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Transport - general

May 21, 2015

Is driving quicker than taking the train?

Policy-makers should look at these numbers. Journeys made by car in Sydney are much faster than journeys made by train; they're a long way from being substitutes for each other

Mean duration (minutes) of one-way journeys in Sydney SD for drivers and train passengers (source data: NSW Bureau of Transport Statistics)

Update: the heading might mislead. To clarify, the exhibit is not a comparison of the same trip taken by different modes; it’s a comparison of the trips actually taken by cars in Sydney with the trips actually taken by trains. As the article makes clear, they’re different beasts.

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One of the perennial issues in urban transport policy is the duration of the journey to work. Time spent commuting by car is frequently said to be implicated in a range of social problems, from diabetes to family breakdown (e.g. see hereherehereherehere and here).

So it’s worth taking a fresh look at just how much time we spend on commuting and other trip purposes. The exhibit shows the average duration of one-way commutes and other journeys in Sydney using data from the NSW Bureau of Transport Statistics (BTS) household survey. (1)

Average journey times (in minutes) are presented separately for residents of inner, middle and outer ring suburbs. The first panel presents the data for car drivers and the second for train passengers. (2) (3)

Since the data is collected via a household survey, note that according to transport researcher David Levinson, Vierordt’s Law says “people are more likely to over-estimate short times and under-estimate long times”.

Sydney’s a good choice for comparing car travel with public transport and thinking about the implications for the future. It’s Australia’s most populous city; it’s got by far the highest population density; easily the highest mode share for public transport; and it has a stronger system of suburban centres on train lines than the other capitals.

There’re some very interesting things going on in the exhibit, but the key ones are:

  • Average journey times are much, much shorter for drivers than for train passengers. The BTS data shows that’s true for all purposes including commuting. Indeed, the average commute by car for outer suburban Sydneysiders is quicker than the average commute for inner ring train users.
  • Average journey times don’t vary much for car drivers irrespective of how far they live from the CBD i.e. what ring they’re in. However in the case of train travellers, trip times are much longer for outer ring residents. That doesn’t just apply to commutes; it also applies to social and recreational trips.

Train journeys take significantly longer on average than car journeys for a number of reasons:

  • Trains require walking to and from stations, waiting time and in some cases transfers.
  • Trains travel in their own right-of-way so they’re fast over long distances; this gives residents the option of increasing their housing options by living further from destinations.
  • Sydney’s ‘hub and spoke’ train system is focussed on the huge concentration of activities in the very small area covered by the CBD. Trains enable Sydneysiders to access the jobs and other attractions of the CBD from all over the metropolitan area.

The land use and infrastructure patterns underyling train trips and car trips are very different. Car journey times are shorter in part because there’s no waiting time, no stopping time and they mostly travel door-to-door. A more important factor though is that the great bulk of activities people want to get to have “decentralised” from the centre to the suburbs along with population.

Car-oriented cities deal with traffic congestion in part by building more roads but mostly by keeping densities relatively low and accommodating growth at the periphery (a.k.a. Growth Centres). Local destinations are no longer within a manageable walk like they once were, but they’re now within a relatively quick drive e.g. the average shopping trip by car in Sydney’s outer suburbs is thirteen minutes.

The BTS data indicates that other than for a small range of trips (e.g.commutes to the CBD) trains are a long way from being good substitutes for cars in Sydney. It also suggests a number of challenging questions, including:

  • Have cars had a more instrumental role in limiting average trips times across the metropolitan area than trains?
  • Are average trip times likely to get longer as trains increase their mode share at the expense of cars?
  • Would accelerating the growth of suburban job centres and improving the level of train service reduce average trip times by train? Or would it lead to travellers living even further away?
  • In view of the differences in average travel times, are trains generally a plausible substitute for cars for local trips?
  • Would a more connected ‘grid’ of frequent train, tram and bus services have a big impact on the travel time gap to cars?

I’ve focussed on trains here to keep the discussion manageable, but note that the average duration of trips by bus is also significantly longer than it is by car. That holds for all purposes in all rings, according to the BTS data. (4)

Although the differences are not as marked, the data shows a similar pattern with average trip distance (kilometres). The average length of trips by car in Sydney is appreciably shorter than it is by train in all rings and for all purposes (I’ll look at distance in detail another time).

The numbers in the exhibit are all averages for large areas so there’ll be plenty of variation at the local level e.g. some trips much faster, some much slower. The ‘big picture’ takeaway though is that cars still offer a compelling proposition relative to trains, even in congested Sydney.

