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Cars & traffic

Aug 2, 2017

Have we passed peak car (parking)?

Australian city dwellers have passed peak travel (kilometres per capita) but it seems they haven't passed peak car ownership or peak parking

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)

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6 thoughts on “Have we passed peak car (parking)?

  1. Horst (Oz) Kayak

    “Given its usefulness for policy, hopefully the universities have studied this issue (car ownership) to death?”
    To the best of my knowledge no peer reviewed papers covering PhD level research outputs on car ownership rates are up for review for transport conferences in Australia in 2018. The TCPA seeks to have input if there are.

  2. Jacob HSR

    We will reach peak parking due to driverless cars.

    Sydney also has costly toll roads – which makes it more expensive to drive into the CBD.


    The really really simple solution is longer trains !!! Simply add more carriages to peak hour trains & make the carriages at one end, only for certain major stations, where that train may have to stop twice, a minute apart maybe. It’s not rocket science.

    1. Gloria

      Well actually there is a bit more science to it. Because those people need to get there somehow, they don’t magically arrive. They need to then move into another transport mode or to walk. Even if they walk, they need more footpaths or wider footpaths. Where they cross, they need more green walk time at signals, which means it needs to be taken away from one of the other phases which affects road based transport (buses, cars, freight, taxis, cyclists). At major stations, the loads coming off the train with more carriages need to make their way out of the station, which means more escalators, more fare gates (wider) which means bigger stations, especially if it’s underground.

      What isn’t rocket science is to spread the demand over a longer period. At the moment the peak occurs in the AM and then a slightly lower peak occurs in the PM. If that were smoothed out then the transport network would operate more efficiently and not require big land takes, sprawling suburban car parks, and buses that are full in the peak and parked for the rest of the day.

    2. Itsumishi

      If the trains must “stop twice” at stations to let people off all carriages, then the trains will run slower and as a result less trains can run per hour. Less trains per hour, means less capacity. Depending on the gains made from the extra carriages, you are likely to find there is less overall passenger capacity; and services are now less attractive because of the slower journey times.

    3. Amark

      Longer trains is exactly what is happening on the Dandenong line in Melbourne. It is however anything but a simple solution. Platform extensions, power system upgrades, signalling upgrades(longer trains can start to overlap the signalling blocks, which reduces a lines capacity), upgrade platform access, longer sidings, longer maintenance sheds