Transport in Australia produces greenhouse emissions, faces rising fuel costs, and fills our cities with noisy, smelly, and dangerous motor vehicle traffic. These problems can be alleviated by reducing motor vehicle use, and by making vehicles more fuel efficient.


Australian Transport produces around 3.8 tonnes (CO2-e) of greenhouse gases per person per year. Much of this is due to private car use in sprawling cities.

Passenger Transport

By shifting passenger transport from private cars to public transport, cycling and walking, we could halve the traffic density on our urban roads, with consequent reductions in fuel use and greenhouse emissions, and increased amenity of urban spaces.

Public Transport

Public transport is often poorly provided in our cities. Making public transport an alternative to car use would require significant increases in service frequencies, especially in outer metropolian areas. Improvements are also required in public transport stops and interchages, and in the walkability of neighborhoods, to make public transport use more pleasant.


Many Australian cities are fairly flat and so amenable to increased bicycle use for commuter journeys. However, urban roads are often unsafe for cycling, and so discourage its uptake; safer, and better connected networks of urban cycling paths are needed. Cycling also needs to be better integrated with public transport, with more bicycle-carrying trains/buses/trams, and better bicycle-lock-up facilities, or even easy bicycle hire, at public transport stops.

Freight Transport

By reducing demand for freight transport, that is, by reducing the amount of goods we need to move around, and the number of journeys required to do so, we could reduce or at least stabilise the density of truck and light commercial van traffic on our roads.

Shifting intercity freight traffic from trucks to rail would further reduce fuel use, as well as road deaths and injuries. Reforming the truck industry to remove incentives for driving-under-fatigue would further reduce deaths and injuries.

Vehicle Technology

Improvements can be made in the fuel efficiency of vehicles, which will in turn will reduce their greenhouse emission intensity. Examples include fuel-electric-hybrid engines, and improved diesel engines.


Policy Options

Greenhouse Policy Options for Transport. Bureau of Transport and Regional Economics. 2002.5

Transport accounts for around 14 per cent of Australia’s total greenhouse emissions. Road transport dominates transport sector greenhouse gas emissions. A limited set of measures can both reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve economic efficiency:

Measures to shift vehicles off unpriced congested roads (e.g. enhanced public transport and high occupancy vehicle lanes) have limited success because they create capacity that is filled by new journeys.

Car Alternatives

TravelSmart - Helping to Create a More Sustainable WA by Empowering People to Use Alternatives to the Car for their Transport Needs. Rebecca Armstrong. Sustainability in Western Australia. 2002.7

The Western Australian TravelSmart program seeks to complement [existing] transport infrastructure and service provision by empowering [encouraging] people to choose, where feasible, alternatives to driving a car with no other passengers, eg to car pool, walk, cycle, catch public transport and to use travel substitutes such as teleaccess. The City of South Perth pilot test of the TravelSmart Individualised Marketing program resulted in a 90% increase in cycling, a 20% in public transport [use] and a 16% increase in walking, and a 10% reduction in car-as-driver-only trips, two years after the program was completed.

Reducing Car Travel - Sydney

Towards a City of Cities (PDF). Warren Centre. Sydney University

At the local level, the need for Sydneysiders to travel for normal day-to-day activities can be reduced by assisting Sydney’s cities to develop their own mix of housing, jobs, services, education and cultural facilities to meet the needs of their citizens. That will convert more trips to walking, cycling and local public transport.

The NSW government should reorganise the current bus network by developing and conducting a large-scale trial of the ‘Sydney Overground,’ an ‘anywhere, anytime’ bus network modelled on the London Underground and integrated with rail and other services such as shared taxis and new demand-responsive systems.

Urban Transport

Urban Transport. Productivity Commission Report 37. 1994.2

Cities give their residents access to a wide range of economic, social and cultural activities. To enjoy them, people have to be able to move around the city or to have goods and services brought to them. For most people, urban travel and transport are costs to be minimised, rather than things to be enjoyed in their own right. Fast, efficient, reliable and safe urban transport systems are therefore vital.

Cars and other private motor vehicles are used for nearly 90 per cent of in Australian cities. Their use reflects preferences from a range of suburban lifestyles, as well as the increasingly complex, cross city travel which suburban living entails. This complexity is a function of many factors, but among the more significant are the growth in the proportion of two-income households and the shift of employment and retail activity to the suburbs. On the other hand, the use of the motor car, notably in the peak hour, is associated with a range of adverse environmental and social impacts which are of increasing and justifiable concern to the community.

Scheduled public transport is responsible for about ten per cent of all urban trips in Australia. It is better suited to journeys to or from city centres and the larger sub-centres, especially along the more densely populated and patronised corridors in the peak hour. These largely radial trips are dominated by the daily task of moving large numbers of children to school and city workers to and from their places of work. The importance of this task underlines the key role public transport plays in the life of our cities. Without it, Australia’s larger cities would simply grind to a halt and the environmental amenity of all of our cities would suffer. Public transport also contributes to a more just society by providing essential mobility to many disadvantaged people who do not have or cannot use a motor car.

