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Office of the Commissioner for Sustainability and the Environment

Indicator: Transport

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Summary of results

Private motor vehicles continue to provide the highest level of accessibility and convenience and remain the dominant mode of transport in the ACT, and while the average kilometres travelled per vehicle decreased, it remained higher than the national average.

This level of car-dependence is not ecologically sustainable because it is associated with a high level of non-renewable energy use, pollution and greenhouse emissions.

The introduction of a ‘one fare, anywhere’ pricing system resulted in increased patronage of the ACTION bus network between 2001–02 and 2002–03.

What the results tell us about the ACT

We still rely on the car

Private motor vehicles are the most favoured mode of transport in the ACT. ABS Journey to Workdata for 1991, 1996 and 2000 show a sustained decline in the number of people travelling to work by public transport and an increase in those travelling to work by car, bicycle or walking. In 2001, 83.2% of trips to work were by car (see Table 1).

Table 1: Primary mode used to travel to work, ACT
Mode 1991 1996 2001
Car 81.6% 83.2% 83.2%
Bus 9.5% 7.7% 6.9%
Walked only 3.9% 3.8% 4.2%
Bicycle 1.8% 2.1% 2.5%
Other 3.2% 3.1% 3.2%

During the Your Canberra Your Future consultations, ease of mobility around the city was cited as one of the things people like best about living in Canberra. Motor vehicles are integral to the lives of most Canberrans, providing a level of accessibility not matched by other modes of transport. Quality road systems and parking resources provide a high level of accessibility for private motor vehicle use. Motor vehicles offer ‘at my front door, when I want it’ convenience and the flexibility to undertake complex trips that are increasingly a feature of modern life.

However, a survey conducted in South East Queensland (in Sustainable Transport Plan Issues Paper,PALM 2003) found that about threequarters of trips to and from work were not complex).

Source: ABS Journey to Workdata (Census) cited in PALM 2003. Excludes those who worked at home or did not travel to work on Census day.

Car ownership has increased

Since 1999 the number of motor vehicles registered in the ACT has increased by 8.7%, from 189,956 in 1999 to 206,444 in 2002. The number of passenger vehicles per 1000 people also increased.

The number of passenger vehicles per 1000 people was higher in the ACT than in Australia as was the average kilometres travelled (see Table 2). Each household in the ACT had 1.4 passenger vehicles in 2002, however data were not available for comparison with the national rate.

Table 2: Change in motor vehicle numbers in ACT and Australia, 1999 and 2002
Number of motor vehicles ACT Australia
1999 2002 1999 2002
No. of vehicles 189,856 206,444 11,999,414 12,849,393
No. of passenger vehicles 165,465 177,436 9,555,244 10,194,637
Vehicles per 1000 population 608 641 634 653
Passenger vehicles per 1000 population 530 551 499 518

Compiled from Survey of Motor Vehicle Use (ABS Cat. No. 9208.0) and Australian Demographic Statistics (ABS Cat. No. 3101.0)

The average kilometres travelled was higher for the ACT than for Australia. However, between 1999 and 2002 the figure declined in the ACT while it increased in Australia (see Table 3).

Table 3: Motor vehicle use in ACT and Australia, 1999 and 2002
Category ACT Australia
1999 2002 1999 2002
Average kilometres travelled, all vehicles 15,600 15,100 14,400 15,000
Average kilometres travelled, passenger vehicles 15,300 14,900 13,900 14,200

Source: Survey of Motor Vehicle Use (ABS Cat. No. 9208.0)


Canberra Cabs had a fleet of 243 independently owned and operated taxis, including twenty-six wheelchair-accessible taxis. Canberra Cabs, which operated on a 24-hour basis, was the only ACT-based taxi service (ABS 2002, ACT in Focus ).

More people cycle or walk to work

Cycling and walking have the lowest environmental impacts and the greatest health benefits of all transport modes. ABS Journey to Workdata indicate an increase in the proportion of people travelling to work by active modes. In 2001, 2.5% of people cycled to work and 4.2% walked. While walking or cycling are not suited to all trips, the recent trend towards higher density inner-city living means there is significant potential to further increase the proportion of trips made by these means.

During the reporting period, the Woden–Dickson on-road cycle lane project began with a view to providing better infrastructure for commuter cyclists. Stage 1 – Commonwealth Avenue Bridge to Civic – was completed in March 2003. At the time of writing, planning of the project and detail design for Stages 2 and 3 were complete, and detail design for Stages 4 and 5 were underwayand expected to be complete by June 2004.

Public transport a vital resource

Public transport is an essential component of an equitable transport system, providing accessibility for those unable to drive or who do not have access to a car. About half of ACTION’s passengers do not have access to a car (PALM, 2003). Given the projected ageing of the ACT population, there is also likely to be an increase in the number of elderly non-drivers.

People living in the outer suburbs are provided with a much poorer public transport service and generally bear higher transport costs due to greater commuting distances. As the cost of housing in central Canberra limits many people from choosing to live centrally, this is a significant equity issue.

