How and why does driver’s licence ownership vary across Sydney?

Sat 27 February, 2021

In a recent post I confirmed the link between driver’s licence ownership and public transport use at the individual level in Melbourne:

Unfortunately, spatial data around driver’s licence ownership is quite scarce in Australia, so not a lot is known about the spatial variations of licence ownership, nor what might explain them.

However, Transport for New South Wales do publish quarterly licensing statistics at the postcode level, and so this post takes a closer look at the patterns and possible demographic explanations of driver licence ownership across Sydney. I’ll also touch on the relationship between licence ownership and journey to work mode shares.

I have measured rates of licence ownership at the postcode level, and then compared these with other demographic factors that have shown to be significant in explaining variations in public transport mode shares in Melbourne (see my series on “Why are young adults more likely to use public transport”, parts 1, 2, and 3). These factors include socio-economic advantage and disadvantage, workplace location, age, recency of immigration, educational attainment, parenting status, motor vehicle ownership, population weighted density, proximity to high quality public transport, English proficiency, and student status.

I’m sorry it’s not a short post, but I have put some less profound analysis in appendices.

About the data

To calculate licence ownership rates you need counts of licences and population for geographic areas for the same point in time (or very close). Estimates of postcode population are only available from census data, so for most of the following analysis, I’ve combined 2016 “quarter 2” driver’s licence numbers (which includes learner permits) with (August) 2016 ABS census population counts. This is of course pre-COVID19, and patterns may (or may not) have changed since then.

I’ve mostly used population counts for persons aged 16-84. Obviously there are people over the age of 84 with licences, but I am attempting to discount people who may lose their eligibility to hold a licence due to aging.

I’ve also mapped postcodes to the Greater Sydney Greater Capital City Statistical Area boundary, and filtered for postcodes with a significant region within the Greater Sydney boundary (note that the boundaries do not perfectly align).

How does driver’s licence ownership vary across Sydney?

Here’s a map showing 2016 licence ownership rates for Sydney postcodes, with red signifying very high ownership, and green very low.

Technical note: For this map I have filtered to only show postcodes averaging at least 3 persons per hectare to focus on urban Sydney, but some excluded postcodes will be a mix of urban and non-urban land use so this is imperfect. Postcodes are not a great spatial geography for analysis as they vary significantly in size, but unfortunately that’s how the data is published (much easier for TNSW to extract I am sure).

The lowest licence ownership rates can be seen in and around the Sydney CBD, around major university campuses (especially UNSW/Randwick, Macquarie Park, University of Sydney/Camperdown), and at Silverwater (which includes a large Correctional Complex – inmates probably don’t renew their licence and would have a hard time gaining one!). There are also relatively low rates in some inner southern suburbs, in and near Parramatta, and near Sydney Airport.

Most outer urban postcodes have very high levels of licence ownership. One exception is postcode 2559 in the outer south-west, which contains a large public housing estate in the suburb of Claymore. More on that shortly.

Is there a relationship between licence ownership and journey to work transport mode share?

It will probably surprise no one that there was a relationship between driver’s licence ownership and private transport mode share of journeys to work. The following chart shows the average postcode mode share for the commuter population within specified bands of driver’s licence ownership.

I should point out that this a relationship, but not necessarily direct causality (either way). People might be more likely to get a driver’s licence because that is the only practical way to get work from where they live, and other people who do not want to – or cannot – get a driver’s licence may be able to choose to live and work in places that don’t require private transport to get to work.

And then there are some postcodes with pretty much saturated driver’s licence ownership but less than 60% private transport journey to work mode shares (top right). I’ll have more to say on these postcodes shortly.

The rest of this post will consider potential explanations for the spatial patterns of licence ownership, using demographic data for postcodes.

Socio-economic advantage and disadvantage

The following chart compares licence ownership with ABS’s Index of Socio-economic relative advantage and disadvantage (ISRAD, part of SEIFA), at the postcode level:

Near-saturated licence ownership was more common in the more advantaged postcodes, but lower rates of licence ownership were seen in postcodes in deciles 1, 7, and 8. Decile 1 stands to reason as areas of disadvantage (probably including many people unable to get a driver’s licence, eg due to disability), and the postcodes with very low licence ownership rates in deciles 7 and 8 contain or are adjacent to major university campuses.

However there are postcodes with licence ownership rates below 80 in all deciles – the relationship here is not super-strong and there are many exceptions to the pattern.

For people less familiar with the demographics of Sydney, here is a map showing 2016 ISRAD deciles for Sydney postcodes. Note that these deciles are calculated relative to the entire New South Wales population, and Sydney overall is more advantaged than the rest of the state, hence more green areas than red.

Workplace location

Workplace location is a known major driver of commuter mode share, with people working in the CBD much more likely to commute by public or active transport (see Why are younger adults more likely to use public transport? (an exploration of mode shares by age – part 2, plus analysis below). So how does it compare with licence ownership?

Here’s a scatter plot that shows that relationship. I’ve added socio-economic advantage and disadvantage colouring for further context, and labelled selected outlier and cloud-edge postcodes (unfortunately there is a slight bias against labelling postcodes containing many suburbs).

There is perhaps a weak relationship between work in Sydney CBD percentage and licence ownership, with postcodes containing larger shares of commuters going to the CBD (30%+) having lower licence ownership.

The chart also shows that disadvantaged postcodes generally had both fewer CBD commuters (as a proportion) and lower rates of licence ownership.

Commuter mode shares were much more strongly related to workplace location than licence ownership, as the following chart shows. Note that for this chart colour indicates licence ownership rate.

