How did Perth’s CBD end up with 19% more private transport commuters in 2021?

Sat 3 June, 2023

ABS census data tells us that Perth’s CBD experienced a massive 19% jump in the number of private transport commuter trips between 2016 and 2021. That’s over 5000 more journeys – mostly as car drivers – and is quite likely to have made traffic congestion worse.

So how did that happen? Where were these extra commuters travelling to? Were there particular changes in the modal mix in different parts of the CBD? Was this growth enabled by a big increase in car parking capacity? And what has been happening to car park pricing?

This post digs a little deeper following my last post that explored the impact of COVID on journey to mode shares in Australian cities in 2021.

A quick recap of overall changes in journey to work in the Perth CBD

Here’s the volume of Perth CBD commuters by main mode, including working at home in 2011, 2016, and 2021:

See my last post for my definition of the Perth CBD. A trip involving any public transport is classed as public, a trip that involves only walking or cycling is classed as active, and any other form of travel is classed as private.

At the 2021 census, Perth was COVID-free with relatively few restrictions on intra-state movement or activity.

Total employment in the CBD grew by a massive 26% from 82,214 in 2016 to 103,944 in 2021. Private transport trips increased by 19%, but because this was less growth than overall employment growth there was actually a commuter mode shift away from private transport of 1.6% (from 36.5% to 34.9%).

The biggest increase in CBD worker volumes was in those who worked at home.

Public transport commuting to the CBD increased by only 85 trips between 2016 and 2021, but still accounted for more trips than private transport.

LATE EDIT: It’s just come to my attention that the Fremantle train line was closed on the day of the 2021 census (10 August), which will have suppressed public transport mode share in the western suburbs.

My last post concluded there was likely a significant mode shift from public transport to remote working. There was some mode shift away from public transport and towards remote working and private transport for some middle age groups, although some of this shift is likely to be a normal trend seen as people age (and become parents). I was unable to identify occupations that saw a substantial mode shift from public transport to private transport, although some occupations saw a lot more private transport growth than public transport growth.

This post now takes that analysis a bit further by looking at spatial variations in the modal mix by workplace location.

Where were the extra private transport commuters working?

Here’s the change in private commuter trips for each destination zone around the Perth CBD:

Note: the circles aren’t always drawn in the middle of each destination zone, aren’t intended to highlight any particular location within each zone, and may not be representative of major car park locations.

There were both increases and decreases around the CBD. I’m going to focus in more detail on the following high-growth destination zones that I’ve arbitrarily named by a dominant building, precinct, or bordering streets:

Most of the zones that saw a big increase in private transport commuter trips also saw a big increase in public transport trips.

Capital Square saw jobs more than triple between 2016 and 2021 as a major new development was completed (including the new Woodside headquarters). It had the largest increase in private transport trips, but even more new trips were by public transport. The development includes five levels of car parking on a fairly large site (at least 659 car parks according to some planning documents). It also saw the largest growth in active transport commuter trips of any destination zone in the Perth CBD.

The zone I have labelled Kings Square (which includes Perth Arena and the new Shell and HBF buildings) saw only slightly more new public transport trips than new private transport trips, despite Perth train station being inside the zone.

The Royal Perth Hospital zone had almost all of its net job growth accounted for by private transport, some of which would have been shift workers. This is consistent with my last post that found a large increase in private transport commuters under the “carers and aids” and “health and welfare support” occupation groups. The hospital is directly adjacent to McIver train station, served by multiple train lines.

One mixed-use block between Terrace Road, Victoria Avenue, Adelaide Terrace, and Hill Street had an increase in private trips and a decrease in public trips. It’s difficult to speculate why this occurred due to the diverse mix of land uses.

The Elizabeth Quay zone saw more growth in private trips than public trips, despite being immediately adjacent to Elizabeth Quay train station. I’ve not been able to identify any large new car parks in the area. Car parks immediately north of the development site were offering $25 all-day car parking at the time of writing which I suspect the average employee might not consider particularly affordable.

The Brookfield Place and Central Park zones mostly saw a big increase in the number of remote workers.

Outside the CBD, the biggest decline in private trips was -1863 in a zone near West Leederville station where the Princess Margaret Hospital for Children closed in 2018 (replaced by the Perth Children’s Hospital in Nedlands).

Where was there a shift from public to private transport?

The following map shows destination zones where there was a decline in public transport trips and an increase in private transport trips (no zones showed the opposite flow):

Just under than half of the destination zones around the Perth CBD saw some sort of net shift to private transport, and most of these were very small numbers. In total these zones account for 492 trips within for my definition of the Perth CBD, about 0.5% of all workers. A net shift from public transport explains less than 10% of the total increase in private transport commuter trips.

This is consistent with analysis in my last post (which disaggregated by birth cohorts and occupations) and again suggests the growth in private trips was broadly in line with the overall growth in CBD employment. It also fits with the hypothesis that the biggest mode shift was from public transport to remote working.

Another way of analysing mode shift is to look the percentage change in private transport mode share by zone:

In the western part of the main CBD area there were many zones with a large mode shift away from private transport, and many of these zones had high employment density.

In fact, the next chart shows how employment density and private transport mode share changed between 2016 and 2021 in the Perth CBD, with the thin end of each ‘comet’ being 2016 and the thick end being 2021 (I’ve arbitrarily named several more destination zones based on major landmarks or surrounding streets).

Note: some destination zones include significant land that is not built up (eg parkland, water bodies, and/or freeway interchanges) and these will have understated employment density. This incudes Convention/Exhibition and Elizabeth Quay.

The dominant pattern is that the zones with high and increasing employment density mostly saw declining private transport mode share, although the “Terrace / Hill / Victoria” block was a standout exception having increasing employment density and increasing private mode share.

How did the CBD absorb so many more car commuters?

It’s hard to know for sure but some possible explanations include:

  • New car parking supply: I’ve already mentioned the Capital Square development that included five levels of parking. Locals might know of other new large CBD car parks, but I’ve struggled to identify any large car parks on Parkopedia or Google Maps that didn’t already exist in 2016. Many new office buildings don’t appear to include large car parks.
  • Perth was in a “mining downturn” in 2016: The Perth CBD only added 1.7k jobs between 2011 and 2016, and there was no significant increase in private commuter trips. According to a Property Council report in August 2016, Perth was experiencing very high office vacancy rates (21.8%) and had been experiencing a decline in office space demand that started around 2013. So it seems quite plausible that car parking supply grew between 2011 and 2016, but commuter parking demand only grew strongly after 2016.
  • Reduced short-term parking demand? Perhaps there has been a decline in demand for short-term parking (through the normalisation of online business meetings) enabling more all-day parking. But I’m just speculating.

