- Transport is a major user of energy in the form of fossil fuels. Transport is Australia’s third-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions and cars are responsible for half of the country’s transport greenhouse gas emissions.
- Your transport choices affect your energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. Your choices include where you live, as well as what transport options you use.
- Active transport options include walking, cycling, and public transport. These forms of transport use the least energy and produce the least greenhouse gas emissions.
- If you are buying a new vehicle, consider whether an electric or hybrid vehicle will suit your lifestyle. Electric vehicles are becoming more efficient and developing longer ranges.
- You can charge an electric vehicle at your home or at public charging stations. To increase convenience, more charging stations are being built around Australia.
- If you are buying a conventional petrol or diesel vehicle, look for the smallest and most fuel-efficient model that will suit your needs.
- Car pooling and car sharing may also be options to reduce your car use.
Planning your transport
Transport plays an important part of our everyday lives. It enables us to get to work or school, do our work and shop, enjoy leisure activities, and socialise with friends and family.
Decisions about the type of transport you use can have a big impact on your household’s carbon footprint. You may have an energy-efficient home, but still be a high-energy consuming household if you rely heavily on your car. Transport is Australia’s third-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions and cars are responsible for half of the country’s transport greenhouse gas emissions (DEE 2019). Cars are also responsible for other polluting emissions such as hydrocarbons, oxides of nitrogen and particulate matter, which cause smog and can lead to adverse health impacts.
The average Australian household spends 7 times more on transport (over $11,000 per year) than electricity (around $1,500 per year) (Climate Council 2018).
Your transport choices can reduce energy use, greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution.
Photo: Getty Images
Deciding where to live and work
A home that is far from the places you need to go, usually means you will spend more time travelling, and this may have to be by car if alternative transport options are lacking. If you are able to choose a home that is near public transport, or is in easy walking distance to local amenities, this can give you more opportunities to feel connected to the local neighbourhood.
In deciding where to live and work, consider the following questions:
- How close is the nearest village or town centre? Does it have the right selection of shops and services that would make it a convenient and attractive place to visit?
- Can you commute (all or part of the way) to work without a car? What are your transport options for commuting to work (for example, public transport, cycling)?
- If you have no local public transport options, consider if you can drive to a public transport hub (for example, train station, bus interchange, or park and ride facility) and complete the journey by public transport or even by bike.
- Are there nearby parks or waterways where you can walk, exercise your pet, or ride a bike? If you have children, are schools, childcare, and local play parks within a safe walkable distance?
- How busy is your street and how fast is the traffic in your street? Is it easy and safe to walk and cycle?
Photo: Getty Images
Your day-to-day travel behaviour
Not everyone can choose to live close to the places they frequent the most. Choosing more sustainable modes of transport such as electric vehicles, or active transport options like bike riding or public transport, can still improve air quality, and reduce your energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. Changes to how you use your car can also make a difference.
Changing your transport
- Think about reducing the number of cars in your household. Sharing a car will involve members of the household having to coordinate travel, but it will save money on parking and running costs. Even the cheapest new car to run and own in Australia has an annual cost of over $5,500 (RAC 2020).
- Rent a specialised car for the occasions when you need to carry a large load or drive off road.
- Ride a bike. Electric-assist bicycles are making it easier for many people to travel longer distances and use a bike for everyday transport. Bike share schemes also make it possible to conveniently hire a bike for short periods.
- Work from home if you can. You will reduce energy use, pollution and traffic congestion, while adding variety to your work routine.
Buying or converting a car
- When buying a new car, consider a hybrid petrol–electric or electric vehicle to further reduce your emissions (refer to Sustainable transport options below for more information).
- If you are buying a new or used petrol or diesel car, choose a model that is economical to run. Look for the Fuel Consumption Label or compare options using the GreenVehicleGuide.
- Consider converting your car to fuels that can be less polluting than diesel or petrol, such as high ethanol fuels, biodiesel, or LPG (liquefied petroleum gas). However, keep in mind that the environmental gains can be small and conversion costs can be high (around $3,000–$5,000 for LPG). (For more information on these fuels, refer to References and additional reading).
Changing how you use your car
- Use your car less. Consider alternative transport options, and weigh up the costs and benefits. Could you use public transport and work, read, socialise or get tasks done at the same time? Could you get some fresh air and exercise by riding a bike or walking instead? Would walking, cycling, and public transport lead to more social interaction with your neighbourhood than sitting in your car?