Within the main cloud, postcodes with lower rates of licence ownership (shades of orange) had slightly lower private transport mode shares and/or slightly lower percentage of commuters heading to the CBD. The upper outliers from the cloud include many wealthy postcodes that were not well connected to the CBD by the train network, while postcodes in the bottom-left of the cloud are on the train network.

To explore that further, here’s a similar chart, but with the data marks coloured by a relatively blunt measure: whether or not the postcode contained a train or busway station (based on point locations for stations, which is not perfect as some postcodes are very large and only part of the area might be within reach of a station, while other postcodes might have a station just outside the area):

Generally the postcodes with a train or busway station are towards the bottom-left of the cloud, and those without towards the top-right. I’ve labelled a few exceptions, which include university suburbs such as Macquarie Park, Kensington, Camperdown, and some larger postcodes where a station only serves a minority of the postcode area (eg 2027 and 2069).

The next chart plots commuter mode shares, licence ownership, and socio-economic advantage/disadvantage:

You can see a significant – but not tight – relationship between licence ownership and commuter mode share. Within the main cloud, disadvantaged postcodes are to the top-left, and the more advantaged postcodes to the bottom-right. That is, many disadvantaged postcodes had high private transport mode share despite lower licence ownership, and many more advantaged areas had lower private mode share despite higher licence ownership.

This suggests licence ownership was not the strongest driver of commuter mode choice, at least at the postcode level. Workplace location seems far more influential.

Many advantaged areas are closer to CBD(s) and often have higher quality public transport, walking, and cycling options. People in more advantaged areas are also more likely to work in well-paying jobs in the central city, where public transport is a more convenient and affordable mode. These people also probably face fewer barriers in obtaining a driver’s licence for when they do want to drive (eg access to a car).

While disadvantaged postcodes generally had lower rates of licence ownership, fewer people in these postcodes worked in the Sydney CBD, and they also tended to have high private transport commuter mode shares. I suspect this may be related to many lower income workplace locations being generally less accessible by public transport (particularly jobs in industrial areas). Any cost advantage of public transport is less likely to offset the relatively high convenience of private transport (not to suggest the design quality of public transport services is not important, and not to go into the issues of capital v operating cost of private transport).

However, I suspect public transport could be more competitive for travel from these disadvantaged low-licence-ownership areas to local schools and activity centres. I am aware of some disadvantaged areas of Melbourne that have highly productive bus routes, but not necessarily high public transport mode shares of journeys to work (particularly parts of Brimbank). These areas may be worth targeting for all-day public transport service upgrades, to contribute to both patronage growth and social inclusion objectives.

Just to round this out, here’s a very similar chart, but with Sydney CBD commuter percentage used for colour:

For most rates of licence ownership, there was a wide range of private transport mode shares and a wide range of Sydney CBD commuter percentages. There is a relationship between licence ownership and mode share, but it is not nearly as tight as the relationship between Sydney CBD commuter percentage and mode share.

Age

There’s obviously a relationship between age and licence ownership and NSW thankfully publishes detailed data on licence ownership by individual age. The following chart shows licence ownership by age, animated over time from 2005 to 2020.

Licence ownership peaks for ages around 35-70, and is lower for younger adults and tails off for the elderly as people become less capable of driving.

But there is a very curious dip in licence ownership around age 23-24, which became more pronounced after around 2008. Why might this be?

One hypothesis: People getting learner’s permits around age 18 but not progressing to a full licence and having their learner’s permit expire after 5 years – i.e. around age 22 or 23. I wonder whether people are getting a learner’s permit largely for proof of age purposes. NSW does have a specific Photo Card you can get for that, but the fee is $55 (or $5 at the time you get your driver’s licence), whereas a learner’s permit costs just $25 (and an Australia Post Keypass proof of age card costs $40). As of September 2020, there were 185,329 people aged 18-25 with a Photo Card, and 211,004 people aged 16-25 with a learner’s permit (unfortunately data isn’t available for perfectly aligning age ranges). Did something change about proof of age in 2008? I don’t live in Sydney but maybe locals could comment further on this?

However, I think I have uncovered a more likely explanation which I’ll discuss in the next section.

It would stand to reason that postcodes with more people in age ranges with lower licence ownership might have lower rates of licence ownership overall. I’ve calculated the ratio of the population aged 35-69 (roughly the peak licence-owning age range for 2016) to the population aged 15-84 (roughly the age range of most licence holders) for all postcodes to create the following chart:

You can see a very strong relationship between age make-up and licence ownership rates for postcodes (a linear regression gives an R-squared of 0.75). That is, the more the population skews to people aged 35-69, generally the higher the licence ownership rate.

Recent immigrants

My previous analysis found a strong relationship between public transport use and recency of immigration to Australia (see: Why were recent immigrants to Melbourne more likely to use public transport to get to work?). So does a similar relationship apply for licence ownership?

While I cannot directly match licence ownership and immigrant status at the individual level, I can compare these measures at the postcode level.

For the following chart I have classified postcodes by the percentage of residents who arrived between 2006 and 2016 – as at the 2016 census (my arbitrary definition of “recent immigrants” based on available data for this analysis), and compared that with licence ownership levels.

This chart shows a fairly strong relationship, and suggests more recent immigrants were less likely to have a driver’s licence – although the relationships is weaker for more disadvantaged postcodes (red/orange postcodes).

So why might recent immigrants be less likely to have a licence?

