Australian Left Review

Article Title

The Dominant Car


Geoff Lacey


In a modern city a wide variety of transport modes are possible, ranging from foot and bicycle, through conventional trains, buses and cars to complex electronic systems like dial-a-bus and personalised rapid transport. Yet in most cities a single mode, the private car, is dominant. This can be seen by comparing the number of trips made by car and public transport, and also by comparing the relative expenditures on and the geographical scope of the different modes. In 1971 the number of private and commercial trips by car in Sydney was 3,400,000 per day and the number of daily public transport trips was 1,400,000. (1) Total expenditure on public transport in New South Wales for the year 1971-72 was $307 million . (2) Total government expenditure (local, state and federal) on NSW roads in that year was $257 million (3), and private expenditure on cars was about 2.5 times that amount. Most public transport services are radial, into the city centre, and throughout the whole metropolitan area nearly all cross travel is by car.

The main object of this paper is to examine the causes of this dominance of the car in metropolitan transport. How was our transport system planned and developed? Who made the critical decisions and with what objectives? How did these decisions lead to the present condition of our transport? If we do not know the answers to such questions, it is very difficult to predict the way ahead for our tran sport system and to plan for any significant changes. I have not completed the intricate task of finding the answers. I hope, however, that this paper proves to be a beginning, and will open the way to further discovery.