Cumulative number of weekday trips by travel distance (km), for bicycle, car, public transport, Melbourne (source data: VISTA)
Cumulative percentage of weekday trips by travel distance (up to 20 km), for bicycle, car and public transport, Melbourne (source data: VISTA 2012-13)

The release of the latest phase of the Victorian Integrated Survey of Travel and Activity (VISTA) – a survey of 14,250 people – provides some very interesting data on the nature and extent of cycling in Australia.

The data I looked at relates to Melbourne; while it’s flatter and has a stronger tradition of cycling than other major cities, Melbourne nevertheless offers guidance on the nature and the potential of cycling elsewhere in the nation.

How much do we cycle?

One of the most interesting stats is that cycling accounts for 2.0% of weekday trips for all purposes. That’s higher than the 1.6% for the journey to work – the customary stalwart for cycling – recorded for Melbourne at the 2011 Census!

It’s not within cooee of driving of course (73%) but it’s a lot closer to public transport’s share (8.7%). But note this: according to VISTA, more trips are made by bicycle on a weekday in metropolitan Melbourne than by either tram (1.5%) or bus (1.8%).

Cycling does even better in the inner ring of suburbs, which accounts for two thirds of all bicycle trips. Its mode share is higher there (5%) than in the middle ring (1.1%) or outer ring (0.7%) suburbs. But even in the inner ring, cycling is still used for more trips than tram (4.3%) or bus (1.4%).

What purposes do we cycle for?

Melburnians mostly cycle during the week for work-related and/or recreational & social purposes. Together with education, these purposes account for 79% of weekday trips, compared to 56% for all modes.

Where its not as useful as other modes is taking someone or something somewhere (Melbourne cyclists don’t double!), shopping and personal business.

At 3.3% of trips, cycling’s mode share is higher for the journey to work; in the inner ring it’s 9.2%, the same share as trams.

How long do we cycle?

Cycling is much more like driving in terms of weekday trip duration and distance than public transport (see exhibit).

The average trip by bicycle is 4.4 km. Half of car trips and two thirds of bicycle trips are less than 5 km compared to 17% of public transport trips.

The duration of the average weekday bicycle trip is 24 minutes. Three quarters of car trips and almost two thirds of cycling trips take less than 30 minutes compared to 12% of public transport trips.

This pattern holds true across each of the inner, middle and suburban rings. For example, the average inner suburban trip by bicycle takes 23 minutes; the average car trip takes 19 minutes; and the average public transport trip takes 48 minutes.

What does it mean?

VISTA indicates cycling is already a very important mode of transport during the week, accounting for around a quarter of a million trips, primarily made by residents of the inner city and inner suburbs.

Policy-makers like to say the right things about cycling but their actions fall well short of what cycling has to offer.

Given the right infrastructure and disincentives to private vehicle use, cycling has the characteristics to substitute for a large proportion of car trips in Melbourne’s inner ring suburbs. Other Australian cities aren’t that different; there’s potential to do likewise in large parts of them too.