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1370.0 - Measures of Australia's Progress, 2004  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 21/04/2004   
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Contents >> The measures >> Transport

Passenger vehicles per 1,000 people


Graph - Passenger vehicles per 1,000 people


Access to motor vehicles also increased through the 1990s, and in 2003 there was about one passenger vehicle for every two Australians.1

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).

Air, rail, sea and freight
Rail, sea and air transport are all important in Australia. Rail and light rail/trams move a considerable number of passengers within urban areas (640 million passenger trips in 2002).2 Rail also carries a good deal of freight, particularly bulk commodities like coal and mineral ores. In 2000–01, rail moved 509 million tonnes of freight over about 134,000 million tonne kilometres.3

Sea transport moved 47 million tonnes of domestic freight in 2000–01 over nearly 100,000 million tonne kilometres. Domestic sea transport focused on long distance movement of bulk commodities such as metal ores, petroleum and petroleum products, coal and cement. There was considerable additional long distance transport by ships of large quantities of goods and material for export and import.3

Air transport takes passengers over long distances quickly and transports small volumes of freight, complementing the other transport modes that provide
for short trips and slower travel. Domestic air freight carried 0.2 million tonnes of freight in 2000–01.3 In 2002–2003, about 29 million domestic passenger revenue
journeys were made by air and passengers were carried over nearly 34 billion passenger kilometres.

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

Fuel and fuel consumption
Access to vehicles is important to many Australians, but the combustion of fossil fuels by motor vehicles is an important source of air pollution and greenhouse gases.

Average passenger vehicle fuel consumption has remained around 11 to 12 litres per 100kms over the 1998 to 2002 period.13 In 2003, an estimated 88% of
registered vehicles used petrol. The proportion of the entire fleet using diesel fuel rose between 1993 and 2003, from under 7% to over 9%. There was strong
growth in the proportion of passenger vehicles using diesel, which increased from 1.9% to 2.9%.2 Diesel engines emit fine particles as atmospheric pollution.5

Government policy aimed at reducing lead emissions from car exhausts achieved a strong shift away from leaded petrol over the decade 1992–2002. By 1998 for
passenger vehicles, unleaded petrol accounted for almost three quarters (73%) of petrol sold in Australia, and rose to 90% by October 2002. There was also a shift towards the use of LPG/CNG/dual fuel between 1992 and 2002. The amount of such fuel used increased from about 1.3 million litres in 1998 to almost 1.9 million litres in 2002, and gas’s share of total fuel consumed by passenger vehicles increased from 9% to 11%.4

Fatalities per 100 million vehicle kilometres travelled 1975–2000

Graph - Fatalities per 100 million vehicle kilometres travelled 1975–2000


Road safety
Australia, along with many western countries, has worked hard to reduce deaths and injuries from motor vehicle accidents. Considerable gains have been achieved, despite increased motor vehicle use. For example, the number of annual road accident fatalities per 100,000 persons has fallen from 30.4 in 1970, to 8.8 in 2002.6

In 2001, this figure was 8.9 per 100,000 people, which reflected a total of 1,737 fatalities in Australia that year, compared to an OECD median rate of 11.1 per 100,000 people.

Australia was ranked 11th safest among the 25 members of the OECD for whom there were data in 2001, and we had fewer fatalities per capita than the USA (14.8 per 100,000 people), France (13.8) and New Zealand (11.8). But we had more fatalities than Germany (8.5), Japan (7.9) and the UK (6.1).7

Korea had more fatalities per capita than any other reporting OECD country (17.2 per 100,000 people). The lowest number of fatalities were recorded in Norway and the UK (both 6.1 per 100,000 people).7

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.

End notes

1. Australian Bureau of Statistics 2003, Motor Vehicle Census, cat. no. 9309.0, ABS, Canberra.

2. Australasian Railway Association Inc. 2003, Yearbook 2003, ARA, Melbourne.

3. Australian Bureau of Statistics 2002, Freight Movements Survey, cat. no. 9220.0; ABS, Canberra.

4. Australian Bureau of Statistics 1991-2000, Survey of Motor Vehicle Use, cat. no. 9208.0, ABS, Canberra.

5. State of the Environment Committee 2002, Australia - State of the Environment Report 2001, CSIRO Publishing, Melbourne.

6. Australian Transport Safety Bureau, Monthly Fatalities Database, ATSB, Canberra.

7. Australian Transport Safety Bureau, International Road Safety Comparisons, The 2001 Report; ATSB, Canberra.

8. Australian Bureau of Statistics 2003, Australian Demographic Statistics, cat. no. 3101.0, ABS, Canberra.

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