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.


Update on Australian transport trends (December 2018)

Fri 28 December, 2018

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

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

Vehicle kilometres travelled

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

Here’s the growth by vehicle type since 1971:

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

Car kilometre growth has slowed significantly since 2004.

In fact, on a per capita basis car use peaked in 2004 and then declined until 2014, with a little growth since. Here’s the Australian trend (in grey) as well as city level estimates to 2015 (from BITRE Information Sheet 74):

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

Darwin has the lowest average which might reflect the small size of the city. The blip in 1975 is related to a significant population exodus after Cyclone Tracey caused significant destruction in late 2014 (the vehicle km estimate might be on the high side).

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

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

Passenger kilometres travelled

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sydney has maintained the highest mass transit mode share, while Melbourne made significant gains between 2005 and 2009, and Brisbane also grew strongly 2007 to 2013.

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

Mass transit use has grown much faster than car use in Australia’s three largest cities. In Sydney and Melbourne it has exceeded population growth also.

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

In Canberra, both car and mass transit use has grown much slower than population, and it is the only city where car growth exceeded public transport growth between 2004 and 2017.

Car ownership

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

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

Car ownership has continued to rise slowly in all states – except Victoria, which is consistent with a finding of declining motor vehicle ownership in Melbourne from census data (see also an older post on car ownership).

Driver’s licence ownership

Thanks to BITRE Information Sheet 84, here is motor vehicle licence ownership per 100 persons (of any age) going back to 1971:

Technical note: the ownership rate is calculated as the sum of car, motorbike and truck licenses – including learner and probationary licences, divided by population. Some people have more than one driver’s licence so it’s likely to be an over-estimate of the proportion of the population with a licence.

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

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

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

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

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

New South Wales and Victoria are seeing downward trends in the 25-29 age bracket:

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

A similar trend is clear for people aged 80-89 (Victoria was an anomaly before 2015):

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

Transport greenhouse gas emissions

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

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

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

And the growth in each sector since 1990:

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

Here are per capita transport emissions for each state:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cost of transport

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

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

The cost of private motoring has tracked relatively close to CPI, although has been trending down since around 2008. The real cost of motor vehicles has plummeted since 1996. Urban transport fares have been increasing faster than CPI since the late 1970s.

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

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

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

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

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

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


What might explain journey to work mode shifts in Australia’s largest cities?

Mon 28 May, 2018

[Updated 29 June 2018 with further analysis of parking levies and their impact]

Between 2011 and 2016, journey to work public transport mode shares went up significantly in Melbourne and Sydney but dropped significantly in Perth and Brisbane. Private transport mode shifts did the opposite. Can this be explained by the changing distribution of jobs within cities, or other factors such as changes in transport costs?

In a recent post focused on Brisbane I found that stronger growth in suburban jobs relative to central city jobs could explain around half of the city’s mode shift towards private transport, with other factors (mostly the changes in relative attractiveness of modes) explaining the rest.

So how is job distribution changing in other Australian cities? How much of the mode shifts can be attributed to changing job distribution and how much could be attributed to other factors like changes in transport costs, or increasing employment density?

(for details about how I define public, private and active transport, see the appendix in this post)

How is job distribution changing in Australian cities?

Here’s a view of the changing distribution of all jobs within each city by workplaces distance from the city centre.

(Unfortunately I only have 2006 data for Sydney and Melbourne)

The changes are relatively subtle, but if look at how the bands shift between years, you’ll see increasing centralisation in Sydney but a decentralisation in all other cities between 2011 and 2016.

The strongest decentralisation was in Brisbane and Perth, which also showed the biggest increases in private transport mode share.

However Melbourne saw both a slight decentralisation of jobs and a mode shift away from private transport between 2011 and 2016.

So we need to dig deeper to find out what’s going on here.

How does private mode share vary by distance from the city centre?

The following chart shows private transport mode shares by distance from the city centre for the last two or three censuses for each city. The darkest line for each city is for 2016, with lighter lines being previous years (I only have 2006 data for Melbourne and Sydney).

There’s a clear pattern in all cities that private mode shares are lower in areas closer to the city centre, with Sydney the lowest, followed by Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide, and Canberra (which is also the order of their population size).

Notably Sydney private mode share averaged lower than 90% out as far as 24km from the city centre, whereas Adelaide sees 90% mode shares as close as 2km from the city centre.

If you look carefully you can see that Brisbane increased private transport mode shares in the central city between 2011 and 2016, while private mode shares dropped or were stable in all other cities at most distances.

You can also see that the central city mode shifts away from private transport were largest in Melbourne, something I’ll come back to.

