Moving Australia


Health and Public Transport

“People who use public transport are five times more physical active.”

Public Transport and Physical Activity

Using public transport increases physical activity and helps reduce the chance of obesity and other health problems related to sedentary lifestyles.

The Victorian Integrated Survey of Travel and Activity (VISTA) of 43,800 Melbournians found that people who used public transport on a given day also spent an average of 41 minutes walking or cycling as part of their travel.[1]

This figure was 8 times greater on average than survey respondents using private transport, who recorded 8 minutes of physical activity a day.[2]

A Perth study found commuters using public transport accumulated seven times more exercise than private motorists.[3]

Every additional hour spent behind the wheel of a car increases a commuter’s risk of obesity by 6 per cent.[4]

Figure 1: Average daily minutes of walking and cycling for modal choice between cars, park and ride and public transport use.[5]

The prevalence of obesity in Australia has more than doubled in the last 20 years: 52% of women, 67% of men, and 25% of children are overweight or obese. This has significant adverse health consequences.

Environments that encourage walking, cycling and incidental exercise, such as walking to and from public transport, are considered as helping to reduce the incidence and economic costs of obesity and inactivity.

The Department of Transport in Victoria suggest default health benefit values of $A3.42/km of walking and $A1.71/km of cycling, in 2007 prices.[6]

Physical inactivity:

  • Costs the health budget $1.5 billion a year and the Australian economy $13.6 billion a year.[7]
  • Causes more than 16,000 deaths per year in Australia.[8]
  • Increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, colon and breast cancer and is a critical factor in the obesity epidemic in Australia.[9]


Public Transport and the Health System

Research has shown a significant reduction in obesity levels that comes with increases in walking, cycling and using public transport.

Figure 2: The relationship between obesity levels and walking, cycling and public transport use amongst populations.[10]

The graphic below from Todd Litman’s 2010 research outlines the public health benefits of public transport use.

 Figure 3: The identifiable health benefits of public transport use.[11]

[1] Department of Transport Victoria, 2007, Victorian Integrated Survey of Travel and Activity.

[2] Ibid.,

[3] Socialdata Australia (2000) Mobility Behaviour, City of Melville, Department of Planning and Infrastructure (DPI), Perth (WA)

[4] Frank LD, Andresen MA, Schmid TL. Obesity relationships with community design, physical activity, and time spent in cars. Am J Prev Med 2004;27:87-96.

[5] Bus Association of Victoria, 2010, Briefing Paper: Public Transport Use the Ticket to Health, Figures drawn from the Victorian Integrated Survey of Travel and Activity, Department of Transport Victoria.

[6] Genter, JA; Donovan, S and Petrenas, B (2008) Valuing the health benefits of walking and cycling, NZ

Transport Agency Research Report 359.

[7] Medibank Private, 2008, The Cost of Physical Inactivity.

[8] Ibid.,        

[9] Ibid.,

[10] Pucher and Djikstra, 2006, Promoting Safe Walking and Cycling to Improve Public Health, American Journal of Public Health.

[11] Litman, T, 2010. Evaluating  Public Transportation Health Benefits, Victoria Transport Policy Institute, British Columbia. 

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