age band being an exception).

With VISTA data we can look at general travel mode share by home distance from a train station:

There’s clearly a relationship between PT mode share and proximity to stations, but there’s also a strong relationship between age and PT use, at all home distance bands from train stations.

Younger adults were also more likely to work close to a train station. Indeed 46% of them worked within about 1 km of a station:

And unsurprisingly people who work near train stations are also more likely to live near train stations:

The chart shows around 70% of people who worked within 1 km of a station lived within 2 km of a station. Also, 37% of people who worked more than 5 km from a station, also lived more than 5 km from a station.

But again, journey to work PT mode shares varied by both age and workplace distance from a train station:

For completeness, here is another matrix-of-worms chart looking at journey to work PT mode shares by age for both work and home distances from train stations:

PT mode share declined with age for most distance combinations, but this wasn’t true for the 15-19 age band, particularly where both home and work were within a couple of kms of a station. We know from part one that teenagers are much less likely to work in the city centre, so this might represent teenagers who happen to live near a station, but work locally and can easily walk or cycle to work.

If we take age out for a moment, here is the relationship between PT mode share of journeys to work and both home and work distance from train stations:

The relationship between PT mode share and work distance from a train station is much stronger than for home distance from a station.

So while home and work proximity to train stations influenced mode shares, it doesn’t fully explain the variations across ages. So what if we combine…

Work distance from the CBD, home distance from a train station

Work distance from a station is strongly related to work distance from the CBD, as the CBD and inner city has a higher density of train stations:

I expect workplace proximity to a train station to be a weaker predictor of mode share when compared workplace distance from CBD. That’s pretty evident when looking at journey to work PT mode share by place of work on a map:

And even more evident when you look at PT mode shares for both factors (regardless of age):

So perhaps work distance from the CBD, and home distance from a train station might be two strong factors for mode share? If we control for these factors, is there still a difference in PT mode shares across ages?

Time for another matrix of worms:

The chart shows that even when you control for both home distance from a station, and work distance from the CBD, there is still a relationship with age (generally declining PT mode share with age, with teenagers sometimes an exception). So there must be other factors at play.

Population density

Consistent with proximity to train stations and the CBD, younger adults are more likely to live in denser residential areas:

Higher residential density often comes with proximity to higher quality public transport. Indeed, here is the distribution of population densities for people living at different distances from train stations:

The next chart shows the relationship between residential density and mode shares – split between adults aged 20-39 and those aged 40-69:

The chart shows that both age and residential density are factors for journey to work mode shares. Younger adults had higher public transport mode shares for journeys to work at all residential density bands.

Similarly, VISTA data also shows PT mode shares vary significantly by both age and population density for general travel:

Technical note: data only shown where age band and density combination had at least 400 trips in the survey.

Curiously, people in their 60s living in areas with densities of 50-80 persons/ha were more likely to use public transport to get to work than those in their 40s and 50s living in the same densities (maybe due the presence of children?). For lower densities, PT mode share generally declined with increasing age (from 20s onward).

Population density is also generally related to distance from the CBD:

And here is a chart showing how PT mode share of journeys to work varied across both:

The chart shows home distance from the CBD had a larger impact on mode shares than population density. Indeed population density only seemed to have a secondary impact for densities above 40 persons/ha. However, as we saw in the first post, people living closer to the CBD were more likely to work in the city centre, and therefore more likely to use public transport in their journey to work.

Job density

Young adults were more likely to work in higher density employment areas in 2016, where public transport is generally more competitive (with more expensive car parking):

But yet again, there is a difference in mode shares between age groups regardless of work location job density:

So job density doesn’t fully explain the difference in PT mode shares across age groups.

I should add that job density is also strongly related to workplace distance from the CBD:

and workplace distance from train stations:

And putting aside age, PT mode shares for journeys to work are related to both workplace distance from the CBD and job density:

PT mode shares are also related to both job density and workplace distance from stations:

You might be wondering about the dot of higher job density (200-300 workers/ha) that is between 3 and 4 km from a train station. It’s one destination zone that covers Doncaster Westfield shopping centre – a large shopping centre on a relatively small piece of land (almost all of the car parking is multistory – see Google Maps)

Motor vehicle ownership

Are younger adults more likely to use public transport because they are less likely to own motor vehicles?

With census data, it is possible to measure motor vehicle ownership on an SA1 area basis by adding up household motor vehicles and persons aged 18-84 (as an approximation of driving aged people) and calculating the ratio. Of course individual households within these areas will have different levels of motor vehicle ownership.

