– Are cars the key challenge?

Share of journeys to work by car, 2006 (click). Map from Charting Transport

The accompanying map from Charting Transport shows the proportion of journeys to work in Melbourne’s inner city undertaken by car in 2006 — the rest were by public transport, walking and cycling (note that green denotes a low share for cars and red a high share*).

There is a clearly defined area — the ‘golden mile’, bounded by Spring, Flinders, Spencer and La Trobe — where cars capture less than 30% of all journeys. Around Swanston Street the share of journeys taken by car is as low as 24% (click to enlarge map).

But the really striking thing to my mind is the steep increase in car’s mode share as soon as you move beyond walking distance of the rail loop. You only have to go as far as the northern side of Victoria Parade and that share jumps to 50– 60%. Go toward the Hoddle Street end and it’s more than 70%. Once you get into the suburbs, most employment concentrations have a mode split that is 80% – 90% car.

One interpretation of the data is that sustainable modes are doing pretty well in the golden mile. Another is that they’re not doing well enough – maybe no more than 10% of journeys should be considered the ‘natural’ share of the car in this sort of key business area – and hence there’s an opportunity for public transport to increase its share.

I incline to the latter view, but I think there’s another interpretation of this data that’s arguably more significant. Consider what it takes, in terms of density and transit supply, to get the share of journeys to work by car down below 30%.

The ‘golden mile’ is just 2 km2 out of a built up area of around 2,500 km2 (the entire MSD is over 7,500 km2). That little area is the largest single concentration of jobs, by far, in the metropolitan area. It accounts for 10% of all metropolitan employment and is denser by an order of magnitude than any other activity centre in Melbourne, as exemplified by the number of very tall buildings it contains. And despite its diminutive size, it’s the focus of the entire metropolitan train and tram systems. It’s the ‘hub’ where all the ‘spokes’ meet – a giant transport interchange – and is accordingly, again by an order of magnitude, the most accessible place in Melbourne by public transport.

Yet for all the astonishing advantages of job density and public transport quality, a quarter to a third of all those who work in this tiny area still drive to work. Further, literally within one or two blocks of the rail loop, the car’s share of journeys to work rises to 50% and more, notwithstanding that these near-CBD areas themselves have a job density and level of public transport service that is far higher than the rest of the metropolitan area. And this is the journey to work – the trip most likely to be taken by public transport!

I think there’s an incredibly important message here. Melbourne’s future can’t be planned on the assumption that providing more public transport is the primary policy answer, much less the only one. What this analysis says, in essence, is that any area that doesn’t look like the CBD will inevitably be served mostly by cars. However replicating the scale, density and infrastructure of the CBD elsewhere in the metropolitan area is extremely unlikely. There are only one or two other cities in the world (Atlanta is one) which have another job centre that rivals or exceeds its CBD in size.

Public transport in Melbourne will need to be improved and expanded on a scale not seen for generations in order to cope with projected growth. But even more attention needs to be given to how we can live successfully with the car. Travel by car needs to be made more sustainable, less congested and much more pleasant for residents and other road users. Peak oil and climate change should hasten this process but they won’t make cars obsolete and neither will politicians. Managing cars well will be the key transport challenge for Melbourne’s long term liveability.

* Map only shows mode split in zones where density >1,000 jobs/km2

17 Comments on “– Are cars the key challenge?”

  1. Glenn Thorpe says:

    A view of the problem with cars – add an extra person to a car and it increases consumption from say 6.0 litres/100 km to 6.1 or 6.2 litres/100 km. That is the marginal consumption of the extra person is 500 to 1,000 km/litre. Take the driver our of the car and the cost of having your own boudoir traveling the public property become apparent. 59 litres /1,000 km for moving the boudoir, 1 litre/1,000 km for moving a person.
    The boudoir provides transport for people, transport for goods, storage for goods, protection from rain, protection from wind and dust, protection from people, protection from animals, protection from injury in a crash, a personal private space, a place to relax, a private dining area, status and much much more. Public transport provides partial functionality of some items and nothing for most (eg no rain protection when walking to the transport, rain protection when actually on the transport).
    It is this additional functionality of boudoirs that needs addressing. People currently consider it is worth 60 times their pure transport cost to have this functionality, and the general feeling is that their cold, dead hands can be pried off their steering wheels.

  2. brisurban says:

    Is the other City Paris? (La Defence?)

  3. Russell says:

    Of course. Cars let you do so much that public transport will never be able to match. The only reason more people don’t drive into the city is the cost of parking. For years I caught the train into the city (Perth) but was eventually forced off the trains due to over-crowding. I decided it was worth paying $1500 a year for parking – this was 10 years ago, so it would now be much more, and I would pay it. But I found another job that actually has that rare thing – free city parking!

