Mode shares for weekday trips in inner Sydney

This new presentation attracted considerable attention earlier this month because it shows that public transport, walking and cycling do very well in Vancouver. The graph on page 3 shows the combined mode share of trips by public transport, walking and cycling was 44% in Vancouver in 2011, up from 40% in 2008.

There are plenty of reasons why Vancouver is compared with antipodean cities. It’s something of a poster child for good planning and, along with Melbourne, Adelaide, Sydney, Perth and Auckland, it ranks in the top ten of the Economist Intelligence Unit’s liveability survey of 140 world cities. Sydney and Vancouver are also regularly compared because they’re Pacific harbour cities.

Australians have to be careful when assessing international travel figures because we’re accustomed to thinking in terms of metropolitan areas. That’s pertinent in this case because the Vancouver numbers aren’t for the metropolitan area but for the smaller City of Vancouver; it has a population of 603,502 and covers an area of just 115 sq km. (1)

In our terms this is just the inner city; it’s equivalent to a 6 km radius around the CBD. We expect public transport and active modes to fare better close to the city centre because it’s near the job-rich CBD and the hub of the metropolitan public transport system. It also tends to have high dwelling and activity densities that facilitate walking while discouraging parking.

I was interested to see how Australian cities compare to Vancouver; so I looked at the mode share numbers for Sydney’s 11 inner city municipalities. The two areas aren’t identical but they’re similar; the Sydney municipalities have a combined population of 744,659 – about 15% of metro Sydney – and cover an area of 176 sq km; it’s equivalent to a radius of 7.5 km.

The Sydney trip counts are from the NSW Bureau of Transport Statistics 2012/13 Household Travel Survey. This can only be an approximate comparison because I can’t be sure from the Vancouver presentation how the Vancouver numbers were estimated. (2)

The really interesting thing shown by the exhibit is that public transport and active transport (i.e. walking and cycling) together accounted for 53% of all trips in inner Sydney in 2012/13; that’s higher than Vancouver even though the area is larger. (3)

The exhibit also shows the mode split for the more important trip purposes in Sydney. The share of trips by public transport and active modes is 65% for shopping and 60% for education and child care; even for commuting it’s 56%.

Policy-makers should note that cars are used for a minority of trips in inner Sydney; moreover that also holds for the most important trip purposes.

The only purposes where the combined share of public transport and active transport is smaller than for cars are work-related business trips (where it drops to 31%) and ‘serve passenger’ trips i.e. taking another person somewhere, usually driving a child (29%).

The Sydney figures are particularly impressive given the larger area it covers; Sydney’s inner city gross density is 4,231 compared to City of Vancouver’s 5,248. Inner Sydney also has more of it’s population further from the CBD.

Comparing travel in cities is always fraught and, as noted, I don’t know the fine detail underlying how the Vancouver numbers were calculated (on the other hand the Sydney data is quite transparent). I think it’s fair to say though that inner Sydney holds up well in terms of mode share compared to inner parts of metropolitan Vancouver.

I’ll compare mode split in inner Sydney with the middle and outer rings shortly. It’s worth noting now though that the inner city is another world compared to the rest of the metropolitan area. Cars account for only 46% of trips in the inner ring, but 74% in the middle ring and 80% in the outer ring.


  1. Metropolitan Vancouver covers 2,880 sq km and has a population of 2.3 million.
  2. The Sydney count is of unlinked trips on an average weekday. It’s derived from pooled data from 3 waves of household travel surveys -10/11 to 12/13 – weighted to June 30 2012 population.
  3. The numbers in the exhibit allow for all trip purposes but three aren’t shown i.e. Other, Work-related Business, Serve passenger.