Using this metric, young adults were indeed more likely to live in areas which have lower levels of motor vehicle ownership (in 2016):

But yet again, the PT journey to work mode shares varied between younger and older adults regardless of the levels of motor vehicle ownership of the area (SA1) in which they live:

Using VISTA data, we can calculate motor vehicle ownership at a household level. I’ve classified households by the ratio of motor vehicles to adults.

VISTA data shows PT mode shares strongly related to both age and motor vehicle ownership (I’ve shown the most common ratios):

You might be wondering why I didn’t calculate motor vehicle ownership at the household level for census data. Unfortunately it’s not possible for me to calculate the ratio of household motor vehicles to number of adults because ABS TableBuilder doesn’t let me combine the relevant data fields (for some reason).

The best I can do is the ratio of household motor vehicles to the usual number of residents (of any age). The usual residents may or may not include children under driving age – we just don’t know.

Nevertheless the data is still interesting. Here is how public transport mode shares of journeys to work varied across different vehicle : occupant combinations for households in Greater Melbourne:

Yes that’s a lot of squiggly lines – but for most combinations (excluding those with zero motor vehicles) there was a peak of PT mode share in the early 20s, and then a decline with increasing age.

The lines with green and yellow shades – where the ratio is around 1:2 or 1:3 – show a sharp drop around the mid 20s. I expect these lines are actually a mix of working parents with younger children, and working adult children living with their (older) parents. The high mode shares for those in their early 20s could represent many adult children living with their parents (but without their own car), while those in their 30s and 40s are more likely to be parents of children under the driving age. So the sharp drop is probably more to do with a change in household age composition.

If we want to escape the issue of children, the highest pink line is for households with one motor vehicle and one person (so no issues about the age of children because there are none present) – and that line has a peak in PT mode share in the mid 30s and then declines with age, suggesting other age-related factors must be in play.

But motor vehicle ownership levels aren’t only related to age. They are strongly related to population density,

..home distance from the CBD,

..and home distance from train stations:

And public transport mode shares are related to both motor vehicle ownership rates and population density (with motor vehicle ownership probably being the stronger factor):

Technical note: for these charts I’ve excluded data points with fewer than 5 qualifying SA1s to remove anomalous exceptions.

Public transport mode shares are also related to both motor vehicle ownership and home distance from the CBD:

And shares are also related to both motor vehicle ownership and home distance from a train station:

In all three cases, PT mode shares fell with increasing levels of motor vehicle ownership, but this effect mostly stopped once there were more motor vehicles than persons aged 18-84.

Drivers licence ownership

I’ve previously shown on this blog that people without a full car driver’s licence are much more likely to use public transport, which will surprise no one. So are younger adults less likely to have a driver’s licence?

VISTA data shows us that younger adults are indeed less likely to have a car driver’s licence, with licence ownership peaking around 97% for those in their late 40s and early 50s, and only dropping to 91% by age 75 (there is a little noise in the data):

So the lack of a driver’s licence by many young adults will no doubt partly explain why they are more likely to use public transport.

Consistent with VISTA, data from the BITRE yearbooks also shows that younger adults have become less likely to own a licence over time:

At the same time, those aged 60-79 have been more likely to own a licence over time.

But do public transport mode shares vary by age, even for those with a solo driver’s licence? (by solo, I mean full or probationary licence). The following chart shows public transport mode shares for age bands and licence ownership levels (data points only shown where 400+ trips exist in the survey data).

PT mode shares peaked for age band 23-29 for most licence ownership levels, including no licence ownership (there isn’t enough survey data for people older than 22 with red probationary licences – the licence you have for your first year of solo driving).

As an aside, there is a curious increase in public transport mode share for those aged over 60 without a drivers licence – this may be related to these people being eligible for concession fares and occasional free travel with a Seniors Card (if they work less than 35 hours per week).

So even younger adults who own a driver’s licence are more likely to use public transport.

But is this because they don’t necessarily have a car available to them? Let’s put the two together…

Motor vehicle and driver’s licence ownership

For the following chart I’ve classified households as:

  • “Limited MVs” if there were more licensed drivers than motor vehicles attached to the household,
  • “Saturated MVs” if there was at least as many motor vehicles as licensed drivers, and
  • “No MVs” if there were no motor vehicles associated with the household.

If there were any household motor vehicles I’ve further disaggregated by individuals with a solo licence and those without a solo licence (the latter may have a learner’s permit). I’ve only shown data points with at least 400 trip records in the category to avoid small sample noise (I am reliant on VISTA survey data).

Except for households with no motor vehicles, public transport mode share peaked for age band 18-22 or 23-29 and then declined with increasing age. So again there must be other age-related factors. However the impact of age is smaller than that of motor vehicle ownership and licence ownership.

