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Public transport in boom times: study

RMITCommuters are turning back to trains, trams and buses in record numbers, with new analysis by RMIT University researchers revealing the last five years have seen the biggest jump in public transport usage across Australia in 35 years.

The report, Transport Policy at the Crossroads: Travel to work in Australian capital cities 1976-2011, is the only study that uses census data to examine the habits of commuters in seven capital cities and analyse work travel trends since 1976.

It includes a state-by-state breakdown that identifies Sydney as the nation’s sustainable transport capital, Adelaide as the home of the car and finds Melbourne has both Australia’s lowest car-pooling rates and lowest usage of buses and trams.

Authors Dr Paul Mees and Dr Lucy Groenhart, from RMIT’s School of Global, Urban and Social Studies, have found public transport has been gaining ground at the expense of cars, despite receiving relatively little policy support.

“Between 2006 and 2011, we saw the greatest leap in the number of commuters using public transport since 1976, a rise of almost 203,000 people,” Dr Mees said.

“The revival is largely due to the growth in train travel, with about 608,000 Australians now commuting by train – the most in 35 years.

“Our findings show it is time for a radical reorientation of transport policy, away from road-based solutions and towards forms of sustainable transport that are not only growing in popularity but offer genuine solutions to the serious congestion and environmental problems faced by our biggest cities.”

The report, which looked at the seven state capitals and Canberra, also shows:

  • The number of cars driven to work has nearly doubled since 1976 to more than 4,273,400, with about two-thirds of the increase due to growth in the workforce and the rest due to a shift away from public transport, walking and car pooling
  • Walking makes a significant contribution to work travel in Hobart, Canberra and Sydney, and is three times more popular across Australia than cycling – the number of cyclists increased by 17,506 to 73,105 between 2006-11, while the number of people commuting on foot increased by 21,134 to 219,879.
  • The census figures cast doubt on rail patronage figures from Sydney and Melbourne, with train commuting growing faster in Sydney and slower in Melbourne between 2006-11 than published patronage data.
  • The share of workers travelling by train is higher than at any time since 1976, and in Perth is three times as high. Buses and trams (in Melbourne and Adelaide) have been less successful, with current usage rates still less than half those of 1976.
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