It’s deluded to think cars are on their way out. Policy-makers need to stop ignoring the obvious and start thinking seriously about how to ration demand in congested locations; how to make cars cleaner, quieter and more fuel-efficient; how to make them safer for other street users; and how to make them more respectful of urban amenity.

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  1. Sydney Statistical Division; excludes Lake Macquarie and Wollongong.
  2. Inner ring extends approx 10 km from CBD.
  3. The data only shows trip times for drivers. If car passengers were counted too, the average duration of education/childcare trips by car would be much lower.
  4. This is for trips where bus is the main mode. Bus trips do not take as long on average as trains.

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43 thoughts on “Is driving quicker than taking the train?

  1. Alan Davies

    Tom the first and best #42:

    Sure (although couldn’t they be over-predicting too?). I note the slogan “trains not tolls” suggests even the opponents of the EWL don’t support tolling existing freeways. Be interested to know the Greens position on this point.

  2. Tom the first and best

    40

    There are various ways that the proportion of freeway traffic switching to could be higher than they predict.

    They could be under predicting.

    The Eastern Freeway could be tolled, which would reduce freeway traffic even without the railway.

    Other traffic reduction policies, such a reduced parking, reduced traffic space, a higher parking levy and a CBD congestion charge, probably closer into the city.

  3. Mayan

    Most employment in Australian cities is in the suburbs, which is also where people live. It has been a long time since working in the CBD was the norm, if it ever truly was. For this reason, cars are a rational choice, and public transport will struggle to match its speed and convenience.

  4. Alan Davies

    Jill Baird #39:

    The issue regarding Doncaster rail is the feasibility study estimated that only 2% of AM peak patrons by 2031 would come from cars (the rest would come from existing public transport). It can’t be assumed that all of that 2% would come from the freeway either.

    So when the Greens Ellen Sandell advocated “Doncaster rail, that’ll get cars off the Eastern Freeway, it’s been planned for over 100 years”, she’s arguing for spending $4-$6 billion for a pretty small pay-off in terms of reducing car use.

  5. Jill Baird

    There are 38 comments here, but I can’t see any about the many people who can’t drive, for various reasons – too young, too old, disability, lost their licence. Travel has to be viable for them too.
    And re a Green saying Doncaster rail would take cars off the road, is anyone really disputing this? I don’t think “all cars” was meant.

  6. Tom the first and best

    37

    Autonomous vehicles do not provide PT as such, unless they are specifically PT vehicles. Autonomous vehicles will provide taxi services when that becomes viable. Autonomous buses and trams are also possible (with trams easier because of the tracks). Door-to-door has its downsides, it reduces incidental exercise, for example.

  7. Aussiesue

    I don’t think they necessarily would give up cars but they may give up one car. Autonomous vehicles would provide a superior public transport system (door to door, more comfortable, scheduled individually rather than on a timetable for instance)as well as replacing taxis (there could be levels of service at different prices such as waiting on demand at one’s house or place of work or equipped with a child seat etc) which should attract a lot of people who now commute by car if priced appropriately. The main reason we have big vehicles and schedules at present is because until recently we did not have software and hardware platforms to do this…we relied on an expensive human getting the bus to a location at a particular time (and having many small vehicles would be too expensive because of the cost of labour). Unsophisticated versions of what I am suggesting already exist in developing countries where labour is cheap and public transport is non existent.

  8. drsmithy

    I was very heartened to read a plausible vision of the not too distant future (ie prototypes already in production and/or testing) of a transport fleet of very small, autonomous driverless electric vehicles which could be controlled by a scheduling software program which would also choose most efficient route, ordered by app, would give the choice of sharing or alone, could be ordered like a taxi, would be door to door, would not sit around parked all day but would be in use, could be “stacked” for parking.

    I have heard many people put forth the argument that autonomous vehicles will cause people to give up private vehicles, but I struggle to see it happening.

    Most will want their own vehicle for the same reasons they don’t all catch taxis today – it’s a status symbol, you can leave your stuff in it (eg: baby seats) all the time, it’s ready exactly when you need it, and you don’t have to worry about whether the previous passengers vomited (or worse) on the seat.

