Australia’s cities are growing rapidly and are increasingly important to our prosperity. Over the next 30 years, Australia will grow by over 11 million people. Close to 80% of this growth will be in our five largest cities: Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney. Much of this growth will be accommodated at the fringes of our cities and in low-density developments.
More than ever, Australia’s prosperity is linked to the performance of our cities. Australia is becoming increasingly urbanised and so is our economy. In 2015–16, our five largest cities contributed about 66% of our GDP. Over time, this contribution is expected to increase. Since the middle of the 20th century, the focus of our national economy has gradually shifted from agriculture, manufacturing, and more recently resources, towards largely knowledge-intensive service sectors. These sectors now make up about 60% of our nation’s economy and are largely concentrated in our biggest cities. The social and economic growth of our cities provides immense opportunities for the nation. As cities grow, businesses take advantage of larger and more skilled labour markets, and workers are given opportunities to develop and broaden their skill base.
However, the rapid growth of our cities also brings into focus issues with how they are structured and how they function. Australia’s cities are generally defined by a central core surrounded by low-density suburbs. While they began as small trade and agricultural hubs, usually based around a port, our cities have gradually expanded outwards. This growth was initially along public transport routes. However, in the post-war era, as car ownership grew sharply, the outer parts of our cities expanded rapidly.
The growth in private car ownership enabled decentralisation, allowing people to move away from their workplaces and public transport. At the time, the growth of our outer suburbs represented growing freedom of movement, and allowed people to move out of the busy and congested inner city. Many of these benefits still exist today, with many people choosing to live in the outer suburbs for the lifestyle. However, the expansion of our cities away from public transport routes, particularly high-capacity railways, has resulted in a range of challenges, particularly around access to jobs, services and leisure activities.
This paper focuses on one of the key enablers of access: public transport. It presents new spatial analysis of our five largest cities in order to:
- investigate the challenges in delivering outer urban public transport
- quantify the extent of public transport disadvantage
- recommend a range of policy responses for government.