Unfortunately driver’s licence ownership data is not collected by the census, so it is not possible to combine it with other demographic variables from the census.

Summary

So, what have we learnt in part two:

  • Younger adults are more likely to work and live near train stations, but that only partly explains why younger adults are more likely to use public transport.
  • Workplace distance from the CBD has a much bigger impact on public transport mode shares for journeys to work than home distance from a train station.
  • Younger adults are more likely to live in areas with higher residential density, but this only partly explains why they are more likely to use public transport.
  • Younger adults are more likely to work in areas with higher job density but this is highly correlated with workplace distance from the CBD, which is a stronger factor influencing mode shares.
  • Younger adults are more likely to live in areas with lower motor vehicle ownership (these areas are generally also have higher residential density and are closer to the city centre and to train stations), but this again only partly explains why they are more likely to use public transport. Motor vehicle ownership appears to be a stronger factor influencing mode shares than population density, distance from stations, or distance from the city.
  • Younger adults are less likely to have a driver’s licence, but again this only partly explains why they are more likely to use public transport.

While this analysis confirms younger adults tend to align with known factors correlating with higher public transport use, we are yet to uncover a factor or combination of factors that mostly explain the differences in public transport use between younger and older adults. That is, when we control for these factors we still see differences in public transport use between ages.

The next post in this series will explore the impacts on public transport use of parenting responsibilities, generational factors (birth years), and year of immigration to Australia.


Why are younger adults more likely to use public transport? (an exploration of mode shares by age – part 1)

Sat 19 September, 2020

Young adults are much more likely to use public transport (PT) than older adults.

Is it because younger adults are more likely to live and/or work near the city centre? Is it because they are more likely to live near train stations? Is it because they tend to live in higher density areas with better public transport? Is it because they are less likely to own a car? Is it because they are less likely to own a driver’s licence? Is it because they are less likely to be parents? Is it to do with their income? Is it related to how many of them are recent immigrants? Or is it a generational thing?

The answers are not as simple as you might expect. This is the first post in a series that aims to understand what influences mode choice across different ages. I’ll focus on (pre-COVID19) data about general travel and journeys to work in my home city of Melbourne, but I suspect the patterns will be similar in comparable cities.

About the data (boring but important)

My largest data source is the 2016 ABS census of population and housing which provides detailed demographic data about residents, captures the modes used for journeys to work, but doesn’t record travel for any other purposes and only covers a single day in August. There’s data on the travel choices of millions of people, and so it is possible to disaggregate data by several dimensions before you run into problems with small counts.

For general travel mode shares my data source is the Victoria Integrated Survey of Travel and Activity (VISTA) which is Victoria’s household travel survey, recording the transport and activity of a representative sample of Melbourne and Geelong residents across the whole year. The data set is smaller than the census (being a survey), but also contains rich demographic information and covers all travel purposes by people of all ages. I have used aggregated data over the survey years 2012-2018 to form a larger sample, so any underlying trends in behaviour over that period will be averaged out.

For this analysis I am filtering my data to either Greater Melbourne (for 2011 and 2016 census data) or otherwise the 31 local government areas (LGAs) that make up metropolitan Melbourne (all are entirely inside Greater Melbourne except Yarra Ranges).

All of this data was collected before the COVID19 pandemic, and of course travel patterns may well not return to similar patterns once the pandemic is over.

Consistent with elsewhere on this blog, I attribute

  • any journey involving a train, tram, bus, or ferry as a public transport journey (even if other modes were also used, including private transport),
  • a journey only involving walking and cycling as an active transport journey, and
  • any other journey as a private transport journey (mostly being car journeys).

This post mostly focuses on public transport – which I will often abbreviate to PT.

While the data sets I am using only identify sex as male or female, I want to acknowledge that not all people fit into binary classifications.

How does PT mode share vary by age and sex for general travel?

Here’s a chart showing public transport mode shares by age and gender using VISTA data for all travel purposes:

Public transport mode share peaked in the 15-19 age group – essentially around the later years of secondary school and early years of tertiary education or working life where people have more independence, may need to travel longer distances to get to school or university, and are too young and/or cannot afford private transport.

Public transport mode share then fell away with age, though the profile by gender is slightly different (some of this may be noise in the survey). Women under the age of 30 were more likely to use PT, but then they became less likely to use PT after age 30 – perhaps after the arrival of children.

Children under 10 years were least likely to use public transport, and there was only a small increase in public transport use amongst women aged over 65. Public transport use dropped considerably for those aged 85-89, and there wasn’t sufficient sample to confidently calculate mode shares for any older age groups.

How does PT mode share vary by age and sex for journeys to work?

