A tale of two Bentleighs

Census data for Journey To Work was released on Monday, and many are taking a good look at the results.

In Greater Melbourne, overall about 16.3% of people are using public transport to get to work — up from 14.5% in 2011.

(It actually depends how you define “Melbourne”, and how you analyse the figures. I’m going to keep it simple and use the QuickStats figure for “Melbourne (Urban Centres and Localities)“, population 4.2 million, but people smarter than me are doing further analysis to get a more accurate figure — Charting Transport says 18.6%.)

Bentleigh and East Bentleigh

Comparing the Bentleighs

Comparing Bentleigh (3204) with neighbouring East Bentleigh (3165), I found some interesting differences.

They have very similar populations. Bentleigh has about 31,000 people; East Bentleigh has 28,000.

Bentleigh median age 38, East Bentleigh 40.

Across both suburbs, there is an average 2.7 people per household, and in families with children, an average 1.8 children.


Diverting from the Census data for a minute, let’s look at the suburbs’ transport infrastructure and services.

Neither suburb has any freeways.

Bentleigh has four railway stations: Patterson, Bentleigh, McKinnon and Ormond are all within 3204; Moorabbin is just outside the southern border. All of these are within about a 15 minute walk. Services are about every 10 minutes for most of the day (the graph below excludes express services, which don’t stop in Bentleigh).

East Bentleigh only has buses. Major north-south routes include the patchy and indirect 822 and 767 services, plus the far better 903 Smartbus along Warrigal Road (on the suburb’s very eastern edge), which is reasonably good on weekdays as a feeder into Oakleigh or Mentone stations, with almost as many services per weekday as the trains.

Both suburbs are served by the 703, 630, 824 and other local buses providing east-west services, but none of them are as frequent as the trains, particularly after 7pm and on weekends.

Buses of course get stuck in traffic, and average speeds are slower than trains. The 903 from Mentone to Chadstone, about 11 kilometres, is scheduled at 45 minutes in peak hour. Frankston line stopping-all-stations trains (which serve Bentleigh) cover the 12 kilometres from Mentone to Caulfield in 24 minutes in peak.

This graph shows that the Frankston line provides far more services than most of the bus routes. This is especially marked on the weekend, which doesn’t directly affect the Census results, but influences whether people feel they can depend on public transport for their travel generally.

Note: these figures simply add weekday + Saturday + Sunday services in both directions, so this is not a weekly service figure. Express trains that don’t stop at stations within Bentleigh are excluded.

Transport outcomes

Back to the Census. How does this play out in the transport modes people use?

Here’s what the Census Quickstats tells us:

In Bentleigh, 20.8% of people get to work by public transport, well above the Melbourne average. In East Bentleigh it’s 14.9%, slightly lower than the Melbourne average. So Bentleigh is about 40% higher than East Bentleigh.

In Bentleigh, average number of motor vehicles in the home is 1.7 — most popular answer: one (39.4%). East Bentleigh average is 1.8, most popular answer: two (44.3%).

In Bentleigh, 7.4% of households have no motor vehicle. In East Bentleigh it’s only 4.7%.

(If 46.8% of households in Bentleigh have zero or one car, you can bet those are mostly near the stations. Perhaps it’s perfectly reasonable for new apartment developments to be built with one car space, with no street parking?)

Bus stop in East Bentleigh

What can we learn?

Owning an extra motor vehicle has a huge economic impact on a household. It can easily add up to thousands of dollars per year.

Of course, 20.8% public transport mode share in Bentleigh is higher than many suburbs (certainly well above the Melbourne average), but is not as high as it could be.

The relevant data isn’t available yet, but my suspicion is that public transport mode share is very high for trips to work along the train line, particularly to the CBD and inner suburbs — and Southland will be another major rail destination once the station opens in November.

But public transport mode share is likely to be much lower for trips not served by rail — probably not much higher than non-rail suburbs, because most of the buses (even the 703) offer such poor service.

This pattern would be repeated right across Melbourne. Correlation isn’t causation, but it’s pretty clear that in suburbs with good public transport options, people use it more often, particularly where the service offers a good quality ride to a major destination.

The key is to keep improving the non-car options: walking, cycling, and of course the public transport service.

Not just trains, but also buses and trams, and giving every suburb transport options that are competitive with car travel, more of the time.

For PT that means ride quality, reliability, speed/priority, but most of all, service frequency.