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4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 1998  
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Contents >> People & the Environment >> Use of Resources: Transport choices and the environment

Use of Resources: Transport choices and the environment

The number of motor vehicles registered per 1,000 population increased by 8% between 1985 and 1996, from 567 to 614. Those people who chose alternative modes of transport generally did so for reasons other than concern for the environment.

Transport systems play a major role in the economic life of industrialised countries and in the daily lives of their citizens. In Australia, motor vehicle transportation dominates the movement of people, and is a significant carrier of freight. The number of motor vehicles registered is increasing, and urban design tends to encourage their use with the construction of freeways and dispersed housing. However, the convenience of motor vehicles is offset by their negative effects on the environment. These effects include contributions to air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and the depletion of fossil fuels.1

The transport choices made by people can help to reduce the impact of motor vehicles on the environment. For example, using public transport, car pooling, walking and cycling are alternatives that reduce the impact. Motorists can also help by using unleaded petrol, driving newer cars, having their vehicles regularly serviced and choosing the most fuel-efficient models.


Transport statistics

This review uses data from an ABS Survey of Environmental Issues conducted in association with the March and April 1996 Labour Force Surveys. Information was collected about motor vehicle (cars, trucks and vans) ownership and maintenance, and use of transport during the week before the interview.

It also uses data from the periodic Census of Registered Motor Vehicles conducted in October each year, and the 1995 Survey of Motor Vehicle Use conducted by the ABS relating to the 12 months ended 30 September 1995.


Registered motor vehicles
The October 1996 Motor Vehicle Census revealed that there were 10.9 million registered motor vehicles in Australia, up from 8.6 million in 1985. During this time the number of registered motor vehicles per 1,000 people rose by 8.3%, from 567 to 614.

The average age of the Australian vehicle fleet increased from 8.0 years in 1985 to 10.6 years in October 1996. This ageing of the Australian motor vehicle fleet has negative implications for emissions and fuel use, because older cars emit more pollutants than recent models.

In October 1996, the average age of registered passenger vehicles was 10.4 years. The oldest vehicles were non-freight carrying trucks (average age 15.7 years), followed by rigid trucks (14.2 years) (see Australian Social Trends 1996, Registered cars).

Household ownership of motor vehicles
In April 1996, 87% of Australian households had at least one registered motor vehicle, while 46% reported that they had two or more registered motor vehicles. New South Wales had the highest proportion of households without motor vehicles (17%), while Western Australia recorded the lowest proportion (9%). The relatively high number of households without a motor vehicle in New South Wales reflects Sydney's relatively low levels of car ownership. One in six Sydney households, and up to half of households in some inner Sydney municipalities, are without a car.2

One-person households, which tend on average to be older people, were most likely than other household types to have no registered vehicles (36%), followed by one-parent families with dependent children (23%). Couples with dependent children under 14 were most likely to own a motor vehicle (98%). Households with at least one child aged 15 or over were most likely to own three or more vehicles (37%).

Generally, households with higher incomes owned more vehicles. Less than 1% of households where the weekly income was more than $1,500 reported they had no vehicle compared to 41% for households where the weekly income was less than $159. Not surprisingly, households where income was greater than $1,500 per week were more likely to own three or more vehicles (31%). These households were also more likely to contain three or more adult members.

HOUSEHOLDS OWNING REGISTERED VEHICLES, APRIL1996

Number of vehicles per household
One person
Couple only
Family households with older children(a)
Couple with dependent children(b)
One parent with dependent children(b)
Total households
%
%
%
%
%
%

None
35.9
5.8
3.8
2.4
22.9
12.8
One
57.0
46.6
22.6
30.9
68.8
41.0
Two
5.8
41.0
36.2
55.2
7.8
34.0
Three or more
1.3
6.6
37.4
11.6
**
12.2
Total
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0

(a) Couple or single parent, with at least one resident child over 15, and no other usual resident.
(b) Refers to all children aged 0-14.

