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New South Wales State of the Environment
Toward Sustainability Human Settlement Atmosphere Land Water Biodiversity   See Backgrounder
Human Settlement

SoE 2003 > Human settlement > 2.4 Transport

Chapter 2: Human Settlement

2.4 Transport

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2.4 Transport

NSW people are travelling further and more often, mostly by private vehicle

Private vehicle transport continues to be the most popular form of travel in urban NSW. Over the last 10 years vehicle kilometres travelled, the number of trips and the length of trips have all grown more quickly than population, although growth flattened slightly in 2000. While inner city train travel increased, public transport's share of the overall increased levels of travel remained static. The increase in rail patronage is attributed to urban consolidation in the inner and middle rings of Sydney and high levels of travel during the 2000 Olympic Games.

The area of highest growth in urban travel has been social and recreational trips in private vehicles, while work-related or work-commuting trips have maintained a relatively stable share.

Despite substantial improvements in engine technologies, fuel consumption and vehicle emissions are rising because of increases in the power, weight and distance travelled by new vehicles. This means that transport is expected to continue to be the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions and the primary determinant of urban air quality.

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NSW Indicators


Status of Indicator

2.9 Vehicle kilometres travelled

Total vehicle kilometres travelled has increased at more than double the rate of population growth.

2.10 Mode of transport to work

Private vehicles remain the most popular mode, although there has been a small increase in the proportion of people using public transport and walking to work.

2.11 Public transport use

Public transport use has matched population growth.

2.12 Fuel consumption per transport output

In private vehicles, reductions in fuel consumption from improved technology have been offset by increases in new vehicle weight and power. Trains and buses are more energy efficient than private vehicles.

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Importance of the issue

Transport is essential for connecting communities and businesses. However travel has major environmental and other costs: it consumes significant amounts of non-renewable resources, especially fossil fuels, and produces air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions (see Atmosphere 3.2 and Atmosphere 3.3). Transport also has noise, visual and other impacts on urban amenity and leads to traffic congestion and accidents. Runoff from roads can affect water quality and roads can have an impact on biodiversity by fragmenting natural ecosystems. There are important linkages between transport use, air pollution and health. Increasing use of public transport, walking and cycling are likely to have a dual benefit: reducing air pollution as well as the risk factors for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer and osteoporosis.

The transport sector is Australia's third-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, contributing 14.3% to the national total and around a quarter of all energy-related emissions. It also has the fastest growing emissions of any sector, rising 20.3% from 1990 levels (AGO 2002). Transport sector emissions are projected to rise by around 40% between 1990 and 2010 (BTRE 2002).

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Vehicle kilometres travelled

Vehicle kilometres travelled (VKT) is a measure of the total distance travelled by cars and other vehicles. It is one of the main factors influencing vehicle-based air pollution and energy consumption. Patterns of use of various transport modes for different trips and the energy efficiency of those modes for both passenger and freight transport also have a major influence on the impacts of VKT. Other important factors include vehicle technology (emissions per kilometre) and driving conditions, such as the number of cold starts and average speeds.

Total VKT, and individual trip lengths and times have steadily increased over the last decade with VKT growing by over 25%, more than twice as fast as the population (Figure 2.9).

Figure 2.9: Growth in population, number of trips and VKT in Sydney, 1991–2000

Figure 2.9

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Source: TDC 2002

Note: VKT estimates are measured as personal travel by residents of the Sydney Statistical Division (SD). The survey excludes VKT by most commercial freight, passenger and service vehicles, and non-residents. The survey is estimated to capture 83% of total VKT in the Sydney SD.

