Goats on our roads

Goats on our roads


Seems the latest food fashion in Australian politics is Goat a la scāpé. And it’s being served at both parties.

Politicians are spruiking lowering migration, or at the very least defuse it from the big cities, as it seems foreigners are clogging up our roads. (At least they stopped stealing our sheep!)

The claim seems to follow a simple rationale:
1. Cities (e.g. Melbourne and Sydney) are getting bigger
2. The increase is mostly driven by overseas migration
3. This is putting more people on the roads
4. Hence increased traffic congestion (and insinuations of other social ills)

In short, migrants = traffic congestion. A simple, winning argument.
Except, I’m not convinced it’s true.

Points 1 and 2 are fine. Overseas migration is the largest component of population growth in Australia, particularly our largest cities. Point 3, on the other hand, seems flawed in two ways:

a. The driver: increased congestion could be caused by centralisation of workforce, and
b. Diversity: not all people are equal (in how they travel to work).

While they may appear minor oversights at first, these flaws are so fundamental that migrants may not only be a non-issue, but in fact part of the solution.


Are we jumping to conclusions?

But before we begin, is it worth questioning the conclusion in the first place? How much worse is congestion getting in our big cities? According to the Grattan Institute “the length and time of commutes barely changed in Australia’s biggest cities during the exceptionally rapid population growth between 2011 and 2016. In Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth, commute distances in 2016 were almost indistinguishable from 2011″¹.


Let’s focus on Melbourne city to examine this further.

The number of people who work in Melbourne city grew 21% in the period 2011 to 2016, from 347k to 422k². That’s way faster than Melbourne’s overall population increase of 13% in the same period. The increase in CBD jobs may also be driven by the changing make up by industry, i.e. the increase in professional, hospitality, and finance jobs which tend to be more centralised. So, it’s likely there would be more people working in the CBD even without the new migrants.

Yet, even though the number of city workers has increased by 75,000, there’s only 4,000 more people driving into town in 2016 than there were in 2011. That’s because the way in which people travel to work has changed. A smaller percentage drive, and a greater percentage catch public transport, walk/ride or work from home.


This change seems to be led by recent migrants. City workers who are long term Melbourne residents (i.e. have lived within the Melbourne Metropolitan area for at least 5 years) are 2.5 times more likely to drive to work than recent migrants. While recent migrants are almost 2.5 times more likely to walk or ride to work. Workers who moved to Melbourne from elsewhere in Australia (including country Victoria or interstate), fall somewhere in between.



If the percentage of people driving into town had not changed since 2011, Melbourne would have had an extra 14,000 cars on the road in 2016, not the 4,000 increase which occurred.

This of course is also overly simplifying. Congestion would also have changed the choices of the long-term Melbourne residents if they needed to take on city jobs. But I doubt it would have changed them enough as to resemble the choices of recent migrants. This would include large social changes, an increased acceptance of inner-city apartment living, and waving goodbye to the American Australian home-owning dream.

Similarly, Melbourne could move away from its current thriving tech, financial, educational and hospitality industries which centralise the workforce in town. Specially as without the recent migrants Melbourne would struggle to fill those jobs, as the skills may not be available locally.

But in the current world, the fact that such a large percentage of city workers are recent migrants seems to be the main reasons our roads are not at a stand-still.





  1. Terrill, Marion, Batrouney, Hugh, Ha, James, and Hourani,Diana (2018). Remarkably adaptive: Australian cities in a time of growth. Grattan Institute.
  2. All travel to work data sourced form the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Census 2011 and 2016.

Inflation Express

Inflation Express

I’m not usually one to plan in advance nor buy in bulk, but with regards to Melbourne’s public transport, I might be convinced otherwise. Last week’s announcement of the upcoming 9% increase in train tickets (as well as bus and tram) has compelled me to buy my 2012 train tickets at what are still genuine 2011 prices.
Over the past two decades, Australia has kept inflation between 2 and 4% per annum. And yet, I find myself reminiscing the days when I could purchase a book of 10 bus tickets for $4.50. Being mindful of the concession price variable, and the fact that I was still wearing Brut (high school boys’ top selling deodorant!) the $4 per ticket I will be paying come January still appears a little inflated. To get a better idea of how this latest increase fares, I compared it to previous movements. With public transport data going as far back as 1972, the ABS’ CPI shows an interesting trend over the past few decades.
Throughout the 70s and 80s the increase in public transport prices mirrored that of the overall basket of goods. That is to say, the price of catching a train increased at similar rates to most other common goods. From 1990 onwards, however, the cost of buses, trams and trains has increased at a rate much higher than inflation (which includes housing costs, education, bananas, recreation and health, etc etc). While the cost of living in Melbourne increased 79% since 1990, by the time I sober up on New Year’s day, Melbourne’s public transport will have increased 190% in the same period.
Public transport’s elevated inflation is not only a Melbourne issue. Public transport has outgrown inflation by 97% across all of Australia’s capital cities. The graph below shows how Australian capital cities fare in terms of transport inflation compared to the overall Australian CPI.

(this google motion chart is not currently working… attempts will be made to reinstate it)

In the meantime… here is a temporary graph with similar data.

Public Transport Inflation

This phenomenon is made more remarkable when considering that the inflation for private motoring costs (including vehicle costs, fuel, parking, registration etc) has been lower than the total basket over the last few years. While the increase in cost of public transport is almost twice that of the overall basket, private motoring costs have increased 15% less than CPI since 1990.

I won’t speculate as to the reasons for this divergence.  Suffice to say that if we’re trying to encourage people to jump on the public transport bandwagon, a little economic incentive wouldn’t hurt.