- Explore the options of carpooling and sharing. Take on passengers in your own vehicle, or ride as a passenger with others to reduce the number of vehicles on the road. Commercial car share and ride share schemes work on a membership basis, and where available, are a convenient and often cost-effective alternative to car ownership.
- Combine multiple car trips into a single trip and, with a little planning, significantly reduce the extent of your car travel.
- Drive smoothly and minimise acceleration and braking to reduce noise, air pollution and accidents.
- Maintain your car regularly. You will reduce noise and air pollution if you ensure that your car’s engine is operating effectively. Ensure your tyres are pumped to the recommended pressure as flat tyres can increase fuel consumption.
Transport planning in your neighbourhood
Local government is responsible for planning neighbourhoods to help you feel safe and socially connected to your area, to enable access to affordable and diverse housing options with suitable infrastructure, to help you travel to the places you need to go (whether walking, cycling, or travelling in a vehicle).
Best practice in sustainable transport planning involves the development of strategic plans and policies that consider current needs as well as how the community might change in the future. It should take into account how to accommodate more public transport use, more cycling, more walking, and careful consideration of street design. This planning can include well-designed features such as wider footpaths, landscaped strips, dedicated bike lanes, and pedestrian only areas. These measures can transform a street formerly busy with vehicles, into a friendly and attractive space shared by local residents, pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists alike.
You and your neighbours can encourage your local government to support sustainable transport in their planning. Encourage them to pay attention to:
- public transport and other infrastructure – encourage your local council to improve the availability and quality of public transport, and to reduce the cost of using it. Also encourage them to provide improved secure infrastructure for storing bikes and scooters, and more park and ride options to reduce traffic congestion.
- road safety – road safety actions at a neighbourhood level include enforcing safe parking practices like not parking across driveways or bike lanes, and ensuring there are safe places to cross the road. This is especially important for those who need assistance or more time to cross the road such as children, older people, or those with a disability.
Transport aspects to home design
If you are building or renovating your home, consider the following transport-related design elements:
- Locate on-site spaces appropriately. While parking at the side or rear of a house is recommended to avoid an unsightly line of garages facing the street, it does add to the extent of driveways and paved areas (except with rear access).
- Keep driveways as short and narrow as possible and consider using permeable paving to minimise stormwater runoff.
- If you choose to include a garage or carport, install a 15A electrical circuit to accommodate electric vehicle charging in the future. The outlet is best positioned near the garage door to give you flexibility to charge the car inside or outside. Ensure there is space on the wall for mounting the charger.
- Consider a garage design that enables it to be easily converted to a living or work-from-home space if your needs change.
- Allow space for bicycle storage, such as a dedicated bicycle storage area or space in the garage. Consider using inexpensive options for storing and securing your bicycle, such as wall mounted bicycle racks.
Here are some additional tips for apartment design:
- Minimise on-site parking and locate it underground. Street parking affects visibility for people crossing roads and underground parking enables better public spaces at ground level.
- Consider dedicated car spaces for car-sharing schemes and metered electric vehicle charging.
- Make it easy for users to transport bikes from their storage to the street or bike path by minimising stairs and doors.
- Consider siting shops or residences, rather than car parks, at the street level frontage to enhance the streetscape.
Photo: Paul Downton
Sustainable transport options
Active transport includes walking, cycling, and travel by public transport. The benefits of walking, cycling and using public transport are many:
- reduced congestion on the roads
- saved money on your transport costs
- improved health and lower stress levels
- improved local air quality
- reduced environmental impacts.
Electric vehicles (EVs) have either a primary or secondary electric motor. They emit less carbon and particle pollution than those that use just fossil fuels (that is, petrol or diesel). EVs can be either cars or light commercial vehicles, or motorcycles and scooters. Those that are ‘plug in’ can have their battery recharged using mains electricity and may be charged at home, depending on the availability and access to a suitable place to charge.
There are different types of electric vehicle:
- plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV; electric, petrol)
- battery electric vehicle (BEV; full electric)
- hydrogen (hydrogen fuel cell).
Photo: Scott Dwyer
A hybrid vehicle has 2 power sources: a conventional internal combustion engine that uses fossil fuel (typically petrol), and an electric motor. Hybrid vehicles also use a battery which can be charged either by the engine, or by being plugged into a power source.
