Monday, January 21, 2013

Car vs Train in SE Queensland

In this blog post BrizCommuter takes a look at the cost of travelling by car, compared to by train.

Car costs are based on the following article from RACQ (from 2012):
The chosen car in the comparison is a small sized Mazda 3 Neo (the best selling car model in Australia in 2012). Most other cars have overall running costs (for an average of 15,000km/yr) within +/- 25% of this figure, with smaller cars obviously at the lower end and larger fuel guzzling cars at the higher end. The RACQ figures are based on buying a car new, and running it for 5 years. For the purposes of this comparison, the car running costs are $0.21/km, with fixed costs of $12.88/journey.

For distances, we will look at journeys of 7km (inner-suburb to CBD), 20km (outer-suburbs to CBD), 40km (approx. Beenleigh, Cleveland, Ipswich, Caboolture to CBD), and 90km (approx. Gold Coast or Sunshine Coast to CBD). For a car, this is 2,961km/yr, 8,460km/yr, 16,920km/yr, and 38,070km/yr respectively.

For costs, we will look at the cost per journey. Based on an average of 9 trips per week (9 day fortnight), over 47 working weeks - that's 423 journeys! Trains fares are peak period 2013 TransLink fares. Car costs are shown as being inclusive of fixed and running costs, as well as running cost on;y figures to represent cases when cars are required for other purposes anyway (e.g shopping, picking up kids, leisure).

Train - $3.85
Car - $14.35
Car (Running costs only) - $1.47

Train - $5.13
Car - $17.08
Car (Running costs only) - $4.20

Train - $7.12
Car - $21.28
Car (Running costs only) - $8.40

Train - $12.81
Car - $31.78
Car (Running costs only) - $18.90

The results show that if you purchases and use a car only for commuting, then the costs are significantly higher than using public transport. Even a small car, bought second hand may still be more expensive than using public transport. Thus it can be concluded that buying a second family car solely for the purposes of commuting may not be cost effective compared to using public transport - until you throw in the time factor.

If you require a car for purposes other than commuting (as it is very difficult to be completely car free in a road-centric city as Brisbane) and only look at running costs, then it is cheaper to use the car for 7km and 20km commutes than it is to use public transport. As distance increases, TransLink's fare structure vs running costs results in the car being more expensive. Thus using a primary family car for commuting is cheaper than using public transport for medium to short distance commutes.


Parking will add to the cost of using a car. So if you don't have to pay for parking (and many businesses provide parking for free), then the cases above where driving is cheaper than using public transport still stands. For short trips, it may even still be cheaper to drive if parking is only a few dollars (short stay on meter).

Public transport - infrequent at times!

Time is very important in todays society, but can be difficult to cost. Due to heavy road investment in SE Queensland, it is usually faster to drive than to use public transport, even in the peak period - this is the opposite to many congested cities! When you add in waiting times for public transport, the cost of time really starts to add up. For example Newmarket and Coorparoo are approx. 7km from the CBD by rail, yet have peak service gaps of up to 23 minutes! You could drive the entire distance by car in the time that you could wait for a train. If you live near an infrequent train or bus route, then the time factor may significantly increase the cost effectiveness to use a second car for commuting.


It could be concluded that TransLink need to lower their fares for shorter distance journeys to make public transport more competitive than using a car based on running costs only. Also, when you throw in time wasted waiting for public transport in the mix, there is little question that stations closer to the CBD need a more frequent train service than at present where 20min+ peak service gaps are not uncommon due to lousy timetabling.


  1. I purchased a car that has very low fuel usage:
    18km/L or 5.6L/100 km.

    The car is 10 years old, so quite cheap, and in very good condition (low KM).

    I then travel 70 km to South Brisbane. Even with the cost of parking the total costs are on par with taking the train.

    If parking was free then it would be $60+ cheaper to drive. That adds up to some big dollars for the year.

    I take the train because it is more enjoyable to sit and read a book than to be in start/stop in traffic. Reading on the train is also a nice way to unwind.

    But if parking were free, if train fares increase or if I can no longer get a seat on the 60 min travel I'd have to reconsider the choice.

    1. Update - After having to drive in this morning it took approximately 2 hours to travel the 70 km to work - that's an average of 35km/h!!! The price issue isn't as important to me any more... even if the price increases it HAS to be better than our road system.

  2. I think the development of smart phones and iPads etc has changed the cost of time for public transport. On public transport you can read a book, plan your day etc i.e. be fairly productive. In a car however you obviously have to be focused on the task at hand.


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