Someone reading this from the parking industry might be able to share some insights (please add comments).

What’s been happening to Perth CBD car parking prices?

Like Sydney and Melbourne, Perth has a CBD parking levy – an annual fee collected by government per space. Here’s what’s been happening to the levy prices in real terms:

The parking levy increased substantially in real terms in 2010 and again between 2014-2016, but in recent years has not been keeping up with inflation. Between 2016 and 2021 there was almost no real change in the levy.

So what’s been happening to car park prices?

The City of Perth itself operates a large number of CBD car parks and in 2021/22 parking revenue accounted for 36% of its total income (source: budget 2022-23).

Thanks to the incredible resource that is the Wayback Machine, I’ve been able to dig out prices at their CBD car parks right back to 2001-02. For the sake of manageable analysis I’ve focussed on four relatively large central CBD car parks – Concert Hall (399 spaces), Convention Centre (1428 spaces), Elder Street (1052 spaces) and Pier Street (680 spaces). Here’s how those prices have changed over time, in nominal and real terms:

The 2010 and 2015 jumps in the pricing levy were clearly reflected in retail parking prices.

In real terms, parking prices peaked around 2015-2017 and have been in decline since then. Prices for several car parks were cut substantially in 2017/18 – perhaps as a belated response to a reduction in office commuter demand during the mining downturn. Then parking prices were frozen from 2019 to 2022 – presumably due to the pandemic.

So despite the massive increase in CBD parking demand, the City of Perth reduced – rather than increased – all-day parking prices, and so has probably also missed out on significant additional revenue. This has arguably helped facilitate the big increase in commuter traffic volumes, along with the likely associated urban amenity impacts of more traffic in the CBD.

The City of Perth is a democratic local government so it’s probably not going to behave in an entirely economically rational way when it comes to price setting. Prices are also locked in for each financial year so are much less dynamic. So what have commercial parking operators been doing?

Unfortunately I’ve not been able to use the Internet Archive to find historical commercial car parking prices in the Perth CBD back to 2016. What I can tell you is that “flexi” online parking at the Wilson Parking run Central Park car park has risen from $19 in October 2021 to $26 in May 2023 – suggesting commercial operators are not afraid to change their pricing. That said, the Kings Complex car park (517 Hay Street, near Pier Street) has had no increase in its online daily rate between October 2021 and May 2023 ($18).

So what is Perth’s parking policy?

The current Perth parking policy (2014) states:

“This policy recognises that vehicular access to, from and within central Perth is a critical element in ensuring its continued economic and social viability. It also continues to recognise the need to preserve and enhance the city’s environment. The policy aims to address these needs by supporting the provision of a balanced transport network in order to manage congestion and provide for the efficient operation of the transport network to, from and within the city centre.”

I suspect the term “balanced transport” is indicative of not trying to shift travel towards more sustainable, non-car modes. And I guess it would also be hard for the City of Perth to start discouraging something that generates more than one third of its annual revenue. Although an increase in prices might increase revenue, even if it reduces demand.

Furthermore, the Western Australian government is also continuing to widen Perth’s freeways, in the hope this might reduce traffic congestion. I’m not sure many cities have succeeded with such strategies, but good luck Perth!


Wasn’t Perth public transport patronage below pre-pandemic levels in 2021?

I noted above that there were just 85 additional public transport commuters to Perth’s CBD in 2021 compared to 2016. But Perth’s overall public transport patronage in August 2021 was around 22%* below that in August 2016. If the number of CBD public transport commuters didn’t decline, the overall patronage decline must represent a mode shift away from public transport for trips to other destinations and/or for purposes other than travelling to work (and/or a decline in the number of such trips made by any mode).

*August 2016 had one more school weekday and one fewer Sunday than August 2021 which means we cannot directly compare total monthly patronage of the two months but they will be fairly close. It would be much cleaner to compare average school weekday patronage figures between months and years, but unfortunately few agencies publish such numbers (Victoria does now).

What can the 2021 census tell us about commuting to work in Australia’s big CBDs during the COVID19 pandemic?

Sun 2 April, 2023

Note: Since publishing this post, it has come to my attention that Perth’s Fremantle train line was closed on census day in 2021, which may have impacted mode shares in Perth.

The bustling Central Business Districts (CBDs) of Australia’s biggest cities were the powerhouses of the Australian economy, underpinned by public transport networks that delivered hundreds of thousands of commuters each weekday. But the COVID19 pandemic significantly disrupted CBD commuting. Working remotely from home became not just acceptable, but temporarily mandatory, and public transport patronage crashed during lockdowns.

So what might be the new normal in a post-pandemic work for commuting to our CBDs? Will people shift from public to private transport, driving up traffic congestion? How many – and what sorts of people – might work from home?

This post will try to shed some light on those questions by examining what the 2021 Australian census can tell us about how travel to our CBDs altered during the COVID19 pandemic, particularly the differences between locked-down and COVID-free cities. I’ll look at patterns and trends by age, occupation, and commuting distance. I’ll finish with a look at recent transport indications in Melbourne.

As a transport planner, I’m particularly interested in CBDs as there is a significant contest for market share between public and private transport. Before the pandemic, public transport dominated commuter mode share in the biggest CBDs, and CBDs make up a significant share of all public transport commuter trips.

Reminder: what was happening on Census day 2021

Melbourne and Sydney were in “lockdown” with workers required to work from home if possible. Brisbane was just out of lockdown, and the other cities were pretty much COVID-free, although Adelaide had experienced a short lockdown in July 2021. Here’s a summary of some key metrics (CBD office occupancy data sourced from the Property Council):

*The Property Council reported a figure of 60% for August 2021, but this would have been illegal on 10 August as there was a 50% capacity limit just after lockdown. We don’t know the exact dates when the office occupancy survey was conducted, I can only assume later in that month when restrictions were eased. 47% of CBD employees reported working remotely on census day.

What is a Central Business District?

I think of Central Business Districts as the civic, commercial, and business centre of a city, generally characterised by an area dense employment. Unfortunately the ABS’s SA2 boundaries don’t really align with these areas – especially Perth (pre 2021) and Adelaide where the SA2s covering the CBD also included areas of single-storey semi-detached housing.

