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FEATURE ARTICLE: TRAVERSING THE ACR FOR THE OVER 55S
With the region's population of 55 years and over steadily increasing, trends indicate there may be ramifications for older people as they become reliant on methods of transport other than the private motor vehicle. Although society is constantly looking to utilise more sustainable transport options, private motor vehicle still appears to be the preferred mode of transport for the older age group in the ACR as it offers the greatest flexibility.
An ABS survey of transport use for persons aged 18 years and over travelling to work or full-time study in the ACT in 2009 indicated that 84.5% travelled in a private motor vehicle. While there are many reasons for not taking public transport, service availability and convenience were the two most common (43.7% and 32.3% respectively). Service availability comprises of "no service available at right/convenient time" and "no service available at all". However, for those who took public transport, price/cost was the main motivator (42.4%). (End note 2)
SERVICE AVAILABILITY AND CONVENIENCE
The daily number of services operating on weekdays between the ACT and surrounding regions generally decreases with distance. Queanbeyan has the greatest number of services with 43 bus services and six train services while Batemans Bay has only a morning and an afternoon bus service from and to Canberra City respectively, leaving those who commute from Batemans Bay to the ACT for the day with little choice. The alternative being to use a private motor vehicle or a non-direct public transport route on multiple services to reach the destination, but this can add a significant amount of time to the journey duration.
Convenience is an important factor and private motor vehicles offer greater flexibility in terms of destination and timing. In 2006, a high proportion of the older population in the ACT still had access to motor vehicles to drive (94.7% of people aged 55-64 years; 88.2% of people aged 65-74 years and 66.4% of people aged 75 years and over). (End note 3)
The average duration of a journey from the ACT to the surrounding regions is often shorter by private motor vehicle and with limited services operating, travelling by private motor vehicle is generally the most convenient and preferred option. The average duration of a journey between the ACT and Cooma is 1h 25min by private motor vehicle while it takes 42.4% longer by bus (2h 01min). The trend of a journey by private motor vehicle having a shorter duration than that of a bus or train remains relatively consistent between the other destinations.
Financial restraints may also be a factor influencing public transport utilisation. According to an ABS survey of persons aged 18 years and over travelling to work or full-time study in the ACT in 2009, price/cost was the main reason for taking public transport (42.4%). (End note 2)
For people aged 45 years or over who were working in 2007 and intended to retire at age 55 or over, the main factor influencing their decision about when to retire was financial reasons (58.8% of men and 50.9% of women).(End note 4) Of the people that retired within the five years prior to 2007, 45% relied on government pensions and allowances as their main source of income. (End note 4)
In addition to pensioner fares, the New South Wales (NSW) Government currently provides incentive to eligible NSW and ACT persons to use public transport in the form of the Regional Excursion Daily ticket which offers travel on selected transport providers for a fixed cost of $2.50 per day. This makes certain methods of transport for some pensioners considerably cheaper than alternatives as the cost of a journey does not necessarily correlate to the distance. When travelling from the ACT to the surrounding regions on a Regional Excursion Daily ticket, bus is generally the cheapest mode of transport followed by train and private motor vehicle for journeys greater than 75 km.
For some, the convenience of driving a private motor vehicle and shorter journey duration outweigh cost benefits. However, with the ageing population, reliance on public transport infrastructure is likely to increase. The New South Wales Government currently provides pensioners with discounted travel for regional public transport, but lack of services to/from the ACT and surrounding regions still leaves some with little choice but to travel by private motor vehicle. To address transport concerns, the ACT Government proposed an Integrated Transport Framework plan in 2008 (End note 5) aimed at increasing the efficiency and sustainability of transport within the ACT and in conjunction with the NSW Government, proposed the infrastructure Master Plan (End note 5) for the surrounding regions. Throughout the ACR a number of councils and governments have been progressively making improvements to transport infrastructure with major projects such as new roads and road upgrades, reviews of public transport networks and consideration of alternative transport options to meet the future needs of the community.
1. Population Projections, Australia, 2006 to 2101 (cat. no. 3222.0) - Series B.
2. Environmental Issues: Waste Management and Transport Use, March 2009 (cat. no. 4602.0.55.002).
3. General Social Survey, Australian Capital Territory, 2006 (cat. no. 4159.8.55.001).
4. Employment Arrangements, Retirement and Superannuation, Australia, April to July 2007 (cat. no. 6361.0).
5. ACT Government (2008), Integrated Transport Framework plan last viewed 27 January 2010,<http://www.tams.act.gov.au/move/integrated_transport_framework>.
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