  • As we’ve already seen, some of these postcodes with low licence ownership are adjacent to universities, and no doubt included many international students who did not have a need for licence to get to study or work.
  • Many other skilled immigrants would work in the CBD(s), for which high quality public transport connections are generally available. In Melbourne, I found many recent immigrants live closer to the city where public transport is more plentiful, and many also live near train stations. Sydney is likely to be similar (more on that in a moment).
  • For some it might be because they cannot (yet) afford private transport (particularly immigrants on humanitarian visas) and/or that they don’t have sufficient English to get a learner’s permit (more on that later).
  • For some it might be that they are happy and attuned to using public transport, walking and/or cycling to get around, like they did in their country of origin. However when I analysed Melbourne commuter PT mode shares by immigrant country of origin, I didn’t find relationships I expected.
  • The age profile of immigrants skew towards younger adults, who for various reasons are less likely to own a driver’s licence.
  • I had wondered if some immigrants were driving using international licences instead, but NSW rules state that you can only drive on an international licence for up to three months, so that’s unlikely to explain the pattern.

Here’s a chart showing that immigrants skew towards young adults. The chart shows the New South Wales 2011 population for each calculated approximate age of immigrants when they arrived in Australia (= age + arrival year – 2011) (the best data I have available at present):

The most common ages at arrival were around 23-25 years. Sound familiar? It is also the age where driver’s licence ownership rates dip in New South Wales. I reckon there’s a good chance the influx of immigrants of this age may explain the dip in licence ownership rates for people in their early 20s.

My recent Melbourne research found recent immigrants were also less likely to own a motor vehicle. This evidence suggests low rates of driver’s licence ownership is also strongly related to the relatively high use of public transport by recent immigrants.

For reference, here’s a map showing the percentage of residents in 2016 who had moved to Australia between 2006 and 2016. If you know a little about the urban geography of Sydney, you’ll see higher concentrations around the CBDs, university campuses, and along some major train lines.

Parenting status

We know parents are less likely to use public transport (at least in Melbourne, but probably in all Australian cities), so are they also more likely to own a driver’s licence? The following data compares licencing and parenting rates (defined as proportion of adults doing unpaid caring work for their own children aged under 15) for postcodes:

There is a significant relationship, with postcodes with higher rates of parenting generally have higher rates of driver’s licence ownership. This may well be related to licence ownership rates also peaking for people of the most common parenting ages, and also the fact many young families live in the outer suburbs (where private transport is often more competitive than public transport). The postcodes with the lowest licence ownership rates also have very low proportions of parents (and probably contain many young adults who are studying).

For reference here is a map of parenting percentages for Sydney postcodes:

Motor vehicle ownership

It stands to reason that areas with higher driver’s licence ownership rates might also have higher motor vehicle ownership rates. I’ve calculated the ratio of persons aged 18-84 to household motor vehicles for each postcode, to create the following chart:

You can see the relationship is very strong, with more advantaged (and often near-CBD) postcodes towards the top of the cloud, and more disadvantaged postcodes mostly at the bottom and middle of the cloud.

Silverwater is an outlier – but I should point out that my calculation of motor vehicle ownership only counts people living in private dwellings while licence ownership is for all residents (including the many who resided in Silverwater’s correctional facilities).

There are also a small curious bunch of outliers with around 100 motor vehicles per 100 persons aged 18-84 but only 70-90 licences per 100 persons aged 16-84. These include urban fringe suburbs such as Marsden Park, Riverstone, Oakville, Rossmore, Gregory Hills, Leppington, Voyager Point, Kemps Creek, and Horsley Park. Perhaps these areas may contain farm vehicles that might skew the motor vehicle ownership rates.

While spatial data about licence ownership is unfortunately not readily available for most states of Australia, this chart suggested that motor vehicle ownership (something thankfully still captured by the census, despite ABS trying to drop the question) is a reasonably strong proxy for licence ownership.

Population weighted density

Given postcodes can be quite large (one has a population of over 100,000!), I prefer to use population-weighted density as a metric of urban density (as opposed to raw density). Here’s how that related to licence ownership (note a log scale on the X-axis):

That’s a pretty strong relationship, and of course not unexpected. Areas with higher population density generally have great public transport services, and more services and jobs would likely be accessible by walking, reducing the need for a car or driver’s licence.

Proximity to high quality public transport

I’ve previously confirmed a relationship between public transport mode share and proximity to high quality public transport, so does the presence of high quality public transport also relate to driver’s licence ownership?

As mentioned above, I’ve classified postcodes as to whether or not there was a train or busway station contained within the postcode boundary in 2016. It’s a blunt measure because stations may only serve a small part of large postcodes, or there may be a station just outside a postcode’s boundary that still provides good rail access to that postcode. Some postcodes were also served by light rail and/or very high frequency bus services, just not a train or busway station. I’d love to be able to look at licence ownership by distance from stations, but licensing data is unfortunately only available for postcodes, which does not provide enough resolution.

You can see postcodes with a station generally have lower rates of licence ownership than those without, but there is still plenty of variance across postcodes.

The green postcodes in the top of the left column include Camperdown (University of Sydney, close to the CBD with very high frequency on-road buses), Ultimo (just next to Central Station and the CBD), Kensington (includes UNSW campus, with strong bus (and now light rail) connections), Chippendale / Darlington (wedged between Central and Redfern Stations), and Waterloo / Zetland (very close to Green Square Station and also served by high frequency on-road buses).

Many of the postcodes with stations but high licence ownership (bottom of right hand column) are in the outer suburbs, where train frequencies may be lower, and public transport services in non-radial directions may have lower quality.

So the exceptions to the relationship are quite explainable, and I’d suggest there is a strong relationship. Again, it may be people without a licence choosing to live near public transport, and/or people not near high quality public transport deciding they must have a licence to get around.