There are 3 main types of hybrid vehicle:
- full hybrid – these are able to operate only using the engine, in electric mode only, or a combination of both
- mild hybrid – these are unable to operate in electric-only mode because the electric motor is not powerful enough on its own
- plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) – these have batteries that can be charged from the engine and from an electricity source (such as from your home). They can also operate in the various modes of electric-only, engine-only, or a combination of both (refer to Battery electric vehicles below for more information).
Compared with conventional and electric vehicles, hybrid cars in general offer a compromise between electricity efficiency, usability, and cost.
The efficiency of a hybrid car depends on how it is driven and where the electricity is sourced from (if it is a plug-in hybrid). If frequently doing short, low speed journeys and charging it using 100% renewable energy, then a hybrid will be much better for the environment than a conventional car. If only the hybrid’s petrol engine is being used (by fast accelerating, driving long high-speed journeys, or not plugging it in to charge), then it may not be any better than a regular petrol-fuelled car.
If you have access to a place to charge your vehicle (for example, a garage or driveway, or your employer’s car park), then a plug-in hybrid may be a good choice. If you have on-street parking, do not have a power source near to where you park your car, and do not live near a fast charging station, then a hybrid may be the better choice.
Battery electric vehicles
A battery electric vehicle (usually known just as an electric vehicle or ‘EV’) has a single power source; that is, an electric motor with a rechargeable battery.
As well as powering the vehicle, in the future, EV’s may be able to power your home. If the EV is charged late at night (on off-peak rates), or in the middle of the day (using solar PV), then it may be able to be used to power your home to offset more expensive peak electricity. This may become more common as bi-directional home chargers reduce in cost.
Range and charging
The average range for an electric vehicle depends on the battery size. As of 2018, new models are quoting driving ranges of 270–600km for a single charge. Ranges are increasing as the technology improves.
An electric car can be charged at your home where there is access to a mains power supply (for example, in a garage or driveway). It is recommended that you install a power circuit specifically designed for EV charging, to improve safety and reduce the time to charge. If designing a new home but with no immediate plans to own an electric vehicle, consider future-proofing it by installing an appropriate electrical circuit to your garage or carport. It should be more cost effective to include it in the overall electrical budget of a new build or home extension rather than retrofitted.
While most charging currently occurs in the home, the availability of public charging is increasing in Australia. Public charging will provide more opportunities to recharge out of the home and while travelling. There are websites that list EV charging stations available across Australia (for example, the Electric Vehicle Council map and the PlugShare phone app lists EV charging stations worldwide, including in Australia).
EV charger levels and plug types
There are a number of different types of charge and plug types for charging your electric vehicle:
- Type 1 refers to charging from a basic 10A or 16A power point; this typically involves an adaptor from the common Australian 3-pronged plug to the AC inlet plug for the car. Charging cables (sometimes called convenience charging cables) are usually provided with new cars and can deliver power between 2.4kW and 3.6kW (10A to 16A). An overnight charge of 10 hours or more would be required to add 200km of range to the vehicle.
While most EVs come with a charging cable for connecting to a standard household socket, it is not recommended to regularly charge your vehicle this way because it can damage your home’s electrical wiring or vehicle’s battery (voiding some manufacturer’s warranties).
- Type 2 charging represents faster AC charging and will typically include a wall-mounted unit on a dedicated circuit. It is recommended that a Type 2 AC home charger is installed on a dedicated circuit for regular home charging. This will be both safer and help charge your vehicle faster than using a standard mains power point in your home. A licensed and certified electrician is needed for installing such an EV charger. Three phase power can enable AC chargers to operate up to 22kW (32A) but this will depend on the type of vehicle. Every vehicle has an on-board charger which directs how fast the vehicle can be charged, and some current vehicles only accept 7kW AC.
- Both type 1 and 2 use an in-vehicle converter to convert the AC electricity in the charger to DC electricity for the battery.
- Type 3 charging is delivered by DC chargers, ranging from 50kW to 475kW. The use of DC current to directly charge the battery enables higher power delivery. All types of BEV should be able to use these chargers where there is a compatible plug type, although the maximum charge rate (that is, how fast it can charge) will depend on the type of BEV. These chargers look similar to traditional petrol bowsers and can deliver up to 200km of range in 5 to 15 minutes. They are not available for home use.
