1301.0 - Year Book Australia, 2005  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 21/01/2005   
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Use of urban public transport in Australia

This article is based on the results of research undertaken by the Bureau of Transport and Regional Economics.

Over the past century, Australia has seen a marked change in the nature of urban passenger transport. This article discusses some of these changes.

In the 50 years since the end of World War II, Australian cities have been transformed from fairly tight knit 'core-and-spoke' configurations, to sprawling suburban low-density configurations.

The transformation of urban land use has been accompanied and made possible by a rapid improvement and spread of the road system, and an even more rapid expansion in car ownership. For urban commuters, private vehicles (i.e. cars, trucks, vans, and motorbikes) offer a convenient, reliable and fast means of transport. The number of motor vehicles registered is increasing, and urban design tends to encourage their use with the construction of freeways and dispersed housing.

Since the 1950s the number of private cars has risen dramatically, and continues to do so (graph 22.32). In 2003 there were 10.4 million registered cars and station wagons, compared with 769,000 in 1950 and 76,000 in 1920. This dramatic rise in private car ownership has been accompanied by a corresponding shift away from the use of urban public transport.


Total passenger travel in the urban areas of Australia has grown remarkably - almost nine-fold over the past 50 years, to some 180 billion passenger km (graph 22.33). Almost all that growth came from cars and 'other' road vehicles (mostly light commercial vehicles used for private travel, and motorcycles).

In 1995 private road vehicles represented about 93% of city passenger transport. Urban public transport is a minor component of city transport.


Graph 22.34 shows the decline that occurred in urban rail passenger transport in the period 1945 to 1980. Since 1980 all three modes of transport (bus, rail and other) have shown steady increases.

Since 1975, rail has been moving fewer passengers than the 'other' category of urban passenger transport (mostly light commercial vehicles used for private travel, as well as motorcycles).

Graph 22.34: URBAN PASSENGER TRANSPORT, Rail, bus and other

Graph 22.35 shows the long-run pattern of urban public transport passenger journeys, in Sydney and Melbourne since 1900 and in Brisbane since 1920. It shows the number of passenger journeys on public transport reached a peak in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane just after World War II. However, after the war the growth shifted to car ownership, and urban public transport declined until the early-1980s. The early-1980s saw the end of this downward trend. Rising petrol prices and increasing traffic congestion are thought to have been factors contributing to renewed growth in use of urban public transport in the 1980s.

However, the use of urban public transport is still only a small component of total passenger transport, the largest component being travel by private car.