  9. Aussiesue

    It bothers me that many people who cheer for public transport – or bike riding for that matter – do not seem to take into account the reality of transport for the majority of people. Cars beat public transport and bikes hands down for convenience and comfort as well as timeliness. There actually is a rational reason people continue to choose to drive.
    I was very heartened to read a plausible vision of the not too distant future (ie prototypes already in production and/or testing) of a transport fleet of very small, autonomous driverless electric vehicles which could be controlled by a scheduling software program which would also choose most efficient route, ordered by app, would give the choice of sharing or alone, could be ordered like a taxi, would be door to door, would not sit around parked all day but would be in use, could be “stacked” for parking. If we think outside the current boxes, maybe we don’t need to be building trains or roads but rather a completely different network (eg smaller paths with charging stations).

  10. Antonia M

    My car died last week, meaning I’ve been relying on public transport to and from work for the past week. So far, I have spent over $60 on an Opal Card and my commute has gone from 20-30mins (by car) to 60-75mins (by bus) each way. Where I live and where I work means my only option is a bus. Sydney’s public transport network is a disgrace. I can’t wait to pick up my new car tomorrow and not have to deal with buses that never run on time and that take 3 times longer than by car.

  11. michael r james

    I’m with #28 Dogs Breakfast on this, and that view is consistent with the discussion in the Grattan Institute’s City Limits. Also I find it pretty much unacceptable to use such “anecdotal” evidence. It is lazy and is done simply because no one wants to spend the time or money to do a proper study. Given that this kind of thing can be done so accurately ands painlessly with GPS tracking technology (with commuters agreement) then there is no real excuse for not doing the proper scientific study that we could have confidence in.

    As I have stated in earlier comments we need to see fuller data such as kilometres, time (door to door including parking) and complete household data rather than just individuals.

    Having said that, certainly I don’t question that driving in Sydney could still be quicker than PT for most trips. Also there may be an averaging effect (since kilometres are not recorded) whereby more shorter trips will artefactually depress the average. But as several have pointed out, it is the answer to the wrong question.

  12. JMNO

    I walk to station – 10 minutes. I could catch a tram if I wanted. Ten minutes on the train to the city. A 10 minute walk at the other end. I read a book or the newspaper on the train. Others do their emails and read stuff on their IPads. I don’t have to find expensive and elusive parking, I get some exercise and I arrive at work feeling relaxed and not filled with the aggression I see in many of the drivers on the rare occasions I drive. I don’t get stuck in frequent traffic jams. Every peak hour train takes 600 – 800 drivers off the road. If they were all on the roads they would be even more of a slow-moving carpark than they are at the moment. Faster, more frequent and more reliable trains are the answer, not more cars.

  13. gary zest

    Hey Allen

    Can you write a piece on the impact of free tram trips in melbourne city. Seems to be popular and trams much more crowded than they used to be inside the city.

    thanks

  14. Alan Davies

    Dogs Breakfast #28:

    Don’t have data for duration, but I can tell you that the BTS data says 31% of all commutes for drivers in Sydney (excludes passengers) are longer than 10 km and 13% are longer than 20 km (the corresponding figures for train are 56% and 29%). Average commutes for drivers are 25% longer in the outer ring than in the inner ring; the corresponding number for train passengers is 66%.

    I’ve discussed the apparent dissonance between perceptions of long commutes and what the data says (which is based on what people say e.g. in travel diaries; estimating the network travel time/distance between their home and work addresses) in this article, Does the typical outer suburban worker have a long commute?

  15. Dogs breakfast

    Hard to read those stats and make sense of them.

    Living in Sydney without a car is just hard. It works ok when you’re young but no way with a family, and when you are young you can live in the inner-city and walk or PT to work.

    But I’m surprised about the average drive time to work in Sydney. Very few people in Sydney who drive anywhere near Pennant Hills Rd, the M5, the M4, the M1, the Pacific Highway or god forbid, any of the northern beaches routes would spend less than an hour in a car.

    And yet the average drive time is supposed to be less than 30 minutes!

    It’s unusual to spend less than an hour travelling to work in Sydney, and may be as much as 2 hours. Me, I spend 15 minutes, but I made significant life changing decisions to enable me to work in the burbs, close to home, and the vast majority of Sydney-siders do not.

    Otherwise, what are all those cars on the previously mentioned roads doing from 6.30 am till 9.30 or later?

  16. morebento

    I cannot wait for autonomous electric cars

  17. drsmithy

    Whether we run out of oil, iron ore or due to global warming, either cars are on their way out or humans are on their way out.

