4605.0 - Australian Transport and the Environment, 1997  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 04/06/1997  Ceased
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Motor Vehicles and Road Networks


  • At 31 May 1995 there were 10,947,530 motor vehicles on register, representing an increase of 4.2% since June 30 1993. Passenger vehicles accounted for 78.8% of the total motor vehicle registrations in 1995.
  • Vehicle ownership for Australia increased by 7% between 1985 and 1995, from 567 per 1,000 people to 606 per 1,000 people, with Western Australia having the highest rate of vehicle ownership (679 vehicles per 1,000 people) and Northern Territory the lowest (520 per 1,000 people).
  • Passenger vehicles accounted for 62% (14,193 million litres) of total fuel consumed, followed by freight-carrying vehicles at 35% (8,055 million litres).
  • The consumption of unleaded petrol as a proportion of total petrol has increased from 21% (3,337 million litres) in 1988 to 38% (5,764 million litres) in 1991, and 57% (8,674 million litres) in 1995.
  • In 1994 road transport consumed 837 petajoules of energy. Cars consumed 66%, while light and heavy trucks used approximately 14% each.
  • Passenger vehicles accounted for 74% (123,691 million kilometres) of total distance travelled, and freight-carrying vehicles 24% (39,570 million kilometres).
  • Total tonne-kilometres travelled by freight carrying vehicles was estimated to be 119,229 million tonne-kilometres for the 12 months ended 30 September 1995. This is an increase of 35% from 1991 and 60% from 1985.
  • The majority of people travel to work/study as a single driver in a car, with 85% as either a driver or passenger in a car.
    New South Wales has the lowest percentage of car users with 80%, while Western Australia has the highest percentage (90%).

Trains, trams and railways

  • Between 1985 and 1995, there has been an 8% decrease in route-kilometres of Government railways open for activity (39,200 down to 36,000).
  • In 1995 New South Wales had the greatest number of route-kilometres open for activity by government railways, with 27% (9,810 kilometres) of the network. New South Wales also has the most extensive urban rail system.
  • Between them, New South Wales and Victoria accounted for 80% of rail commuters.
  • While New South Wales had the most suburban passengers, Victoria had the most country passengers.
  • Both vehicle-kilometres and passenger journeys decreased between 1987-88 and 1992-93 (10% for vehicle-kilometres and 13% for passenger journeys).
  • Between 1984-85 and 1994-95, freight carried increased by 34% across Australia. In 1994-95, the government railway system in Queensland carried the most freight.
  • Non-Government railways carried 45% of freight tonnage and travelled 36% of the total tonne-kilometres in 1994-95.
  • Between 1984-85 and 1994-95, total energy used by rail transport decreased by 8.5%.


  • There has been an increase of 26% in registered ships over the ten year period 1985 to 1995.
  • At 30 June 1995, Queensland had the highest number of ships registered (2,341), closely followed by New South Wales (2,056).
  • Most registered ships were recreational vessels (4,543), followed by fishing vessels (2,094).
  • In 1994-95, the largest tonnage of coastal cargo was loaded in Queensland (12,555,000 tonnes), and the largest tonnage discharged in New South Wales (19,196,000 tonnes).
  • Over the ten year period between 1984-85 and 1994-95, total passenger numbers increased by 31%, whereas total passenger kilometres decreased by 33%.
  • Merchandise sea exports increased by 39% between 1988-89 and 1995-96, from 269 million tonnes to 374 million tonnes.
  • Together, New South Wales and Victorian ports discharged 72% of sea merchandise imports in value terms in 1995-96 ($39,970 million).
  • The value of merchandise trade exported by sea was more evenly distributed across the States, with New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia all exporting goods to the value of $10,000 million or more from their ports in 1995-96.

Air transport

  • Almost all international passenger traffic to and from Australia is by air. In contrast, only about 0.1% of international freight tonnage is carried by air. This represents 25% of the value of all imports and exports.
  • Between 1990-91 and 1995-96, overall aircraft stocks increased by 5%, with the greatest growth (21%) in the larger aircraft used in the international and domestic sectors.
  • Sydney is Australia's busiest airport for international travel, with 49% of passengers passing through in 1995-96. Melbourne (16.5%), Brisbane (16.2%), Perth (9.7%), and Cairns (5.5%) follow.
  • In the 20 years from 1973 to 1993, international passenger movements increased more than five-fold, with an average annual growth of 8.6%.
  • Between 1985-86 and 1995-96, the use of aviation turbine fuel increased from 2,541 megalitres to 4,665 megalitres (84%), while the use of aviation gasoline decreased from 108 megalitres to 102 megalitres (6%).
  • Total energy consumed by aviation increased from 92.8 petajoules to 175.5 petajoules (89%).