Here’s the same again but for public transport:

Sydney and Melbourne saw mode shifts to public transport at most distances from the city centre, unlike all other cities.

What mode shift can we attribute to changing job distributions?

A city’s mode share (measured by place of work) will be fundamentally impacted by two types of changes between censuses:

  • Changes in the volume of jobs in each SA2 – because different SA2s generally have different mode shares due to factors like proximity to the city centre and public transport access. If there is stronger jobs growth in areas that already had lower private mode shares, you would get a mode shift away from private transport, all other things being equal.
  • Changes in the mode share in each SA2 – because different modes became more or less attractive for commuters between census years. This might be due to changes in public transport service quality, transport infrastructure provision, and relative changes in the cost of public transport, private motoring, and commuter parking. It could also be influenced by broader demographic changes.

For each city I have calculated what the city-level private transport mode share would have been in 2016, had mode shares in each workplace SA2 remained exactly the same as 2011, but the job volumes in each SA2s had still changed. The city level mode shift due to SA2 volume changes is then the difference between this hypothetical 2016 mode share and the 2011 mode share. The remainder of the city-level mode shift between 2011 and 2016 results can then be attributed to mode shifts at the SA2 level.

Here’s a chart showing the mode shift impact of both volume changes at the SA2 level, and mode shifts at the SA2 level:

As we noted above, Sydney saw a slight trend to centralisation of jobs between 2011 and 2016, and it had the largest volume change attributed reduction in private mode share (-0.4%). However other factors were responsible for a further 2.5% of the mode shift away from private transport.

The story is similar in Melbourne but to a smaller magnitude in both aspects. Both of these cities also saw increasing inner city job density – which matters – and I’ll back come to that in a moment.

In Brisbane you can see that the total mode shift towards private transport was roughly equally attributable to SA2 volume changes and SA2 mode shifts (as I discussed in my earlier post).

Perth had an overall 1.3% mode shift to private transport, and the majority of this was due to significant jobs growth in the suburbs compared to the CBD (in fact, the SA2 with the largest jobs growth was Murdoch in the southern suburbs). But there were also other factors that led to a mode shift to private transport.

In Canberra – Queanbeyan, volume changes by themselves would have seen a mode shift to private transport, but other factors were larger and led to an overall mode shift away from private transport (although it is actually complicated because the 2011 census day was in a federal parliamentary sitting week, while 2016 was not).

Nothing much changed in Adelaide.

Next I’m going to explore what could be behind the mode shifts at SA2 level, in terms of job density and real transport costs.

Can increases in workplace density impact mode shares?

As discussed in my Brisbane analysis, if the relative attractiveness of modes hadn’t changed, you might still expect a mode shift to public transport in high density employment areas with increasing jobs numbers because you would expect the cost of parking provision to increase with increasing land use density (i.e. more competition for space).

Indeed, in Sydney and Melbourne a number of inner city SA2s became significantly more job dense between 2011 and 2016, and also saw mode shifts away from private transport:

(inspect this data in Tableau)

A similar thing happened in Civic (the main centre of Canberra).

But Adelaide and Perth saw both declining job density and declining private transport mode share, which suggests something else is at play.

Job density didn’t really go down in Brisbane – see my Brisbane post for an explanation (basically, ABS redrew the SA2 boundary along the Brisbane River).

Could changes in the real cost of transport be causing mode shifts?

The following chart shows the real change in urban transport fares in Australian cities since 2000, as measured by the ABS as part of the Consumer Price Index series (which unfortunately includes public transport, taxis, and “ride share” but is for a representative sample of journeys so hopefully mostly dominated by public transport fares):

The lines are somewhat saw-toothed because public transport fares generally only rise once a year, and become better value in real terms over the course of the following 12 months.

Many cities have seen above-CPI public transport fare increases at various times, most notably Brisbane in 2010-2014. Melbourne has had above CPI fare increases, but also reduced zone 1+2 fares in 2015 which lead to a reduction on the ABS measure (the fare reduction only really applied to people travelling across zones 1 and 2 – which roughly summarised means travel between the outer and inner suburbs). Brisbane fares peaked in 2014, which was followed by a freeze and then a large reduction in 2017.

By contrast, here is the (negative) growth in the cost of “private motoring” (which includes vehicles, fuel and maintenance):

Private motoring costs have declined in real terms since 2000, although they increased a little during the second half of 2017.

