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

Liveability: human well-being (continued)

Transport demand, access and congestion (continued)

Access and congestion

Increases in both motor vehicle volumes on the road and total distance travelled affect the quality of life in towns and cities in different ways. The widespread availability of cars, the number of licensed drivers, and improvements in road networks provide communities with increased mobility. For those with access to cars, personal mobility (as measured by vehicle kilometres travelled) is increasing at a faster rate than other transport indicators, such as number of cars, would suggest (Figure 57).

Figure 57: Mobility expansion in Sydney, 1981-1997. [HS Indicator 4.9]

 Mobility expansion in Sydney, 1981-1997.

Source: Transport Data Centre (1999).

Increased mobility in turn results in access to much wider sets of activities for a larger proportion of the community. This includes access to specialised workplaces at a distance from home, access to markets for business, and access to a wider range of social, recreational, shopping and personal services. The number of out-of-home activities in which households are engaged is increasing across the age group spectrum, from children playing weekend team sports to increased eating out for all age groups.

As people move across cities during the day, the daytime population density in various parts of the city varies considerably from the night-time density. That is, there are people in cities on the move around the clock. The Victorian Activity and Travel Survey recorded the activities undertaken by household members throughout the day. While the available data is not as recent as that from Sydney, it provides extra information about activities at locations across a metropolitan area.

Unfortunately there are also negative impacts from increased motor travel. Increased travel is leading to increased congestion. In Melbourne, for example, congestion is restricting travel speeds to well below the speed limits, especially in inner areas (Table 39).

Table 39: Travel time by road category, Melbourne, 1997-98. [HS Indicator 4.7]
Road category Area Average travel speed (km/h) Nominal travel speed
    Peak am Peak pm Off-peak All day
Freeways Inner 44.9 67.6 69.6 63.0 96
  Outer 77.1 87.9 94.2 88.7 100
Divided arterials Inner 34.9 35.7 44.0 39.3 64
  Outer 37.6 41.7 48.1 43.8 74
Undivided arterials Inner 24.6 30.5 34.1 30.9 60
  Outer 40.5 40.0 44.8 42.4 65
Arterials with trams Inner 22.1 23.2 23.4 23.1 60

Source: VicRoads (1999).

Moreover, on congested roads there is considerable variability in travel time, as an incident can bring traffic close to gridlock. This annoys commuters, imposes costs on business, and affects fuel costs and pollution levels. The Bureau of Transport Economics (BTE) forecast that congestion and its costs will increase across Australian cities. Figure 58 shows the Bureau's estimated costs, in 1996 dollars, for Australian cities in 2015 compared to 1995, with associated estimates of dollar costs per passenger car equivalent units (pcu) kilometres. Of particular interest is the BTE prediction that, in the future, congestion costs in Brisbane will exceed those in Sydney and Melbourne. Of Australia's principal cities, only Canberra can expect to be free of congestion problems. In 1996, costs due to traffic congestion in Australia's major cities were of the order of $12.8 billion. If nothing is done, the total cost of urban congestion could rise to about $29.7 billion per year by 2015. From an environmental perspective, congestion is a major contributor to vehicle emissions. Fuel consumption per vehicle under congested traffic conditions is approximately twice that under free-flow conditions. Therefore, congestion has the potential to double the output of greenhouse gas emissions from a stream of vehicle traffic (BTE 2000).

Figure 58: Estimates of congestion costs in Australian cities in 2015 and 1995. [HS Indicator 4.13]

 Estimates of congestion costs in Australian cities in 2015 and 1995.

Source: BTE (1996b).


Despite the increased numbers of vehicles and travel, the rate of road accidents throughout Australia has been falling. Figure 59 shows the fall in fatalities between 1981 and 1999.

Figure 59: Australian road fatalities 1981-1999.

 Australian road fatalities 1981-1999.

Source: Federal Office of Road Safety (2000).

In 1970 there were 7.96 road fatalities per 10 000 registered vehicles, but this rate decreased to 1.58 in 1997. Whereas in 1970 there were 30.4 fatalities per 100 000 of population, this rate decreased to 9.7 in 1997 (Federal Office of Road Safety 1998). Australia ranks equal sixth lowest of OECD countries on this measure (Australian Transport Safety Bureau 1996).

Better roads, better vehicles, random breath testing to deter drink-driving, and other initiatives to deter dangerous practices, such as the 'stop, revive, survive' campaign (Roads and Traffic Authority NSW 1998), have all contributed to the fall in accidents in general, and fatal accidents in particular.

However, the current rate is not a cause for complacency. Road accidents are a major cause of death and injury in Australia. Of particular concern are deaths of young drivers in rural areas and pedestrians in cities. The rate of fatal traffic accidents increases with increasing rurality and remoteness (Figure 60). Those living in the remote zone are more than twice as likely to die in motor vehicle accidents than those living in the metropolitan zone. Apart from the pain and suffering caused, both physical and psychological, road trauma is a major factor in destroying individual and national wealth instead of creating it (Figure 61). The annual cost attributed to road accidents is $15.08 billion dollars.

Figure 60: Motor vehicle accident deaths by settlement type, Australia, 1994-1998.

 Motor vehicle accident deaths by settlement type, Australia, 1994-1998.

Source: AIHW (2000b).

Human costs $M
Medical/Ambulance/Rehabilitation 268
Long term care 1990
Labour in the workplace 1663
Labour in the household 1522
Quality of life 1769
Legal 813
Correctional services 17
Workplace disruption 313
Funeral 3
Coroner 1
Vehicle costs $M
Repairs 3900
Unavailability of vehicles 296
Towing 42
General costs $M
Travel delays 1445
Insurance administration 926
Police 74
Property 30
Fire 8

Figure 61: Road accident costs by category. [HS Indicator 4.11]

Road accident coasts by category

Source: BTE (unpublished data, May 2000)