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.


Are Australian cities sprawling with low-density car-dependent suburbs?

Wed 30 January, 2019

Many people talk about urban growth in Australian cities being car-dependent low-density suburban sprawl. But how true is that in more recent times? Are new greenfield density targets making a difference? Are cities growing around their rapid public transport networks? And how do growth areas compare to established areas at a similar distance out from city centres?

This post takes a look at what census data can tell us about outer urban growth areas in terms of population density, motor vehicle ownership, distance from train/busway stations, and journey to work mode shares.

How much of city population growth is in outer areas?

Firstly a recap, here is the percentage of annual population growth in each city that has occurred in “outer” areas (defined by groupings of SA3s around the edges of cities – refer my previous post for maps showing outer areas) for Greater Capital City Statistical Areas.

Sydney has had less than a third of its population growth in outer areas since around 2003, while Perth has mostly had the highest outer growth percentage (since 1996), and more recently pretty much all population growth in Perth has been on the fringe. You can see how the other cities sit in between.

However, not all of this “outer” population growth was in urban growth on the fringe. For that we need to distinguish between urban growth and infill development, even in “outer” areas. So we really need a better definition of outer growth areas.

How to define outer urban growth areas

I have built groupings of SA1s (Statistical Area Level 1) that try to represent outer urban greenfield residential development. SA1s are the smallest census geographic areas (average population 400) for which all census data variables are available.

I’ve selected 2016 SA1s that meet all of the following criteria:

  • Brand new SA1 or significant population growth: The 2016 SA1 is new and cannot be matched to a 2011 SA1 (by location/size and/or ABS correspondences), or if it can be matched, the population at least doubled between 2011 and 2016. Brand new SA1s are very common in urban growth areas as new SA1s are created to avoid oversized SA1s on last census boundaries (except this doesn’t always happen – more on that shortly).
  • In an SA2 with significant population growth: The SA2 (Statistical Area Level 2 – roughly suburb sized with typically 3,000 to 25,000 residents) that contains the SA1 had population growth of at least 1000 people between 2011 and 2016 (based on 2016 boundaries). That is, the general area is seeing population growth, not just one or two SA1s.
  • Are on – or close to – the urban fringe. I’ve filtered out particular SA2s that I’ve judged to be contain all or mostly in-fill development rather than greenfield development, or that are largely surrounded by existing urban areas and are not close to the urban fringe. I’ll be the first to admit that some of the inclusions/exclusions are a little arbitrary.

The criteria aren’t perfect, but it seems to work pretty well when I inspect the data. I’m calling these “Growth SA1s” or outer urban growth in this post.

For urban centres, I’m using Significant Urban Area 2016 boundaries (rather than Greater Capital City boundaries), and I’ve bundled Yanchep with Perth, Melton with Melbourne, and the Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast with Brisbane to form South East Queensland (SEQ).

Where are these outer urban growth areas?

What follows are maps for each city with the density of these growth SA1s shown by colour.

Melbourne’s northern and western growth areas:

Technical note: The maps do not show non-growth SA1s with fewer than 5 people per hectare, or “growth SA1s” with fewer than 1/hectare, although these SA1s are including in later analysis.

And the south of Melbourne:

Note: not shown on these Melbourne maps are isolated tiny growth SA1s in Rosebud and Mooroolbark.

Here are Sydney’s growth SA1s – all in the western suburbs:

Next up South East Queensland, starting in the north with the Sunshine Coast:

Northern Brisbane:

Outer urban growth is scattered in southern Brisbane and northern Gold Coast:

Gold Coast – Tweed Heads:

Perth’s northern and eastern growth areas:

Perth’s southern growth areas:

Note: Canning Vale East is an inclusion you could debate – the previous land use of the growth SA1s appear to have been rural based on satellite imagery.

Northern Adelaide:

Southern Adelaide:

And finally Canberra:

So how much of each cities’ population growth has been in outer growth areas?

Here’s a breakdown of the population growth for my six urban areas:

Over the five-year period, outer urban growth areas accounted for 19% of Sydney’s population growth, 43% of Melbourne’s, 37% of SEQ’s, 60% of Perth’s, 27% of Adelaide’s and 69% of Canberra’s.