Educational qualifications

I have also found a relationship between educational qualifications and commuter mode shares in Melbourne, so are licencing rates related to levels of educational attainment in Sydney?

There’s not much of a relationship happening here between licence ownership and education, other than some inner city postcodes with a high proportion of educated residents and lower rates of licence ownership. There is of course an (expected) relationship between advantage and education.

But just on that, one curious outlier postcode on the chart is Lakemba / Wiley Park (2195), with 29% of the population having a Bachelor’s degree or higher, but it being in the most disadvantaged decile. This postcode has a large proportion of people not born in Australia, with significant numbers born in Lebanon and Bangladesh. Perhaps this reasonably well-educated but highly disadvantaged population is a product of lack of recognition of overseas qualifications, and/or maybe issues with discrimination.

Distance from Sydney CBD

In Melbourne, distance from the CBD has a strong relationship with mode choice, and I would not be surprised if there was similarly a relationship with licence ownership. However Melbourne only has one large dense employment cluster (the central city), while Sydney has multiple large dense employment clusters which is likely to lead to different patterns (see Suburban employment clusters and the journey to work in Australian cities).

From the first map in this post you cannot see a strong relationship between licence ownership and distance from the Sydney CBD – it is clear that many other factors are influencing licence ownership rates across Sydney (such as proximity to university campuses and employment clusters). Having said that, it seems clear that most “outer” suburban postcodes have high levels of licence ownership, but distance from the CBD is probably not a good proxy for “outer”.

Also some postcodes are quite large, and are a little problematic to assign to a distance value or range from the CBD, and the presence of two large harbours means crow-flies distance to the Sydney CBD is not necessarily reflective of ease/speed of travel to the Sydney CBD.

For these reasons I’ve not crunched data on home distance from the Sydney CBD. With a lot more effort, perhaps a metric could be created that considers travel time to Sydney’s major centres (although these centres vary in size).

Which factors have the strongest relationship with licence ownership?

The factors shown above had the strongest relationships with licence ownership (I tested three other factors which had weaker relationships, covered in the appendices below).

I put all the factors for Greater Sydney postcodes into a simple linear multiple regression model, and without labouring the details, I found that the following factors were significant at explaining postcode licence ownership rates (each with p-values less than 0.05 and overall an R-squared of 0.83), listed with the most significant first:

  • Ratio of population aged 35-69 : population aged 15-84. For every 1% this ratio is higher, licence ownership per 100 persons aged 16-84 is generally 1.0 higher (all other things being equal)
  • Rate of motor vehicle ownership: every extra motor vehicle per 100 persons aged 18-84, there are generally 0.35 more licences per 100 persons aged 16-84 (all other things being equal)
  • People who have a bachelors degree or higher: For every 1% this is higher, licence ownership per 100 persons aged 16-84 is generally 0.18 higher (all other things being equal)
  • Postcodes containing or adjacent to a major university campus or correctional centre. These postcodes generally had 14 fewer licences per 100 persons aged 18-64 (all other things being equal)

Factors that fell out of the regression as not significant were Sydney CBD commuter percentage, presence of a train or busway station, socio-economic advantage/disadvantage, population weighted density, parenting percentage, student status, and percent of population speaking English very well. Of course many of these metrics would correlate with the four significant factors above.

I was a little surprised to see educational qualifications show up as significant, given the weak direct relationship seen in the scatter plot, however the impact was small (0.18) and it may be acting as a proxy for other factors such as proportion of commuters working in the Sydney CBD (which was the “strongest” factor that fell out – having a p-value of 0.11).

This analysis was done using postcode level which has issues in terms of blending populations. It is possible to look at individuals using household travel survey data, and I’ve had a quick look using VISTA data from Melbourne. Without going into full detail in this post, I’ve found stronger relationships with age, sex, household income, parenting status, main activity, distance from train stations, and a weaker relationship with distance from CBD. Maybe that could be the focus of a future post.

I hope you’ve found this interesting.

Appendix 1: English proficiency

Probably related to recent immigrant figures, postcodes with a larger proportion of residents speaking English very well generally had slightly higher levels of licence ownership, although the relationship is not tight:

Curiously though, the relationship seems to be stronger for more advantaged postcodes. Disadvantaged postcodes with lower levels of English proficiency still had licence ownership rates of around 80 per 100 persons aged 16-84 (top-left of the cloud).

As an aside: is English proficiency lower in postcodes with many recent immigrants?

The answer is yes, but lower levels of English proficiency are not always explained by recent immigration. Of course some of the recent immigrants will speak English very well (many settling in places like Manly, Darlinghurst, Waterloo, Pyrmont), while others will not, depending on their country of origin. The large red dot to the bottom-left is postcode 2166, which includes the migrant area of Cabramatta (sorry about the label that overlaps other data points). It would appear that this postcode has many longer term residents who don’t speak English very well (although they might rank themselves as speaking English “well” rather than “very well”, which is below my arbitrary threshold of “very well” plus native English speakers).

Appendix 2: Student status

I have recently found a relationship between student-status and and journey to work mode shares in Melbourne (although yet to be published at the time of writing). So does the proportion of residents (over 15) who are studying have a relationship with driver licence ownership rates?

Here’s a scatter plot, with socio-economic advantage and disadvantage overlaid:

Apart from some exceptional postcodes with larger proportions of students, there appears to be little to no relationship between studying and licence ownership.


Update on Australian transport trends (December 2020)

Sun 3 January, 2021

Each year, just before Christmas, the good folks at the Australian Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport, and Regional Economics (BITRE) publish a mountain of data in their Australian Infrastructure Statistics 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.

