Commuting Patterns in New Zealand: 1996–2006

Highlights

  • Between the 1996 and 2006 Censuses, an increasing proportion of people used a car to travel to work.
  • Approximately 25 percent of commuters to Wellington’s four cities used public transport, compared with 4 percent of commuters to the Auckland metropolis from surrounding districts.
  • 1 percent of people travelling to work in Christchurch from surrounding districts used public transport.
  • Over half of people who walked or jogged to work lived within 2km of their workplace.
  • People who travelled to work by company car tended to live further from their workplace, with 19 percent living more than 20km away.
  • Three-quarters of people who cycled to work were men.
  • Women with children were more likely to commute by car than use public transport, compared with women without children.

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Introduction

The census asked all employed individuals to state their mode of travel on the longest distance to their workplace on census day. For example, if they took the train to work, then walked from the train station to their workplace, the main means of travel to work would be by train. This information is used by councils and researchers as an indicator of New Zealand’s travel patterns and the changes that occur to these over time. This census question is becoming more relevant as environmental consequences of motor vehicle use became increasingly important over the late 20th and early 21st centuries. The Ministry of Transport and Transit New Zealand also conduct transport surveys, which give further insight into the travel patterns of the nation.

Transport woes, air pollution, and congestion have often featured in headlines in recent years, particularly in Auckland. The improvement of Auckland’s traffic situation became a national priority given the importance of its cities to the national economy. Congestion has also become an increasing concern for Wellington, even though it has a much higher public transport patronage than Auckland. In 2008, The Dominion Post claimed that the “regional issue that most concerns Wellingtonians is transport, be it public transport, the capacity of the roading network or private cars” with over 4,600 submissions on the proposals to ease traffic congestion on the Ngauranga-to-airport corridor.” Although Christchurch traffic has not received as much media attention nationally, its traffic concerns are also the subject of debate. Transit New Zealand’s Travel Time Survey (March 2007) monitors travel times and congestion in Auckland, Wellington, Tauranga, and Christchurch; the survey noted a small rise in congestion in Christchurch between March 2005 and March 2006. Rising traffic congestion has several causes, such as increased population and more motor vehicles, but commuting (travel to work) remains a major contributor. In particular, commuting places pressure on roads at peak times (in the morning and late afternoon).

Research on travel times conducted by the Ministry of Transport and Transit New Zealand show that there is considerable difference in the flow of traffic in the main cities by time of day. Travellers in the cities of Auckland faced the greatest variability between peak and off-peak times (Transit New Zealand Travel Time Indicator report – March 2006). This report examines changes in mode of transport, variations in transport use in the main cities, and variations in distance travelled by mode of transport.

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Main means of travel to work

Data from the Ministry of Transport’s Household Travel Survey shows the huge effect of travel to work on the nation’s roads. The Household Travel Survey found that: “Travel to work is the largest travel category and also the most dependent on driving. Seventy-seven percent of time spent travelling to work is driver travel, and nearly 90% of known distance travelled to work (that is, excluding walking, train, plane or ferry travel) is as a driver.” Figures from the New Zealand Census of Population and Dwellings show similar patterns, although the results are not identical because of the different time periods and methodology used.

Nationally, motor cars were the main means of travel to work, with approximately two-thirds of the employed population listing this as their main means of travel to work on census day 2006. Between 1996 and 2006, the use of cars increased slightly, while walking, jogging, and cycling declined. The Household Travel Survey found similar results for all travel as well as travel to work. Public transport usage is low compared with countries such as the United Kingdom, where approximately 15 percent of commuters in 2006 used public transport (Office of National Statistics Labour Force Survey, fourth quarter, 2006).

Figure 1

Graph, Employed Population by Main Means of Travel to Work.

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Cyclists, walkers, and joggers

Three-quarters of people who cycled to work on census day in 2006 were men. A fifth of the total cyclists were professionals (the largest group), followed by service and sales workers. People working as agricultural and fishery workers, who often travelled the greatest distances, were the least likely to cycle to work (3 percent). People aged between 30 and 49 years had the highest proportion of cyclists on Census Day 2006

Figure 2

Graph, Employed Population Who Cycled, Walked or Jogged to Work.

Walking and jogging were more evenly split between the sexes, although more women walked (54 percent compared with 46 percent of men). Service and sales workers were the most likely to walk, possibly because the majority lived fairly close to their workplace. Half of all people who walked to work were aged less than 35 years.

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Taking a company car to work

Of those who travelled to work by company car on census day 2006, 86 percent were male and 14 percent were female. Almost one-third (30 percent) of those who took a company car to work were legislators, managers, and administrators. Nearly half of those who took a company car to work were aged 35 to 49 years.

Figure 3

Graph, Employed Male Population by Selected Main Means of Travel to Work.

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Public transport

Women were more likely than men to use public transport (58 percent travelled to work on a bus or train on census day 2006). However, women who had children were less likely to use public transport to get to work (3 percent of women with children compared with 9 percent of women with no children used public transport); of these, the majority drove to work (57 percent). Women with children were also less likely to cycle or walk than women without children.

Professionals (21 percent) or clerks (20 percent) were the highest users of public transport, perhaps because workplaces for these occupations were mostly located in the largest cities where public transport is more readily available. Higher proportions of younger people used public transport to get to work on census day 2006; over half of those who used public transport were under 35 years.

Figure 4

Graph, Employed Population Who Travelled to Work Using Public Transport by Age Group.

