Mobilising people and goods within and between cities

Infrastructure to facilitate the mobility of people and goods through different modes of transport, within and between cities

27 July 2020

The planning of transport infrastructure to meet current and future needs is a central objective of urban policies. Metropolitan planning strategies and infrastructure reports highlight the need to invest in transport infrastructure to combat congestion and improve connections between people’s homes, services, employment and social opportunities. The avoidable cost of congestion across Australian capital cities is estimated to be around $16.5 billion. The reports distinguish between private vehicles, public transport, freight and different modes of active transport.

Mobility is seen as an essential feature of daily life and the role of infrastructure is to enable access to essential services and employment. The COVID-19 pandemic has had wide ranging, temporary effects on transport systems within cities, which may have long-term repercussions. 

Urban policy frameworks focus on improving mobility within cities by providing efficient transport infrastructure, as well as hubs for the transport of freight. This Brief will address different modes of transport and the role of airports and ports.

Types of Transport

Private vehicles

Private vehicles are the main forms of transport for Australians to commute, accounting for around 87 per cent of trips in cities. The Smart Cities Plan acknowledges that with more people living in outer suburbs and people travelling longer distances to get to work, private vehicles will remain a significant form of transport.

Congestion in the major cities is a challenge addressed by infrastructure agencies in all jurisdictions with new and expanded roads a common recommendation. Investment in new roads include inner city highways to bypass bottlenecks and upgraded networks to regional centres. To better manage congestion Infrastructure NSW emphasises the potential of smart technology to ensure better traffic flows.

Public transport

With the population growth that has occurred across Australia’s cities, urban policies have highlighted the need for infrastructure to keep up with transport demand. Investment in public transport is recommended in each of the infrastructure reports. Several priority projects by Infrastructure Victoria emphasise the need for increased investments in public transport in growth areas, such as greenfield sites, but also to unlock the potential of brownfield sites close to the inner city. Infrastructure Australia states that subsides in public transport lead to reduced road congestion and increased amenity. Potential investments include more integrated services, such as ‘hub and spoke’ connections, and the development of a rapid bus system to connect centres more efficiently in Sydney. To deliver public transport more efficiently, Infrastructure Australia argues that franchising of trains, trams and buses services has been a successful model in Australia and internationally and should be continued.

Active transport

Urban policies recognise the important role of active transport, such as cycling and walking. Active transport is seen as a more sustainable form of transport that leads to better health outcomes and provides greater public amenity. The South Australian 30-Year Plan for Greater Adelaide aims to create healthy neighbourhoods by offering a range of local services, such as health care, shops and sport centres, that would promote more active transport and enhance public life. Active transport needs to be integrated in land-use planning to ensure that it is connected, accessible and safe.

AHURI research challenged urban policy makers to reconsider the benefits of locating housing in proximity to employment and education facilities so as to combat transport congestion, increase economic productivity and enhance local neighbourhood connections. Urban policies recognise that further investments to enlarge safe cycling and pedestrian pathways are required for more people to take up active transport. Infrastructure Victoria proposes encouraging people in congested areas to shift to active travel to reduce demand on other transport modes.

Airports and ports

Airports and ports are key infrastructure nodes connecting Australia’s regions and cities and to the global economy. The report Perth and Peel@3.5million highlights the importance of highly accessible airport and port infrastructure for Perth to be a well-connected city. Urban policies consider the development of these as industrial and commercial centres providing employment and access to markets.

The freight volume of Australia’s ports is forecast to increase by almost five per cent a year over the next 20 years and the number of plane passengers is predicted to more than double between 2010–11  and 2031. To keep up with demand based on a growing volume of freight and number of people travelling, Infrastructure Australia recommends increasing the capacity of ports and tributary road networks to ensure an efficient movement of freight and people. This could be facilitated by transferring more responsibility for direct provision of infrastructure services to the private sector and reducing existing regulatory constraints.

Policy implications

The growth of Australian cities has increased the demand on existing transport systems. In addition to renewing and constructing new infrastructure, transport planning would benefit from a more integrated approach in developing the structure of Australian cities. This could entail enhancing transportation options close to employment opportunities, social services and affordable and social housing.

New technologies are disrupting existing transport patterns. The Australian government’s Smart Cities Plan acknowledges the potential of technological innovation to improve transport services and have more customised transportation options, but also highlights the difficulties in predicting the uptake and influence of new technologies.

Metropolitan planning strategies are embracing future changes to current transport systems by discussing a broad range of options. Upcoming AHURI research is investigating how Australian urban transport programs and policies are responding to changes to transport technology, travel patterns, environmental imperatives, economic shifts and urban form to offer guidance about future directions and options. Policy makers could proactively coordinate new mobility services to encourage more active transport and supplement public transport, for example in low-density areas where services are infrequent or not accessible.

Future lines of inquiry

  • What are innovative approaches to ‘mobility as a service’ and how do governments, particularly local governments, respond to this?
  • What transitions are needed to lower congestion and adapt the transport networks of Australian cities to suit emerging technologies and meet future transport requirements?
  • How can the uptake of active transport options be prioritised to retrofit Australian cities?
  • How can the connectivity between cities be improved to achieve higher efficiency and lower emissions?