Technical note: These “outer urban growth” figures are different to the chart at the top of this post which had a coarser definition of “outer” and used Greater Capital City boundaries. Some of my “outer urban growth” areas actually don’t quality as “outer” in the coarser definition, and I’ve also excluded several “outer” SA2s from “outer urban growth” where I’ve deemed the growth to be mostly infill. Hence the differences.

In case you are wondering, it’s not easy to create a longer-term time-series analysis about the proportion of population growth in “outer urban growth” areas because the classification of SA2s would have to change on a year-by-year basis which would be messy and somewhat arbitrary.

A challenge for density analysis: some SA1s are over-sized

You might have noticed some SA1s in the maps above are very large and show a low average density of 1-5 persons per hectare (I’ve coloured them in a light cyan). Many of these SA1s had thousands of residents in 2016, which is way more than the ABS guideline of 200 to 800 residents. Unfortunately what seems to have happened for 2011 and 2016 in some cities is that the ABS did not create enough SA1s to account for new urban areas. Some Melbourne SA1s had a population over 4000 in 2016. Many of these SA1s contain a combination or urban and rural land use, so their calculated density is rather misleading.

I’m designating any SA1s with more than 1000 residents and larger than 100 hectares as “oversized”, and I’ve exclude these from some density analysis below. Here’s a chart showing the proportion of outer growth area populations that are in oversized SA1s:

You can see it is a substantial problem in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and South East Queensland, but miraculously not a problem at all in Adelaide or Canberra (I’m sure someone in ABS could explain why this is so!).

If you are interested, in 2011 it was a bigger problem in Melbourne, and only Canberra was fully clean.

So how dense are outer urban growth areas?

Firstly, I am excluding over-sized SA1s from this analysis for the reasons just mentioned.

Secondly, all cities will also have growth areas that were partially developed at the time of the census (ie some lots with occupied houses and other lots empty) so the densities measured here may be understated of the likely fully built-out density of these SA1s. That said, those areas perhaps are more likely to be in over-sized SA1s, but it’s hard to be sure. So keep this in mind when looking at growth area densities.

You can see dramatic differences, with Sydney, Canberra, and Melbourne showing higher densities, and South East Queensland with much lower densities. As we saw on the maps above, South East Queensland’s outer growth areas are very dispersed, so perhaps more of them are growing slowly and more of them are partially built-out? It’s hard to be sure.

But perhaps what is most remarkable is that Canberra had the highest densities in outer urban growth areas of any city – nothing like what you might consider suburban sprawl. Here’s what was 144.5 people per hectare in 2016 in Wright on Canberra’s new western growth front looks like:

(pic from Google Streetview, dated December 2016)

The densest SA1 in Sydney’s growth areas was 101 persons/ha. Nothing like this was seen in other cities.

Canberra’s outer growth areas are actually, on average, denser than the rest of Canberra (on a population weighted density measure):

The same was also true by a slim margin in both Perth and Adelaide, but they have relatively “suburban” densities for both growth and established areas. The growth areas of Sydney and Melbourne are more dense than Perth and Adelaide, but not compared to the rest of these cities as a whole. That’s probably got to do a lot with the large cities having dense inner suburbs.

So perhaps it is better to compare the urban growth areas with established areas a similar distance from city centres, which the following chart does (I’ve filtered out 5 km distance intervals without growth areas of at least 2000 population, and apologies for rather squashed Canberra label):

Technical note: for South East Queensland I’ve measured distances from the Brisbane CBD.

Outer growth areas were much more dense than the rest of each city at most distances from the city centre, except in Sydney.

One issue with the above chart is that different distance intervals have different populations – for example only 2,815 people were in growth SA1s at a distance of 45-50 km from the Perth CBD (just above my threshold of 2000), so the low population density of that interval is not hugely significant.

To get around that issue, I’ve calculated the overall population weighted density of non-growth SA1s that are within these 5 km distance intervals from the CBD (including all of SEQ beyond 15 km from the CBD). The following chart compares those calculations with the population weighted density of the growth areas overall:

This shows that urban growth areas are on average more dense than other parts of the city at similar distance from the CBD, except in South East Queensland. And remember, many of the growth SA1s will be partially built out, so their expected density is understated.

Are outer urban growth areas near rapid public transport?