Of course the world of transport changed significantly in 2020, with suppressed movement from around mid March, as the COVID19 pandemic led to movement restrictions across Australia. Most of the following data is for financial years, so you will see some impacts where data is available for financial year 2019-20.

Vehicle kilometres travelled

Total vehicle kilometres travelled has been increasing most years, until 2019-20, when it fell from 264 to 247 billion kilometres.

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). In 2019-2020, there were noticeable reductions for most vehicle types, except trucks.

Car kilometre growth has slowed significantly since 2004, and actually peaked in 2016-17 according to BITRE estimates.

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 until 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. There was a sharp drop in vehicle kms per capita in 2019-20, almost certainly due to COVID-19.

Passenger kilometres travelled

While BITRE’s passenger km estimates were available up to 2019-20 at the time of writing, city population estimates were only available up until June 2019. So in this section, per capita data stops at 2018-19 (before COVID-19), while total km charts go to 2019-20.

Here are passenger kilometres per capita for various modes for Australia as a whole (note the log-scale on the Y axis). Unfortunately BITRE have not published national estimates beyond 2017-18 in their 2020 Yearbook.

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

Car passengers

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

The data shows that Melbourne overtook Sydney in 2016-17 as having the most car passenger travel, but then cities were even again in 2019-20 with COVID19 impacts.

Another interesting observation is that total car passenger travel declined in Adelaide in 2018-19 (pre-COVID) according to (revised) BITRE estimates.

However there are large differences in population growth rates between cities. So here is the data per capita:

While car passenger kilometres per capita peaked in 2004 in all cities, there were some increases from around 2013 to 2018 in some cities, but most cities declined in 2019 and 2020 (the latter being no doubt partly related to COVID-19). Darwin is an outlier with an increase in car passenger kms per capita between 2015 and 2020.

Rail passengers

Here are rail passenger kms per capita to 2018-19:

Sydney had the highest train use of all cities and this has been taking off in recent years, likely due to service level upgrades. Other cities have been flat or were in decline (such as Melbourne).

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 growth in total rail passenger kms since 2010 (NOT per capita):

Sydney trains saw rapid growth in the years up until 2019, again 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.

All cities saw significant declines in 2019-20 with COVID-19 impacts, although BITRE caveats that the 2019-20 estimates for public transport modes were “rough” at the time of publication.

Bus passengers

Here’s bus passenger kms per capita up to 2018/19:

Bus passenger kms per capita have been declining in most cities in recent years, with the exception of Sydney.

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

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).

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

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%.

Here is growth relative to 2010:

All cities saw a substantial reduction in 2019-20 due to COVID-19, with Hobart having the smallest reduction. Perhaps there is less discretionary and office-commuter travel on Hobart’s buses?

Light rail passengers

Light rail passenger kms per capita is not really meaningful as Melbourne has a large network, while Sydney and Adelaide have very small (although growing) networks. Here is estimated passenger km growth since 2010:

Sydney light rail patronage increased following the Dulwich Hill extension that opened in 2014, and again with the new lines joining the CBD with Randwick and Kingsford opening in 2019-20. The passenger km growth would have been higher if not for COVID-19.

Adelaide patronage increased following an extension to the Adelaide Entertainment Centre in 2010, and then flatlined for several years. In October 2018, new extensions to Festival Plaza and Botanic Gardens opened but passenger kms actually declined in FY 2018-19.

Mass transport

We can sum all of the mass transport modes (I use the term “mass transport” as the numbers include both public and private bus services). Firstly. here is mass transit share of estimated total motorised passenger kilometres in each city (unfortunately there are no estimates of walking and cycling kilometres):

All cities saw a mode shift away from mass transit in 2019-20 due to COVID-19, which likely reflects the shift to working from home for CBD workers (with such commuter trips making up a substantial share of PT patronage). During the recovery after lockdowns, road traffic has returned to almost normal in most cities, whilst public transport patronage is still well down on pre-COVID19 levels. I should mention again that BITRE describe their 2019-20 estimates of non-private passenger kilometres as “rough”.

But looking at trends prior to 2019-20, Sydney was leading the country in mass transport use per capita which was also rising fast to 2019, with a 2% mode shift between 2016 and 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 mass transit had been losing mode share between 2012 and 2019, while other cities have been largely flat or trending down (although Brisbane, Adelaide, and Perth has a small increase in 2018-19).

Melbourne made significant gains between 2005 and 2009, and Perth grew strongly 2007 to 2013, but has since shifted away from public transport (which may be related to a decentralisation of employment).

Here is growth in mass transport passenger kms since 2010:

Darwin saw substantial growth associated with staff bus services to a new LNG plant, while Sydney otherwise was leading in mass transit passenger kilometre growth.

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 growth 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.

Motorcycles

Here are motorcycle passenger kms per capita:

Motorcycle travel was declining per capita until 2000, had a resurgence between 2004 and 2009 (perhaps as fuel prices rose?) and has since reduced somewhat in most cities. I’m not quite sure what might have happened in Melbourne in 2006 to suddenly stop the growth in use. I also wonder about the precision of estimates of motorcycle passenger kilometres, given it is such a small mode.

Car ownership

The ABS conduct a Motor Vehicle Census generally once per year (although less often historically), and the following chart includes that data up until January 2020, combined with population estimates released in December 2020.

Car ownership has risen significantly over time, although this growth has slowed considerably more recently in some states.

