How Australians Commute to Work and Study

Walking Riding & Access to Public Transport Draft Report

I recently had a go at putting together a submission on the Australian federal government’s, Walking, riding and access to public transport draft report. The report itself however has some interesting chapters with sections on topics such as how Australians commute to work and study. I thought that these sections where worth a closer look. This is the first in a series of posts looking at some aspects of the report. In this post I look at how we get to work or study.  The second post looks at who regularly rides a bicycle and the third post explores the economic benefits of cycling.

Section 2.1.1 of the Walking, riding and access to public transport draft report takes a look at how we as a nation commute to work and study.

Getting to work or study

Of course as we all know the motor vehicle dominates our mode of transport today and this has been an increasing trend from end of the Second World War until the 1980s when the growth in motor vehicle use plateaued and we have seen an increase in public transport use. Congestion starting to bite?

figure 2-1 proportion of metropolitan travel by kilometres travelled


So where does cycling fit in this mix? The report states that in 2009 based on Australian Bureau of Statistics data 1.5% of adults used a bicycle as their main form of travel to work or study. This is a very slight increase since 2009. The main form of travel is as expected, the motor vehicle at 80% of adults.

When asked what is their alternative form of transport, the bicycle does better with 11.3 % choosing a bicycle, but this is behind walking which is the alternative of 13.7% of adults.

How do we get to school?

Figure 2.4 Car travel to school NSW

What is of greater concern is the trend for the future. Primary and secondary student mode of travel to school is seen as a indicator of future transport choices. The report notes that by 2003 almost half of NSW secondary students were driven to school; we as parents are setting the future trends. Are we doing the right thing by our children? I suggest not.

The report goes on to mention the National Walk to School Days and Walking School Bus projects but does not quantify their effect at reversing the trend reported in NSW.

How far is too far?

We like to ride and walk if the reason for doing so is close to home (64%) or for exercise and health (50%), however that distance is also the reason we do not walk (71%) or cycle (45%). It seems we are okay to walk up to two kilometres and maybe we can cope with cycling 10 kilometres. I am clearly an outlier here as my commute is 42 km (ouch).

What happens if the trip is a non-commuter one?

Interesting our choice of transport changes when it is not a commuter trip. The report notes that in the City of Sydney for example, walking accounts for 93% of internal trips (within the city) and in Victoria 14.7% of trips are by bicycle or by walking and up to 46.1% of trips within the City of Melbourne are by bike or foot.

This is interesting to me.  Is it showing a need for high quality end-of-trip facilities? Is there an issue with getting clothes to work? Be prepared for walk? Why are we not commuting by bicycle but we are doing non-commuting trips by bicycle? It sounds like we have a great opportunity to turn this around here if we can get a good understanding of what the the blockages.

It is clear we need to do a lot of work to make cycling a mainstream mode of travel to work or study for those within a reasonable distance of their destination, that is within 10 km.

4 Responses to How Australians Commute to Work and Study

  1. Cyclesnail 12 January 2013 at 9:05 AM #

    What strikes me is the graph showing cycling “flat lining” since the 70’s, just about no pulse. We would need to increase cycling participation five-fold to show up on the graph, but even the National Cycling Strategy is satisfied with a doubling of bicycle riders by 2016 (which will not happen with current investment levels). Whilst the sheep bleat about congestion, we know that a Benefit to Cost ratio of 3.4 to 1 for cycling projects would justify 3% of any transport budget to go into cycling.

    • Andrew Priest 12 January 2013 at 4:23 PM #

      It is interesting to note that cycling for non-comute purposes is greater, suggesting that the issue is at least in part commuter cycling. It is just not working for people. As you suggest we clearly need good quality infrastructure including end-of-trip facilities to stimulate a take up in short distance (10 km or less) commuter cycling.

      Also I think we need to seriously look at taxation incentives such as salary sacrificing for bicycles.


  1. Who Regularly Rides a Bicycle In Australia? | Aushiker - 5 February 2013

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