Australia’s journey to work

Information on the methods of travel used by Australian's to get to work on Census day Tuesday 10 August, 2021

Released
3/11/2022

Journey to work

Since 1976, the Census has collected data on the modes of transport Australians use to commute to work.

Employed people aged 15 years and over could record up to three methods of travel they used to get to work on the day of the Census.

The 2021 Census was conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic. The data collected provides an interesting glimpse into how Australia's working population adapted to stay-at-home restrictions and which modes of transport they utilised when travelling to work.

In 2021, just under half of Australia’s population (over 12 million people) were aged 15 years and over and employed during the week before the Census. 

How people travelled(a) to work on Tuesday 10 August, 2021
 2021 count2021 proportion(b) (%)2016 count2016 proportion(b) (%)
Car, as driver    6,397,53953.16,625,02462.0
Worked at home    2,531,26221.0503,5824.7
Did not go to work    1,417,44911.81,003,7929.4
Car, as passenger       471,1273.9493,2934.6
Walked only       306,0452.5370,4273.5
Train       299,0532.5770,7657.2
Bus       212,9191.8371,8423.5
Bicycle         79,4570.7107,9621.0
Truck         77,1510.686,4550.8
Other Mode         74,3100.673,5120.7
Not stated         59,1670.5104,0611.0
Motorbike/scooter         50,1460.465,0610.6
Tram/light rail         34,2750.365,8100.6
Taxi/ride-share service         31,0570.325,0030.2
Ferry            8,4700.117,2580.2
Total 12,049,410100.010,683,842100.0
  1. Refers to the main mode of travel to work used. Where multiple modes of travel are used, a priority hierarchy is used to make assumptions for the main mode. Visit (MTW15P) for more information. 
  2. Employed persons aged 15 years and over.

 

Working from home

Working from home had the largest increase of all responses with around one in five employed people over 15 years working from home on the day of the 2021 Census - an increase of over 2 million people since the 2016 Census.

This increase was likely due to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions limiting people’s ability to attend their place of work, and the increased ability for people to undertake their roles from home.

The largest growth in working from home can be seen in states with COVID-19 restrictions close to Census day, such as New South Wales and Victoria. 

Both these states spent a significant amount of time under stay-at-home orders and had several areas impacted by COVID-19 restrictions before, during and after the Census, impacting the number of people working from home.

Yet even states like Queensland and South Australia, which were not impacted by stay-at-home restrictions on Census day, recorded a considerable increase in working from home. This suggests a greater societal change toward more flexible working arrangements and a hesitancy towards coming into contact with others.

While all states recorded growth on the proportion of people working from home since the 2016 Census, the proportion of those working from home in Tasmania and the Northern Territory in 2021 was lower than what was recorded in 1976.

Historically, working from home in Australia has had more to do with manual labour specifically farming, with the top five working from home occupations in 1976 being dairy farmers, tobacco growers, poultry farmers, rice growers and graziers. 

Farmers and farm managers still feature in the top three working from home occupations for those who live in Western Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory – the three states which showed the least growth in working from home.

In 2021 the occupations with the highest proportions of people working from home were:

  1. Business and systems analysts, and programmers (75.3%)
  2. ICT managers (70.1%)
  3. ICT network and support professionals (63.3%)
  4. Media professionals (61.4%)
  5. Sales, marketing and public relations professionals (61.1%).

Farmers and farm managers fell to 22nd on the list with 43.8% working from home. 

Travelling to work

Despite the large increase in people working from home, each state and territory had the majority of workers travel to work on Census day.

The top occupations for those who travelled to work were:

  1. Panelbeaters, and vehicle body builders, trimmers and painters (92.7%)
  2. Food process workers (92.1%)
  3. Fabrication engineering trades workers (92.0%)
  4. Automotive electricians and mechanics (91.4%)
  5. Bricklayers, carpenters and joiners (91.0%).

As expected, more people were able to travel to work in states with less COVID-19 restrictions. In the Northern Territory the highest proportion travelled, with 86.4% of workers making the commute. Victoria and New South Wales had the lowest with 62.6% and 55.3% respectively.

Driving to work

Across Australia, ‘Car, as driver’ remained the most common response to the question on travel to work since it was first asked in 1976.

On Census day, 10 August 2021, over half of the working population (53.1%) drove themselves to work.

Though driving to work peaked at over 60% of the employed population only one Census ago (2016), the proportion of those driving themselves to work in 2021 declined to its lowest point in 40 years, likely due to the COVID-19 pandemic and people working from home rather than driving to a workplace.

Despite this, there was almost twice as many people who drove themselves to work in 2021 (6,398,000) as there were in 1981 (3,243,000). This was still lower than the 2016 record of 6,625,000.