The next chart shows the change in ratio between the two costs. Urban transport fares have become less competitive than private motoring over time in all cities:

But if we are looking at changes between census figures, we should probably also look at cost changes between the times of each census. Here’s how prices changed in real terms between the September quarters of 2011 and 2016 (which cover the August census dates):

The real cost of private motoring dropped in all cities, but so did the real “average” cost of urban transport fares in Sydney and Melbourne (the Melbourne drop being mostly around large fare reductions for travel across zones 1 and 2).

The biggest differences in cost changes were in Brisbane and Perth (around 18%), which I think will go a fair way to explaining why these cities had the biggest shifts to private transport attributable to SA2 mode shifts.

Brisbane saw a rapid increase in public transport fares between 2011 and 2014 which is likely to have changed many commuting habits, but those habits may or may not have changed back when fares were subsequently reduced (e.g. if someone bought a car due to fare increases, they may not have subsequently sold their car when fares reduced). Perth certainly had less mode shift at the SA2 level compared to Brisbane, which might support this hypothesis.

What about changes in car parking costs?

The ABS CPI’s private motoring cost index does not include car parking costs – which would be difficult as they vary considerably with geography.

However we do know about central city car parking levies that governments charge in a bid to reduce road congestion and fund inner city transport initiatives. Sydney, Melbourne, and Perth apply levies to central city non-residential car parking spaces, and ultimately these levies will need to be recovered through parking prices.

I’ve calculated these levies in 2017 dollars (adjusting for inflation as measured in June quarters), and here’s how they have changed since 2000:

Melbourne increased its central city parking levy by 40% per space in 2014 (category 1), and created a new lower-priced levy area in some neighbouring areas to the north and south in 2015 (category 2, see map). This is likely to have contributed to the larger mode shifts away from private transport in the central city area of Melbourne compared to most other cities (particularly considering there were similar changes in average private motoring and urban transport fares in Melbourne between 2011 and 2016).

Sydney’s category 1 fee applies in the Sydney CBD area, Milsons Points and North Sydney. It was $2390 in 2017, and has only risen with indexation since 2009 (when it was doubled). A lower category 2 levy applies in the business districts centres of Bondi Junction, Chatswood, Parramatta, and St Leonards.

Perth has an annual licence fee per bay which ranged from $1039 to $1169 in 2017.  The Perth fee was increased by around 167% in 2010, and there were also above-inflation increases from 2014. The fee increased 63% in real terms between 2011 and 2016 for “long stay” spaces, and 69% for “tenant” spaces.

I am not aware of any such fees or levies in place in Brisbane or Adelaide (a proposal for Adelaide was voted down).

So how are CBD parking prices changing?

Unfortunately good data is a little hard to find, but this Colliers Car Parking White Paper provides “average daily rates” for CBDs for 2009-2015, and early bird rates for 2015. I expect most commuters would pay early bird rates – which average between 28% and 62% of daily rates depending on the city (quite some variation!). I’ve adjusted the pre-2015 figures for inflation to be in 2015 dollars:

In real terms, “average daily” parking costs have declined in Melbourne, rocketed up in Brisbane and Canberra, and moved less in Sydney and Perth. I don’t know whether these reflect trends in early bird prices. And we don’t know how prices changed between 2015 and the census year of 2016.

So how much are parking levies contributing to parking prices?

I have to make some assumptions (guesstimates) here. Regular weekdays represent about 60% of the days of the year. If we assume say 80% of the levy is recovered from weekday commuter parking (there generally being less demand for parking on weekends), we can calculate the average weekday commuter cost of the levy to be 27% of the Sydney early bird price, 25% of the Melbourne early bird price, and 15% of the Perth early bird price. Certainly not insignificant.

Here’s a summary of the levy and “average daily” price changes and mode shifts in the central city parking levy areas:

Changes 2011 to 2016
Parking levy area or CBD SA2 Levy real increase Average daily real price change (2011 to 2015) Private mode shift New private trips Private share of new trips
Perth 63% -5% -0.8% -60 -3%
Melbourne – category 1 40% -11% -5.3% 3200 5%
Melbourne – category 2 (new) n/a -6.4% 5315 30%
Sydney CBD 0% +1% -2.6% 6204 9%
Brisbane City SA2 n/a +64% +1.7% 3135 68%
Adelaide SA2 n/a -11% -1.5% 2567 35%
Canberra Civic SA2 n/a +71% -3.2% 746 30%

Firstly, “average daily” parking prices don’t seem to be following the changes in parking levies in Perth and Melbourne (category 1 area). Other factors influencing parking prices will include supply (influenced by competition for real estate and planning rules) and demand (influenced by employment density) with the market ultimately determining prices.