However the above measure doesn’t take into account people not of driving age. So the following chart looks at passenger cars per persons aged 18-84 (for want of a better definition of driving aged persons):

It’s still a bit hard to see the more recent trends, so here is a chart that looks at 2000-2020, excludes the Northern Territory (zooming on the top-right section):

This data shows that car ownership peaked in Victoria in 2013, Western Australia in 2017, New South Wales in 2017, Queensland in 2018, South Australian in 2018, and Australia overall in 2018. The Australian Capital Territory may have peaked in 2019 but perhaps it is a little too early to call, while Tasmanian now has the highest car ownership in the country and is still growing strongly.

My previous analysis of census data found that Melbourne was the only large city to see a decline in car ownership between 2011 and 2016 (see also an older post on car ownership).

Motorcycle ownership

Here is a chart showing motorcycles per persons aged 18-84:

This chart shows a slightly different pattern to that of motorcycle passenger kilometres per capita in cities (above). Ownership and usage bottomed out around the 1990s or 2000s (depending on the state/city). However ownership has risen in most states since then, but usage apparently peaked around 2009 in most cities. This perhaps suggests motorcycles are now more a recreational – rather than everyday – vehicle (I really don’t follow the motorcycle industry very closely so others might better explain this).

Driver’s licence ownership

Thanks to BITRE Information Sheet 84, the BITRE Yearbook 2020, 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 2019 or 2020 (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 actually seen slow decline since 2011, and the ACT peaked in 2014.

Here’s a breakdown by age bands for Australia as a whole:

Licencing rates have been increasing over time for those aged over 40 (most strongly for those aged over 70), and have been declining for those aged under 40, although there was a notable uptick in licence ownership for 16-19 year-olds in 2018.

The next chart shows licencing rates for teenagers:

Licence ownership rates for teenagers had been trending down in South Australia and Victoria until 2017, while most other states have been trending upwards in recent years. The differences between states partly reflects different minimum ages for licensing.

Here are 20-24 year olds:

The largest states of Victoria and New South Wales had seen downwards trends until 2019, while all other states and territories are trending up. The big upticks in 2020 for Queensland and NSW might be a new trend, might also be impacted by the preliminary nature of June 2020 population estimates from the ABS, and/or might be impacted be an exodus of international students.

25-29 year olds are a mixed bag – Victoria has been trending downwards sharply, New South Wales has (probably) just ended a downwards trend, while most other states have been increasing or relatively steady.

Licencing rates for people in their 70s have been rising in all states, although it may be slowing in Western Australia and NSW more recently (I have excluded 2016 for South Australia as I suspect a data error):

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.

For completeness, here is a chart showing motorcycle full licence ownership rates:

Queensland has two types of motorcycle licence and I suspect many people hold both, which might explain a licence ownership rate being so much higher than other states.

Transport greenhouse gas emissions

According to the latest adjusted quarterly figures, Australia’s domestic non-electric transport emissions peaked in 2018, had been slightly declining (which reflects reduced consumption of petrol and diesel) before COVID impacted the year-ending June 2020 figure.

The seasonally-adjusted estimate for the June quarter of 2020 is 19.2 Mt, which is down 24% on the June quarter of 2019:

Non-electric transport emissions made up 19.1% of Australia’s total emissions as at December 2019 (before the COVID-19 impact).

Here’s a breakdown of transport emissions by financial year:

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

Here’s growth in transport sector emissions since 1975:

The 2019-2020 estimates are heavily impacted by COVID-19, most evidently in aviation, but also for road transport.

Road emissions had grown steadily to 2019, while aviation emissions took off around 1991 (pardon the pun). 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 historically run on diesel, but has more recently been transitioning to electric.

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

Within road transport, COVID-19 has had the biggest impact on cars, buses, motor cycles and light commercials. However, emissions from (larger) articulated trucks continued to grow.

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 have been decreasing for cars, and – until 2019 – were relatively stable for most other modes. Total road transport emissions per capita peaked in 2004 (along with vehicle kms per capita, as above).

Transport greenhouse gas emissions intensity

It’s possible to combine data sets to estimate average emissions per vehicle kilometre for different vehicle types, but only until 2018 with published data (note I have again used a log-scale on the Y-axis):

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

Most modes have shown slight declines in emissions per vehicle km, except trucks. On these estimates, car have dropped from 281 g/km in 1990 to 243 g/km in 2018.

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 (data only available until 2018 unfortunately):

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 2017-18 were 154.5g/pkm, while bus was 79.0g/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 70) – 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 79.3% in 2019-20.

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 seems to be trending down since 2008, probably largely related to reductions in the price of automotive fuel (which peaked in 2008). The real cost of motor vehicles has plummeted since 1996, although that trend may have stopped in 2018. 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.

I hope you have found this interesting.


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.


Mapping Melbourne’s journeys to work

Mon 24 June, 2019

The unwritten rules of mapping data include avoiding too much data and clutter, and not using too much colour. This blog often violates those rules, and when it comes to visualising journeys to work, I think we can learn a lot about cities with somewhat cluttered colourful animated maps.

This post maps journeys to work in Melbourne, using data from the 2016 census. I will look at which types of home-work pairs have different public, private and active transport mode shares and volumes.

Although this post will focus on Melbourne, I will include a brief comparison to Sydney at the end.

Where are public transport journeys to work in Melbourne?

First I need to explain the maps you are about to see.

So that I can show mode shares, I’ve grouped journeys between SA2s (which are roughly the size of a suburb). Lines are drawn from the population centroid of the home SA2 (thin end) to the employment centroid of the work SA2 (thicker end). Centroids are calculated as the weighted average location residents/jobs in each SA2 (using mesh block / destination zone data). This generally works okay for urban areas, but be aware that actual trips will be distributed across SA2s, and some SA2s on the urban fringe are quite large.