So for this analysis I’ve created my own CBD boundaries for Australia’s five largest cities. I’ve selected a set of destination zones that were relatively dense in 2021. I’ve tried for reasonably smooth boundaries, and have tried to avoid under-developed areas that might have cheaper car parking. I’ve then created equivalent sets of 2011 and 2016 destination zones – as similar as possible to the 2021 boundary – with the one exception of the Melbourne CBD from which I have excluded south-western parts of Docklands in 2011 due to low employment densities in that year (much of the land was yet to be developed and instead occupied by surface car parking).

Here are maps of these CBD areas. I’ve transparently shaded the CBD for each census year in a different colour which mostly overlap to show dark green. Purple areas are where boundaries are not identical for all years.

Here are the mode splits for those CBD areas, including those who worked at home:

As you would expect, working at home dominated in locked-down Sydney and Melbourne in 2021, but was also quite common in Brisbane and Adelaide. In COVID-free Perth, working at home only accounted for 15.5% of CBD employees with the other 84.5% attending their workplaces on census day.

Public transport mode shares increased between 2011 and 2016 in all CBDs except Brisbane, but then in 2021 there was a significant shift away from all travelling modes to working at home in all cities.

The working at home share may include people who routinely work from their home in a CBD area. To get some idea about these numbers, I’ve split the worked at home share for 2021 into those who lived inside and outside the CBD:

Only a tiny share of CBD workers worked at home and also lived within the CBD. Some of these will have been working remote from their regular workplace and others will have been routinely working at home (I could try to split these apart with deeper analysis but it doesn’t seem worthwhile with such small numbers).

How did working at home vary by age of CBD workers?

A really interesting finding here is that working at home peaked for those in their early 40s in almost all cities – an age with plenty of parents with child caring responsibilities. Teenagers and those in their early 20s were the least likely to work from home, probably because they were more likely to be in jobs not amenable to working at home (eg retail and hospitality). But perhaps also some younger white collar workers may have preferred to build professional networks by being present in the CBD.

In Adelaide and Perth there was a definite trend that younger commuters were more likely to use public transport, and older commuters more likely to use private transport. This was consistent with all cities in earlier censuses (although this was not the case in Brisbane in 2021).

This got me thinking. The COVID19 pandemic and ~18 month border closure surely had some impact on the age distribution of the CBD workforce.

Indeed, here’s a look at the age composition of CBD workers over time:

Between 2011 and 2016 all cities showed a shift in the age composition towards older employees, perhaps as the cohorts of more highly educated Australians got older, people stay in the workforce until later in life, and/or other changing demographics of our cities.

But in most cities (perhaps not Adelaide) there seemed to be a larger shift towards older workers between 2016 and 2021. I suspect this will reflect fewer recent skilled migrants and international students in 2021.

We know from other analysis (see: Why are younger adults more likely to use public transport? (an exploration of mode shares by age – part 1)) that younger adults generally have higher rates of public transport use, so the shift in demographics might be favouring a mode shift away from public transport – all other things being equal (which of course they are not). There was mostly a shift towards public transport for CBD workers between 2011 and 2016, so other factors must have had an overriding impact.

How did working at home vary by CBD worker occupation?

I’ve sorted the occupations by overall worked at home share, which was similar across the cities. This list roughly sorts from blue collar to white collar and I haven’t seen any surprises in this chart. I’ll come back to occupations shortly.

How did working at home vary by distance from work?

The following chart shows working at home rates by approximate distance from home to work, for central area workers.

Technical note: For this analysis I’ve used journey to work data disaggregated by home SA2, work SA2, and whether or not workers worked at home. I’ve defined central city areas as collections of SA2s (so different boundaries to my CBD areas). Distances between home and work SA2s are calculated on SA2 centroids then aggregated to ranges.

In all cities there was a general trend to higher rates of working at home for people living further from the central city, although Sydney rates of remote working were high at all distances (the strictness of lockdown probably overriding the impact of commuting distance). This pattern in other cities likely reflects the increased incentive to work from home when you have a longer commute to avoid.

Did COVID lead to a mode shift from public to private transport?

Some transport planners have been concerned that COVID19 might lead to a permanent mode shift from public transport to private transport, probably for two reasons:

  1. A reduction in total commuter demand might make private transport slightly more competitive (eg if parking costs reduce), resulting in a different mode split equilibrium. We can only really test this aspect in Perth and Adelaide as they were COVID-free but with a small but significant share of workers working remotely.
  2. People have a fear of becoming infected by COVID19 on public transport and therefore switch to private transport (although COVID can also spread in workplaces of course). It’s a bit harder to test this as Sydney and Melbourne were in lockdown (movement restrictions no doubt had much more impact than infection fear). Perth, Canberra, and Adelaide were COVID-free, although there might have been a some fear of undetected COVID circulating – and indeed that was probably happening in Canberra which went into lockdown a few days after the census. Brisbane was just out of lockdown with some restrictions remaining so infection fear may have been higher than in Perth and Adelaide. However the level of infection fear in these “COVID-free” cities in 2021 would certainly be less than that in 2022 and 2023 where COVID is known to be circulating in the community (although there’s since been plenty of opportunity to get vaccinated).

The hypothesis I want to test for COVID-free cities is that there was a mode shift from public transport to private transport, alongside the overall mode shift to working at home.

Okay, so what can census data tell us?

Unfortunately it’s almost impossible to know the behaviour change of individuals who had the same home and work locations in 2016 and 2021 without another data source. I don’t have access to the census longitudinal dataset and that might not even have a sufficient sample of CBD workers who didn’t change home or work location between the two censuses.

But I can explore this question by looking at the changes in overall volumes and mode shares, and then drilling down into different age and occupation cohorts.

How much mode shift was there between travelling modes?

Let’s first look at the overall change in mode split of people who did commute to CBDs in the last three-four censuses (I have 2006 data for Melbourne and Sydney, but only for those who travelled):

On this split, all cities saw a significant mode shift to private transport travel in 2021. The smallest was 4% in COVID-free Perth, while the largest was 18% in locked-down Sydney.

To explore further, here are the total volumes of commuters to CBDs for each mode, across the last three-four censuses:

In the locked-down cities there was a substantial drop in both public and private transport commuters in 2021, although a larger proportional drop for public transport (in line with mode shifts seen above).

But I’m particularly interested in the then COVID-free cities of Adelaide and Perth, that exhibited COVID-free travel behaviour. Let’s start with a deep dive for Perth.

How did commuting behaviour change for Perth CBD commuters between 2016 and 2021?