    If the price of fuel goes up a lot, we should plan for a switch to motor bikes/scooters – dedicating a lane to them etc.

  4. Chris Curtis says:

    I do some casual work on the edge of the city on two days a week. I drive. The two trips in and one of the trips home take c45 minutes. The other trip home normally takes 65-70 minutes, though on one occasion (due to a broken down car in one lane), it took c90 minutes. The three c45 minute trips are out of peak period; the last trip is in it. The equivalent trips by walk/train/tram would take 100+ minutes each. Thus, the car saves me more than three hours a week. Additionally, by using the car, I can visit other destinations on the way in and on the way out. If I attempted all of them by train, I shudder to think how long it would take. I just can’t see the train ever competing for most journeys.

    If we could decentralise employment (even within the metropolitan area) – and I don’t know how – we would have immense gains in time and expenditure.

    PS I pay 60 cents an hour for parking – and no, I’m not saying where.

    • Russell says:

      “If we could decentralise employment (even within the metropolitan area) – and I don’t know how – we would have immense gains in time and expenditure.”

      Existing technology. There are very many of we city desk workers who could easily do our work from home 1 or 2 days a week. Managers who have higher degrees in management apparently need to see employees sitting at desks to satisfy themselves that work is being done. But of course, we have blogs to read …..

      • brisurban says:

        I’m skeptical about employment decentralisation. Los Angeles has high density, high population and near-complete decentralisation. And its transport mode share journey to work is below 5% isn’t it?

        • Chris Curtis says:


          Perhaps the NBN will help with working from home.


          I am thinking of teachers and schools. Schools are spread throughout the metropolitan area in accordance with the population because that is the nature of the enterprise. How necessary is it that so many businesses concentrate in the inner city? I have no practical suggestion of how to make work and residences closer, but if they were, travel would be substantially reduced.

        • Alan Davies says:

          The benefits of decentralisation don’t come in mode shifts but rather in terms of reduced trip lengths – the required complement is more environmentally friendly cars.

  5. T says:

    I think the reason more people drive to work in areas outside the CBD is because, even when the area is 1KM outside the CBD, the added hassle of that extra 1KM can often double your transit time on PT. For example, I used to live in Hawthorn and work in Carlton. The trip by car was about 25 minutes in peak traffic (more like 10-15 minutes with average traffic). If I took PT, it would take me 60 minutes! Why? because the Victoria Street tram does not continue straight across Victoria Street/Parade. It turns and goes into the CBD which means to then get to Carlton I would have to get off and take another tram, and then walk 10 minutes to the office. Plus, with free parking, it was not much more money to drive than it was to pay for a weekly ticket.

    At the end of the day, it’s all about what’s more convenient. People will always chose the easiest way. Presently, during peak hour, the train is easier than driving for trips into and out of the CBD so the majority of people take the train.

    Even then, as someone else said, if you’re not going straight to work and then straight back home, you’re stuffed. When I worked in the CBD, I still had to drive twice a week because I took classes out in Oakleigh after work and the only way for me to get home after my class would be to have my car with me, hence I needed to drive to work.

    If the PT system is ever going to reduce car usage, it’s going to need a revamp so it makes traveling between suburbs, and not just to and from the CBD, easier and more convenient.

  6. jack horner says:

    Alan: “What this analysis says, in essence, is that any area that doesn’t look like the CBD will inevitably be served mostly by cars.”

    That ‘mostly’ covers a lot of possibilities that would be worth unpacking. Yes of course the mode split of the CBD cannot be replicated elsewhere. But what other, lower (but possibly more than at present) PT mode share might be worth trying for?

    Remember that in congested conditions a small reduction in traffic may lead to a big reduction of congestion.

    Other points of interest in the picture are
    – the very high car mode share to the port area;
    – the *relatively* low (60-70 per cent, caramel coloured) car mode share to a quite large area of the tram served inner suburbs.

    What would be the costs and benefits of trying to make more of Melbourne caramel coloured?

    • Alan Davies says:

      “What would be the costs and benefits of trying to make more of Melbourne caramel coloured?”

      Other than in the CBD and maybe the near-CBD, my feeling is there’s much more to be gained by giving priority to reducing oil consumption, emissions, pollution, congestion and accidents associated with cars. Most of these can be addressed by regulation rather than by mammoth expenditure programs (although the former is much, much more politically difficult than the latter).

      “Remember that in congested conditions a small reduction in traffic may lead to a big reduction of congestion”

      The problem here is how to stop the liberated road space being filled by new traffic.

  7. Alan Davies says:

    Great post by Peter Parker at Melbourne on Transit explaining why car’s mode share increases so quickly as you move away from the golden mile.

  8. […] who currently drive out of their cars and onto public transport won’t be easy. As I pointed out here and here, commuters who work just beyond the Hoddle grid are more likely to drive than take public […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s