Photo: Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources
Photo: Getty Images
Hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle
A hydrogen fuel cell vehicle uses hydrogen to generate electricity to drive an electric motor. The fuel cell has some similarities to a battery but uses hydrogen to generate power rather than requiring an electricity supply for recharging. Fuel cells generate electricity and produce water and heat as by-products.
The benefits of fuel cell vehicles is that they can have fast refuelling times, similar to fossil fuel conventional vehicles, with hydrogen delivered in liquid form from a special bowser. They are also able to travel for long distances without the need to refuel.
Hydrogen can be generated from either fossil fuels or renewable energy. Unlike battery electric vehicles, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles cannot be refuelled at home. It is unlikely home refuelling will happen any time in the near future because of the technical requirements associated with generating and storing hydrogen and delivering it to your vehicle.
A limited number of fuel cell vehicles have recently been introduced in Australia, along with public hydrogen refilling stations to refuel them.
E-bikes are bicycles that have an electric motor and chargeable battery pack that provides extra power to help the rider tackle hills, accelerate from a stationary position, keep up with other bikes and traffic, cover long distances, or move heavy loads. The motor cuts in when the speed drops below a certain level and then for safety, cuts out at a higher speed. Some e-bikes come with a throttle meaning no pedalling is required, while some have pedal assist acceleration. Bicycles can also be modified, using a kit, to become electric.
E-bikes in their current form have been around since the 1990s and have been increasing in popularity. They outsell electric cars and, in some countries, are starting to outsell non-electric bikes. Trends in Europe have seen an increase in the use of e-bikes among older populations as a means to maintain their cycling lifestyle.
E-bike share schemes are popular in many cities around the world and work in the same way as car share schemes, requiring a membership and payment each time you use the bike.
Photo: Getty Images
Car pooling and car sharing
Car pooling and car sharing can benefit your neighbourhood and the wider community by reducing the number of cars on the road, leading to less air pollution, fewer greenhouse gas emissions, and safer and less congested streets and highways. The main options you may have available are:
- car pooling – this is the shared use of cars for those travelling to the same destination or direction. A car pool is something you can join or initiate with family, friends, or colleagues. There are also ride-matching websites that you can access.
- car sharing – car share schemes may be an option for those in metropolitan areas. They work in a similar way to hiring a car, except vehicles are accessed using a smart phone app or computer. They are typically bookable in 30 minute or 60 minute increments and require a membership. Various payment plans are available, typically involving some form of upfront payment then itemised monthly bill to cover the costs of mileage, mechanical maintenance, insurance, registration, and cleaning costs.
Car sharing works particularly well if you do not commute by car, or when you need a second vehicle only occasionally. Some apartment developers are providing spaces for car share vehicles in their car parks, with free credits for their use offered to buyers of the apartments.
Car sharing is a more sustainable option than buying a private vehicle, while also being more affordable if car use is infrequent.
References and additional reading
- Budget Direct, Car running costs in Australia 2020.
- Climate Council (2017). Transport emissions: driving down car pollution in cities, Factsheet, Climate Council, Canberra.
- Climate Council (2018). Waiting for the green light: transport solutions to climate change, Climate Council, Canberra.
- DEE (Department of the Environment and Energy) (2019). Quarterly update of Australia’s national greenhouse gas inventory: March 2019, DEE, Canberra.
- Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development, Road safety statistics.
- Electric Vehicle Council.
- Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries, Alternative fuels.
- Main Roads Western Australia, Sustainability.
- Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads (2021). Queensland Transport Strategy.
- Royal Automobile Club of WA (2020). Car running costs 2020.
- Sustainability Victoria, Choose sustainable transport and travel.
- The Green Vehicle Guide.
- Transport for NSW (2020). Future Transport Strategy 2056, NSW Government, Sydney.
- Transport Victoria (2018). Transport strategies and plans, Government of Victoria, Melbourne.
- World Health Organization (2015). Health 2020: transport and health [PDF], WHO, Geneva.
- Explore Choosing and using a site for tips about choosing a location with plenty of sustainable transport options
- Read about Batteries to explore how you might use your electric vehicle to help power your home
Principal author: Scott Dwyer 2020
Previous authors: Kendall Banfield, Caitlin McGee, Steve Shackel, Paul Downton