The overall CBD workforce increased substantially from 83.0k to 105.7k, and this increase saw 5,164 more private transport trips, and about 85 more public transport trips. But the biggest net increase was for working at home.

If we include remote working, the overall mode share of private transport declined by 1.6% from 36.5% to 34.9%. Any mode shift from public transport to private transport was swamped by the overall shift to working remotely.

But does the overall pattern mask some mode shifts within age or occupation groups?

Did some age groups shift modes more than others? Initially for this analysis I started to look at the change in modal mix by five year age group, but of course the people within these 5 year age bands entirely change between censuses (that are held five years apart), so that wouldn’t be measuring behaviour change of a similar group of people.

Instead I’ve looked at the change in modal mix by approximate birth year cohorts (we only know people’s age in August, so the birth year groups are approximate – for example someone aged 25 at the 2021 census could have been born anytime between 11 August 1995 and 10 August 1996, but I’ve allocated them to the 1996 to 2000 cohort).

Here is the net change in volume of Perth CBD workers by birth year cohort and commuter mode (I’ve included the age of this cohort in 2021 at the bottom of the chart for reference).

As you would expect, people aged in their 20s in 2021 made up a significant share of new CBD employees, and workers aged 60+ in 2021 (55+ in 2016) had a net reduction as many went into retirement.

Public transport had the largest share of net new trips for those aged 20-24 in 2021, although a substantial share also travelled by private transport. There was a more even split of net new trips for those aged 25-29 in 2021.

There was also substantial employee growth for people aged 30+ in 2021 (unlike in 2016), and for those aged 30-54 in 2021 the biggest change was a net increase in working at home.

There were increases in private transport use and decreases in public transport use for those aged 30 to 54 in 2021. This was a net 2270* commuters – about 2.1% of the overall CBD workforce (*summing the absolute values of the smaller of the public or private transport shift). But the overall private transport mode shift was -1.6% so changes in other age groups (particularly young adults) washed out all of this shift of middle-aged workers.

Was this mode shift for middle aged workers something to do with COVID, or was it something that was destined to happen anyway? On this blog I’ve explored the relationship between age and public transport mode share in great detail, and there’s certainly a pattern of decline with age, particularly as people become parents. See: Why are younger adults more likely to use public transport? (an exploration of mode shares by age) – part 1, part 2, and part 3.

What about mode changes for different occupations? Here’s a look at commuter volume changes by mode and occupation for Perth’s CBD:

The Perth CBD put on a lot more professionals and specialist managers between 2016 and 2021, and working at home accounted for most of this net growth. The number of new public and private trips varied considerably by category but private transport growth outnumbered public transport growth for most professions.

In particular, almost all the growth in health professionals, protective service workers, and carers and aides was accounted for by private transport. These are occupations where working remotely from home is often difficult, and the high rates of private transport growth might also reflect significant rates of shift work where off-peak public transport service levels are often less competitive with private transport.

There are not many occupations that saw a net shift from public to private transport – these included office managers, program administrators, and clerical and office support workers. But again these numbers were tiny compared to the size of the Perth CBD workforce – suggesting there was very little net shift from public to private transport.

Overall there was a 1.6% shift away from private transport commuting to the Perth CBD, with most of the other mode shift being from public transport to remote working. The evidence from Perth does not support the hypothesis.

How did commuting behaviour change for Adelaide CBD commuters?

Adelaide saw only a tiny increase in the number of private transport commuters, but a significant decrease in the number of people who travelled on public transport. Overall there was a 5.3% shift away from private transport mode share (when you include remote working).

As per the analysis for Perth, here’s the change in volume of trips by mode and birth year:

For Adelaide most of the net mode shift also appears to be from public transport to working remotely. There was a net increase in private transport commuting for people aged 15 to 34 in 2021, and a small decline in private transport trips for older age groups.

There was only a tiny net shift from public to private transport of 526 people within those aged 30-39 in 2021.

Like Perth, working at home accounted for a smaller share of the employment growth for younger adults.

Here’s a look at occupations for Adelaide:

Again, the biggest mode shift here appears to have been from public transport to working at home, with the notable exception again of carers and aides, and health professionals (although small numbers). In most occupations there was also a mode shift away from private transport. Very few occupations show a net shift from public transport to private transport in Adelaide.

The evidence of Adelaide does not support the hypothesis of mode shift from public to private transport. The biggest change was a mode shift from public transport to remote working (plus some mode shift from private transport to remote working).

How did the mix of CBD car commuters change?

Yet another way of looking at potential mode shifts is whether the people driving to work in the CBD in 2021 were any different to previous censuses. For this analysis I’ve filtered for commuters to CBDs who did not use any public transport, but did travel as a vehicle driver or on motorbike/scooter (you might argue “Truck” should be included as well, but we don’t know whether there people were drivers or passengers and the numbers are tiny so I don’t think it is material).

Firstly here is the occupation split of vehicle drivers to work in the five CBDs over the last three censuses:

In most cities, there was a noticeable change in occupation share between 2016 and 2021 towards technicians and trade, labourers, machinery operators and drivers, and community and personal service workers, and away from professionals and managers. Basically a shift from white collar to blue/fluoro collar jobs, as many white collar workers shifted to working remotely. This shift was largest in the locked down cities of Melbourne and Sydney, but was also visible in Adelaide and Brisbane to a lesser extent.

It is also interesting to look at the change in volumes. Note the Y-axis on the following chart has an independent scale for each occupation group, with the biggest occupation groups at the top:

In locked-down Sydney and Melbourne, there was a massive decrease in white collar workers and an increase in machinery operators and drivers. Melbourne also saw an increase in labourers and community and personal service workers. This might reflect a reduction in car parking prices, although I cannot find evidence that prices were actually lower on census day (the City of Melbourne waived parking fees and restrictions from just after the census).

Diving deeper, there was a big increase in protective service workers in the Melbourne CBD, and about 2166 of them drove to work in 2021 (up from 1660 in 2016). This may reflect the opening of the new Victorian Police Centre in Spencer Street in 2020, complete with 600 car parks. Indeed the destination zone that includes this building (and Southern Cross Station) saw an increase of 769 private transport commuters between 2016 and 2021, the biggest increase of any CBD destination zone.

In COVID-free Perth there was an increase in professionals, clerical and administrative workers, managers, community and personal service workers, and machinery operators and drivers who drove to work, and there was only a decline in sales workers.

So what have I learnt from the latest census data?

