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Research & Analysis

Outer suburbs left behind by lack of public transport access

Expressions of Interest (EOI) are open for two design and construct contracts to remove a level crossing, as part of Perth’s major transport upgrade METRONET.

Growing communities on the outskirts of our major cities are being left behind by a lack of access to frequent public transport services, impacting on their access to jobs, education and other opportunities to improve their quality of life, according to a new report from Infrastructure Australia.

The newest release in Infrastructure Australia’s Reform Series – Outer Urban Public Transport: Improving accessibility in lower-density areas – assesses the frequency and accessibility of public transport services in our major cities, as we prepare for unprecedented population growth in coming years.

The report addresses the difficulties of supplying public transport services to low-density areas, where the population is more spread out. It calls on state and territory governments to improve the efficiency of existing transport networks and to draw on new models, such as on-demand services and ride-sharing, to service communities in the growing outer suburbs.

“While existing transport infrastructure serves inner city areas well, people living on the outskirts of our major cities are being disadvantaged by a lack of access to frequent public transport services,” said Peter Colacino, Infrastructure Australia executive director of policy and research.

“Close to half the population of our five largest cities – Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide – live in the outer suburbs, however, our research shows that people living in these areas experience lower levels of service and accessibility to public transport, poor service frequencies and longer travel times, compared to inner city residents.”

The report found that across all five cities, a substantial number of people living in the outer suburbs do not have frequent public transport services within walking distance of their home. In Melbourne, more than 1.4 million people fall into this category, with more than one million in Sydney and Brisbane, half a million people in Perth and 200,000 people in Adelaide.

“While costs of housing can be cheaper in outer suburbs, often they are less well-served by public transport, and without access to reasonable public transport services, people living or working in our outer suburbs are more reliant on their cars – meaning they shoulder the burden of additional vehicle operating costs, leaving less money for other household expenses, compared to commuters in inner suburbs,” Colacino added.

“In the past, it has been very costly to deliver public transport in lower density, outer suburban areas where houses and employment centres are typically spread over large distances. As a result, people prefer to take the most direct route by driving, rather than taking a train or bus – adding to congestion in our growing cities.

“Traditional public transport models are most efficient and effective in areas of high-demand, often requiring higher density. However, new technology and delivery models, such as on-demand buses, offer an immediate opportunity to confront these challenges by increasing the flexibility and reach of the network, and therefore, serving a more diverse range of destinations.”

The report makes a clear case for government to consider new models, such as on-demand and ride sharing to complement more traditional modes, like bus and rail.

“We also want government and transport operators to do more to encourage people to transfer between public transport services, which helps to increase the flexibility and reach of the network,” Colacino said.

“This includes investing in well-designed interchanges, extending integrated ticketing systems to new modes, and introducing fare incentives that actively encourage people to transfer between modes to get to their destination.”