Source: Environmental Issues: People's Views and Practices, Australia (cat. no. 4602.0).


Distance travelled
Of those households who had had their major vehicle for at least 12 months and who knew how far it had travelled, the median distance travelled in the 12 months to April 1996 was 16,600 kilometres. Households in the Australian Capital Territory travelled further (a median of 20,800 km) than those in the other States or the Northern Territory, while the median distance travelled was smallest in Tasmania (13,900 km).

Statistics from the 1995 Survey of Motor Vehicle Use showed that passenger vehicles accounted for 74% (123,700 million kilometres) of total distance travelled in Australia, and freight-carrying vehicles 24% (39,600 million kilometres), in the 12 months ending September 1995.3

Since 1976, the total distance travelled by passenger vehicles and freight-carrying vehicles has increased by 58% and 95% respectively.


MEDIAN DISTANCE TRAVELLED BY MAJOR VEHICLE IN LAST 12 MONTHS(a)(b), APRIL 1996

(a) Major vehicle of households with motor vehicles.

(b) Excludes vehicles bought in the last 12 months and households where the distance travelled was not known.

Source: Environmental Issues, People's Views and Practices, Australia (cat. no. 4602.0).


Fuels used
The total pollution produced by motor vehicles is not just dependent on the number of vehicles registered or the distance they have travelled. The age of the vehicle and the type of fuel used also play an important role.

In an attempt to reduce airborne lead emissions, all new cars sold in Australia from February 1986 have been required to operate on unleaded fuel.4 Its use has increased rapidly since then. In April 1996, most households (54%) used unleaded fuel in their major vehicle, followed by leaded fuel (37%). Diesel was used by 4.5%, and liquid petroleum and natural gas (LPG and LNG) by 4.2% of vehicles. Residents of the Australian Capital Territory and New South Wales were most likely to have vehicles running on unleaded petrol (62% and 59%), with those in Tasmania having the highest proportion of lead-fuelled vehicles (52%). Victoria recorded the highest proportion of vehicles fuelled with LPG/LNG (10%).

FUEL TYPE USED(a), APRIL 1996

NSW
Vic.
Qld
SA
WA
Tas.
NT
ACT
Aust.
Fuel type
%
%
%
%
%
%
%
%
%

Leaded
34.6
35.8
37.2
40.0
37.0
52.2
30.9
33.4
36.6
Unleaded
59.3
50.2
54.8
49.5
54.6
41.7
57.6
61.9
54.4
Diesel
4.2
3.5
6.1
2.5
6.2
5.2
**
**
4.5
LPG/LNG
1.5
9.8
1.7
7.7
1.8
**
**
**
4.2
Other
**
**
**
**
**
**
**
**
0.4
Total
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0

(a) Refers to major vehicle of households with motor vehicle.

Source: Environmental Issues, People's Views and Practices, Australia (cat. no. 4602.0).


Motor vehicle maintenance
Motor vehicle owners who have their vehicle serviced as advised by its owner's manual are likely to reduce their vehicle's fuel consumption and exhaust emissions, and hence reduce its impact on the environment.

In 1996, over half (53%) of households serviced their major vehicle as frequently as advised by the owner's manual provided with their vehicle, and nearly 75% serviced their major vehicle at least once every six months. About 6% of households reported servicing their vehicle only when a problem arose.

Households in the higher income brackets were more likely to service their vehicles as advised by the owner's manual - around 71% of households where the weekly income was greater than $1,500, compared to 50% of those with weekly incomes of less than $159.

Travelling for shopping and work/study
The different forms of transport used to travel to work or study, or to go shopping, have very different impacts on the environment. Some forms of transport are more efficient in terms of energy usage and emissions. For example, public transport is more efficient in terms of energy needed per person than if each travelled alone as the driver of a car, while walking and cycling are not dependent on fossil fuels at all (see Australian Social Trends 1996, Car use and Public transport use).