In 2000, Sydney residents made 15 million trips on an average weekday. Work trips were the longest, averaging 15.8 kilometres in 2000, a slight decline over the previous decade. However during the 1990s, average trip lengths increased overall, and for all trip purposes other than work (TDC 2002). Figure 2.10 shows the share of trips and VKT by purpose for Sydney. Commuting accounts for 28% of weekday VKT, while a further 22% of weekday VKT is for work-related business trips. These two purposes therefore account for 50% of VKT (although only 28% of trips), and hence are large contributors to road-based congestion, vehicle-generated pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

Figure 2.10: Share of trips and VKT by purpose for average Sydney weekday, 2000

Figure 2.10

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Source: TDC 2002

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Transport modes

Figure 2.11 shows how the share of travel in Sydney has changed for different modes of transport. It indicates a rise in car use, mainly at the expense of walking, for both weekday and weekend travel. This increased car use has been particularly pronounced for education, conveying passengers and shopping trips, perhaps reflecting concerns about safety and security by parents, deregulation of school enrolments, and the growth of larger regional shopping centres.

Figure 2.11: Mode shares for Sydney weekday and weekend travel, 1991 and 2000

Figure 2.11

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Source: TDC 2002

With regard to public transport patronage, train travel has increased in total (Figure 2.12) and maintained its modal share. While bus travel increased slightly between 1980–81 and 2000–01, it did not maintain its modal share. In addition to the major forms of public transport, minor modes in Sydney include taxis, ferries, the monorail and the metro light rail, which all serve particular niche markets. Of these, ferries and taxis appear to be maintaining their modal shares.

Public transport continues to primarily serve the commuting and education markets, accounting for around a quarter of all trips for these purposes while making up less than 10% of trips for all other purposes. The 2000 Olympic Games and associated tourism caused a slight rise in 2000–01 bus and rail patronage. Following this, passenger numbers returned to their previous growth rates.

Figure 2.12: Patronage of Sydney Buses and CityRail, 1980–81 to 2000–01

Figure 2.12

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Source: ABS 2002b, SRA 2001, STA 2001

Notes: Covers Sydney Statistical Division and includes Olympic patronage

While public transport's overall share of the increased levels of travel has remained static, ABS population and housing data indicates that fewer people in Sydney are using cars to get to work (ABS data available on request, Census of Population and Housing, 2001). Between 1996 and 2001:

  • private motor vehicles reduced their share of work trips from 72.7% to 70.8%
  • public transport increased its share of work trips from 19.1% to 19.8%
  • other modes of travel, such as walking and cycling, also increased their share from 8.3% to 9.4%.

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Energy efficiency comparisons

Research based on 1990 data showed that, on average, motor vehicle energy efficiency is half that of buses and rail, although this can differ between Australian capital cities (Kenworthy & Laube 1999). Other research (Warren Centre 2002) found that cars use 4.0 megajoules (MJ) per passenger-kilometre in Sydney, compared with 1.5 MJ for public transport, making the latter 2.7 times more efficient than cars across the whole day. Per capita energy use for both public and private transport is also much higher for people living in areas of low public transport accessibility than for those living where public transport is easily available.

The relative energy efficiency of different modes of transport appears to have remained fairly constant (Warren Centre 2002). Improved engine efficiency in cars has largely been offset by an increase in vehicle weight, engine power, the use of airconditioning, and increased fuel consumption by light commercial vehicles (Cregan et al. 2002). Four-wheel drive vehicles accounted for 15% of light vehicle sales in 2001, compared with 3% in 1979. As a result, Australian car fuel use increased 16.8% from 1990–2000 and emissions rose 22.2% over the same period. Truck and light commercial vehicle emissions increased 32.8% from 1990–2000 (AGO 2002). In 2000 the average on-road fuel performance of Australian cars was estimated at between 11 and 12 litres per 100 kilometres (Cregan et al. 2002).

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Freight transport modes

Road is the dominant mode for short-haul freight movement in Sydney, and also for intra- and interstate general freight. For example over 80% of the overnight freight on the Sydney–Melbourne corridor travels via road. Rail is at least three times more energy efficient than road for moving freight. The total freight carried is expected to increase over the next decade in line with economic growth. This highlights the value of ongoing improvement in freight efficiencies.

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Response to the issue

The NSW Government's environmental response to the transport issue is to reduce VKT and emissions to improve air quality. The integrated air quality management plan for the Greater Metropolitan Region, Action for Air, sets a framework for improving air quality and meeting national air quality standards (see Atmosphere 3.3). It includes actions to reduce vehicle emissions; integrate land-use and transport planning; encourage public transport use, walking and cycling; and improve freight transport.