Comparison of Transport Modes

  • *The transport industry consumed 1169 petajoules of energy in 1995-96, 26% of total energy consumption.
  • *Energy consumption by road and air modes increased markedly between 1973-74 and 1995-96 (road 91%, air 71%). Consumption by water decreased by 48%, although it has begun to rise in recent years.
  • *The total number of urban passenger-kilometres travelled increased by 72% between 1974 and 1993. Most of this increase was due to an 80% increase in the use of cars for urban journeys.
  • *The total number of public transport trips per capita declined markedly between 1961 and 1991, although there was a small increase in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra between 1981 and 1991.
  • *The total number of non-urban passenger kilometres travelled rose by 63% between 1974 and 1993. During this time the use of road rose by 56%, whilst rail and sea fell by 42% and 30% respectively.
  • *In gigatonne-kilometre terms, the total domestic freight task has increased over the past two decades by 58%. Road has increased its share during this time, from 17% in 1974, to 34% in 1993. During the same time, the proportion borne by water transport has dropped from 53% to 33%. Rail and air have consistently borne approximately 30% and 0.05% of the freight gigatonne-kilometre task respectively.
  • At February 1997, the transport industry, including services to transport, employed a total of over 382,000 persons. The biggest employer in the transport industry is road transport, which employed 51% of employees, followed by services to transport (19%).
  • The transport industry contributed $25.46 billion to GDP in 1995-96, amounting to 6% of total GDP. The largest contributor within the transport industry is the road sector, which contributed $14.7 billion.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Air Pollutants


  • Based on 1990 data, the contribution of transport vehicles to total Australian greenhouse gas emissions (CO2 equivalent) is just under 12%.
  • In 1990, Australia had the third highest per capita level of CO2 emissions for transport, with per capita emissions being exceeded only by Canada and the USA..
  • Figures compiled in the Australian National Greenhouse Gas Inventory show road transport to emit the largest volume of greenhouse gases by the transport sector.
  • CO2 emissions by road transport totalled 55 million tonnes in 1994, accounting for 79% of total transport CO2 emissions. This represented an increase of 11% in CO2 emissions since 1988.
  • The next highest was air transport at 9 million tonnes. This represented an increase of 36% since 1988.
  • Both rail and marine transport CO2 emissions decreased over this period by 18% and 20%, respectively.
  • Since 1988, there has been a drop in non-CO2 greenhouse gas emissions, except N2O, for road transport.
  • Based on projected greenhouse gas emissions from the transport industry, road transport greenhouse gas emissions will continue to increase between 1999-2000 and 2009-2010 by 9%.
  • Passenger cars released 36 million tonnes or 65% of CO2 from road vehicles, with petrol vehicles accounting for 90% of this.
  • Heavy duty trucks were the next greatest source of CO2 emissions from road vehicles, releasing 15% of CO2 emissions in 1994.
  • The principal contributor to emissions to air in city and urban areas is fossil fuel combustion, particularly by motor vehicles. These account for the bulk of CO (averaging 86%) and NOx (averaging 67%).
  • The highest source of NOx was passenger vehicles with 204 kilotonnes (65%) of road vehicle emissions.
  • NMVOC (non-methane volatile organic compound) emissions from transport totalled 508 kilotonnes in 1994, with road transport accounting for 91% of these emissions.
  • Total hydrocarbon emissions are expected to decrease by 2015 as a result of reduced evaporative and crankcase emissions.

Wastes from Transport

  • In recent years the attrition rate for all vehicles has been around 3 to 4% of the total vehicle fleet.
  • In 1989-90, around 14.4 million road vehicle tyres were replaced in Australia. The majority of tyres were consigned to landfill (66%).
  • During the early 1990's, around 3.8 million lead acid batteries were disposed of annually in Australia. Around 61% of these were recycled, with 25,000 tonnes of lead and 1,800 tonnes of plastics recovered for recycling annually.
  • Waste oil available to be reused or recycled amounted to 51% of total sales, or 262 megalitres in 1990 and 251 megalitres in 1993.
  • In March 1996, the most common means of disposal for oil were to be taken to a special area at a dump (23%) or to be taken to a business or shop (23%).
  • An estimated 18 million tonnes of waste oil was exported in 1994.

