Statistics from the 2016 census indicate that the growth in car ownership in Sydney continues to rise, whereas car ownership in Melbourne has stalled.
Sydney, because of its density, has long had the lowest level of car ownership – 55.3 cars per 100 persons compared to Melbourne’s 61.7.
Car ownership is rising in Sydney, but not as fast as cities such as Perth and Brisbane.
But the new census data is a shock with questions are now being asked whether Melbourne has reached a tipping point where the citizens have realised that road congestion is a permanent condition.
In recent years Melbourne has seen astounding growth in bike, train and tram travel.
The trend has coincided with a booming economy and population growth, and more particularly, increased densification.
Densification results in more compact development, younger populations, and lower car use because everything is closer than in a typical suburban environment.
And the census shows that Melbourne’s rapidly densifying areas is where car ownership is losing it attraction.
The census number crunching has been done by transport analyst Chris Loader at Charting Transport. There is much detail on the website.
The figures show that car ownership in Melbourne was virtually flat between 2006 and 2016 whereas it increased in 15 other Australian cities.
Although car ownership is rising in Sydney overall, there are some areas where it is in decline.
This includes Burwood, Strathfield and Canada Bay, however locations such as Woollahra, Mosman and Northern Beaches show the opposite trend – higher car ownership as they densify.
In Melbourne all dense inner suburbs are showing declining car ownership.
One surprise in the data is that some of the new, growing outer suburbs in Melbourne – often referred to as "car-based suburbs” – also have declining car ownership.
There is much more census data still to be released and analysed. But early indications are that the transport weather vane is swinging to point in a new direction.
Melbourne may be headed to a less car dependent future, with many more people in bikes, public transport and walking.
Sydney on the other hand appears to be locked into the old paradigm, perhaps not a surprise given the bike-hostile policies of recent state governments.