Vehicles per 100 persons in private dwellings, 2006 – 2016 (source data: Charting Transport)

The 2016 Census gives us some insight into car ownership patterns. Chris Loader at Charting Transport has done the heavy lifting; he’s analysed the data from the 2016 Census for sixteen large and small cities and compared the results with the 2006 and 2011 Censuses.

So what does the Census tell us? You can and should read Chris’s impressive analysis here, complete with outstanding charts: What does the census tell us about motor vehicle ownership in Australia cities? (2006-2016). Here are some thoughts I had looking at the charts:

  • We haven’t passed peak car ownership yet; it’s increased faster than population in all 16 cities. For example, in Sydney ownership grew from 53.8 cars per 100 persons in 2006 to 55.3 in 2016 (see first exhibit). It grew faster in Brisbane; from 60.6 to 63.9 over the same period. I don’t have comparable data on the change in average kilometres of travel, but it’s generally understood it’s tracking at or below population growth after decades of growing faster. So, it seems we’re buying more cars but driving less. Perhaps cars are less useful than in the past for some trips compared to public transport, e.g. work travel in the city centre, but still very attractive for others e.g. recreational trips. The corollary is we haven’t passed peak parking either.
  • The lowest level of car ownership, by far, is in Sydney. Its 55.3 cars per 100 persons is a lot lower than the next city, Melbourne, with 61.7, and a long way short of Australia’s car capital, Perth, where it’s 70.1. Sydney is much denser than other Australian cities; it seems car ownership is less useful in large, dense cities, at least above some population threshold (see Population density: is Sydney an outlier?). There are various possible explanations e.g. traffic congestion, availability of good public transport, high parking costs. Given its usefulness for policy, hopefully the universities have studied this issue to death?
  • Rates of car ownership are generally lower in the inner city and along rail lines (see second exhibit). An important question is whether living close to rail leads to lower car ownership, or whether households who rely on public transport, such as those with a CBD worker, select addresses close to rail (see also, Is walking the only way to get to the station?). No doubt both factors apply to some extent, but I suspect it’s mostly the latter. Again, given its usefulness for policy, hopefully the universities have tortured this issue to breaking point?
  • Melbourne has the smallest increase in car ownership of all 16 cities over the ten years to 2016, increasing from 61.3 to 61.7 cars per 100 persons. This seems counter-intuitive given Melbourne’s higher population growth in recent years and substantially lower density than Sydney. Until I see a better theory, I’m putting it down to a technical issue with the Census.

There’s a lot more detail at Charting Transport and some beautiful charts.

Sydney: cars per person aged 18-84, Census 2016 (source: Charting Transport)