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Commuter Cost: Brisbane

Commuter Cost: Brisbane

With increased fuel costs and insurance premiums, global warming, congested roads, rising unemployment and lower confidence in job security, (just to name a small handful), many people are looking, in these uncertain times, to address their household and workplace budgets as well as seeking alternatives to their lifestyle.
The growing use of e-scooters is an example of this. Electric scooters are cheap to run and maintain, are reliable and leave much less of an environmental footprint. Put into perspective, they can literally save you thousands of dollars. How many dollars exactly, and can this be substantiated?

An in-depth study and report, one of the most comprehensive of the last decade, ‘Commuter costs and potential savings: Public transport versus car commuting in Australia’*, authored by Dr. Jian Wang, of Southern Cross University, makes interesting reading and demonstrates just how much Australians spend on motor vehicles and their associated costs.
Although not conceived or produced with e-scooters specifically in mind, it paints a picture well worth observing.

The discussion paper, quoting the foreword, states that it ‘identifies and quantifies, where possible, the potential savings that commuters working in the CBDs of Australian capital cities could achieve by converting to public transport and leaving their cars at home or deciding not to purchase a second car, or not owning a car at all. It is acknowledged that in real life scenarios, the commuter costs and potential savings identified in this report might be influenced by a range of other factors in addition to vehicle types and distance driven.

We hope this report will add to the public debate around where and how to encourage the greater utilisation of public transport in Australia.

The report states, in an introductory summary, that ‘To own and commute to work in the CBD five days a week by car, costs the average Australian commuter between $7,432 (5km from the CBD) and $14,639 (25km from the CBD), or an indicative average cost of $11,031 each year.’

Sobering stuff. That’s about the same as a fairly luxuriant family holiday to Europe or an African safari, or a year’s supply of very fine wine, (although not quite as sobering).

It goes on: ‘If Australian commuters decide to retain their car but take public transport to work in the CBD, the annual cost drops to an average of $5,541, a saving of $5,490 (or 50 per cent) compared to driving five days a week.’

The study is conducted with two scenarios in mind, identifying the potential savings achievable by commuters. (Note that since the release of the report in 2013, further factors such as fluctuating fuel prices, new toll roads and inflation may alter the quoted figures, but are unlikely to change them significantly). The two scenarios are:

1) Leaving the car at home and commuting by public transport or,

2) Not owning a car at all (or not purchasing a second car) and only commuting by public transport.

Electric scooter commuters come into three categories:

1) Living close enough to the workplace that they are able to commute entirely by electric scooter.

2) Mixing public transport with e-scooter travel, and,

3) Traveling by car to a designated parking area and continuing on by e-scooter only or a mix as in category 2.

By taking both the figures and the e-scooter categories into account, it’s possible to estimate potential monetary savings according to individual situations. Certainly the same applies to those who choose to commute by either walking, jogging or riding a bike; just with the difference that on arrival at the workplace, and possibly for the rest of the day, those individuals will have to take into account that there is a chance that they may smell like they walked, jogged or push-biked to work.

Regardless, the figures show that by leaving the car at home and travelling by public transport to work, on the assumption of five days a week, the average commuter heading for their respective CBD’s can achieve the following savings.

As an average for all cities, ‘..commuters who own a car but choose to leave the car at home and travel to work via public transport will save between $4,859 (5km from the CBD) and $6,124 (25km from the CBD) per year.’

‘In Brisbane.. similar cost savings can be achieved ranging from $6,402 to $5,688 per year by leaving a car at home and commuting by public transport.’

‘The average annual savings a commuter can achieve by not owning a car at all or not purchasing a second car and commuting with public transport are outlined below. These savings include the associated costs of keeping the car for commuting purposes but exclude other non-work trips. Furthermore, the report finds that in Brisbane If an individual decides not to own a car or not to purchase a second car to travel to work, they can save between $9,680 (5km from the CBD) and $10,234 (25km from the CBD) per annum. This is based solely on commuting and exclude other trips that are not work related.