Impacts of Transport on People

  • In 1994, 22,154 people were admitted to hospital as a result of a road crash involving injuries or fatalities.
  • Australia-wide, in 1994, 1,934 people were killed in road accidents. The rate of fatalities was 10.8 per 100,000 people, with the Northern Territory having the highest fatality rate (24) and the Australian Capital Territory the lowest (5.7).
  • Between 1990 and 1995, the rate of accident reduction was around 2.3%, with a reduction in deaths of 2.9% over the same period.
  • In 1993, there were 320 aviation accidents. The majority of these accidents occurred during general aviation activities which include lighter planes on non-scheduled services.
  • In 1993, a total of 73 fatalities occurred in maritime transport, and 49 in rail.
  • In 1993, the costs attributed to transport accidents totalled almost $6.6 billion. Road transport generated the majority of accidents and the highest accident costs, at $6.1 billion.
  • The major source of airborne lead in most Australian urban areas is leaded fuel used in motor vehicles.
  • *It has been estimated that the average cost to society from emissions generated by the Australian motor vehicle fleet is 0.11 cents per kilometre.
  • It has been estimated that ozone-related health effects caused by motor vehicle emissions in Melbourne cost between $0.3 million and $4.4 million in 1992-93, while cancers cost between $26.0 million and $45.2 million in 1990.
  • In 1991, it was estimated that more than 1.5 million Sydney residents were exposed to outdoor traffic noise levels defined by the OECD as undesirable (between 55 and 65 dB(A)), where sleep and amenity are affected.
  • In 1995, the National Roads Transport Commission estimated annual noise costs to be between $200 million and $400 million.

Impacts on the Natural Environment


  • The construction of roads, railways, shipping ports and airports all involve the use and clearing of considerable land resources, with serious environmental consequences. Land-clearing can interfere with drainage patterns and water tables, bringing impacts for wildlife and agricultural production.
  • Water resources are polluted directly by urban stormwater run-off. Roads and gutters contribute oil, grease, litter, sediment and heavy metals to urban run-off, which forms a major pollutant of the coastal environment. Urban run-off is responsible for 50% of marine oil pollution.
  • Shipping activities are responsible for 24% of marine oil discharges.
  • In 1995-96, 356 oil spill sightings were reported to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.
  • Most oil spills involve small quantities (under 10 tonnes). There has been only one major oil spill (over 1,000 tonnes) in Australian waters since 1991-92.
  • Shipping vessels are responsible for the dumping of approximately 121 million tonnes of ballast water into Australian waters every year. Dumped ballast water can introduce non-native organisms, diseases, toxins and parasites which can affect humans, animals and plants.

Vehicle Emission Standards and Emission Controls

  • Most industrial countries have implemented standards for air pollution and noise emissions. Exhaust and noise emissions have been progressively tightened internationally and in Australia over the past several decades.
  • Rules and regulations relating to permissible exhaust and noise emissions from motor vehicles in Australia are specified by Australian Design Rules (ADRs), which are an integral part of the Australian motor vehicle standard systems.
  • Noise exposure levels are calculated in Australian Noise Exposure Forecast (ANEF) units. Australian Standard 2021-1994 'Acoustics-Aircraft Noise Intrusion-Building Siting and Construction', provides guidance to State and local authorities and others associated with urban and regional planning on the location and construction of new buildings and on the adequacy of new buildings with respect to aircraft noise intrusion in areas near airports.

New Vehicle Systems and Alternative Fuels

  • Chapter 11 contains information on the ever-expanding range of alternative vehicle systems, including new combustion vehicle systems (two-stroke engine, hydrogen, gas turbine, Stirling engine) and non-combustion vehicle systems (electric vehicles, solar vehicles).
  • A number of alternative fuels are discussed, and their relative benefits and disadvantages considered. Those fuels considered include unleaded petrol, reformulated gasoline, liquified petroleum gas, natural gas, ethanol, and methanol.
  • An overview of the environmental benefits of different fuels and engine technologies is given, and projections of future fuel/vehicle use combinations are made.

Policy Responses to the Impacts of Transport

  • State and Territory governments are responsible for developing and implementing their own policies and programs in planning transport systems, urban design and consolidation, and the integration of modes of transport. Local government has the major responsibility for managing rural and minor roads and verges.
  • Most State and Territory Governments have established Environment Protection Agencies to develop strategies and policies to deal with a wide range of environmental concerns. Transport-related issues such as noise control, reduction of waste oil and tyres going to landfill and roadside revegetation are managed by these agencies.
  • Road safety policy and programs are developed at the national level, incorporating the cooperative efforts of ministerial councils, all levels of government and community groups.
  • Potential strategies to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions have been the focus of considerable research during recent years. Included are drafts for the Sustainable Energy Policy and the National Greenhouse Strategy.
  • The Australian Marine Safety Authority manages a national plan to combat pollution of the sea by oil. This involves the Commonwealth Government, State and Territory Governments, and the shipping, oil and exploration industries in order to maximise Australia's oil spill response capability.