The next chart shows the proportion of growth SA1 population by distance from the nearest train or busway station:

Technical notes: Distances are measured from the centroid of each SA1 to a point location defined for each station (sourced from August 2016 GTFS feeds). For oversized SA1s these distances might be a little longer than reality for the average resident. I haven’t excluded oversized SA1s because I want to see the population alignment of growth areas overall. Canberra excluded due to lack of separated rapid transit.

What sticks out clearly is that just over half the of the population in Perth’s outer growth areas was more than 5 km from a station in 2016. That is to say Perth has had the least alignment of outer urban growth areas and rapid public transport networks of all five cities. I’m not sure many urban planners would recommend such a strategy.

However, Perth’s MetroNet program appears to be trying to rectify this with new lines and stations proposed near urban growth areas such as Yanchep, Canning Vale East, Ellenbrook, Byford, and Karnup (Golden Bay). It will however take some time to get to them all built and open.

South East Queensland was second to Perth in terms of urban growth remote from stations, with a lot of the growth scattered rather than concentrated around rail corridors. I haven’t included the Gold Coast light rail in my proximity calculation – it runs at an average speed of 27 km/h (which is slower than most train networks) and doesn’t serve outer urban growth areas.

Sydney and Adelaide had the highest proximity of growth areas to stations.

Around half of Melbourne’s growth SA1s that were more than 5km from a train station were in Mernda and Doreen, a corridor in which a rail extension opened in 2018. Many of the rest are not in the current designated growth corridors, or are where future train stations are planned. Melbourne’s current designated urban growth corridors are fairly well aligned to its train network. From a transport perspective this is arguably a better kind of sprawl than what Perth has been experiencing.

Adelaide’s outer growth areas more than 5 km from a station were in Mount Barker (satellite town to the east) and Aldinga (on the far south coast of Adelaide).

Are the outer urban growth areas better aligned to rapid public transport stations than non-growth areas at the same distance from city centres? Here’s the chart as above but with an extra column for non-growth areas within the same distance intervals from the CBD (as before).

The populations of urban growth areas are less likely to be within a couple of kilometres of a station (most of that land probably has long-established urban development), but curiously in Adelaide and South East Queensland the urban growth areas are more likely to be within 5 kilometres of a station than the non-growth areas, suggesting better rapid public transport alignment than older urban growth areas. Older urban areas in other cities are more closely aligned to stations, particularly in Perth.

As an interesting aside, here’s a breakdown over the last three censuses of population by distance from train/busway stations (operational in 2016 – so it overstates 2006 and 2011 slightly):

You can really see how Perth has had much population growth remote from its rapid public transport network, which probably goes some way to explaining the overall 1.2% journey to work mode shift towards private transport between 2011 and 2016.

So how did people in these outer growth areas get to work?

Technical note: The figures here for “private transport” are for journeys involving only private transport modes – i.e. they exclude journeys involving both private and public transport (eg car+train).

While private transport (mostly car driver only journeys) dominated journeys to work from almost all growth areas, Melbourne and Sydney were the only cities to see significant numbers of residents in outer growth areas with private transport mode shares below 80%.

South East Queensland’s outer urban growth areas were the most reliant on private transport to get to work, with an overall private transport mode share of 93%, followed by Adelaide on 92%, Canberra on 91%, Perth on 90%, Melbourne on 86%, and Sydney on 81%.

Here’s how the growth area mode shares compare to other areas a similar distance from city centres (note: the Y-axis is not zero-based):

Significantly, the growth areas of Sydney and Melbourne had lower private transport mode shares of journeys to work than other parts of the city a similar distance out – even though they are generally further away from train or busway stations (as we saw above)! That’s not to say they didn’t drive themselves to a train station to get to work.

Similar to population density, here is a summary of growth areas compared to other areas in the same distance interval from the CBD:

There’s really not a huge amount of difference within cities. Sydney’s growth areas had a mode share 1.5% lower than non-growth areas, while Canberra’s growth areas had a mode share 2.5% higher.

What are motor vehicle ownership rates like in the outer growth areas?

My preferred measure is household motor vehicles per persons aged 18-84 (roughly people of driving age).