Here is a chart of public transport mode share of journeys to work in Greater Melbourne by age and sex (using census data):

The chart shows women were much more likely to use public transport to get to work than men, particularly for young adults but also those in their 60s. Overall PT mode share was 17.7% for males and 20.3% for females. PT mode share peaked for females at age 26, and for males at age 24.

So what might explain the variations across age and gender? In this first post I’m going to explore the how mode share varies by home and work distance from the CBD.

Travelling to the city centre

We know that travel to/from the central city is much more likely to involve public transport, so here are general travel PT mode shares dis-aggregated by whether or not the trip was to/from the City of Melbourne (local government area):

For travel to/from the City of Melbourne, PT mode shares peaked around 50% for workers in their early 20s, and generally fell away with age, with females showing a higher PT mode share in all age groups (mode shares are only shown for ages 20-64 due to small samples of trips in other age groups).

For travel not to/from the City of Melbourne, PT mode shares peaked for teenagers and was very low for all other age groups, with only slightly higher mode shares for those in their 20s, early 30s, and early 80s.

With census journey to work data, we can increase the resolution to 2 year age-bands and dis-aggregate work destinations by distance bands from the CBD. The darker line of each colour is for females, the lighter for males.

Public transport mode share was much higher for workplaces near the CBD, and then declined with workplace distance from the CBD.

But within each workplace distance band from the CBD there was also a generally declining PT mode share with age, flattening out somewhat for ages above 45. While there was a difference between genders at all workplace distance bands, it was generally smaller than the overall mode share difference between genders for journeys to work.

How can these lines have quite a different curve shape to overall PT mode share by age/sex? Well, here is a chart showing the proportion of Greater Melbourne workers at every age who worked within 4 kms – and within 10 kms – of the Melbourne CBD:

Young adults were much more likely to work closer to the CBD than older adults, and women even more so (although they are not actually a majority of workers close to the CBD).

Teenagers were least likely to work in the City of Melbourne, which likely reflects their lack of qualifications for high-skill jobs that tend to locate in the central city.

The curves for men and women peaked at different ages, with younger adult women more likely to work in the City of Melbourne than younger adult men, which then flipped for ages 38+. This isn’t because of stay-at-home mums because the data only counts people who travelled to work.

Here’s another look at that data – showing the distribution of work locations from the CBD for age bands. Around 40% of young adult workers worked within 6 km of the CBD:

And flipping that, workplaces closer to the CBD have a higher proportion of younger adults:

Public transport mode shares for general travel (in the VISTA survey) were related to both age and trip destination distance from the CBD, with those in their 50s least likely to use PT for destinations within 5 km of the CBD:

So a major explanation why younger adults were more likely to use public transport in their journey to work is that they were more likely to work in the central city. However, when you control for travel proximity to the CBD there is still a significant relationship between PT mode share and age – other factors must be at play.

I’m curious – is the fact that younger adults (particularly women) were more likely to work in the city centre related to their…

Educational qualifications

Well, younger adults turn out to have the highest educational qualifications of any age group, with those in their early 30s generally being the most qualified (as at 2016):

Note: Supplementary codes includes people with no educational attainment.

Furthermore, younger women are generally more qualified than younger men, which could explain why a higher proportion of younger women work in the City of Melbourne, and therefore have a higher public transport mode share overall.

[As an aside: I find that chart fascinating – there’s been a generational shift in educational attainment which will continue to work it’s way up the age brackets in the decades ahead, resulting in an increasingly skilled workforce over time. Part of this will be skilled migration, part may be temporary migrants (eg international postgraduate students), and another part presumably reflects greater access to higher education in recent decades.]

Looking to the future perhaps this cohort of highly educated young adults will continue to work in the inner city as they age, along with younger skilled graduates, leading to more centralisation of employment in Melbourne as we become more of a “knowledge economy”? Or maybe the recent mass working-from-home experience of highly skilled workers during the COVID-19 pandemic will see more workers based in the central city but travelling to their workplace less often.

But back to the how education levels impact work location and mode choice…

People with higher educational attainment are more likely to work closer to the CBD:

The chart shows around half of workers with postgraduate degrees worked within 4 km of the CBD, whereas those who didn’t complete secondary education were much more likely to work in the suburbs.

We know that workplace distance from the CBD impacts PT mode shares, but does varying educational qualifications explain the differences in mode share between ages?

The following animated chart shows how PT mode shares for journeys to work vary by age for people with the same level of educational qualifications and working the same distance from the Melbourne CBD. I have animated the chart across workplace distance from the CBD bands.