I’ve covered a bit of ground, so here’s a summary of key findings and some discussion:

  • Locked-down Sydney and Melbourne saw a significant shift to remote working of CBD employees in 2021. COVID-free CBDs saw much less shift to remote working (Adelaide 24% and Perth 15%).
  • Remote working was most common for middle-aged CBD employees (peaking at 40-44 age bracket), and much lower for younger adults and a little less common for older employees.
  • All CBDs saw a step change in the workforce age composition between 2016 and 2021, shifting to an older workforce, probably related to the halt to immigration during the pandemic.
  • In most cities, remote working in 2021 was slightly more common for CBD employees who lived further from their CBD.
  • In all cities, the main mode shift between 2016 and 2021 seems to be from public transport to remote working.
  • No city saw a net mode shift from public transport to private transport (when you include remote working in the modal mix). The main mode shift in COVID-free cities appears to be from public transport to remote working. However it is entirely possible that some public transport commuters switched to private transport, but this was more than offset by other commuters who shifted from private transport to remote working. Few age or occupation cohorts saw a net shift from public to private transport.
  • The only CBD to see a significant increase in private transport commuter trips was Perth (with +5164). However this was still a net mode shift away from private transport mode share due to massive growth in overall CBD employment between 2016 and 2021. I’m curious about how this happened, and I will explore it further in an upcoming post.
  • Occupations likely to include many shift workers saw the biggest net private transport commuter growth in Adelaide and Perth – including health professionals, protective service workers (including police), carers, and aids.

So what can we expect in a “post-pandemic” world?

At the 2021 census all Australian cities were either in lockdown or were perceived to be COVID-free. No Australian cities were “living with COVID”, and in the cities with COVID circulating, few workers faced a choice between workplace attendance and remote working.

At the time of writing (March 2023), COVID is circulating across Australia and there are very few restrictions to restrict spread. There is an ongoing risk of COVID infection when using public transport and attending an indoor workplace (although you can choose to wear a mask of course).

Is this leading to a mode shift from public to private transport in this “post-pandemic” world? Have we even reached a new steady state? The best data to answer this will come from the 2026 census.

In the meantime I have had a quick look at some transport indicators for Melbourne.

Vehicle traffic through CBD intersections in 2022 (excluding Q1) was consistently below 2019 levels in the AM peak in most parts of the CBD. However it’s only a rough indication as much of this traffic will be for purposes other than private transport commuting to the CBD (eg deliveries, through-traffic, buses, etc) (I’ve excluded signals on Wurundjeri Way which is likely to have much through-traffic).

The next chart shows average daily patronage for metropolitan trains, trams, and buses in Melbourne based on published total monthly patronage data but not taking into account the different day type compositions of months between years (I’d much prefer to use average school weekday patronage data to avoid calendar effects, but that data series only ran as far as June 2022 at the time of writing).

This data suggests CBD private transport commuter volumes in 2022 might be a bit below 2019 levels, while there has been a substantial reduction in public transport commuting. This is consistent with what was seen in Adelaide in the 2021 census – mostly a mode shift from public transport to remote working. Furthermore, if there has been a significant increase in Melbourne CBD employment, private transport mode share (when you include remote working) is more likely to have declined below 2019 levels.

Is infection fear still influencing mode choice?

The largest COVID wave in Victoria (so far at the time of writing) occurred in January 2022 peaking at 1229 people in hospital and there was significant public transport patronage suppression (well beyond the usual summer holiday lull) as many people choose to stay home (or were sick and had to stay home). Infection fear was probably having a big impact, as I recall there were few restrictions regarding workplace attendance.

There was also a fairly large COVID wave in winter 2022 peaking at 906 hospitalisations in July, but the above chart shows no significant associated reduction in public transport patronage. This suggests infection fear was probably having a very small impact on transport behaviour in mid-2022.

Certainly in my experience few people are wearing masks on Melbourne’s public transport at the time of writing, but maybe a cautious minority have still not returned to the network.

Emerging indications are that public transport patronage is returning even more strongly in February and March 2023, which might reflect even lower levels of infection fear (hospitalisation numbers have also reached the lowest numbers since September 2021), and/or it might reflect a surge in population growth and CBD employment/student numbers. Things to keep an eye on over time!

What can the 2021 census tell us about working at home during the COVID19 pandemic?

Wed 1 February, 2023

10 August 2021 was an Australian census like no other. Sydney and Melbourne were under fairly strict “lockdown” restrictions due to the COVID19 pandemic, Brisbane was two days out of a lockdown, while Adelaide, Perth, and Canberra had temporarily eliminated COVID and were living a life of few restrictions.

So how did the way people go to work change? There’s lots to unpack on this question and I’ll do that over a few blog posts.

This post will focus on how many people worked from home in 2021, how many of these people were working remotely, how this compared across locked-down and COVID-free cities, which occupations were more likely to work from home in different cities, and what this might mean for future public transport patronage. I’ll also have a quick look at what proportion of employees were not working on census day.

What was happening on Census day 2021?

Melbourne and Sydney were in “lockdown” with workers required to work from home if possible, Brisbane was just out of lockdown, while the other cities were pretty much COVID-free, although Adelaide had experienced a short lockdown in July 2021. Here’s a summary of some key metrics (CBD office occupancy sourced from the Property Council):

*The Property Council reported a figure of 60% for August 2021, but this would have been illegal on 10 August as there was a 50% capacity limit. We don’t know the exact dates when the survey was conducted, I can only assume later in that month when restrictions were eased. 47% of Brisbane CBD employees reported working at home on census day.

How have mode shares changed between censuses?

Given working at home now represents a much more significant share of all workers, I’ve calculated public transport mode shares both including and excluding people who travelled to a workplace:

It will be no surprise that public transport mode shares dropped dramatically in most cities. The biggest mode share drops were in the locked down cities of Melbourne and Sydney, but there were large falls also in Brisbane and Adelaide (which was also impacted by closure of the Gawler train line during 2021). Relatively COVID-free Canberra and Perth saw more modest reductions in line with the trend from 2011 to 2016, and for Canberra there was little change in the public transport mode share of people who did travel to work.

Here’s a look at the total mode split (including people who worked at home as a “mode”):

The largest rates of working at home in 2021 were unsurprisingly in the most COVID-impacted cities at the time.

The biggest mode shift in 2021 was from public transport to working-at-home, but there were also mode shifts away from active transport and private transport, even in the COVID-free cities.

How many people were working remotely?

