Last year I wrote a blog pondering why Sydney’s rail patronage is 50% higher than Melbourne’s.
I thought I’d quickly look at public transport patronage specifically.
Here it is summed up in one graph, showing 2018-19 (the last full financial year of patronage unfettered by the pandemic). Boardings for the year in millions.
Some observations and caveats:
The Sydney data is sourced from NSW’s excellent Opal data, which is updated weekly. Very good. This means some trips (non-Opal) are not counted here.
The Melbourne data is sourced from the State Budget papers, which are updated… annually. Pretty poor. The train number is based on Metro Trains, but I’ve also included half of all V/Line trips, to account for its heavy use in Melbourne’s outer western suburbs such as Tarneit. This is not an exact number, just an educated guess.
These numbers are boardings, not journeys. This means if someone catches a bus to the station, then a train to work, that’s two boardings. Of course this happens in both Sydney and Melbourne, though I suspect not to the extent of European and Asian networks where there’s a bigger emphasis on high frequency feeder and connecting services. (Census data might be worth digging into for more on this.)
Comparing Sydney and Melbourne used to be difficult when Sydney’s population was much higher, but they’re now pretty close. As of June 2019 (which is when the patronage data ends): Sydney was 5.3 million, Melbourne 5.1 million, less than a 5% difference.
Overall, with 732 million boardings per year, Sydney is 26% higher than in Melbourne with 582 million.
Per capita, Sydney had 137 trips per person per year, Melbourne 114, so Sydney is 20% higher on this measure.
This seems to back up Journey To Work data from the Census. Unfortunately we don’t have a work vs non-work comparison, but given Sydney beats Melbourne by a very high percentage (56%) on PT work trips, it might be true that Melbourne’s PT is used for more non-work trips.
Do people in Melbourne use active transport (public + bike + walk) more than those living in Sydney? No, Sydneysiders have the highest rate of active transport use in the country. https://t.co/c47NvDfNXe pic.twitter.com/8YLrOeUz7q— Dr Liz Allen (@DrDemography) June 2, 2021
Train+Metro in Sydney had 59% more boardings than Melbourne’s trains. It’s probably since gone a lot higher (prior to COVID), as the Sydney Metro had only just opened in May 2019, and is known to have been very successful – between June 2019 and March 2020 patronage doubled. Melbourne Metro and V/Line patronage has been growing too, but probably not as fast.
Bus+Tram patronage in Sydney is just 4.4% less than Melbourne. Almost all of this in Sydney is on bus, but tram (light rail) patronage is increasing fast following the opening of the L2 and L3 lines.
If you lump in Sydney ferries with bus and tram (eg all the non-heavy rail modes together) then Sydney and Melbourne are just about equal, with just 0.28% difference.
So really overall, it’s the much higher train patronage in Sydney which makes the big difference in overall public transport use. (More on this)
Boarding figures only partly reflect mobility. A better number would be passenger kilometres (for work and non-work trips), but I’m not sure that sort of data is available.
What conclusions can we draw from this, apart from that Sydneysiders use public transport more than Melburnians, and particularly for work journeys?
For overall questions of mobility, you’d also need to look not just at public transport, but also car travel.
You could easily argue that movement in specific areas of Sydney is constrained by the water – for instance the Northern Beaches (subject of an outbreak in December/January, which was largely contained to that area). The Yarra and Maribyrnong rivers don’t present quite the same type of huge geographical barrier as Sydney Harbour.
At a citywide level, I’d be cautious in concluding that Melburnians are more mobile than their friends in Sydney.