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Passenger vehicles per 1,000 people
Many aspects of transport relate to progress. Transport and transport links connect businesses with market places, and, in so doing, give people access to different goods and services. And greater access to transport gives individuals more choice in where to live, work or spend free time.
It is difficult to develop an indicator reflecting national progress in the transport dimension. An ideal indicator might focus on whether people have access to efficient and affordable transport. Within some of our major cities, an indicator might measure whether people have access to acceptable public transport networks or uncongested roads. In remote parts of Australia, an indicator might measure whether the roads are in good repair or whether those who need a car can afford to own and use one. But whether transport is acceptable or affordable is a matter of personal opinion and is a difficult concept to measure. Even if data were available, there is no obvious way in which these aspects could be combined into one number.
This commentary focuses on access to transport, and access to the motor car is important to many Australians. Statistics on motor vehicle registrations can tell us how access to cars might be changing over time. Environmental concerns associated with motor vehicle use, primarily some types of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, are discussed elsewhere in this publication by indicators relating directly to these concerns(see box Fuel and fuel consumption).
On 31 March 2003 there were over 10.3 million registered passenger vehicles in Australia, up from around 8.3 million in 1993. In 2003, passenger vehicles accounted for almost 80% of the vehicle fleet, with trucks, buses, motorcycles and light commercial vehicles comprising the rest (another 2.8 million vehicles).
The motor vehicle fleet grew more quickly than the population in the 1990s. By 2003 there were 522 passenger vehicles for every 1,000 people in Australia, up from 469 vehicles per 1,000 people in 1993.1 And there has been a shift towards four wheel drive cars, which made up 17% of new vehicle sales in 2002, up from 8% in 1992.
Each passenger vehicle travelled an average 14,200 kms in the year to 31 October 2002, up from 13,400 kms in 1998.4
Fatalities per 100 million vehicle kilometres travelled 1975–2000
Some differences within Australia
In 2003, the highest levels of passenger vehicle registrations were in Victoria, with 573 vehicles per 1,000 residents, up from about 516 vehicles per 1,000 people in 1993. The Northern Territory had the lowest rate with about 346 vehicles per 1,000 residents in 2003, up from about 323 vehicles per 1,000 people in 1993.2 These data are influenced by the level of ownership within each state as well by the numbers of vehicles, such as hire cars, that might be registered within a state but used elsewhere.
In 2003, some 3.9 million passenger vehicles (30% of all vehicles) were registered in New South Wales, more than any other state or territory. Between 1993 and 2003 there was a strong rise in the proportion of registrations in Queensland, which grew by 38% over the period.2 Population growth in Queensland was 22% over that period.8 By contrast, growth in the Tasmanian fleet was slowest (about 9% over the period), possibly due to a relatively slow growth in the population (1%).2,17 In 2002, passenger vehicles registered in the NT travelled the most, on average 15,600 kms a year, while Tasmania-registered vehicles recorded the lowest average distance travelled, of 12,700 kms.13
Factors influencing change
Levels of car ownership are affected by many factors including incomes, interest rates, car prices and demographic trends. Improved roads have probably also played a part. As cars are often shared by a household, a trend to more single person households is likely to boost car numbers.
Whether and when people use their cars depends in part on the availability of alternative transport, anticipated levels of congestion and the price of fuel. Factors affecting the amount of freight moved, and how it is transported, include the structure and size of the economy, and changes in the cost and quality of competing modes of freight transport.
Governments and industry have introduced a number of changes aimed at improving road safety, such as compulsory seat belt requirements; the installation of red light and speed cameras; the upgrading of roads and improvements to vehicle designs (including airbags).
Links to other dimensions of progress
Access to transport helps to determine where people work and what goods and services they can purchase. But motor vehicles remain the largest single source of fine particle air pollution in Australia, and also an important source of greenhouse emissions.
See also the commentaries National income; Work; Family, community and social cohesion; The human environment; and International environmental concerns.