All of Australia had experienced COVID lockdowns in March 2020, and for that period a significant portion of the workforce suddenly transitioned to working at home. What was a fringe activity in 2016 suddenly became the new normal for many employees and employers. This was most acutely noticed in the central business districts of our cities where office workers went almost entirely remote.

As discussed in my previous post on this topic, historically most people who worked at home on census day reported their work SA2 as the same as their home SA2, and I am assuming the vast majority of these people have their home as their regular workplace.

To better understand working at home, I’ve extracted worked at home counts from the 2011, 2016 and 2021 censuses, and then split the “worked at home” workers by whether or not their workplace SA2 was the same as their home SA2.

This allows an estimation of the number and share of people who worked remotely and those who regularly worked at home. I say estimation because the ABS aims to protect privacy by “randomly” adjusting small numbers in downloadable data and never reports values of 1 or 2. When I add up the number of people remote working within Greater Melbourne in 2021, 22% of that total comes from counts of 3 people between specific home SA2 – work SA2 pairs (Sydney was 21%, Brisbane 24%, Perth 29%). The true count for many of these pairs will not be exactly 3 people, so summing lots of small volumes that are “randomly adjusted” may result in a biased accumulation of small number errors. For 2011 and 2016 the summation of remote workers includes an even larger share of 3s so I’m not going to give the summation value here, but I’m confident the true summation is still tiny (much less than 1%).

These imperfect estimates of “home in work SA2” share and “remote working” shares don’t perfectly add up to the known total working at home share for the city (eg Sydney the sum was 2% over the actual for 2021 but other cities were pretty close). For want of a better method, I’ve scaled these estimated volumes such that their sum equals the known total worked at home volume, and I’m not going to quote any decimal places.

Here are my estimated shares of workers who classify as “remote working” and “home in workplace SA2” by census year:

The pre-COVID regularly working at home rates were mostly around 4-5%, but this was estimated to have increased significantly in Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane in 2021. I suspect this is a mix of people who gave up their regular workplace and permanently shifted to working at home and some people who filled in the census inaccurately and indicated that their workplace at the time was their home, even though that might have been a temporary arrangement during COVID restrictions.

The COVID-free cities experienced remote working rates of only 4-6%, whereas the heavily restricted cities of Sydney and Melbourne had remote working rates of 36% and 26% respectively.

Where was remote working most common?

What follows are maps showing estimated rates of remote working for workplace SA2s across the five big cities. There’s definitely an issue of aggregating many small numbers that are ‘randomly adjusted’, so I’m not going to report exact numbers, but rather classify SA2s into bands.

Here are the remote working hotspots for Sydney:

The highest rates of remote working were seen for workplaces in the dense employment areas of central Sydney, North Sydney, Macquarie Park / Ryde, Parramatta, Rhodes, and Kensington (which is dominated by a university campus). All white collar hotspots.

Here’s Melbourne:

Melbourne had a lot fewer remote working hotspots, in line with it having a lot fewer suburban employment clusters (see: Suburban employment clusters and the journey to work in Australian cities). Apart from the central city and inner suburbs, remote working hotpots included SA2s with large university campuses such as Kingsbury, Burwood, and Hawthorn.

Remote working was less prevalent in Brisbane so I’ve used a different colour scale:

And for the COVID-free cities I’ve used an even smaller colour scale and focussed on SA2s that had rates above 5%.


I’m not sure why there was a relatively high rate of remote working in Lockleys in the inner-west. Does anyone have any thoughts on this?



Remote working was unsurprisingly more common in CBDs, some inner-city SA2s that contain concentrations of white collar employment, and some suburban SA2s that contain universities.

Central business districts are obvious areas to see high levels of remote working. My next post in this series will focus in more detail on changing commuter patterns for CBD workers in Australia’s five biggest cities.

Which occupation types transitioned to working at home?

The following chart shows the rates of working at home by occupation for locked down Sydney and Melbourne in 2021:

As you read down the occupations listed there are no great surprises, with white collar jobs showing much higher rates of working at home. I’ve classified the occupations into four different bands of working at home rates based on conditions in locked-down Sydney and Melbourne. I’ll re-use these groupings for other cities shortly.

Many of these occupations had high public transport mode shares in 2016 (at least for Greater Melbourne), which is consistent with the dramatic drops in public transport volumes and mode share:

Many of the occupations with high public transport mode share in 2016 had high rates of working at home in 2021 (top right quadrant of the chart).

How do locked down cities compare to COVID-free Perth in 2021? The following chart includes Sydney and Perth for comparison purposes:

The occupations with relatively higher rates of working at home in Perth 2021 were fairly similar to those in Sydney, just at a much smaller scale (about four times). Occupations with much lower working at home rates in Perth than Sydney include education workers (schools and universities were not running remotely in Perth). Arts and media professionals topped working from home in Perth – but this occupation group also had relatively high rates of working at home in 2016. Other occupations with high levels of working from home in Perth were famers and farm managers (for obvious reasons) and ICT professionals (likely very adaptable to working remotely).

The following chart again compares 2021 working from home mode shares with 2016 public transport mode shares, but this time for Perth:

The same white-collar jobs appear in the top-right of the chart, suggesting a significant mode shift from public transport to working at home.

Here’s a look at public transport and worked-at-home mode shifts by occupation across the six big cities:

You can clearly see the relationship between public transport and home-working mode shifts, particularly for Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane. The relationships is very roughly that the working at home mode shift was around double the public transport mode shift. However the relationship is a little less clear in Adelaide, Perth, and Canberra.

I think this tells us that occupations that had high rates of public transport use in pre-pandemic times are mostly the same occupations that are highly amenable to working remotely. And of course these occupations have concentrations of workers in CBDs (hence the high use of public transport). To the extent that employers facilitate ongoing working from home, there will likely be a reduction in public transport commuter volumes. From a congestion and emissions point of view, that’s undoubtedly a good thing. There are of course also arguments about the agglomeration benefits of workers being physically in the same place.

Are occupations more amenable to working from home on the rise?

Thinking to the future, are these occupations with higher rates of working at home in 2021 on the rise or decline? The following chart attempts to answer this question:

Unfortunately I’m not sure the chart provides a clear answer. Many people were simply unable to work due to lockdowns on census day in Sydney and Melbourne. They aren’t on the chart. This appears to skews the overall share of jobs by category in those cities to the “High” end.

In the COVID-free cities, there doesn’t appear to be a clear trend over time. In 2016 the “High” occupations reduce share in all cities but then bounced back up in 2021.