Driving to work was the most common method of travel for those living in Australia’s Greater Capital City Statistical Areas (GCCSA) with just under half (48.7%) of workers driving themselves to work on Census day. It was even more common for those who live outside of the GCCSAs in the Rest of state areas with 62.9%. 

Those living in the GCCSA of Darwin were the exception with 68.5% of workers using a vehicle to commute, compared to 54.0% of workers living in the rest of the state.  

  1. Employed persons aged 15 years and over.

The Statistical Area Level 3 (SA3) of Palmerston in the Northern Territory recorded the highest proportion of people who drove themselves to work with almost three quarters of the working population (73.7%), while the SA3 of Sydney Inner City recorded the lowest proportion of drivers at 13%.

Unsurprisingly the average number of motor vehicles per household in Palmerston (1.9) was higher than that of Sydney Inner City (0.8).

Higher rates of driving to work in Palmerston could be due to the type of work people were travelling for, with the top five occupations reflecting a need to work on site.

  1. Sales assistants and salespersons
  2. Defence force members, fire fighters and police
  3. General clerks
  4. School teachers
  5. Midwifery and nursing professionals.

See more detailed information on how Australians travelled to work on our interactive map

Interactive map

This image shows a map of Australia segmented off into different statistical areas. Across the top are three buttons for 2011, 2016 and 2021. One the left hand side, a legend for commute by car is depicted with different shades of purple representing the increasing density of proportion travelled by car. The statistical areas on the map are different shades of purple. On the right hand side are three buttons for search, map layers and bookmark.

A picture of an interactive map of Australia for commute by car. To interact with the map, visit the Australia's journey to work map.

How to use

  • To interact with the map visit the Australia's journey to work map.
  • If the map page does not load, please try again later.
  • Use the tabs across the top of the map to view different years of data. On mobile devices click on the word 'Experience' where the map should appear and a new tab will open. Best viewed on a desktop or tablet device.
  • You can search for locations using names, addresses, suburbs or SA3 names. Capital cities of Australia can also be found in the Bookmark menu
  • Click on a region of interest to view data and graphs about that region.

Geographic areas

The boundaries used in this map are Statistical Area Level 3 (SA3) boundaries according to the Australian Statistical Geography Standard (ASGS) Edition 3.

Public transport

The number of people who used public transport to get to work more than halved from 1.25 million in 2016 to just over half a million in 2021. The train remained the most popular method of public transport with around 300,000 commuters on Census day, followed by 213,000 people who took the bus.

  1. In 2021 ‘Tram’ was changed to ‘Tram/light rail’.
  2. In 2021 ‘Taxi’ was changed to ‘Taxi/ride-share service’.

The SA3 of Melbourne City had the highest proportion of workers using public transport to commute to work at 17.6%. Over half of these commuters used the tram or light rail to get to work.

The majority of those in Melbourne City who used public transport to get to work were part of the café, restaurants and takeaway food services, or hospital industries.

Of all Australians who used public transport to get to work, only one in ten live outside a greater capital city with the bus being the most common response for these commuters.

The use of public transport by those living outside greater capital city areas has been declining since 2011. In 2021 there were almost 21,000 fewer bus commuters than there were a decade earlier.

The number of people using tram or light rail decreased even more with 16,700 fewer train passengers in 2016 than in 2011 and a loss of almost 9,000 between 2016 and 2021.

Active methods

There were fewer people who used an active mode of transport including bicycling or walking in 2021 than ever recorded in the Census with just over 385,000.

 

a. Includes Bicycle and Walking 

3.2% of workers used an active mode of transport to get to work in 2021, declining from 8.4% in 1976. 

While ‘Bicycle’ has always been a response option for the journey to work question, ‘Walking’ was only added as its own response option on the 1986 Census, meaning responses from 1976 and 1981 were written in.

Active modes of transport peaked over the 2011 and 2016 Census cycles each recording close to 480,000 commuters.

In 2021 this decreased by about 95,000 people with cycling and walking to work declining by 26.4% and 17.4% respectively.

This decrease was seen in all states and territories apart from Tasmania and the ACT which bucked the trend, both showing growth in active modes of transport between 2011 and 2021. Part of this growth could be attributed to the growing employment market in these areas.

Of all the states and territories, the ACT recorded the largest growth of those in the labour force with a 27.2% increase.

The ACT showed the most growth in active transport with almost 2,400 more active commuters than in 2011, 75% of this growth came from those who walked. Despite this increase, the proportion of employed people using an active mode of transport remained low at only 6.1%.

South Canberra was the SA3 which showed the most growth, with a 60% increase in those living there walking or cycling to work. In this area active transport was the second most common way to get to work in 2021 behind driving.

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