This content forms a part of our issue briefing on sustainable cities and communities.
SDG 11.2 By 2030, provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, improving road safety, notably by expanding public transport, with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations, women, children, persons with disabilities and older persons.
SoE 2016: Built environment: Related key finding: “Pressures affecting liveability and the environmental efficiency of the built environment will differ, depending on geographic location and population size.”
Private motor vehicles have dominated Australian cities since the mid-20th century, with the total distance travelled by passengers on light and heavy rail being exceeded by travel by car for the first time in 1949.16 Following four decades of rapid post-war growth, private vehicle transport mode share stabilised, with more than 85 per cent of total urban passenger kilometres in Australian cities having been travelled by car from the early 1980s to present. The share of total trips by public (heavy and light rail, bus and ferry) and active (walking and cycling) transport modes has changed very little since this time: mass transit accounted for 8.2 per cent of total urban passenger kilometres in 1984, compared with 8.8 per cent in 2014, while active travel is estimated to have declined slightly from 4.1 per cent to 3.8 per cent.
As a consequence, greenhouse gas emissions from the transport sector have grown broadly in line with population growth, increasing by 16.4 per cent between 2007/08 and 2017/18 to reach a record high of 101.6 Mt CO2-e, comprising 19 per cent of Australia’s total emissions. With limited government incentives or infrastructure support, the uptake of electric vehicles — a transformation central to reducing emissions in the transport sector — is also lagging behind other comparable countries. Battery electric vehicle sales in Australia in 2017 represented less than 0.1 per cent of local market share, lower than Canada (0.6 per cent), the United Kingdom (0.5 per cent) and New Zealand (1.1 per cent), while leading countries by total unit sales in 2017 were China, the United States, Norway, Germany and Japan.19 Despite this slow uptake to date, the rapid growth in sales and policy incentives in a number of major economies elsewhere is likely to drive a market shift globally over the next decade, with the International Energy Agency projecting the number of light passenger electric vehicles worldwide to reach between 125 and 220 million by 2030.
Public and active transport accessibility remains limited by distinct spatial inequalities in infrastructure, route connectivity and service frequencies in all Australian cities, as demonstrated by Figure 4, with outer suburbs generally at a disadvantage in terms of public transport services. Although public transport networks generally service outer-city areas, low frequency of services and complex multimodal changes (such as between trains, buses and ferries) disincentivise their use. The integration of new mapping technologies across public, active and private transport modes is beginning to provide deeper insights into “door-to-door” commute times and the rationales behind commuter mode-choice, providing further evidence of outer suburb transport disadvantage. With the exception of Perth and Canberra, ratings of walkability similarly favour established inner-city suburbs, while national cycling data is limited and generally only reflective of commuter trip share.
Transport systems as assessed in the SoE 2016 report are presented largely in terms of lost productivity as a result of road congestion. However, although the existing low-density form of Australian cities is predisposed towards — and enabled by — private vehicle transport, complex relationships exist between infrastructure for public and active transport modes, and the much more substantive investments made in road infrastructure. With congestion across differing transport modes, trip times and other factors (such as cost, service frequency, end-of-trip infrastructure, safety and connectivity) all central to commuting behaviour, a more integrated approach to transport planning is needed across municipal, state and federal levels of government.
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