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Reducing vehicle emissions

The NSW Government has adopted the five-point Cleaner Vehicles Action Plan for new vehicles and is committed to improving the quality of petrol and lowering sulfur levels. New Australian vehicle design rules, combined with the introduction of cleaner fuel standards for petrol and diesel, are leading to the use of more advanced emission control technologies. The new standard reduced sulfur levels in diesel fuel from 1300 parts per million (ppm) to 500 ppm from January 2003.

The Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA) is testing the emissions of all State Transit Authority diesel buses and repairing those that do not meet relevant standards. Compressed natural gas (CNG) refuelling stations have been built at four State Transit bus depots and this is the preferred fuel for the buses. The 400 buses using CNG produce 50% lower exhaust emissions than European diesel standards and are 50% quieter than diesel buses.

Under the Smoky Vehicle Enforcement Program, authorised officers from the EPA, RTA and NSW Police issue penalty infringement notices to the owners of vehicles that emit smoke continuously for more than 10 seconds. The community can also report smoky vehicles to the EPA Pollution Line or via the internet. In 2001–02, the EPA received 7171 notifications about smoky vehicles from the public (EPA data, as at July 2002).

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Integrated land-use and transport planning

Integrated land-use and transport planning aims to reduce dependence on cars by improving access to public transport, walking and cycling; providing facilities nearby so people travel shorter distances; and encouraging multi-purpose trips, which reduces the total number of trips. A range of planning strategies to facilitate improved land-use and transport integration include:

  • Shaping Our Cities, which aims to make Sydney more compact, meet housing needs and encourage employment (DoP 1998)
  • the Metropolitan Development Program, which prohibits rezoning of major sites for urban development unless the transport infrastructure costs have been projected and secured for the following 15 years
  • the Integrating Land Use and Transport policy package (DUAP 2001), which provides advice to local councils, the development industry and State agencies on appropriate urban design and transport management techniques
  • transport management and accessibility plans covering infrastructure, services and demand management initiatives for proposed major developments, with plans already completed for the Rhodes Peninsula, Fox Studios and the Greystanes Estate
  • modelling future scenarios by the Transport Data Centre to improve understanding of the likely travel demand outcomes of transport and land-use decisions
  • promotion of teleworking and car pooling by the RTA, with the opening of a telecentre in Penrith in September 2000.

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Encouraging public transport, walking and cycling

The integrated transport plan for NSW, Action for Transport 2010, provides the framework and implementation program for expanding public transport infrastructure and improving its quality (DoT 1998). A key objective is to reduce dependence on motor vehicles by managing travel demand and integrating land-use and transport development. A range of key infrastructure projects have been completed or are currently under construction including:

  • Liverpool–Parramatta transitway
  • Epping–Chatswood rail line
  • expansion of the capacity of the East Hills rail line
  • the Western Sydney Orbital road.

Planning studies are under way for other projects which include upgrading the Sydney–Newcastle rail corridor; incorporating transitways into the F6 corridor; and extending the light rail in central Sydney and to the Parramatta Road corridor.

In addition to enhanced infrastructure, contracts have been signed to introduce smart-card integrated ticketing across all mass transport modes in Sydney by 2006, while improvements are being made in other areas of public transport, such as the Transport Infoline passenger information service and the introduction of new rail rolling stock.

Action for Bikes: Bike Plan 2010 (RTA 1999) is a 10-year plan for the creation of comprehensive bicycle networks across NSW. The $251-million program will create an average of 200 kilometres of cycleways each year. In 2001, a total of 270 kilometres were built and secure bicycle lockers installed at key railway stations, ferry wharves and bus interchanges. Most local authorities have also now developed and are implementing local bike plans.

Using pilot projects in Dubbo and Broken Hill, the Government is attempting to develop a model for improving transport services in rural and regional NSW. Country Passenger Transport Infrastructure Grants promote the use of public transport by providing $1.5 million a year to build public transport facilities in country NSW.