The thickness of each line at the work end is roughly proportional to the number of journeys by the mode of interest between the home-work pair (refer legends), but it’s difficult to use a scale that is meaningful for smaller volumes. Unfortunately there’s only so much you can do on a 2-D chart.

I’ve not drawn lines where there are fewer than 50 journeys in total (all modes), or where there were no journeys of the mode that is the subject of the map. This threshold of 50 isn’t perfect either as SA2s are not consistently sized within and between cities, so larger SA2s are more likely to generate lines on the map.

To try to help deal with the clutter, I’ve made the lines somewhat transparent, and also animated the map to highlight trips with different mode share intervals. For frames showing all lines, the lines with highest mode share are drawn on top.

So here is an animated map showing public transport journeys to work in Melbourne, by different mode share ranges and overall:

Technical note: I have included journeys to work that are internal to an SA2. Usually these appear as simple circles, but sometimes they appear as small teardrops where the population and employment centroids are sufficiently far apart.

You can see that the highest PT shares and largest PT volumes are for journeys to the central city, and generally from SA2s connected to Melbourne CBD by train (including many outer suburbs).

As the animation moves to highlight lower PT mode share ranges, the lines become a little less radial, a little shorter on average, and the lowest (non-zero) PT mode shares are mostly for suburban trips.

A notable exception is journeys to Port Melbourne Industrial SA2 (also known as Fishermans Bend), which is located at the junction of two major motorways and is remote from rapid public transport (it does however have a couple of high frequency bus lines from the CBD).

The lowest PT mode shares are seen for trips around the outer suburbs. The maps above unfortunately aren’t very good at differentiating small volumes. The following animated map shows public transport journeys with a filter progressively applied to remove lines with small numbers of public transport journeys (refer blue text in title):

You can see that most of the outer suburban lines quickly disappear as they have very small volumes. Inter-suburban lines with more than 50 public transport journeys go to centres including Dandenong, Clayton, Box Hill, and Heidelberg.

Here’s another animation that builds up the map starting with low public transport mode share lines, and then progressively adds lines with higher public transport mode shares:

As an aside, here is a chart showing journeys to work by straight line distance (between SA2 centroids), public transport mode share, work distance from the CBD and home-work volume:

The black dots represent journeys to the inner 5km of the city, and you can see public transport has a high mode share of longer trips. Public transport mode share falls away for shorter journeys to the inner city as people are more likely to use active transport. A dot on the top left of the curve is 8,874 journeys from Docklands to Melbourne – which benefits from the free tram zone and the distances can be 1-2 km. Most of the longer journeys with low public transport mode share are to workplaces remote from the CBD (coloured dots).

Another way to deal with the clutter of overlapping lines around the CBD is to progressively remove lines to workplaces in and around the CBD. Here is another animated map that does exactly so that you can better see journeys in the nearby inner and middle suburbs.

As you strip away the CBD and inner suburbs, you lose most lines with high public transport mode shares and volumes. However some high public transport mode share lines remain, including the following outbound journeys:

  • Melbourne (CBD) to Melbourne Airport: 72% of 64 journeys
  • Melbourne (CBD) to Box Hill: 66% of 76 journeys
  • Melbourne (CBD) to Clayton: 57% of 82 journeys
  • South Yarra – East to Clayton: 57% of 173 journeys

Just keep in mind that these are all very small volumes compared to total journeys in Melbourne.

You might have noticed on the western edge of the map some yellow and orange lines from the Wyndham area (south-west Melbourne) that go off the map towards the south west. These journeys go to Geelong.

Here’s a map showing journeys around Geelong and between Geelong and Greater Melbourne (journeys entirely within Greater Melbourne excluded):

You can see very high public transport mode shares for journeys from the Geelong and Bellarine region to the Melbourne CBD and Docklands (and fairly large volumes), but no lines to Southbank, East Melbourne, Parkville or Carlton – all more remote from Southern Cross Station, the city terminus for regional trains.

(The other purple lines to the CBD are from Ballarat, Bacchus Marsh, Daylesford, Woodend, Kyneton, Castlemaine, Kilmore-Broadford and Warragul, with at least 60 journeys each.)

You can also see those orange and yellow lines from the Wyndham area to central Geelong, being mode shares of 20-40%. The Geelong train line provides frequent services between Tarneit, Wyndham Vale, and Geelong, and has proved reasonably popular with commuters to Geelong (frequency was significantly upgraded in June 2015 with the opening of the Regional Rail Link, just 14 months before the census of August 2016).

However, public transport mode shares for travel within Greater Geelong are very small – even for SA2 that are connected by trains. This might reflect Geelong train station being on the edge of its CBD, relatively cheap parking in central Geelong, limited stopping frequency at some stations (many at 40 minute base pattern), and/or limited walk-up population catchments at several of Geelong’s suburban train stations.

Does public transport have significant mode share for cross-suburban journeys to work?

To search for cross-suburban journeys with relatively high public transport mode shares, here is a map that only shows lines with public transport mode shares above 20% between homes and workplaces both more than 5 km from the CBD (yes, those are arbitrary thresholds):

Of these journeys, the highest mode shares are for journeys from the inner northern suburbs to St Kilda and Hawthorn. There’s also a 49% mode share from Footscray to Maribyrnong (connected by frequent trams and buses).

The tear drop to the north of the city is 114 people who used PT from Coburg to Brunswick (connected by two tram routes and one train route).

Most of the other links on this map are fairly well aligned with train, tram, or SmartBus routes, suggesting high quality services are required to attract significant mode shares.