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Mode of transport in main cities

Outside the major cities, census data showed that majority of commuters depended on motor vehicles as their main means of travel to work, largely because of the lack of availability of public transport. The Ministry of Transport’s Household Travel Survey found similar results: people living in rural areas and small towns (population less than 10,000) drove to work, on average, one-and-a-half times more in a year than urban dwellers living in larger towns and cities.

Figure 5
Commuters Using Public Transport in Local Commuting Areas

2006 Census

Graph, Commuters Using Public Transport in Local Commuting Areas.

Outside the largest cities (Auckland metropolis, Wellington’s four cities, Hamilton, Christchurch, and Dunedin) few people used public transport to work (1 percent). In the North Island however, rural or small town commuters who travelled to a major city had higher rates of public transport use, especially those travelling to Wellington city.

Figure 6

Graph, Employed Population Who Travelled to Work in the Auckland Metropolis and Wellington's Four Cities.

People who lived in the North Island but commuted to the cities of Auckland were most likely to travel by motor vehicle (81 percent drove, or were a passenger in a private or company car, truck, van, or company bus, compared with 70 percent who lived and worked in the city). A further 4 percent took public transport, compared with 7 percent of those who lived and worked in the city. In contrast, commuters from outside one of the four Wellington cities were much more likely to use public transport than people who lived and worked in one of these four cities (26 percent compared with 16 percent), perhaps reflecting the availability of different public transport options, including buses and trains. People who travelled to work in the four cities of Wellington had lower use of motor cars, with only half taking a private car, truck, or van, compared with almost two-thirds of people who worked in the Auckland metropolis.

Figure 7
Employed Population Who Used Public Transport to Wellington Metropolis

2006 Census day

Graph, Employed Population Who Used Public Transport to Wellington Metropolis.

Graph, Number of Commuters Key.

People who lived and worked in Wellington city were more likely to walk and jog to work (1 in 9), or use public transport.

Figure 8
Walking to Work in Wellington

2006 Census day

Graph, Walking to Work in Wellington.

Graph, Number of Commuters Key.

In contrast, commuters to Christchurch appeared to have similar patterns with commuters to the Auckland metropolis, which may be reinforced by geography and public transport provision. Most South Islanders who lived outside Christchurch but worked there drove to work (84 percent, or were a passenger in a private or company car, truck, van, or company bus), and very few took public transport (1 percent). In contrast, 4 percent of people who worked and lived in Christchurch took public transport, 6 percent went by bicycle, and 5 percent walked or jogged.

Figure 9
Employed Population Who Cycled to Work in Christchurch

2006 Census day

Graph, Employed Population Who Cycled to Work in Christchurch.

Graph, Number of Commuters Key.

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Distance travelled by mode of transport

Nationally, there was a wide variation in distance travelled by mode of transport. Not surprisingly, people who walked and jogged to work travelled the shortest distance, with over half (54 percent) walking or jogging less than 2km, and 83 percent by less than 5km. In 2006, people using company cars, public transport or other means (such as ferries and planes) travelled the furthest.

Figure 10

Graph, Employed Population Who Travelled to Work.

Table 1

Table, Mode of Transport.

The distance travelled by most modes of transport increased between 1996 and 2006. People who used private and company cars and public transport showed some of the greatest increases in distance travelled. The only modes of transport that showed slight declines in distance travelled were those that involved walking, jogging, and cycling.

Table 2

Table, Mode.

Figure 11

Graph, Employed Population Who Travelled to Work Using a Company Car.

Figure 12

Graph, Employed Population Who Travelled to Work Using Public Transport by Distance Traveled.

Commuters’ increasing use of cars can have significant environmental consequences, particularly in highly populated areas. In Auckland, vehicle traffic has a huge impact on air pollution. Auckland Regional Council’s monitoring has identified concentrations of pollutants (such as nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and fine particles (PM10) at urban monitoring sites around Auckland that exceeded both the National Environmental Standards and Ambient Air Quality Guidelines. The regional council calculated that approximately 80 percent of nitrogen dioxide in Auckland’s air comes from transport and that concentrations increased in the decade to 2006 due to an increase in motor vehicles on the roads. Researchers estimate that vehicle-related air pollution results in 253 deaths per year in the Auckland region.

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References and further reading

References

Chalmers, A (2008, April). Support for extra city road tunnels. The Dominion Post.

Bristow, R (2007, December). $245m revamp in road and rail plan. The Press.

Horner, M (2004). Spatial dimensions of urban commuting: A review of major issues and their implications for future geographic research. The Professional Geographer, 56(2), p160.

Kjellstrom, T & Hill, S (2002). New Zealand evidence for health impacts of transport (Background paper prepared for the Public Health Advisory Committee). Wellington: Public Health Advisory Committee.

Mees, P & Dodson, J (2006). Backtracking Auckland: Bureaucratic rationality and public preferences in transport planning (The Urban Research Program issues paper 5). Brisbane: Griffith University.

Ministry of Transport (2008). Household Travel Survey. [as at July 08] http://www.transport.govt.nz/assets/NewPDFs/NewFolder/Comparing-travel-modesv1.4.pdf

The difficult road to a liveable city (2008, May). The Dominion Post.

Transit New Zealand (2006, August).Transit Travel Time Indicators Report – March 2007.

Further reading

For information on Auckland’s air quality, see the following webpages:

Auckland Regional Council: http://www.arc.govt.nz/

Ministry for the Environment, Monitoring of CO, NO2, SO2, ozone, benzene and benzo(a)pyrene in New Zealand: http://www.mfe.govt.nz/publications/air/air-quality-tech-report-42-oct03/html/index.html