Urban Transport - Melbourne

Better Transport Links . Melbourne 2050. Sustainability and Environment. Victoria. 2005


Urban Transport - Melbourne

Linking Melbourne: Metropolitan Transport Plan. Government. Victoria. 2004

Integrated plan for the management and development of Melbourne's transport system. Covers personal travel - walking, cycling, trains, trams, buses, taxis, cars and motorcycles - as well as the movement of freight via roads, rail and ports.

Urban Transport - ACT

ACT Sustainable Transport Plan. ACT Government

The Cost of the Current Transport System

Canberra's transport system generates significant external costs, not all of which are offset by revenues collected from users. Most significantly:

Costs of greenhouse gas emissions, pollution, health impacts, social impact, urban amenity impacts and accidents are significant and increasing. Many experts argue that these costs are under-estimated as they are difficult to quantify.

Increasing road congestion will increase transport costs over time through longer journey times and increasing stress and accidents. Again there is a snowball effect, but this time in a negative way, with demand for road construction and upgrading.

Most of Canberra's arterial road system was constructed in the 1970s and is close to the end of its designed life – additional funds for road rehabilitation and maintenance will be required in future.

Car users are currently assessed to be paying the costs of their transport, including external costs. Public transport users currently pay for a small share of their costs. However, the externalities per passenger kilometre are significantly lower for bus travel than for cars.

Road user costs are a large proportion of the costs of the transport system. As many of these costs are fixed (for example, vehicle purchase, depreciation, registration, insurance and licensing) they neither provide disincentives to travel nor encourage transport users to make appropriate mode choice (from a societal perspective). Fringe Benefits Taxation arrangements on salary packaging also encourage greater use of cars.

Canberra's bus system requires significant funding, largely because of the community service obligations of a public transport system and because of Canberra's widespread settlement pattern. The Transport Elasticities Study shows that reducing fares will have relatively little impact on bus patronage compared with reducing travel times because of the high proportion of "captive" passengers (those who have no alternative means of transport).

Urban Transport and Health

Urban Roads - A Health Asset (PDF). Stephen Bargwanna & Chloe Mason. EcoTransit Sydney. 2001.5

The current dominance of the road by the motor vehicle has contributed to sedentary and unhealthy lifestyles, and a massive waste of resources.

Roads should be used for more sustainable and healthy activity such as walking and cycling.

Cars are regularly used when they are not necessary. In some areas 40% of car trips are for less than 4 km in distance. You can comfortably cycle this in 10 minutes and walk it in 30 minutes.

Problems of increased car dependency in urban areas:

To protect health, every adult should accumuulate 30 minutes or more of moderate-intensity, endurance-type physical activity - such as brisk walking or cycling - on most days of the week. It can be accumulated in 10 minute lengths - to the shop, the pool, the beach, the train or bus, etc.

Sustainable Urban Transport

Sustainable Transportation and Global Cities. Peter Newman. Murdoch University

Strategies to contain sprawl, to reurbanise, to traffic calm, to build new light rail systems into car dependent suburbs with focussed sub centres, and to facilitate biking and walking, all appear to add to the economy of a city. Strategies that build freeways and add to sprawl are draining the economy of cities. Global information trends are making the need for these sustainable urban patterns even more necessary.

Global information age processes and sustainable transportation

It seems that for the global information-era in our cities:

Thus the information age seems to be favouring a multi-nodal city where the sustainable transportation modes are increasingly important as they are more able to build the human-based centers critical for the new urban economy. The challenge will be to ensure that such sub-centers occur throughout the city, not just in wealthy enclaves; the role of light rail extensions into car dependent suburbs as a means of creating viable local employment and services centers, seems to be a growing agenda.

Integrated Transport Systems

Developing an Integrated Transport System. British Medical Association

Transport is a means to an end which is movement and access, but this should be at minimum cost to human health, the environment and the economy.

Lower driving speeds, and land use planning to concentrate facilities at locations easily accessible by alternatives to the car, could bring overall benefits by enabling needs to be met more locally.

Incorporating walking, cycling, and even driving to a certain extent, into a journey involving a mode of public transport could significantly increase benefits to individual public health.



EcoTransit Sydney - Campaigns for public transport, especially light rail.

Sustainable Transport Coalition (WA) - Campaigns for walking, cycling and public transport, reducing car use and car dependecy, and shifting freight from road to rail.


Australian Greenhouse Office - Sustainable Transport - Government initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the transport sector.

TravelSmart Australia - Promotes alternatives to private car use.


Australian Road Rules

Green Car Congress - Articles on vehicle technology.

Institute of Transport and Logical Studies. Sydney University