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Remarkably adaptive Melbourne - but at what cost?

New research by the Grattan Institute reveals that average commute distances and times in Melbourne have barely increased over the five years to 2016, even as our population has grown strongly. This is due in no small part to Melbourne's dispersed employment pattern, but what are the costs?

The conventional wisdom has been that Jobs in Melbourne are largely concentrated in the CBD and central city. However the Grattan research reveals that in fact only 15.5% of Melbourne’s jobs are located in the CBD, Southbank and Docklands.

What about the non-CBD employment centres like Box Hill and Mulgrave ? Apparently these only account for a further 10% of job locations.

A staggering 75% of the jobs in Melbourne are dispersed across the metropolis, in locations other than the CBD and designated employment nodes.

(Source - Grattan report)

There were around 2 million jobs in Melbourne at the time of the 2016 census - of these, only one third were located in the top 15 locations shown in the chart below.

(Source - Echelon (derived from Grattan report)

The top 15 locations for employment is fascinating –unsurprisingly, inner city locations like Richmond and Southbank and East Melbourne feature, but places like Laverton, Campbellfield and Preston are also prominent.

The Grattan report found that despite widely held perceptions about the impact of growth and congestion, commute times have not changed much overall in the 12 years from 2004 to 2016. The report concludes that the random dispersal of jobs has been a major contributor towards keeping commute times relative constant over time.

Somewhat depressingly, the report found that driving remains by far the most preferred method of travel to work in Melbourne, and the proportion of people cycling or walking to work has declined.

There has been a slight decline in travel to work by car in Melbourne (74 per cent to 72 per cent) and interestingly it is new workers who are pushing up the overall share of public transport use in Melbourne.

So whilst the dispersed nature of jobs in Melbourne might well be helping to ensure that people's commute times are not rising as the population grows, it also means that it is difficult if not impossible to provide frequent, fast and high capacity public transport services to link people and jobs.

Whilst the Grattan report found that nominated employment clusters like Monash Clayton have failed to increase its share of total jobs over the period 2011-16, in my view focusing employment on designated suburban clusters is still a critical strategy for our City.

As Melbourne grows, we need to endeavour to concentrate job densities in locations that already have public transport infrastructure, and where public transport choices can be enhanced. Otherwise Melbourne will simply continue to grow as a car-centric city where large amounts of scarce urban land continues to be needed to support private car travel, and where having access to private transport will be a pre-condition to accessing employment opportunities.

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