This reads as a powerful incentive if one accepts the figures and even suggests that individuals can contribute to ‘saving the planet’ by reducing emissions whilst at the same time saving money!

Brisbane may not have the best public transport system in the world, but it’s nowhere near the worst, and by Australian standards is generally quite efficient. Buses and trains are by the most part clean and on time and generally feels, and is statistically, safe, a rarity for a capital city with a population as high as two-and-a-half million. This is a very positive reflection on the city and how the government has funded its infrastructure. However, as many as four out of five commuters choose to travel by car.

‘The 2011 Census revealed that 80 per cent of Brisbane people travel to work by car. 73 per cent of Brisbane people reported that they drive to work, and a further 7 per cent travel as a passenger in the car. The proportion of people opting to take the bus was 7 per cent in 2011, putting bus in the top two methods of travel to work, followed by train (5 per cent). The results also indicated that the proportion of people, who choose to walk to work, was 4 per cent of people in 2011.’

Since the 2011 Census, public transport has improved and more people have decided to use it. The City Cat is more popular than ever before, and why shouldn’t it be? It’s a great way to travel and quintessential Brisbane. It’s also very accommodating to those carrying e-scooters.

The report concludes:

‘The annual costs to own and commute five days a week by car in Brisbane ranges from $7,560 to $19,502. These figures depend on and vary according to commuting distance and vehicle types. Owning a car and commuting to work by car five days a week costs the average Brisbane commuter $11,892 per year.

‘The following option is for a Brisbane individual travelling 15km one-way to work in the CBD in a small car.

‘Scenario 1: In Brisbane, the cost to own and commute with a small car 15km each-way five days a week is $10,698 on an annual basis. ‘Scenario 2: If a Brisbane commuter owns a small car, but chooses to use public transport for commuting to work in the CBD, the annualised cost decreases to $5,155. By leaving their car at home and traveling to work by public transport, a Brisbane commuter can save, $5,543 per annum (a saving of 52 per cent on the costs of using the car to commute, or $107 per week representing a saving of around 8 per cent of the greater Brisbane median weekly household income ($1,388 ABS 2012)).

‘Scenario 3: For an individual in Brisbane, where only public transport is used and no car is owned or a decision is made to not purchase a second car to commute to work, the commuter cost is $2,370 per annum. This scenario saves a Brisbane commuter travelling 15km into the CBD $8,328 in one year, or a significant 78 per cent saving compared to owning and commuting by car. This saving is equivalent to $160 per week or 12 per cent of the median Brisbane weekly household income.

‘In addition, if a Brisbane commuter chooses to catch a taxi on some occasions to commute to work in the CBD, he or she would expect to pay at least $35 for commuting 15km from Sunnybank to the CBD (without using toll roads). When the frequency of tax use increases to once or twice a week, the annualised costs will be amount to $1,610 and $3,220 respectively.’

All in all, Dr Wang’s report presents a strong argument against motor vehicle travel to work. Parking costs are one the highest in the world, and the highest in Australia. Off-street parking in the CBD averages a whopping $29 an hour, with daily rates peaking to about $90. On street parking costs roughly $5 an hour, but is so hard to find that many drivers cruise around and around, contributing to the density of inner city traffic. Wider Brisbane traffic is relatively light in comparison to other cities, and this may encourage people to keep driving. However, as every Brisbane resident knows, the roads don’t cope well when there is an accident, and the city’s lack of road bridges mean that that one accident can have a cumulative effect; spreading far and wide. Most would agree that in these situations, one would rather be on a bus or a train or a boat, escooter by their side and ready to continue the journey unimpeded and without delay whilst having some fun at the same time..

Safe travels!

*Dr Jian Wang, CRC for Rail Innovation Southern Cross University For the Australasian Railway Association November 2013

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