But these trips are a tiny fraction of journeys to work around Melbourne. In fact 3.0% of journeys to work in Melbourne were by public transport to workplaces more than 5 km from the CBD. The same statistic for Sydney is more than double this, at 7.3%.

What about private transport journeys?

Firstly, here’s a map showing private transport mode shares and volumes, building up the map starting with low private mode share lines.

The links with lowest private transport mode shares are very radial as you might expect (pretty much the inverse of the public transport maps). Progressively less radial lines get added to the map before there is a big bang when the final private transport mode share band of 95-100% gets added, with large volumes of outer suburban trips.

For completeness, here’s an animation that highlights each mode share range individually.

There are some other interesting stories in this data. The following map shows private transport mode share of journeys to work, excluding workplaces up to 10 km from the CBD to remove some clutter.

If you look carefully you’ll see that there is a much lower density of trips that cross the Yarra River (which runs just south of Heidelberg and Eltham). There are limited bridge crossings, and this is probably inhibiting people considering such journeys.

The construction of the North East Link motorway will add considerable cross-Yarra road capacity, and I suspect it may induce more private transport journeys to work across the Yarra River (although tolls will be a disincentive).

What about active transport journeys?

Next is a map for active transport journeys, but this time I’ve progressively added a filter for the number of active transport journeys, as most of the lines on the full chart are for very small volumes.

As soon as the filter reaches a minimum of 50 active journeys most of the lines between SA2s in the middle and outer suburbs disappear. Note that journeys between SA2s are not necessarily long, they might just be a short trip over the boundary.

Then at minimum 200 journeys you can only see central city journeys plus intra-SA2 journeys in relatively dense centres such as Hawthorn, Heidelberg, Box Hill, Clayton, Frankston, Mornington, Footscray, and St Kilda. The large volume in the south of the map that hangs around is Hastings – Somers, where 882 used active transport (probably mostly walking to work on the HMAS Cerebus navy base).

Active transport journeys are mostly much shorter than private and public transport journeys – as you might expect as most people will only walk or ride a bicycle so far. But there are people who said they made very long active transport journeys to work – the map shows some journeys from Point Nepean, Torquay, Ballarat, Daylesford, and Castlemaine to Melbourne. That’s some keen cyclists, incredible runners, people who changed jobs in the week of the census (the census asks for work location the prior week, and modes used on census day), and/or people who didn’t fill in their census forms accurately. The volumes of these trips are very small (mostly less than 5).

That map is very congested around the central city, so here is a map zoomed into the inner suburbs and this time animated by building up the map starting with high active transport mode share lines.

The highest active transport mode shares are for travel within Southbank and from Carlton to Parkville, followed by journeys to places like the CBD, Docklands, South Yarra, South Melbourne, Carlton, Fitzroy, Parkville, and Carlton.

Then you see a lot of trips added from the inner northern suburbs, which are connected to the central city by dare-I-say “above average” cycling infrastructure across some relatively flat terrain. In particular, a thick red line on the map is for 471 active transport journeys from Brunswick to Melbourne (CBD) with a mode share of 17%. A second thick red line is Richmond to Melbourne (CBD) being 589 journeys with 16% active mode share.

Another way of summarising mode shares by work and home distance from the CBD

I’ve experimented with another visualisation approach to overcome the clutter issues. The next charts have home distances from the CBD on the Y axis, work distances from the CBD on the X axis, bubble size representing number of journeys, and colour showing mode shares. I’m drawing smaller journey volumes on top, and I’ve used some transparency to help a little with the clutter.

Firstly here is public transport (animated to show each mode share range individually):

The chart is roughly a V-shape with many trips on the left edge and along a diagonal (mostly representing intra-SA2 journeys), then with several vertical stripes being major suburban employment destinations (including Dandenong at 31 km, Clayton at 19 km, and Frankston at 40 km). Trips above the diagonal are roughly inbound, while trips below the diagonal are roughly outbound.

Some observations:

  • The diagonal line (mostly local journeys) has very low public transport mode shares (sometimes zero).
  • Higher PT mode shares are only seen on the far left and bottom left hand corner of the chart. Some outliers include Richmond to Box Hill (32%), Clayton to Malvern East (32%), and South Yarra – East to Clayton (57%).
  • PT mode shares of 80+% are only seen for journeys to the CBD from home SA2s at least 11 km out (with one exception of Melbourne CBD to St Kilda with 80% PT share).
  • Home-work pairs with zero public transport journeys are scattered around the middle and outer suburbs, most being longer distance journeys (home and work at different distances from the CBD).

Here’s the same chart for private transport:

The lowest private transport shares are seen for journeys to the CBD. The diagonal has many mode shares in the 80-90% range.

And here is active transport:

The highest active transport mode shares are seen in the central city area, followed by the diagonal mostly representing local journeys (with generally higher shares closer to the CBD). Some notable outliers include local trips within Clayton (1,298 active trips / 46% active mode share), Box Hill (914 / 40%), Hastings – Somers (1,762 / 27%), Flinders (240 / 24%), Glen Waverley – West (308 / 21%), and Mentone (226 / 23%).

How does Sydney compare to Melbourne?

Here is a chart with private transport mode share maps for both Melbourne and Sydney, animated in tandem to progressively add higher mode share journeys.

You can see that Sydney has a lot more trips at lower private transport mode shares, and that workplaces outside the city centre start to show up earlier in the animation in Sydney – being the dense transit-orientated suburban employment clusters that are largely unique to Sydney (see: Suburban employment clusters and the journey to work in Australian cities).

If time permits, I may do similar analysis for Sydney and other cities in future posts.