Why is transit’s share low at Latrobe Uni?Posted: March 16, 2011
Workers who commute to Melbourne University at Parkville are much more inclined to use public transport than their colleagues who work at suburban Monash or Latrobe universities. The chart shows that at the 2006 Census, 41% of Melbourne University workers reported they drove to work compared to 83% at Monash and 84% at Latrobe universities. Many more staff at Melbourne also walked and cycled – 24% compared to 6-7% at the other two institutions.
Melbourne University’s lower car use is explained by a few key factors. The main one is that it is located on the edge of the CBD where car use is limited by high levels of traffic congestion and expensive all-day parking charges. For many staff, driving would take too long, generate too much angst and be too expensive. If the value of driving is marginal, the decision to choose an alternative will be tipped by the high quality of public transport service available to Parkville workers. Although it’s not served directly by rail (none of these universities are), Melbourne University has easy access by multiple tram lines to the CBD and thence to the many radial train and tram lines linking to the larger metropolitan area. For many Melbourne University workers public transport would be a no-brainer.
Melbourne University’s high level of walking can largely be attributed to the relatively high residential densities in the nearby CBD and inner city environs. If transport is expensive in outlays and time, it makes sense for workers to live close to the university. In this case, living close to the university also means living close to the many activities and opportunities offered by the inner city.
The suburban setting of Monash and Latrobe provides a very different environment. Although these universities are not without their challenges, they generally experience less traffic congestion and enjoy cheaper parking than Melbourne University. Low suburban residential densities and large open space and industrial uses mean fewer staff can live within walking distance. The level of public transport service is actually pretty reasonable by prevailing standards (for example, see here) but obviously not as good as Melbourne University, which benefits greatly from its proximity to the CBD.
These factors all favour driving at Monash and Latrobe. In addition, a high proportion of staff at both universities live within a short commute by car. For example, more than half of Latrobe’s workers live either in the host municipality (Darebin) or in contiguous municipalities. Short trip distances on comparatively uncongested roads make driving a very attractive option. Even a very high standard of public transport service entails some walking and waiting time, making it hard for transit to compete effectively when the commuting time by car is less than 30 minutes.
However the reason why significantly fewer staff at Monash and Latrobe commute by bicycle compared to Melbourne isn’t as straightforward. One explanation might be the lower standard of cycling infrastructure and traffic management works in the suburbs. However I think the cause runs deeper and is essentially the same reason why these universities have low public transport use – driving is simply so attractive that it undermines the case for both transit and cycling. Another way of explaining this is to recognise that most commuting by bicycle comes at the expense of public transport rather than the car. Put simply, if there aren’t many public transport users then there won’t be many cyclists either.
The use of public transport by staff at Monash and Latrobe is modest even when compared with other major suburban activity centres. For example, a higher proportion of workers at Chadstone and Southland use public transport to get to work than at either of these universities. Public transport even has a higher mode share at Northland than at Latrobe (remember this discussion is about workers, not students or shoppers).
The comparison of universities highlights an important question: does public transport have a much higher mode share at Melbourne University because the campus is served by a high quality public transport system, or because driving is too hard? If it’s the former, then improving public transport service at the suburban universities – for example, by building the Rowville rail line from Huntingdale to Monash – should significantly increase public transport’s share of the journey to work. But if it isn’t it will be a poor use of limited resources. My view is that it’s both – public transport (and cycling) won’t win a high share at Monash and Latrobe universities unless driving becomes too hard.