In 1996, most people who travelled to work or study did so as the driver of a motor vehicle (78%). Only 16% used a train or bus, while 3% cycled and 6% walked. People in New South Wales were the most likely (22%) to use public transport (primarily trains and buses) as a means of travelling to work or study, while people in the Northern Territory and Tasmania were the least likely. A larger proportion of Australian Capital Territory residents (13%) used the bus system as a means of getting to work or study than in other States and Territories. There is no metropolitan train system in the Australian Capital Territory.

The most frequent reasons people gave for not taking public transport to work or study were that there were no services available (36%), the travel time was too long (26%), or their vehicle needed to be available to them during work or study hours (15%).

In 1996, of those households who indicated a member of the household shopped, the main form of transport used to go shopping was a car, truck or van (86%). Around 8% of households walked to the shops. Only about 4% of households used a bus or train. The high use of motor vehicles for shopping reflects the difficulty in carrying purchases home using other transport methods. Use of cars, trucks and vans was highest in Western Australia (91%), and lowest in New South Wales (83%). New South Wales also reported the greatest use of buses (4.6%) as a means of transport for shopping trips.

For those households who did not use some form of public transport to go shopping, the principal reason given was that they felt unable to carry the shopping they had purchased (44%). This was followed by no public transport service being available (37%), and people stating that the public transport service available to them took too long (14%).

The major reason that people gave for using public transport to get to work/study, or to go shopping, was that they did not own a car (34%). This was followed by cost (29%) and parking problems (23%).

Environmental concern was reported by only 5% of people as a reason for using public transport.

PERSONS WHO TRAVEL TO WORK/STUDY(a), APRIL 1996

NSW
Vic.
Qld
SA
WA
Tas.
NT
ACT
Aust.
Method
%
%
%
%
%
%
%
%
%

Car/truck/van as driver
73.4
80.4
79.2
78.5
80.4
79.9
80.8
76.4
77.6
Train
12.9
9.4
4.8
3.5
6.1
**
**
**
8.5
Car/truck/van as passenger
6.2
5.5
8.2
9.6
9.7
9.0
**
10.1
7.2
Bus
9.0
4.4
5.5
9.3
7.0
7.8
**
13.0
7.1
Walk
6.4
6.2
6.4
5.6
5.3
**
**
5.9
6.3
Bicycle
2.1
2.9
3.6
3.8
2.3
**
**
**
2.8
Other
1.6
4.1
1.2
**
**
**
**
**
2.0
Motorbike or motor scooter
1.0
0.9
2.0
2.0
1.2
**
**
**
1.3
Total
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0

(a) Totals do not equal the sum of items in each column because more than one reason may be specified.

Source: Environmental Issues, People's Views and Practices, Australia (cat. no. 4602.0).

PERSONS NOT TAKING PUBLIC TRANSPORT TO WORK/STUDY(a), APRIL 1996

NSW
Vic.
Qld
SA
WA
Tas.
NT
ACT
Aust.
Reason
%
%
%
%
%
%
%
%
%

No service available
35.4
31.7
48.7
34.6
33.5
42.2
37.3
10.1
36.3
Takes too long
25.7
35.5
14.8
26.9
22.3
14.6
22.4
46.6
26.2
Vehicle needed during work hours
16.9
14.6
13.0
15.9
15.9
12.5
**
22.9
15.3
Infrequency of service
12.9
13.7
13.0
12.5
16.5
19.9
14.9
22.5
13.8
Comfort/privacy
9.5
12.2
6.6
12.5
7.6
9.6
20.6
21.8
10.1
Vehicle needed before/after work/study
5.7
8.7
6.8
11.4
9.1
11.1
**
25.7
8.1
Carry tools/equipment
9.6
7.4
6.7
7.3
5.8
6.7
**
8.7
7.8
Use company/employer's car
6.0
6.7
4.8
5.3
5.9
**
**
**
5.9
Reliability of service
5.0
7.5
3.7
5.8
2.7
**
**
15.9
5.4
Concerned about own personal safety
3.8
5.0
3.7
4.2
2.4
**
**
**
3.9
Too expensive
3.1
5.2
3.2
3.8
1.7
**
**
14.8
3.7
Other
5.2
5.2
4.3
10.9
8.5
**
**
8.2
5.9
Total
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0

(a) Totals do not equal the sum of items in each column because more than one reason may be specified.