Motor vehicle ownership rates are generally very high across the growth areas – with the notable exceptions of Melbourne and Canberra where around a quarter of the growth area population had a motor vehicle ownership rate of less than 80 (although that is still pretty high!). (I explored this in more detail in an earlier post on Melbourne)

South East Queensland, Perth, and Adelaide outer urban growth areas had the highest motor vehicle ownership rates. Perth’s urban growth areas overall averaged 96.7 motor vehicles per persons aged 18-84 – pretty close to saturation.

How does motor vehicle ownership compare to established areas a similar distance from the city centre? The following chart compares motor vehicle ownership between urban growth and other areas at the same distance from the CBD (note: the Y-axis is not zero-based):

Motor vehicle ownership tends to increase with distance from the CBD, and in Sydney and South East Queensland the growth areas have higher ownership compared to non-growth areas. But the opposite is true in Melbourne, Perth and Canberra.

The population at each distance interval varies considerably, so here is a summary of the data across all distance intervals that have growth SA1s for each city:

The growth areas of Melbourne, Perth and Canberra had slightly lower motor vehicle ownership than other areas a similar distance from the city, while the opposite was true in other cities. That said, motor vehicle ownership rates are very high across all cities.

 

Finally, I’ll look at the relationships between these measures for growth areas (see another post for analysis for whole cities).

How does motor vehicle ownership relate to distance from stations?

Technical note: for scatter plots I’ve filtered out SA1s with less than 50 population as they are more likely to have outlier results (one person can change a measure by 2% or more).

Lower rates of motor vehicle ownership are generally only found close to train/busway stations (and are dominated by Melbourne examples), but close proximity to a station does not guarantee lower rates of motor vehicle ownership. Quite a few Adelaide SA1s are found the top middle part of the chart – these are all in Mount Barker which has frequent peak period express buses to the Adelaide CBD operating along the South East Freeway – which is similar to rapid transit although without a dedicated right of way.

How do journey to work mode shares relate to distance from stations?

Here’s a scatter plot of private transport mode shares of journeys to work and distance from train/busway station:

This shows that lower private transport mode shares are only generally seen within proximity of train or busway stations, and areas remote from stations are very likely to have high private transport mode shares. But also that proximity to a station does not guarantee lower private transport mode shares of journeys to work (particularly in SEQ).

Technical aside: You might have noticed that almost no SA1s report 99% private mode share. How can that be? The ABS make random adjustments to small figures to avoid identification of individuals which means you never see counts of 1 and 2 in their data. To get a mode share of 99% you’d need at least 300 journeys to work with “3” being non-private (or a similar but larger ratio). Very few SA1s have 300+ journeys to work, and even for over-sized SA1s, they are very unlikely to have only 3 or 4 non-private journeys to work. A mode share of 100% is much easier because you can get that no matter the total number of journeys.

How does population density relate to distances from train/busway stations?

Densities above 45 persons/ha were mostly only found within 5 km of stations, and almost entirely in Sydney and Melbourne. The highest densities were very close to train stations in Sydney. In the middle area of the chart you can see quite a few Perth SA1s that are around 30-40 persons/ha but remote from stations. These are all in the Ellenbrook area of Perth’s north-east, generating a lot of car traffic.

How does motor vehicle ownership relate to private transport mode shares of journeys work to work?

For interest, here is the relationship as a scatter plot:

There is certainly a relationship, but it’s not strong (r-squared = 0.22). Other factors are at play.

Conclusions

  • Perth and Canberra are seeing most of their population growth on the fringe, with Sydney, Adelaide, Melbourne, and South East Queensland seeing most of their population growth in established areas.
  • Growth areas in Sydney, Melbourne, and Canberra have higher than traditional urban densities, indeed Sydney and Canberra have a few very high density greenfield developments. Perth, Adelaide, and particularly South East Queensland have urban growth at relatively low densities. In fact, SEQ is the only major urban centre where growth areas are measured as less dense than non-growth areas at similar distances from the CBD.
  • Perth’s urban growth areas are largely remote from rapid transit stations, and this is likely contributing directly to very high and increasing rates of motor vehicle ownership and private transport mode shares. Melbourne’s current urban growth corridors are closely aligned to train stations (thanks to the opening of the Mernda line), and this is also largely true of Sydney and Adelaide.
  • Almost all outer urban growth areas had high rates of motor vehicle ownership. Overall, Melbourne, Perth, and Canberra’s outer urban growth areas had slightly lower rates of motor vehicle ownership compared to other areas at the same distance from the CBD. Only Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra have some growth areas with lower motor vehicle ownership and/or lower private transport mode shares of journeys to work – and these were all close to train or busway stations.