However one important insight from this chart is that Canberra has the largest share of “High” occupations – followed by the bigger cities of Sydney and Melbourne. These cities are likely to have more specialist white collar professionals, and therefore they may have higher overall rates of ongoing remote working in the post-pandemic world. Public transport patronage will likely take longer to return to pre-pandemic levels these cities.

One final thing…

How many people were not working on census day in 2021?

Not every employed person works on census day, perhaps because they work part-time, casual, shift-work, or were unable to work that day. And of course in August 2021 a lot more people than usual were unable to work in Sydney and Melbourne. Here’s a look at the share of employed people who did not work on census day, by occupation category and census year:

After a downwards trend between 2006 and 2016, most occupation categories in most cities had a big uptick in not working on census day in 2021, most notably in Sydney where there were very strict lockdown rules. Curiously these upticks were present even in COVID-free cities like Adelaide, Perth, and Canberra, possibly reflecting an overall economic downturn, a lack of interstate and international travel, supply chain breakdowns, and/or maybe some other factors.

I hope you’ve found this post interesting. I’ll be unpacking more census data in some upcoming posts, including a more detailed look at CBD workers and a look at changes in demographics – particularly from the impact of suspending immigration during the pandemic. Stay tuned.

Who worked at home before the pandemic?

Sun 18 September, 2022

Can we learn anything from pre-pandemic working-at-home patterns that will help us predict transport demand “after” the pandemic?

This post investigates work-at-home patterns from the ABS census 2016 for the six largest Australian cities, with some deeper dives for Melbourne and Sydney. I’ll answer questions such as: What occupations and industries were more likely to work-at-home? How did work-at-home rates vary by home and work locations? How many people had their home double as their workplace? Who was ‘remote working’ at home away from their regular workplace?

I’ve found the results quite interesting – and not quite what you might expect from the our current pandemic perspective.

What proportion of workers worked at home in 2016?

The following table shows between 3.3% and 5.2% of major city workers reported that they “worked at home” on census day in 2016 in Australia’s six largest cities:

This highest rate was in Brisbane, and the lowest in Canberra.

What occupations were more likely to work at home in 2016?

Here’s a chart showing 2016 journey to work mode shares across Australia’s six largest cities by main occupation category. Normally I exclude people working at home from mode share charts, but for this analysis I’m including “worked at home” as a “mode”:

Technical note: As usual on my blog, public includes all journeys involving a bus, tram, train and/or ferry trip, Active includes walk-only and cycle-only journeys, with all other journeys counted as Private.

You’ll notice the occupations with the highest rates of working at home were also the occupations with the highest public transport mode shares – professionals, clerical and administrative workers, and managers.

Here’s another view of that data, this time providing the occupation breakdown of commuters for each “mode”:

Again you can clearly see the same three occupation categories that dominated both working at home and public transport commuting.

No surprises there, right? These occupations generally spend a lot of time in offices either at computers or meeting with others – which can more easily be done online so are more likely to be amenable to working from home. The other occupation categories are more likely to necessitate working at a specific workplace.

But there are lots of different types of managers and professionals and they work in many different industries, so let’s dig a little deeper.

How did working at home vary by employment industry?

Here’s a look at the worked-at-home rates in 2016 by industry and occupation (highest level categories). I’ve sorted the occupations and industries such that the highest rates of worked-at-home are towards to the left and top of the table respectively.

The highest rates of working at home were found in Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing, Arts and Recreational Services, and Construction. Not exactly the sorts of jobs you would expect to fill multiple CBD office towers.

It’s also worth looking at the second level of occupation classifications:

Now we start to see working at home rates are very high for farm managers and arts and media professionals. For many of these people their workplace is quite likely to also be their home.

Many occupations that you might expect to be generally office-based had a working at home rate of around 9% – including HR, marketing, ICT, design, engineering, science and transport professionals.

How did working at home vary by home location?

Here’s a map showing working at home rates for SA2s across Greater Melbourne:

Working at home rates were highest in peri-urban areas, higher than the average in more advantaged suburbs of Melbourne, and the lowest rates of working at home were for employees from more disadvantaged areas.

Here’s the same for Sydney:

The highest rates were also seen in peri-urban areas of Greater Sydney, and the generally wealthy upper north shore.

How did working at home vary by workplace location?

Here’s a chart showing the worked at home share for the Melbourne and Geelong region, by workplace location.

The highest worked at home rate was 47.5% seen on French Island – a sparsely populated island south-east of Melbourne which contains many small farms and some tourist facilities. Other worked-at-home hotspots include the Point Cook East SA2 (which includes an air force base) and Panton Hill – St Andrews (which I understand contains many small farms). In fact, worked-at-home rates were again generally much higher in peri-urban areas and very low in suburban areas.

Some of the lowest rates of working at home were seen for employees in industrial areas and at Melbourne Airport. Many of these jobs are probably hard to do remotely.

2.0% of Melbourne CBD workers worked at home on census day in 2016. And the SA2s surrounding the CBD were all below 3%.

Here’s the same map for Sydney:

Again the highest rates of employees working at home were seen in peri-urban areas, and the Sydney CBD saw 1.9% of employees working at home.

These maps tell us that working at home in 2016 was most common in peri-urban areas, and relatively rare in dense employment areas such as CBDs. The COVID19 pandemic triggered significant levels of working at home during lockdown periods which emptied central city office towers and has remained quite common ever since. So it is likely that the profile of people working at home has changed significantly since 2016 to include a lot more white collar workers.

The fact that working at home rates were high in peri-urban areas when measured as both home location and work location suggests that for many people their home is their workplace. So…

How common was remote working in 2016?

You might have noticed that I’ve been referring to “worked at home” rather than the currently popular term “working from home”. That’s not just because its the wording used by the ABS in reporting the census, but because “working from home” is a little ambiguous as to whether people are working at home and away from their regular workplace, or whether their home is also their regular workplace. Perhaps a better term to describe people working at home and away of their regular workplace is “remote working”.

I have extracted worked-at-home workers’ home and work SA2 locations for people who lived and worked in Greater Melbourne and found that 89% of workers who worked at home, had their usual place of work in the same SA2 as where they lived (SA2s are roughly the size of a suburb).

So while 4.5% of workers who both lived and worked in Greater Melbourne worked at home in 2016, only 0.48% worked at home on census day when their regular workplace was in a different SA2. Remote working was an order of magnitude smaller than working at home.

