As Australia moves forward with COVID-19, balancing the presence of new variants with the resumption of everyday activities, key behavioural changes are beginning to have an impact on the function and form of Australia's transport network.

At the peak of COVID-19 lockdowns, there was a sharp reduction in the distance and frequency of trips, as well as in the use of public transport. In contrast, there was an increase in the use of private vehicles and in activities such as walking and cycling.

The impact on travel patterns across the major cities has been very diverse. In November 2021 public transport requests were down 9 percent in Perth and 33 percent in Sydney.

A combination of commuters’ health and safety concerns, continued working-from-home arrangements, and the appeal of regional living are likely to see key changes in transport activities moving forward.

Key observations

Requests for public transport trips remain 20 percent below pre-COVID-19 levels, with driving and walking trips both above pre-COVID-19 levels

Health outcomes such as safety, cleanliness and the ability to socially distance are still set to play a major role in model choice

Working from home has increased demand for larger housing and has impacted on people's willingness to accept longer commute times

As passengers return to the network, it will be important from a regulatory and operational perspective to respond to changing demand through upscaling and downscaling service provision as required

Travel-related changes post COVID-19

Three travel-related changes that are likely to continue from this period:

  • Greater flexibility in how we travel.

  • A reduced peak hour, yet a longer commute.

  • A more flexible and responsive transport network.

Prior to COVID-19, transport planners were working towards relieving network constraints in an environment with long lead times for infrastructure planning and delivery.

COVID-19 and its impact particularly on public transport patronage offers room for transport planners to re-assess demand and invest in infrastructure for the population and its changing user preferences, getting ahead of the curve.

Now, there is a significant opportunity for transport planners, policy makers and industry to influence travel behaviour for the better as Australia moves forward with COVID-19 into the new normal.

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Our report takes a deeper dive into how COVID-19 has changed the choices people are making about everyday travel, how this has impacted on transport demand, and what transport providers will need to do to deliver safe, efficient and reliable services in the future.

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