Source: Environmental Issues, People's Views and Practices, Australia (cat. no. 4602.0).

MAIN FORM OF TRANSPORT FOR HOUSEHOLDS WHO SHOP, MARCH 1996

Form of transport
%
'000

Car/truck/van
86.4
5,697.0
Walk
8.3
547.0
Bus
3.2
211.8
Taxi
0.8
53.4
Train
0.4
25.5
Bicycle
0.3
19.2
Tram
0.2
14.9
Motorbike or motor scooter
0.2
10.6
Other
0.2
15.7
Total
100.0
6,595.1

Source: Environmental Issues, People's Views and Practices, Australia (cat. no. 4602.0).


Car pooling to work
In 1996, around 83% of people who drove to work or study did not have a passenger in the vehicle. The remaining 17% took other passengers either from home or from work or both. Around 12% took passengers from their own household, and 7% took passengers from other households. Drivers in the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory were the most likely to have been accompanied by a passenger from their own household (24% and 22% respectively). This is a reflection of the age and life-cycle characteristics of their populations.

The major reason people had passengers in their vehicle from the same household when driving to work or study was to drop off children at school (37%). Only 1% of people gave environmental concerns as the reasons for taking passengers from their own household.

The major reason why people took passengers from other households with them to work or study was because they worked or studied either with or nearby to the passenger (50%). Once again, environmental concerns was one of the least frequently given reasons for taking passengers from other households (4%). Saving on costs was over five times more likely a reason for taking passengers than environmental concerns.

In 1996, the most common reason given for not taking passengers from their own household when driving to work or study was that the passengers worked or studied at a different location or needed to travel in a different direction (37%).

Access to public transport
Approximately one in five people in Australia reported that they had no public transport options. Around 28% of Queenslanders (the highest proportion) stated that they had no public transport available to them. This reflects the higher proportion of people who live away from major urban centres. Rail services were more available in Victoria and New South Wales (to 46% and 44% of people respectively), whereas bus services were more available in the Australian Capital Territory (to 93% of people), reflecting the limited number of people who live outside Canberra.

REASONS PEOPLE USED PUBLIC TRANSPORT, APRIL 1996

Reason
%
'000

Don't own a car
34.1
312.5
Cost
28.7
263.3
Parking problems
22.7
207.9
Proximity of home to public transport
17.9
164.0
Time taken
12.9
117.9
Partner uses car
7.4
68.1
Frequency of service
5.6
51.1
Environmental concerns
5.1
46.4
Personal safety
0.9
8.6
Other
23.0
210.7
Total(a)
100.0
916.4

(a) Totals do not equal the sum of items in each column because more than one reason may be specified.

Source: Environmental Issues, People's Views and Practices, Australia (cat. no. 4602.0).


Endnotes
1 Newman, P. Kenworthy, J. Robinson, L. 1992, Winning back the cities, Australian Consumers' Association, Pluto Press, Sydney.

2 Australian Urban and Regional Development Review, 1995, Timetabling For Tomorrow: an agenda for public transport in Australia, Department of Housing and Regional Development, Canberra.

3 Australian Bureau of Statistics, 1995, Survey of Motor Vehicle Use, Australia (cat. no. 9208.0), ABS, Canberra.

4 Australian Bureau of Statistics, 1997, Motor Vehicles in Australia 1997, cat. No. 9311.0, ABS, Canberra.


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