    This is a complete furphy. From a functional perspective, electric cars are drop-in replacements for nearly all personal travel use cases today. Combine with a localised distributed power-grid leverage rooftop solar and batteries, and the cost of oil (from the perspective of car ownership) will soon become irrelevant.

    Within a decade, most new cars sold will be fully electric, or at worst hybrids. Within two, so will the majority of vehicles on the road. Cars aren’t going anywhere.

    Additionally, once the property bubble finally collapses and outer-suburb, fringe and rural land prices are returned to reality, people will move away from city centres as they did in the past. Combined with rapidly improving telecommunications and increasing levels of “online” social interaction and employment, the future is starting to look – thankfully – far more decentralised.

  18. michael r james

    Ha, #22 Socrates has precisely confirmed what you deny in #21:
    “Alan, and you make a valid point – public transport is not a viable alternative for many urban trips”.

    Yet Soc goes on to describe various cities that manage to do that miracle!

    Thus defining neatly our conundrum: you will never have what you always are in denial of. If you keep using current Australian statistic to “prove” roads outperform …whatever … then you will just keep building roads. And the future statistics will keep “proving” you correct. Brilliant, and AD you seem to think this is “scientific”!

  19. michael r james

    #21 AD

    Well, as often in your writings you don’t seem keen on any clear solutions, or even general strategies. And your claim seems at odds with this article and your comments at #8 and #13. As other commenters have noted, you have presented this data as if it can support only one conclusion, that cars are and will remain better than anything else. Yet, as the news items on this on Friday showed current Sydney drivers say it is getting worse. (Admittedly a lot of selection bias to get the usual newsworthy whinges.) An Abbott soundbite was shown repeatedly last night in which he said we must take action quickly; we all know–because he has told us so–that this means only one thing, more roads.

    The thing, and which I and other readers of your blog would like to hear, is where does this leave us for the future? You may not agree with Abbott but you’re not allowing your readers to come to any other conclusion.

    No one here has ever pretended that Australian city PT is faster than driving–though there is the much bigger variability of driving versus rail PT that is not in those figures. (The Grattan Institute’s City Limits had several vignettes about car commuters having a 15 minute window, which, if they missed, would result in terrible congestion delays and turn their day into a nightmare playing catchup.) And no one pretends that buses as all Australian cities currently run them will entice people out of their cars for those short “local” journeys. (One simply cannot run hi-frequency buses if they operate over long, circuitous routes.)

    But you may remember that my critique of the book was that the authors had described the problems our cities face but, in common with you, were very light, even vague, on the solutions. And the problem with this is that it means the business-as-usual approach is taken by default (and let’s face it, Abbott is just an extreme of generations of Australian politicians across both parties). It is incumbent upon “urbanists” to lay out a clearer concept of what to do. You repeatedly fail to do this. We can hardly expect the politicians to adopt to bold new urban planning if the “experts” are too timid or unclear in their analyses.

  20. Socrates

    A good post Alan, and you make a valid point – public transport is not a viable alternative for many urban trips, hence cars will continue to be used. I am not in favour of sweeping ideological views on transport of the “Mode X is good” and “Mode Y is bad” kind. In outer suburban areas cars are faster and cheaper. It is only in CBD areas and activity centre that line haul PT whether train or busway) makes sense.

    That being said, it depends how it is done. Australia is far from best practice in PT planning. Try Germany, France or anywhere in Korea or Japan. In most of heir cities the trains ar faster than here, more frequent, and very reliable. So people catch them. They are the mode of choice used by the mainstream, rather than the mode of last resort usee by a small poor minority.i still remember the first time I inspected the busway system on Ottawa, Canada. In the morning peak all thhe businessmen wwere lined up with their briefcases to catch the bus. Why? Because it was the fastest way into town.

    So it depends on where you are and how it is done. Circumferential links like EastLink and WestLink M7 (and WeetConnex) should be roads. In fact we would be better off planning safe bikeways than bus lanes in outer suburban areas to improve access to centres.

    Capacity into the CBD or major busines centres should be by rail, LRT or busway. The Perth Mandurah line in Perth is faster than driving into the CBD. Unsurprisingly it now runs very full trains every six minutes in the peak period. So when PT is planned properly, it can work, in the right place. The Glenelg tram (really LRT) in Adelaide has also worked very well. It is frequent and, thanks to segregated right of way, again faster than driving. So is the SE busway in Brisbane. That is the key. If PT infrastructure cannot be time competitive with cars, it should not be built.

