Fact sheet: Housing and car dependence

26 February 2011

Some people suggest that new homes shouldnt be built just because the residents might use a car. But, like it or not, cars are part of our modern society. You cant deprive people of a home of their choice, just because they may choose to put a car in their garage.


Is urban development unsustainable if residents will use their car?


Ecologically sustainable development is an important principle that does, and should, guide urban development. This principle ensures that development meets the needs of Australians today, while conserving our ecosystems for the benefit of future generations. Thats why urban development doesnt occur where it would have an unacceptable impact on biodiversity in fact it generally takes place on cleared land previously used for low-value agriculture or obsolete industry, such as quarrying.

If being reliant on a motor car was enough to make housing development unsustainable, then any community that was not large enough to support a large-scale public transport system would not be permitted to exist. Cities such as Bendigo, Ballarat, Geelong, Newcastle, Toowoomba, Townsville, Wollongong and Cairns do not have any meaningful intra-urban mass transit system and this is not going to change in the foreseeable future.


Even large areas of Australias biggest cities Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide – are not well serviced by public transport. Services are unlikely to dramatically improve within the next ten years. Cars are a part of the everyday life of our cities. It is more likely that the cars themselves will change to be greener, before Australians decide to vote their suburbs and towns communities out of existence.

Should government prohibit new housing that is not near public transport?


Home buyers should be in charge of their own destiny and decide for themselves what kind of lifestyle they want. Some will seek out pedestrian friendly apartment living close to public transport in the inner suburbs of our major cities. There is a serious undersupply of this kind of compact home. But many home buyers will still insist on a house with its own backyard in a suburban community.


Its the job of governments to allow more of both kinds of housing – not to try and re-direct people away from the housing type of their choice. Governments are there to help people achieve their goals, not force them to live in accordance with someone else’s.

The mobility offered by cars is important


Large modern cities came into existence because the Industrial Revolution delivered even lower transport costs. In the United States, for example, the last century saw a 90 per cent fall in the real costs of moving manufactured goods. This made it possible to combine economic activities in a small number of very large cities. Cities offer a large and varied job market, for both employees and employers. A citys future becomes clouded if its citizens lose their ability to be mobile. Reduced freedom of movement means that jobseekers are less likely to seek out a better, more suitable, employment. Similarly, congestion limits employers choice of workers and makes it harder for businesses to attract as many customers as they otherwise would.

Private road vehicles account for about 90 per cent of the total urban passenger task. The great majority of commutes are by motor vehicle, as are shopping and social journeys.  Public transport is an important part of any city and is vital for taking people from higher density residential areas to high density employment areas. But many people dont work in high density employment locations. For example, most public transport systems are geared to get people to the part of a city which has the highest concentration of workers. But this centre only ever has a minority of jobs in a city.


Only 14 per cent of Sydneys jobs are found in the inner and inner western Sydney area. Just 16 per cent of Melbournes jobs are found in inner Melbourne. Brisbanes inner ring is home to 27 per cent of its jobs and Perths central metropolitan area accounts for just 9 per cent of its jobs. Many people work on the road, in suburban locations and smaller centres. An increasingly larger share of our population work from home. We cant ever assume that most workers will be able to use public transport to get to their job – in fact most will never have that choice. Similarly, it will be a rare family (or network of friends) whose members all happen to live in conveniently to public transport.


In any event older people, those with disabilities and those with young children, have a strong need to use a car even when public transport is available. Most people prefer to drive for the weekly shopping trip, conscious of the difficulties of juggling a large number of bags. Governments cannot ignore the reality that most households, even those who favour public transport for work journeys, are heavily dependent on motor vehicle transport


More information

For more information (and source details) please read our fact sheet:


Fact sheet: Housing and car dependence