Bus use increased

Well-patronised bus services are more efficient than cars in terms of energy consumption and pollution per passenger. ACTION bus patronage increased during the reporting period. Following introduction of a ‘one fare anywhere’ single-zone system, the most dramatic increase in patronage occurred between 2001–02 and 2002–03. Total passenger boardings increased by 3.54% (see Table 4) while adult boardings increased by 9.17%.

Table 4: Use of ACTION buses in Canberra
Year Total passenger boardings
2000–01 15,646,000
2001–02 15,789,000
2002–03 16,344,000

Source: Data supplied by ACTION

Studies undertaken during the reporting period show that reducing public transport travel times is the most important factor in promoting greater use of public transport. Introducing a demand-responsive feeder service is one strategy being considered to improve the efficiency and promote patronage of the ACTION network.

A Transport Costing Study revealed that while motor vehicle users pay the full cost of car use through registration, parking fees, fuel excise and the like, bus users do not. The full cost of the public transport system is borne by the ACT community as a whole, even though the costs of the service are minimal compared to car use.

This is partly due to low patronage of the bus system and thus low revenue raised from fares – in particular on feeder routes and at off peak times. The public transport network is not utilised evenly. The inter-town services are generally well patronised, while feeder services are not. The frequent and direct inter-town services meet peoples’ needs while the infrequent and circuitous feeder services do not.

Trains still well-utilised

The number of people travelling to and from Canberra by rail has increased since 1999–2000 (see Table 5) but has not yet reached the high of 1998–99.

Table 5: Countrylink rail passengers, Canberra 1998–99 to 2000–01
Year Boarding Alighting
1998–99 103,737 107,710
1999–2000 93,130 94,191
2000–01 99,092 100,536

Source: ACT in Focus(ABS Cat. No. 1307.8)

Air travel increases

The number of air passenger movements through Canberra airport continued to rise from 1.8 million in 1998–99 to just under 2 million in 1999–2000 (ABS, Cat. No. 1307.8).

Most freight arrives by road

During the 12 months ending 31 March 2001, about half the freight tonnage entered the ACT as left. This indicates the extent to which the ACT is dependent on other jurisdictions for resources. The vast majority of freight tonnage carried into (96%) and out of (99%) the ACT was by road transport (see Table 6).

Table 6: Freight movements by mode of transport, 12 months ending 31 March 2001
Freight category Road Rail Air Total
Tonnes carried
Origin ACT 1,414 11 3 1,428
Destination ACT 2,615 111 4 2,730
Tonne-km travelled
Origin ACT 216,190 5,671 1,741 223,602
Destination ACT 603,355 32,772 2189 638,317

Source: Freight Movements, Australia, Summary (ABS Cat. No. 9220.0)

Sustainable transport options

Clearly the transport system in the ACT is not ecologically sustainable. The level of cardependence contributes significantly to the Territory’s high per capita use of non-renewable energy, pollution and greenhouse emissions. The impact of expanding roads infrastructure on the environment is also of concern. During the reporting period this was manifest in the ongoing debate over the planned construction of the Gungahlin Drive Extension through O’Connor and Bruce Ridges.

While private motor vehicle use is central to Canberra’s land use and transport planning, the ACT Government and community recognise the benefits of a more sustainable transport system, with a greater role for walking, cycling and public transport (ACTPLA 2003). However, improving the public transport system to the extent that it offers similar convenience to car travel will pose a budgetary challenge for the government.

While the car-based transport system provides significant benefits to the public, ongoing high levels of private motor vehicle use may erode these benefits. Traffic congestion is projected to increase by 5% per annum from 15km in 2001 to 63km in 2031, mostly concentrated in arterial roads in inner and central Canberra. Increasing use of public transport remains one of the more significant challenges in moving towards a more sustainable ACT.

During the reporting period the ACT Government began a Sustainable Transport Plan for the ACT. The plan aims to increase the proportion of peak-period trips by sustainable transport modes (walking, cycling and public transport) to 17% by 2006 and 20% by 2011 (ACTPLA 2003).

The ACT Government’s Draft Spatial Plan and Draft Sustainable Transport Plan analysed the transport impacts of various land use scenarios for Canberra and showed that increasing densities around existing town centres reduces trip lengths and encourages use of sustainable transport modes.

Achieving a more sustainable system will require strong political and community commitment to change transport behaviour and make public and active transport modes more viable as alternatives to private motor vehicle use.

Data sources and references

ACT Planning and Land Authority 2003, Draft Sustainable Transport Plan for the ACT , ACTPLA, Canberra.

ACT Planning and Land Authority 2003, Towards the Canberra Spatial Plan , ACTPLA, Canberra.

Australian Bureau of Statistics 2000, ACT in Focus 2000 (Cat. No. 1307.8).

Australian Bureau of Statistics 2002, ACT in Focus 2002 (Cat. No. 1307.8).

Australian Bureau of Statistics 2002, Freight Movements, Australia, Summary (Cat. No. 9220.0).

Australian Bureau of Statistics 2003, Australian Demographic Statistics (Cat. No. 3101.0).

Australian Bureau of Statistics 2003, Survey of Motor Vehicle Use12 months ended 31 October 2002 (Cat. No. 9208.0).

Planning and Land Management 2003, Sustainable Transport for the ACT: An Issues Paper , PALM, Canberra.

Additional data supplied by ACTION.

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