Now it is also possible that some workers who lived and regularly worked in the same SA2 were actually working at home remote from their workplace on census day. However I expect this to be rare, and some further analysis (detailed in the appendix to the post) found that the almost every worker who worked and lived in the same SA2 had their home SA1 area intersect or overlap with their workplace Destination Zone (both the smallest census land areas available). This doesn’t guarantee that their home was their regular workplace, but it makes it quite probable. These workers would mostly not have had a very long commute, so there would be little incentive to remote work to avoid commuting effort. Also, I’ve found people who travelled to work in the same SA2 as they lived were slightly more likely to work in accommodation and food services, construction and retail trade – industries that are likely to require worksite attendance.

So I think I can fairly safely estimate the 2016 remote working rate in Greater Melbourne to have been 0.5%.

I’ve repeated this calculation for Australia’s six largest cities:

I’ve ordered the cities by working population, and you can see remote working rates decline across the chart for smaller cities. This might reflect there being a larger incentive to avoid longer and/or expensive commutes in larger cities by remote working.

Curiously Brisbane had the highest rate of workers whose home doubled as their workplace (4.9%), while the Australian Capital Territory (i.e. Canberra) had the lowest rates of both working at home and remote working.

I think these quite small estimated rates of remote working are an important finding, as several recent reports from the Productivity Commission, SGS Economics and Planning, Monash University, and iMove may have conflated working from home with working remotely at home, at least in their discussion of the topic. It’s critical that these metrics are not mixed up. And thankfully I’m not aware of any obvious miscalculations in their work.

How did rates of remote working vary across workplace locations in 2016?

The following maps exclude people who lived and worked in the same SA2, to get an estimate of remote working by workplace SA2:

The estimated remote working rate peaked for the Docklands SA2 at 1.8%, with Melbourne’s CBD at 1.7%, Southbank at 1.5%, and Albert Park at 1.4%. These are higher than the worked-at-home rates calculated above for all employees who regularly worked in the city centre, because they remove people who regularly work at their home in the central city.

There were also some seemingly random suburban locations with similar rates of remote working such as Forest Hill and Fawkner at 1.6%.

Here’s the equivalent map for Sydney:

There was a curious hot spot of West Pennant Hills at 5.5%, while the Sydney CBD area was 1.8%, North Sydney – Lavender Bay 2.3%, Macquarie Park – Marsfield 2.0%, and North Ryde – East Ryde 1.8%.

How did rates of remote working vary by home SA2?

Here’s a map estimating remote working rates by home location for Melbourne in 2016:

Generally higher rates were seen in peri-urban areas with Flinders at 2.0%, Mount Eliza at 1.4%, Gisborne at 1.2%, and Panton Hill – St Andrews at 1.6%. This may reflect “sea-changers” and “tree-changers” avoiding a long commute to work. The lowest rates were seen in the more disadvantaged areas of Melbourne, which probably reflects such employees being more likely to work in occupations that require attendance at their workplace.

And for Greater Sydney:

Higher rates of remote working were seen across the upper north shore, with Avalon – Palm Beach at 2.4%, and in many peri-urban areas. But the highest rate was seen at Blackheath – Megalong Valley (in the Blue Mountains) with 3.5%.

In what occupations and industries was remote working more common in 2016?

It’s stretching what you can do with ABS TableBuilder, but I’ve extracted counts of workers by home SA2, work SA2, industry main code, and whether the worker travelled to work or worked at home, for Greater Melbourne for 2016. I’ve then filtered for workers whose regular workplace is not in their home SA2. It’s a little problematic in that about one quarter of the non-zero records in this data were a value of 3, and ABS never reports counts of 1 or 2 as it uses randomisation to protect privacy for very small counts. So the totals are accumulating the impacts of lots of small random adjustments, but it’s not clear that this would introduce a bias to the overall estimate, but we should still treat these with caution and I’m not going to quote more than one decimal place. That said, the estimates do seem very plausible:

The industries with the highest estimated rates of remote working are mostly white collar jobs, whilst those industries with the lowest rates are more blue collar.

I did the same analysis for occupations, and again there are few surprises in the estimated rates of remote work across the categories:

What will the 2021 census tell us?

The 2021 census was conducted during a period of tight lockdowns in Victoria and New South Wales. Most other states had relatively few restrictions, but had experienced lockdowns in 2020, so were arguably in a “post pandemic” scenario – at least temporarily. So it will be very interesting to compare 2016 rates of remote working to those in different cities in 2021. For cities that were not in lockdown we will likely get a good sense of which occupations had high rates of (unforced) remote working, which will be very useful for modelling future rates of remote working and the ongoing impact on transport demand.

I expect the patterns across industries and occupations will be similar between 2016 and 2021, but with much higher rates of remote working in 2021.

The data will be released in October 2022 and I’ll be keen to calculate remote working estimates and share those on the blog.

There have also been several surveys that provide breakdowns of remote working by occupation and/or industry during the pandemic (Productivity Commission, iMove, University of Sydney ITLS).

Appendix: Did anyone live and work in the same SA2 but not have their workplace at their home?

To try to answer this I extracted data for “worked at home” cases in Greater Melbourne at the maximum available resolution – SA1 for home location and Destination Zone for workplaces, and determined whether their home SA1 intersected with their workplace Destination Zone. An intersection between these areas doesn’t guarantee the workplace is at their home, but the absence of an intersection does guarantee that the workplace is not at their home.

Here’s a map extracted from that shows 2016 destination zone boundaries in blue, and SA1 boundaries in red for part of the northern suburbs of Melbourne:

I dare suggest that if someone lived in an SA1 that intersected with their regular workplace Destination Zone, it’s pretty likely that they ordinarily worked at home.

This analysis is stretching the data, because when you extract small counts from ABS they apply random small adjustments to protect privacy and also you never see a count of 1 or 2 people. Problematic as it is, the sum of people living and working in the same SA2, but living in an SA1 that does not intersect the destination zone in which they work was just 95 for all of Greater Melbourne, out of around 70,000 people who lived and worked in the same SA2. This is a lower bound on the true number, but I expect the true number to still be very small. Hence I’m comfortable with an estimate of 0.5% remote working in Melbourne in 2016 (to one decimal place).

Another potential issue is that SA2s are not consistently sized across cities, and are generally smaller in Brisbane and Canberra. This means remote working from a nearby workplace would be more likely to be detected those cities. However I suspect these instances will still be tiny, and the estimated remote working rates in Brisbane and Canberra certainly don’t appear to be outliers.