The Summary follows verbattim:
This report analyses the way residents of Australia’s seven capital cities (the six state capitals
plus Canberra) have travelled to work over the last 35 years. It uses data from the census,
which has included a question on the mode of transport used to travel to work since 1976.
• The number of cars driven to work each day in Australia’s capital cities has nearly doubled
since 1976, from 2,027,990 to 3,942,167. Just under two-thirds of the increase is due to
growth in the workforce; the remaining third is due to a shift away from more sustainable
transport modes: public transport, walking and car-pooling.
• After two decades of rapid decline, public transport usage rates commenced a revival in
1996. The revival began slowly, but the five years to 2011 saw the biggest increase in public
transport mode share seen since 1976. There has been a corresponding fall in the share of
workers travelling by car, although the fall in the car driving rate has been dampened by
continuing declines in car-pooling. Adelaide, Canberra and Hobart have missed out on this
public transport revival.
• The revival of public transport has occurred mainly on rail systems, which have recovered
the ground lost during the two decades of decline to 1996. The share of workers travelling by
train is now higher than at any time since 1976, and in Perth is three times as high as 35 years
ago. Buses and (in Melbourne and Adelaide) trams have been less successful, with current
usage rates still less than half those of 1976.
• Walking is the most sustainable of all travel modes, and makes a significant contribution to
work travel in Hobart, Canberra and Sydney. Walking receives little support from policy
makers, but despite this, walking rates increased in the decade leading up to the 2006 census.
However, walking rates have declined since 2006 in all cities except Canberra and Perth,
suggesting that a renewed policy effort is required to improve conditions for pedestrians.
• Cycling is of negligible importance as a travel mode for work trips in all cities except
Canberra. It is not clear that increases in cycling have come at the expense of the car, since
higher cycling rates are usually accompanied by lower walking rates. Cycling receives much
more attention from policy makers than walking, even though it plays a much smaller role in
the journey to work: one possible reason is that cycling is by far the most male-dominated
transport mode, reflecting the gender composition of the transport planning profession.
• Despite the publicity devoted to its transport problems in recent years, Sydney is Australia’s
sustainable transport capital, with by far the lowest mode share for car driving, the highest
share for public transport and above-average rates of walking. More cars are driven to work
each day in Melbourne than Sydney, despite the latter’s larger workforce. Public transport
grew rapidly in the five years to 2011, reversing a decline over the previous five years.
Despite this, the state’s infrastructure advisory body is recommending that funding be
redirected from rail to road, based on projections that the census data has shown to be
• Melbourne has the second-highest public transport mode share, but the lowest rate of car
pooling and below average rates of walking: as a result, car driving is higher than in Brisbane.
Melbourne has experienced the fastest growth in public transport mode share of all seven
capitals since 1996, but had the most rapid decline in the two decades before then: because
the earlier decline was much greater than the recent increase, Melbourne had the biggest
decline in public transport usage, and the biggest rise in car driving, over the 35 years since1976,
except for Hobart. Given the recent revival in public transport, it is strange that the
Victorian government’s top transport priority is an as-yet-unfunded east-west road tunnel
estimated to cost between $12 and $15 billion. No serious analysis has been presented to
justify this project, which if it proceeds would likely put a stop to the revival of public
• Census figures also cast doubt on recent rail patronage figures from Sydney and Melbourne.
Travel to work by rail in Sydney grew faster between 2006 and 2011 than published
patronage data, while travel to work in Melbourne grew more slowly. This suggests that
patronage estimation methodologies may have underestimated rail patronage growth in
Sydney and overestimated it in Melbourne.
• Brisbane has the second-lowest rate of car driving among the seven capitals, and has also
experienced a revival of public transport over the last three censuses. However, the growth in
public transport over the last five years has been slower than in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth:
indeed, rail usage rates are now higher in Perth than in Brisbane. Public transport growth has
been held back by the City of Brisbane’s large program of tunnel, bridge and motorway
• Adelaide is Australia’s ‘car capital’, with the highest rate of car driving among the seven
capital cities. This is the result of low public transport usage and low rates of active transport
(walking and cycling). In the five years to 2011, Adelaide missed out on the public transport
revival that occurred in other larger capital cities: public transport mode share stagnated,
while both walking and cycling rates declined. These trends are the result of the abandonment
over the last 30 years of the Dunstan government’s pro-public transport policies.
• Perth has had the most impressive turnaround in public transport of any capital city during
the period covered by this study: it is the only city where public transport mode share is
higher than in 1981. A concerted community campaign, backed by skilled planning and
budgeting, has revived the city’s rail system, which now carries more passengers than
Brisbane’s. This success suggests that Perth can be a model for other Australian cities,
• Canberra has experienced a sustained decline in public transport, and a steady rise in car
driving, for the last two decades (apart from a temporary reversal during 2001-06). The
current car driving rate is the highest ever recorded, something that has not occurred in any
other capital city except Hobart. Public transport mode share actually declined slightly in the
five years to 2011: Canberra was the only one of the seven cities where this occurred. The
problems are the result of poor transport policies, which have focussed on road construction,
while reversing the successful public transport approach employed in Canberra until the late
• Hobart has relatively high rates of walking, but public transport has been declining, and car
use growing, since the Tasman Bridge reopened in 1977. The current rate of car driving is the
highest on record. No serious attempt has been made to improve the attractiveness of public
transport, while facilities for pedestrians also require attention.
These findings show that the time has come for a radical reorientation of transport policy in
Australian cities. In the past, policy makers who favoured roads could claim to be following
public preferences, expressed in mode share trends, but now that public transport is gaining
ground at the expense of the car, policy makers are still stubbornly clinging to road-based
solutions. The recent revival of public transport has, except in Perth, been achieved with
relatively little policy support, suggesting that serious pro-transit policies could create
greenhouse gases and oil security than continued road-building, which will only add to the
rising car volumes choking our cities.
The census figures suggest that Australian cities, while lacking the urban density of European
cities, can achieve European-level mode shares by providing European-quality public
transport, along with substantially improved conditions for pedestrians. State and territory
governments need to change their transport policies, which remain dominated by roadbuilding.
They also need to create effective capacity for transport governance, management,
planning and research to ensure that investment in sustainable transport delivers value for
money. The Federal Government’s Infrastructure Australia agency proposes a national debate
about public transport: we agree, but argue that this debate must include public transport’s
role in reducing the need for major investment in urban roads.
Some may be offended with the statement "Cyling is of negligible importance for work trips..." which does not surprise me at all. I was surprised however with the reported contribution of walking.
I was also surprised at Canberra's bad rating afa car transport. But on reflection it may be consistant with my opinion that if enough money is poured into highly useable fast roads then people will mostly use it regardless of most other factors. Possibly why Perth has trouble filling better quality seats on cleaner transport than some other cities do with grotty old fleets.
I suppose that my policy advice would be for cities to maintain at the current level what roads they have, let any increased demand flow elsewhere and fund and develop those "elsewheres" accordingly. Unfortunately a recipe for electoral disaster.