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Improving freight movement

The Rail Infrastructure Corporation, State Rail Authority and the Port Corporations are setting up a consolidated database for the NSW freight market. A study will examine likely growth and modal share for freight transport, with particular attention to opportunities for transferring freight from road to rail. The Government is preparing a Ports and Freight Strategy, which aims to achieve environmental gains by supporting improved efficiency in freight movements and greater integration of land-use and transport planning.

Moves to improve rail mode share are occurring in certain freight sectors. Rail currently accounts for 24% of container movements to Port Botany, and this is projected to increase to 40% by 2010 and 50% by 2020 with the expansion of inland container ports and special container trains. In indicative terms, a 25% shift to rail would equate to removing 90,500 long-haul truck trips each year from Australian roads. Major improvements to rail infrastructure in the Sydney–Melbourne and Sydney–Brisbane corridors are also planned, including freight-only priority tracks into Sydney, subject to agreements between the NSW and Commonwealth governments. This is expected to lead to a substantial increase in rail freight on these major routes.

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Effectiveness of responses

Since Action for Air was released in 1998, many initiatives have been taken to reduce emissions from vehicles and improve the sustainability of transport and land-use systems in NSW, particularly in Sydney. This has coincided with a period of rapid population growth, at levels not seen since the 1960s. There has also been a rapid expansion of the freeway network in Sydney and strong growth in car ownership.

Urban consolidation policies have led to population increases in the inner suburbs for the first time in decades. This has reduced dependence on cars and increased public transport use in these areas. However, overall, the speed, capacity and convenience of the public transport system have failed to match the improved road system. Rising incomes have made private vehicle use more affordable. Social changes, such as concern about security, have also worked against walking, cycling and public transport. As a result of these changes, the modal share for cars has increased, trip lengths have increased and overall VKT has grown faster than population.

Reductions in vehicle emission levels and initiatives to integrate land use and transport will take time to have an effect. It will also take a decade or more for the major rail, transitway, cycleway and light rail improvements currently under construction, or being planned, to be completed. Consequently the trend of increasing car use at the expense of walking, cycling and public transport identified in the 1991–2000 period will take some time to be reversed.

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Future directions

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has stated that 'changes in urban and transport infrastructure to reduce the need for motorised transport and shift demand to less energy-intensive transport modes may be among the most important elements of a long-term strategy for greenhouse gas mitigation from the transport sector'. Government should continue to pursue integration of land-use and transport planning. The recent decision by the NSW Government to consolidate the planning aspects of the Department of Transport and land-use planning within the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources is intended to facilitate this.

Government also needs to continue its focus on cleaner vehicles and encourage the development of hybrid, electric and fuel-cell vehicles. Work to expand and improve public transport, as well as pedestrian and cycling facilities, should also continue.

Industry and government should examine ways to reduce VKT in their operations and support employee use of more sustainable modes of transport. This could include encouraging car pooling, telecommuting and car-sharing schemes.

Individuals can contribute by taking measures to reduce their own personal VKT by, for example, using more sustainable modes of transport where possible, such as public transport, walking and cycling. They can also contribute by using vehicles with lower emissions and participating in car-pooling. Provision of facilities for more sustainable modes of transport cannot deliver long-term environmental benefits unless people embrace the change and adopt these modes.

Government could also consider evaluating approaches which have proved successful in improving sustainability in other cities. Examples include:

  • cordon tolls or other traffic restraint measures, such as London's £5 toll that has resulted in a 20% reduction in traffic in the CBD, a significant improvement in bus travel speeds and patronage, and a likely annual revenue of £130 million, which will be spent on improvements to the bus and underground rail systems
  • 'travel blending' to provide customised traveller information aimed at changing people's behaviour, which has proved highly successful in Perth, Adelaide and a number of cities overseas
  • creating networks of 'urban greenways', which give priority to walking, cycling, local public transport and small electric vehicles to encourage their use for regular trips
  • reviewing transport pricing and funding arrangements to reflect the full costs of externalities, such as pollution, noise, health impacts, greenhouse gas impacts and land use.

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Linked issues

2.1 Population and settlement patterns

2.7 Amenity

3.2 Climate change

3.3 Urban air quality

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