Car park operators appear to be absorbing the increased cost of the levy (although we don’t know the trends in early bird prices so we cannot be entirely sure). But that’s not to say that the levy hasn’t had any impact on prices – for example, the price reductions might have been larger if the levies had not increased.

Secondly, price changes do not appear to be correlated with mode shifts as you might expect (except Canberra). Brisbane prices increased dramatically, but so did private mode share! Price reductions in Perth, Adelaide, and Melbourne did not result in increased private transport shares.

Maybe other factors are driving mode shift away from private transport in those cities. Maybe early bird prices are trending differently to “average daily” prices. Maybe increased traffic congestion persuaded people to shift modes. Maybe there were significant price changes between 2015 and 2016. Maybe most existing public transport users were not aware of reductions in parking prices.

I don’t know what happened to parking prices in the new category 2 areas of Melbourne but there was a large mode shift away from private transport (-6.4%), and they may well be linked. Indeed, Infrastructure Victoria has recently recommended the category 2 area be expanded to include the inner-eastern suburbs of Richmond, South Yarra, Windsor and Prahran. And the Grattan Institute has recommended increasing the levy to match Sydney’s rates.

Curiously, when I look at City of Melbourne Census of Land Use and Employment (CLUE) data, the category 1 area (approximated with CLUE areas) had an increase of only around 367 non-residential parking bays between 2011-12 and 2015-16 (a four year period), a lot less than the additional 3200 private trips, which might suggest increased average occupancy.

Also, it is likely that a significant portion of people who drive to city centres are not paying for their parking costs (eg employer provided car parking). Employers may simply be absorbing price increases.

For more interesting discussion and research about car parking in the City of Melbourne, see a recent discussion paper and background report prepared by Dr Elizabeth Taylor.

Did changes in population distribution impact mode shares?

While this post has been focused on changes by workplace location, it is possible to separate the overall mode shifts into the two components by home location. Here are the results:

In Sydney, Melbourne, and Canberra, stronger population growth in areas that already had low private mode shares in 2011 made a small contribution to overall mode shifts away from private transport. These cities have all seen densifying population in inner city areas better served by public transport.

The distribution of population growth in Perth and Brisbane had a small effect in the opposite direction.

And again, nothing much changed in Adelaide.

What about active transport?

Cycling-only mode share was pretty stable in most cities (except Canberra up 0.2%). Walking-only mode share declined in Sydney (-0.2%), Brisbane (-0.3%), Adelaide (-0.4%), Perth (-0.3%) but was steady in Melbourne and increased in Canberra (+0.2%). So Canberra has the biggest shift to active transport.

Can you summarise all that?

If your head is spinning with all that information, here’s a summary of what some of the major factors could be in each city between 2011 and 2016. I say “could be” because I’ve not looked at every possible factor influencing mode share.

Sydney: the 2.9% mode shift away from private transport was probably mostly to do with increasing job density in employment centres (more on that in my next post), but was also partly by a shift to more centralised jobs, and increasing population density in places well served by public transport.

Melbourne: The 1.8% mode shift away from private transport probably had a fair bit to do with increasing central city job density, the significant spatial expansion of the central city parking levy area and rates (although we don’t know if early bird prices also rose), a reduction in some public transport fares, and strong population growth in areas well served by public transport.

Brisbane: The 1.9% mode shift towards private transport appears roughly half about the decentralisation of jobs, and half the reduced attractiveness of public transport – particularly following significant fare rises between 2010 and 2014, and possibly/arguably declines in service quality.

Perth: The 1.2% mode shift towards private transport was probably mostly due to a decentralisation of jobs, and partly due to public transport becoming less cost competitive with private transport (despite an increase in the central city parking levy). Urban sprawl is probably also a factor.

Adelaide: The 0.2% mode shift to private transport is probably mostly due to public transport becoming less cost competitive with private transport. Changes in job and population distribution, and employment density do not appear to have had a significant impact.

Canberra:  The 1.0% mode shift away from private transport was probably the result of competing forces of higher jobs growth in car-dominated workplace areas with increasing job density in dense employment centres, increasing central city parking prices, higher population growth in areas better served by public transport (and possibly cycling facilities), and also the fact census 2016 was not a parliamentary sitting week while 2011 was (so really, it’s hard to be too sure!).

You might want to add your own views about changes in the service quality of public transport and cycling infrastructure in each city. I also haven’t looked at the impact of major new public transport infrastructure and service initiatives (such as the opening of new train stations), which we know does impact mode shares at a local level (maybe that’s for a future post).

I hope you found this interesting. My next post will look at suburban employment centres, and their role in changing mode shares in cities.