  21. Alan Davies

    michael r james #20:

    Er, no, AD isn’t proposing that. In public policy, it’s really very important to take as objective a view as possible of the data and what it might mean. You need to minimise preconceptions and those deeply embedded inner narratives. Observing that public transport is not an easy or simple substitute for cars given the current pattern of travel behaviour in Sydney does not logically or necessarily mean that building more freeways is the only answer. Try to think more like a scientist please and less like a politician.

  22. michael r james

    The gigantic elephant in this room, as implied by AD and by yesterday’s Infrastructure Australia report Audit, is the notion that the only, indeed that these data “prove”, the solution is to build more roads. And then, soon after those are built and become congested, yet more roads.There are so many problems with the presentation of these data that I may deal with it in another post, though really #1 Aenveigh at 9:48 am, stated the fundamental truth of why we are in this awful situation: because we’ve built (it) that way.

    Even as car-ownership and the number of young people with drivers licenses is in decline (indeed peaked in 2008), something reported by AD here. Even as more people try to live closer in, or in more convenient commuter locations.

    Anyway, I find myself in the remarkable position of citing Jeremy Clarkson who, in his latest weekly piece, has nailed one reason for this change. I believe I have written the exact same thing in these pages several years ago. GenY and Millenials have been victims of the car-culture since birth and it has no appeal:

    [My son is 19 and has not bothered to take his driving test. His argument: there’s a bus that stops right outside his flat in London and it takes him, in a blizzard of WiFi, to and from Oxford. For £11. If he wants to go somewhere else, he can use a train, he can move about without worrying about breath tests, speeding fines, parking tickets or no-claim bonuses. My son thinks he’s free because he doesn’t have a car.
    And there’s no point going on about the open road and the wind in your hair and the snarl of a straight six because he just doesn’t see cars this way. With good reason. When he was little he spent two hours a day on the school run strapped into a primary-coloured child’s seat, in the back of a Volvo, in an endless traffic jam.]
    …………………..
    Incidentally I have used that “bus” that plies Oxford-London many times. Clarkson’s son was clearly using the bus to visit the Clarkson family pile in Chipping Norton near Oxford. I lived in central Oxford just minutes walk to the coach station. It is one of those giant luxury coaches so not your suburban bus ride. Even so, I found I could not read or use a laptop (no WiFi back then anyway) because there was still too much movement that induced, not full-blown motion-sickness but a headache.
    ………………….
    So, does AD really propose that to avoid the IA’s scenario of congestion cost of $53 billion a year by 2031, is business-as-usual: more roads, more road-widening, more hyper-expensive road tunnels with ever-higher tolls?
    Seriously? And because these data “clearly prove” private drivers on roads “outperform” public transport?

  23. Zebee Johnstone

    My employer has a large presence in Macquarie Park – so quite decent public transport, train and bus.

    Parking is limited and costs and there is a lot of complaining. Many people say they can do the trip to work in 45 mins by car but it takes a lot longer by PT.

    I can do it 45 mins in peak hour on the motorcycle by doing what motorcycles do, not in a car though. Bicycle/train or bicycle alone take about the same amount of time door to door due to waiting and transfer time, train a bit quicker.

    But I live in what is these days inner ring and the roads are chockers at peak hour. The people who come from the outer suburbs have multi lan freeways which do clog but not quite as badly at Mac Park compared to closer in.

    ON the other hand… I do the 20km on a bicycle but that is an unimaginable distance for many.

  24. Alan Davies

    I get the impression that some readers have interpreted the title of the article as comparing a train with a car for the same trip. I can see how that would happen but it’s not the intention.

    Anyone who went beyond the lede and read the article should readily see that it compares those trips actually taken by drivers in Sydney with those actually taken by trains. I went to some pains to explain how and why journeys on these modes are different and that there are underlying structural causes. I acknowledge the title should’ve been better.

  25. Norman Hanscombe

    Anyone who has studied Public Transport closely knows that there were systems operating after W.W. II which moved commuters cheaply and efficiently. It was increased affluence with more people owning cars which virtually destroyed many of the extremely effective Public Transport systems in Australia and elsewhere.
    Without politically unpopular economic sanctions, wasteful personal car trips will continue.

  26. tedre123

    Hello Alan re:comment13
    These groups seem to want PT instead of toll roads. These would replace growth in urban car traffic with growth in PT. I don’t think they aim to “replace cars.” Are you in favour of WestConnex and/or the East West link?

