Human Settlements Theme Report

Australia State of the Environment Report 2001 (Theme Report)
Lead Author: Professor Peter W. Newton, CSIRO Building, Construction and Engineering, Authors
Published by CSIRO on behalf of the Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2001
ISBN 0 643 06747 7

Urban stocks and processes (continued)


Transport and transportation networks are central to the distribution of goods, services and people, and are fundamental to the efficient operation of modern urban economies. Goods are moved by road, rail, air and sea, while people travel by the first three modes between Australian cities and towns. Within cities, freight is moved by road and passengers move by private car, taxi, motorcycle, bicycle or foot, by bus in most towns and cities, and by trains in larger cities. Other modes of transport in certain cities include ferries, particularly in Sydney but also in Brisbane and Perth, trams in Melbourne and Adelaide, light rail in Sydney and Melbourne, and a guided busway in Adelaide.

Road bears the largest share of the transport task, with 813 769 km of roads open to general traffic across Australia in June 1999. This compares with a total track network for rail, tram and light rail of 39 840 km in June 1998 (ABS 2000b). However, there is considerable variation between the states and territories (Table 28).

Table 28: Lengths (km) of various road types in states and territories, 1996.
Road type NSW Victoria Queensland WA SA Tasmania NT ACT Total
National highways 2 900 1 031 3 898 4 640 2 910 320 2 677 15 18 391
Rural arterials 30 162 18 536 18 438 15 616 8 690 2 540 2 837 20 96 839
Urban arterials 4 237 2 978 1 482 1 815 1 250 190 84 188 12 224
Rural locals 121 400 115 500 127 900 107 300 75 700 14 500 25 210 280 587 790
Urban locals 20 100 22 100 13 400 8 200 7 500 1 200 580 2 100 75 180
Total 178 000 160 100 165 100 137 500 96 100 18 800 31 390 2 600 789 590

Source: National Road Transport Commission (1996).

While local roads and rural roads dominate in terms of length, the national highways and arterials provide the vital connectivity of the system. New city link motorways have been opened in Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and Brisbane, and a national highways strategy is extending inter-city capacity. For example, the northern upgrade of the Pacific Highway, the main access route between the fastest-growing non-metropolitan centres in New South Wales and Queensland, will reduce travel times by at least one hour between Sydney and Brisbane. There will be consequential reductions in fuel bills for transport operators and improved safety on the route.

While road supply is increasing, so is the number of vehicles using the roads. Australia has had a high rate of passenger vehicle ownership compared to most other countries. For example, the rate of ownership was 484 passenger vehicles per 1000 persons in 1996, compared to the USA (488), New Zealand (472), Canada (441), France (437), Great Britain (361) and Japan (342) (ABS 1998e, 1999f). The Bureau of Transport Economics (BTE) predicts that Australian car ownership will level out at about 520 cars per 1000 people - saturation level - by early this century. However, they expect the commercial fleet to continue to grow after the passenger fleet reaches saturation (see Figure 38).

Figure 38: Australian vehicle fleet, 1975-2015. [HS Indicator 4.2]
Note: The vertical scale is logarithmic. Data for 1996-2015 are extrapolated

 Australian vehicle fleet, 1975-2015

Source: BTE (1996a)

The numbers of other classes of vehicle using the roads is increasing too. ABS (2001b) reported that the number of motorcycles increased by 12% to 328 207 and the number of buses by 22% to 55 400 between 1995 and 2000, as the total vehicle fleet increased by 12% to 12 200 000.

The fleet is growing because the registrations of new vehicles are increasing and at the same time the fleet attrition rate is dropping as more vehicles remain in the fleet. The average fleet age for 1998 was 10.7 years (ABS 1998e). Figure 39 shows the BTE's projection of passenger fleet age distribution.

Figure 39: Projected passenger vehicle fleet age distribution, 1998- 2005. [HS Indicator 4.2]

 Projected passenger vehicle fleet age distribution, 1998 2005

Source: BTE (1996a)

Total fuel consumption has grown at a slower rate than vehicle kilometres travelled, due mainly to improved levels of vehicle fuel efficiency. For example, fuel efficiency in the passenger vehicle fleet increased by 10% between 1976 and 2000 (ABS 2001b). While new vehicles are considerably more fuel efficient than older vehicles, the ageing fleet has inhibited improved efficiency. Figure 40 shows BTE forward estimates of fleet versus new car fuel consumption.

Figure 40: Estimates of total passenger fleet and new car fuel efficiency, 1991-2015.

 Estimates of total passenger fleet and new car fuel efficiency, 1991-2015

Source: BTE (1996a)

Older vehicles remaining in the fleet also means that danger from lead emissions is still present, although decreasing; in 1998, 20% of fuel used was leaded (ABS 2000g).

The rising consumption of alternative fuels, together with improved fuel efficiency, will reduce over time the amount of pollution from tailpipe emissions.