If you watch and study the chart, you’ll see that there is a relationship between age and PT mode share for most combinations of educational attainment and workplace distance from the CBD. That is, age is significant in itself, or there is some other explanation for mode share difference by ages.

You’ll also see that public transport mode shares were generally higher for higher levels of educational attainment, with postgraduate degrees mostly showing the highest public transport mode share.

Here’s an alternative, non-animated view of that data. It’s a matrix of mini line charts showing PT mode share by age, for each combination of workplace distance from the CBD and highest level of educational attainment. You could call it a matrix of worms. The light horizontal line within each matrix box represents a 50% PT mode share, and the colours give you a rough sense of age (refer legend). I don’t expect you to be able read the mode share values for any age band on any line, but it does show PT mode shares falls with rising age for all education levels and workplace distances from the CBD (except some further out where PT mode share is just very low for all ages).

Here is yet another view: the relationship between PT mode share, workplace distance from the CBD, and highest level of educational attainment. I have roughly sorted the education levels by PT mode share, rather than ordering by level of qualification.

PT mode shares were not directly proportional to education levels, but I suspect this will be partly related to occupations – eg Certificate III and IV qualifications often related to trades where driving to non-centralised work sites is a more convenient option.

Those with postgraduate degrees generally showed the highest public transport mode share at each distance interval.

So we’ve explored work distance from the CBD, but what about…

Home distance from CBD

Younger adults were more likely to live closer to the Melbourne CBD compared to other age groups:

Public transport service quality is generally higher closer to the CBD, so does the fact that younger adults were more likely to live closer to the city explain their higher PT mode shares?

The following chart shows how public and active transport journey to work mode shares vary by home distance from the Melbourne CBD:

Public transport mode shares show a relationship with both home distance from the CBD and age – with mode shares peaking for ages 20-39, and dropping with older age bands. I’ve plotted active transport mode shares as well (for interest), which shows teenage workers much more likely to get to work by active transport – which makes sense as many of them will be below driving age and/or unable to afford private transport. Curiously those aged 70-79 who live in the suburbs are slightly more likely to walk to work.

Okay, but people who live closer to the CBD are more likely to work closer to the CBD, as the following chart shows:

Or another way of looking at it:

While the distance bands vary on each axis (more intervals for work distances from the CBD), you can see a very common scenario is that people’s work is a very similar distance from the CBD as their home. That is, they work relatively locally (for more on this, see Introducing a census journey to work origin-destination explorer, with Melbourne examples)

The following chart looks at mode shares for those who worked within 2 km of the CBD:

PT mode shares for these commuters were relatively high and flat for workers who live more 5 km from the CBD (those closer are more likely to use active transport – as per the bottom half of the chart). PT mode shares rose slightly with distance from the CBD for home distances 25-40 km from the CBD. But there was still a difference between age bands, with younger adults more likely to have used PT to get to work, regardless of how far from the CBD they lived.

So are there still PT mode share differences by age if you control for both home and work distance from the CBD?

Home AND work distance from the CBD

Firstly, here are PT mode shares for journeys to work by home and work distance from the CBD, animated over age bands:

Technical notes: the chart only shows mode shares where at least 200 people fell within the age and distance bands – which is quite a low threshold so there is a little noise – so please try not to get distracted by small differences in numbers. For teenagers and those aged 60-69, many combinations failed this threshold so are left blank.

The chart shows that work distance from the CBD is a very strong driver of mode shares at all age bands. Home distance from the CBD is much weaker driver of PT mode share – and only really significant for those living within 5 km of the CBD, and those under 40 years within 15 km of the CBD.

If the animation is hard to follow, here’s another matrix-of-worms chart. It shows PT mode share by age band – for every combination of home and work distance from the CBD.

The thin horizontal lines within each square of the matrix represent 50% PT mode share. While you cannot read off the PT mode shares for any age and distance combination, you can see that within each pane PT mode share either generally fell with increasing age, or were very low for all ages. That is to say, that home and workplace distance from the CBD doesn’t fully explain the relationship between age and PT mode shares for journeys to work. Other factors must be at play.

The above chart makes it hard to compare mode shares for the different work distances from the CBD, so here is a transposed version with work distances as rows and home distances as columns:

There’s not a lot of difference between home distance bands for each work distance band, except for younger adults living closer to the CBD and working in the city centre. This confirms the earlier finding that work distance from the CBD is a much stronger determinate in PT mode shares.

So in summary, younger adults are more likely to live and work closer to the CBD, and that is likely related to them generally having higher educational qualifications. While these factors generally lead to higher public transport use, we’ve found they don’t fully explain why younger adults have higher public transport mode shares.

Further posts in this series will look at other demographic factors that may explain these differences. Read on to part two.


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.