  27. Strewth

    Indeed: the alternative mode for local trips, if they’re not done by car and are beyond walking distance, will mostly be either bus or bicycle. A fair few make sense as combined bus + train trips depending on how the network is set up, but that’ll only be a competitive option when Sydney gets genuine multimodal fares and effective bus-train connections.

    Again, the story you tell here is all about relatively short local trips not being attracted to the kind of public transport Sydney has at present. This is largely down to the poor state of suburban bus networks. But you’ve nonetheless framed it as “train travel being slower than car travel” which isn’t quite what the data are saying.

    Main point here is we shouldn’t dismiss public transport as being ‘naturally’ uncompetitive with car travel in suburban areas if we’ve never actually tried to make it competitive. There are a lot of Canadian cities where local travel by bus is more popular than in Sydney, yet the population density if anything is lower in those cities.

  28. Alan Davies

    tedre123 #9:

    Comparing overall trip times for people using cars and trains makes no sense since they are mostly doing different trips.

    The idea that public transport, esp trains, can (and should) replace cars is pervasive among planners and advocates. See Trains not Tolls; see Ellen Sandell’s claim that “a Doncaster train would get cars off the freeway”; see The Greens making indexation of petrol excise conditional on the revenue being used for public transport, not roads; etc etc.

    Public transport can only increase its mode share in Sydney (11% bus+train vs 69% cars) at the expense of either cars or active modes.

    Michael M #10:

    That hypothesis is explicitly addressed in the article.

    Rail can only increase its mode share in Sydney from its current 5% if it can substitute for trips by other modes. The car is by far the dominant mode in Sydney with 69% mode share.

  29. Roger Clifton

    Cities currently expand in “strip developments” along the major roads leading out of the city. City development could be planned along narrow corridors along a railway line. If the intensity of development dropped off rapidly transverse to the line, it would always be a short walk to the station, whether from home or from work. More remote commuters would be able to park and ride.

  30. Roger Clifton

    Trains would be much faster if they never stopped. Passengers could be picked up by a single carriage accelerating from a station before the main train passes through, and dropped off similarly. With rolling stock taking shorter time per trip, they could provide more trains per day.

  31. Michael M

    An alternate hypothesis is that people are willing to travel for much longer distances via train than via car. Possibly due to the potentially more productive time spent in public transport than car – Dylan #3 and Alan #8. Because there is no control for the reasons people choose to travel these distances, is it not possible that those that are wanting to travel large distances and times for work or meeting friends are weighing up the choice between car and train and choosing the later?

  32. tedre123

    Dear Alan,
    Comparing overall trip times for people using cars and trains makes no sense since they are mostly doing different trips.

    You say “trains are a long way from being substitutes for cars”
    Whoever said that they were? In a multi modal balanced transport solution, the choice is not cars versus trains.

    “It’s deluded to think cars are on their way out.” Are you saying we should keep building more roads in urban areas?
    Whether we run out of oil, iron ore or due to global warming, either cars are on their way out or humans are on their way out.

    There’s a great way to get good fuel economy; putting more people on a bus.

    “Car-oriented cities deal with traffic congestion in part by building more roads” How many times has this has been debunked as a solution to congestion for any city on planet earth?

  33. Alan Davies

    Dylan Nicholson #3:

    Driving time can be productive too e.g. listening to music/podcasts; reflection. It fails on reading but wins on making private phone calls and having private discussions with passengers.

    Strewth #4:

    I thought that explanation was pretty clear in the article! Cars win 69% of trips and trains 5% in large part because most trips are short in car-oriented cities. As I implied in the article, driving has effectively substituted for walking.

    Trains are competitive on long trips in congested conditions and, because they’re mass transport, to a limited number of small, dense locations e.g. CBD. Hence getting trains to substitute for cars on a significant scale in a place like Sydney will be a challenging task because most trips are short (another 17% are walking). As noted, even bus trips (main mode) are appreciably longer on average than car trips.

    Doubtless trip times for public transport can be lowered but the gap at present is huge. Note also that car trip times can be improved too e.g. by managing demand during congested periods.

    Wxtre #5:

    Public transport wins a 70%+ share of CBD journeys to work mainly because (a) the CBD’s size and density mean driving is less competitive due to traffic congestion and high parking costs, and (b) it’s the hub of the entire metropolitan train network. These conditions don’t apply in other centres to anywhere near the same extent.

