Population growth, jobs growth and commuting flows—a comparison of Australia’s four largest cities

Population Employment Commuting Sydney Melbourne Brisbane Perth
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• This report compares recent spatial changes in population, jobs and commuting patterns for Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth, and investigates how these changes match up to the strategic planning goals for each city.

• Between 2001 and 2011, Melbourne gained 636 300 new residents, followed by Sydney (477 600), Brisbane (408 900) and Perth (351 500). The Central Business Districts (CBDs) of all four cities had very rapid population growth due to redevelopment with high density housing. However, the Outer sector accommodated much of the population growth in each city—its contribution ranged from 46 per cent of Sydney’s growth to 68 per cent of Perth’s growth.

• From 2001 to 2011, Melbourne added 302 300 jobs, compared to 223 300 in Brisbane, 184 600 in Sydney and 174 400 in Perth. The Outer sector added the most jobs in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth, while the Middle sector added the most jobs in Brisbane. The Inner sector of all four cities had substantial job growth, with Inner Melbourne adding about 92 000 jobs. Beyond the inner city, the key job growth areas were Ryde in Sydney, Swan and Belmont in Perth, and Craigieburn in Melbourne.

• The broad pattern of commuting flows is similar for each city. Inward flows accounted for 36–45 per cent of total commutes in 2006, and outward flows for 6–10 per cent. The remaining 46–55 per cent of commutes occurred within the home ring, and typically within the home subregion (42–46 per cent). Average commuting distances were similar for residents of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane in 2006, and a little lower for Perth.

• From 2001 to 2006, the largest commuting increases were for flows within outer suburban subregions. The proportion of inward commutes declined in all four cities. Average commuting distances remained relatively stable.

• Gravity model regressions reveal that the spatial distribution of residents and jobs explains 65–83 per cent of the current commuting pattern in the four cities. Other identified drivers are transport infrastructure and skill mismatch.

• State government population projections anticipate that the Outer sector will have the largest share of projected population growth (65–76 per cent) and job growth (34–55 per cent) in each of the four cities through to 2031. These projections imply that the relative importance of same-subregion commutes will rise (driven by increased commutes within outer suburban subregions) and the proportion of inward commutes will decline.

• Recent metropolitan strategic plans for the four cities specify some common long-term goals that relate to the spatial distribution of population and jobs, and to commuting. There has been some movement in the desired direction for most of the population-related planning goals since 2001. There has also been significant movement towards achieving greater use of public transport and active transport in each city. However, progress was not as strong for the employment-related planning goals, and commuting times have not been heading in the desired direction.

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