I hope you’ve found this at least half as interesting as I have.

For a similar and more detailed analysis around these topics, see this excellent 2013 BITRE research report on changes between 2001 and 2006.


Update on Australian transport trends (December 2018)

Fri 28 December, 2018

For more recent trend information – skip to the December 2019 update on Australian transport trends.

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.

Vehicle kilometres travelled

Road transport volumes are rising, and most of the traffic is of course cars:

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.

In fact, on a per capita basis car use peaked in 2004 and then declined until 2014, with a little growth since. 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 2014 (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

It’s also possible to look at car passenger kilometres per capita, which takes into account car occupancy – and also includes more recent estimates up until 2017:

While car passenger kilometres per capita also peaked in 2004, they have increased slightly in recent years in Perth, Adelaide, Brisbane, and Sydney.

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

Rail use is highest in Sydney followed by Melbourne. You can see two big jumps in Perth following the opening of the Joondalup line in 1992 and the Mandurah line in 2007.

(note: this includes both public and private bus travel)

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%.

Darwin saw a massive increase in bus use in 2014 thanks to a new nearby LNG project running staff services, while investments in increased bus services in Melbourne and Brisbane in the first decade of this century led to significant patronage growth.

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

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

Sydney has maintained the highest mass transit mode share, while Melbourne made significant gains between 2005 and 2009, and Brisbane 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 also.

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 exceeded public transport growth between 2004 and 2017.

Car ownership

The ABS regularly conduct a Motor Vehicle Census, and the following chart includes data up until January 2018.

Technical note: Motor Vehicle Census data (currently conducted in January each year) has been interpolated to produce June estimates for each year.

Car ownership has continued to rise slowly in all states – except Victoria, 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, here is motor vehicle licence ownership per 100 persons (of any age) going back to 1971:

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 a licence.

There’s been slowing growth over time, but Victoria has seen slow decline since 2011.

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

Motor vehicle licence ownership rates have increased for people over 70 (presumably due to a healthier ageing population), and declined for people under 30.

Licencing rates for teenagers have been trending down in South Australia and Victoria recently, but not in other states:

The trends are mixed for 20-24 year-olds:

New South Wales and Victoria 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 80-89 (Victoria was an anomaly before 2015):

(see also an older post on driver’s licence ownership for more detailed analysis)

Transport greenhouse gas emissions

Australia’s domestic non-electric transport emissions have increased steadily since 1990 and show no signs of slowing down, let alone declining (latest data at the time of writing is up to June 2018):

Depending on how you disaggregate total emissions, transport is the second largest sector and the fastest growing.

Here’s breakdown of transport emissions (detailed data only available to 2016 at time of writing):

And the growth in each sector since 1990:

Domestic aviation has had the fastest growth, followed by buses. In more recent years rail emissions have grown strongly (note: most of this is rail freight as the vast majority of passenger train movements are electric). Car emissions have grown 27%, but make up the largest share of transport emissions.

Here are per capita transport emissions for each state:

The data is a bit noisy (largely due to fluctuations in aviation emissions). Here are road emissions per capita:

In 2016 there were sharp increases in Western Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory, while most other states appear to be on a downward trend.

Car emissions per capita have been generally trending downwards in most states, again except Queensland, Western Australia, and the Northern Territory:

Of course if we are to avoid dangerous climate change, total emissions need to reduce substantially, not just per capita emissions!

It’s possible to combine data sets to estimate average emissions per vehicle kilometre for different vehicle types:

It’s difficult to see any significant reductions in emissions intensity, while average bus emissions intensity has increased recently (not sure why). Average car emissions have fallen slightly from 281 g/km in 1990 to 244 g/km in 2016.

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 high person-capacity modes:

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 has been trending down since around 2008. The real cost of motor vehicles has plummeted since 1996. Urban transport fares have been increasing faster than CPI since the late 1970s.

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

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.

To illustrate the data visualisation problem of choosing a base year – here is the same data for every base year between 1973 and 2018:

Hopefully this post has provided some useful insights into transport trends in Australia. A future post might examine the relationships between the data sets further.