    Jacob HSR #6:

    Agree there should be a clear difference between peak and non-peak fares, at least to the CBD, but don’t agree off-peak fares should be free.

    Note that public transport does not meet the standard definition of a public good.

  34. Jason Murphy

    Checked the public transport timetable for a meeting in the city on Monday: 24 minutes. Was going to take it until I misjudged and ran out of time to get to the stop.

    Took Uber instead: 13 minutes.

    Price difference: $11.35 instead of $3.70. Decent value just on the time savings, without accounting for no walking at either end.

  35. Jacob HSR

    You could make PT free during the off-peak periods. Watching the ABC is free.

    Tesla cars have “free” charging for god’s sake. And they are a private firm.

    Cycleways are free to use. GP co-payments are not here.

    Having PT is a public good.

  36. wxtre

    Reading this statistic in another article. ‘Upwards of 70% of all CBD workers in Sydney and Melbourne commute by public transport, especially by train’.

    From this statistic obviously CBD workers prefer public transport to motor vehicles as their mode of transport. The issue could be train networks in Australia are not modern and need investment. Investment such as adding quadruple track to enable express services from the outer-lying suburbs, removal of level crossings, updating signalling, separating regional service and freight from suburban tracks etc.

  37. Strewth

    There’s a simpler explanation for the figures here Alan. A clear majority of all motorised travel is local: across just one suburb or two. Yet short-distance local travel is where Australian cities do the worst job at providing decent public transport alternatives, mainly because of the poor standard of suburban bus networks.

    Sydney’s higher population densities don’t save it here. In fact Sydney is also at a disadvantage because it’s the only Australian capital city without multimodal fares, and this suppresses demand for any trip that requires more than one mode of public transport.

    So Sydney’s public transport system is generally only competitive for relatively long-distance train travel between destinations that are close to the train network. You can therefore expect that public transport journeys will skew toward longer distances regardless of the point of origin. But car trips will be dominated by local travel where public transport is uncompetitive, so will skew to shorter distances. The difference in average travel time reflects this difference in distances.

    You can confirm this from the BTS household survey report: Table 4.4.2 gives average distance by mode, and indeed it’s nearly twice as much for train travellers as for car users on average. By and large, train trips take longer not because they’re hugely slower, but because they’re over longer distances.

    As public transport becomes more competitive for shorter-distance travel (which will require genuine multimodal fares as well as useful bus networks), it’s to be expected that average travel times for public transport users will reduce to be closer to the average for motorists.

  38. Dylan Nicholson

    I’ll just make the same point I make everyone when people raise this: car driving time is *dead* time in a way public transport/walking time shouldn’t be. Walking to/from stations should be counted as a positive as it’s good for us, and *provided* a train/tram isn’t unpleasantly overcrowded, then the time spent on one can and should be used productively. There’s no way I would tolerate an hour-long commute to work if it was just driving the whole way, but I’m quite happy doing it when it’s a beneficial and productive part of my day.

  39. Scott

    “It’s deluded to think cars are on their way out”

    So true. I live in Sydney and these stats make so much sense to me based on personal experience.

    Cars are superior in just about every way to public transport, and those that can afford them, use them. It is telling that the main reason people drive to work is for “Prefer the convenience/independence of car”. You will never be able to substitute that using public transport.

    And it doesn’t make a lot of economic sense either. For the amount of money spent on Public transport in NSW over the last 10 years, to only increase the share of public transport trip percentage from 10.2% to 11.4% compared to car travel (as a driver or passenger) which went from 70.7% to 69% over the 10 years period would have to count as a failure.

  40. Aenveigh

    The car convenience and rapidity is there mostly because we’ve built that way as you’ve outlined – low density suburbs.
    In contrast, I can use trams for the 5-7 minute trips to get to shops, living almost next to a tram line and with a high service frequency and real-time info that means a negligible wait time (at either end of the trip). Such infrastructure can replace car-based trips, but only where the concentration of jobs, businesses and residents are sufficient to warrant such a service.
    In outer suburbs, it’s hard to see this happening in the short term, but perhaps along specified corridors it could become the case.
    Notably, if I need a destination *not* on or near the tram line (or its connections), it’s either the car, or choosing not to access that business/recreation opportunity at all. So it’s hard to see cars being replaced, but perhaps reprioritized in locations in which densities are too high to justify the space they take.

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