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Public transport use increases in March quarter 2022 – but still well below pre-pandemic levels

Source: Roy Morgan Single Source, January 2016 – March 2022, quarterly average sample n = 13,753.
Base: Australians aged 14+.
New research shows 8.97 million Australians aged 14+ (42.4%) used public transport during the March quarter 2022. This is a rapid increase of over 1.5 million from the December quarter 2021 when there were still lockdowns in the largest States of NSW and Victoria as the quarter began.

Despite the increase in public transport usage in the March quarter 2022 the level of usage was still down by over 3 million people (a decline of 26.3%) on the level of usage three years ago pre-pandemic in the March quarter 2019 when 12.2 million people (58.7%) used public transport.

In the March quarter 2022 trains were in their usual spot as the most popular form of public transport used by over 6.2 million Australians (29.6%) ahead of buses used by 5.7 million (27.1%). Over 2.6 million people (12.3%) travelled on trams and just over 1 million (5.1%) travelled on ferries or rivercats.

The usage of public transport during the widespread lockdowns in 2021 did not reach the lows seen during the first year of the pandemic when a low of only 6.9 million Australians (32.6%) reported using public transport during the September quarter 2020 during Melbourne’s long second lockdown.

This new data comes from Roy Morgan Single Source, Australia’s most comprehensive consumer survey, derived from in-depth interviews with over 60,000 Australians each year.

Public transport use in Australia from 2016 – 2022

Source: Roy Morgan Single Source, January 2016 – March 2022, quarterly average sample n = 13,753.
Base: Australians aged 14+.

Trains are the leading form of transport in Sydney, Melbourne & Perth, but buses are the most highly used in Brisbane, Adelaide, Hobart & Canberra – patronage up strongly in 2022

Analysing the results for Australia’s Capital Cities shows trains are the leading form of transport in Sydney (48% travelled by train in the March quarter 2022), Perth (40.7%) and Melbourne (40.5%).

These figures represent increases from the lows of last year during the December quarter 2021 when just 35.3% of Sydneysiders and only 24.7% of Melburnians travelled by train. There was no comparable low patronage of trains in Perth which largely avoided lockdowns during the past two years.

There was also high patronage of buses in these cities with 40.3% of Sydney residents, 38.7% of Perth residents and 25.4% of Melburnians travelling by bus in the March quarter 2022.

Buses remained the leading form of public transport in other Australian capitals including Brisbane (32% travelled by bus in the March quarter 2022), Adelaide (30.5%), Hobart (29.6%) and Canberra (17.8%).

Patronage of Melbourne’s trams also increased strongly during early 2022 with 29% of Melburnians travelling by tram in the March quarter 2022 up from last year’s low of 18.7% in the December quarter 2021 when the city emerged from its sixth lockdown early in the quarter. However, tram usage is over 10% points down on pre-pandemic levels during 2019 when over 40% of Melburnians travelled by tram.

Travelling by ferry/ rivercat is far more popular in Sydney (9.3%) and Brisbane (8.2%) than other cities although usage in the March quarter 2022 was well down on the pre-pandemic usage during 2019 when 16.1% travelled by ferry/ rivercat in Sydney and 12.2% did so in Brisbane.

Roy Morgan CEO Michele Levine says for the second year in a row Australians have returned to public transport in numbers in the early months of the year as restrictions eased but unlike last year the latest outbreaks of COVID-19 aren’t prompting renewed lockdowns:

“Public transport usage in Australia began to recover in the first few months of 2022 despite the Omicron variant spreading rapidly around Australia at the time with over 4 million cases of COVID-19 recorded in the March quarter 2022.

“Nearly 9 million Australians (42.4% of Australians aged 14+) were using public transport during the March quarter 2022, up from 7.4 million (34.9%) during the December quarter 2021. Australia’s largest states of NSW and Victoria were still in lockdown during October 2021 and there were heavy restrictions on travel at the time which gradually relaxed in the lead-up to the holidays.

“Despite the increase the usage of public transport remains well down on pre-pandemic levels. Three years ago, during the March quarter 2019, there were 12.2 million people (58.7%) who used public transport, a level of usage over 3 million higher than the figures for early 2022.

“A look at the different capital cities shows it is Sydneysiders who were the most likely to use public transport in the early months of 2022. Nearly three-fifths (59.1%) of people living in the harbour city used public transport in the March quarter 2022 compared to 51.2% of people in Perth and 51.1% of people in Melbourne.

“The most popular form of public transport was the train used by nearly a third (29.6%) of Australians in the March quarter 2022 ahead of the buses (27.1%) and trams (12.3%). Trains are the leading form of transport in Sydney, Melbourne, and Perth but in Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra and Hobart it is buses in the number one spot.”

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About Roy Morgan

Roy Morgan is the largest independent Australian research company, with offices throughout Australia, as well as in Indonesia, the United States and the United Kingdom. A full service research organisation specialising in omnibus and syndicated data, Roy Morgan has over 70 years’ experience in collecting objective, independent information on consumers.

Margin of Error

The margin of error to be allowed for in any estimate depends mainly on the number of interviews on which it is based. Margin of error gives indications of the likely range within which estimates would be 95% likely to fall, expressed as the number of percentage points above or below the actual estimate. Allowance for design effects (such as stratification and weighting) should be made as appropriate.

Sample Size

Percentage Estimate

40%-60%

25% or 75%

10% or 90%

5% or 95%

1,000

±3.0

±2.7

±1.9

±1.3

5,000

±1.4

±1.2

±0.8

±0.6

7,500

±1.1

±1.0

±0.7

±0.5

10,000

±1.0

±0.9

±0.6

±0.4

20,000

±0.7

±0.6

±0.4

±0.3

50,000

±0.4

±0.4

±0.3

±0.2