Learn English while learning about daily life in Australia, with Rob McCormack
Podcast Number 151 – How Australians Get to Work
(This podcast is 14 minutes and 49 seconds long.)
How you get to work, and how long it takes, can have a big effect on your daily life. This is especially true in Australia, as around 72% of us live in the big cities where traffic flows can sometimes be slow and tedious. In this podcast, I would like to talk a little about how Australians get to work every day, including how many of us are now working from home.
The information I am using comes from our last national Census taken in 2021, during the second year of the pandemic, and our 2016 Census. I wrote about the Census in Podcast Number 140 (see Podcast 140).
The first point of interest from the 2021 Census data is that 21% of employed Australians actually worked from home. In other words, they didn’t need to travel to work – they were already there! By comparison, in the 2016 Census, only around 5% of people worked from home. This large change was primarily caused by the pandemic, when many people were told that, if they could, they must work from home. However, this change would seem to be an ongoing feature of our post-pandemic workplace. Now that pandemic work restrictions no longer apply, many workers are keen to have the option of working from home, at least for some percentage of their work time.
I was able to observe this change first hand for my wife. She found herself in a situation where she had to work from home from early 2020. Perhaps surprisingly, it didn’t stop her from doing her university job effectively. Online meetings were used and communication between worker, boss and colleagues continued effectively. Things got done. I think it is fair to say that, for many occupations, working from home is now an option which many workers and their employers will choose in the future. Of course, one of the biggest advantages is that you don’t need to travel. You save the travel time, you save the petrol and you avoid the stress of driving in traffic. In addition, there is no more wear and tear on your car. Reduced travel is also good for the environment. As well, you can organise your workday more effectively so that you have a better work-life balance. For example, you can take a longer lunch break in order to attend a dentist appointment, and then make up the time by working longer into the early evening, or by starting work earlier in the day.
While there are advantages in working from home, there are also disadvantages. For example, the interaction between team members is reduced. This interaction, depending on the work you are doing, can spark creativity or innovation, or improved team work. These things can make the workplace more productive. Home based workers lose that interaction to some extent. People also can feel somewhat isolated, missing the face-to-face contact with others which we all need and enjoy. I guess that’s why many home-based employees will still attend at the office or the workplace for part of their work week, to ensure that they can feel part of the team and build relationships between team members.
According to the 2021 Census, those workers in the Information Technology fields (IT) were the most likely to be working from home, along with those working in sales, marketing and public relations.
Of course, there are many, many jobs where you must be at the workplace in order for the job to be done at all. Examples include factory workers, medical professionals, builders, car mechanics, electricians, carpenters, painters, bus and train staff, warehouse workers, shop workers – these are just a few examples. Their journey to work, if it is a long one, can have a major impact on their day. In 2021, 71% of workers still travelled to their workplace every day.
The next point of interest from the Census is what form of transport these workers used. Not unexpectedly, the most popular form of transport was driving your own car, used by 53.1% of employed Australians. Another 3.9% travelled as a passenger in a car. 2.5% of workers walked to work. Another 2.5% travelled by train and 1.8% by bus. The 2016 Census showed a slightly different pre-pandemic picture. In 2016, with no pandemic, 62% drove their own car, 4.6% travelled by car as a passenger, 3.5% walked, 7.2% travelled by train and 3.5% travelled by bus. The effects of the pandemic can be seen in the differences between the two years’ numbers.
However, the biggest surprise for me in all these numbers is the relatively low number of workers using public transport, in particular trains and buses. In 2021, only around 3.3% of workers, and in 2016, only around 10.7% of workers were using public transport to get to work. The reason I am surprised is because of the additional cost of using a car to get to work, compared to public transport.
Let’s compare the cost of a car versus public transport. For a car, there’s the monthly cost of a loan to buy the car, the petrol, the regular maintenance, replacing the tyres and the car insurance. The RACV, Victoria’s motoring organisation, estimates in 2023 that the total of all these costs for a medium sized car is $13,440 per year. This does not include the cost of parking, which in a commercial carpark in the centre of Melbourne can cost you around $3,600 per year. That’s a total of around $17,000 per year. Compare this to the cost of buying a yearly ticket to catch public transport in Melbourne, train or bus, which is around $2,000 per year, with no parking fees to pay. The difference is a massive $15,000 per year. In fact, that is around 20% of the average after-tax wage in Australia. By comparison, public transport costs per year are around 3% of the average after-tax wage. Of course, many people love the freedom and convenience which a car gives. You decide when to travel and you sit in the comfort of your own car while you travel. Also, it is usually a little quicker in a car compared to public transport, so you do save some time there. In addition, and this is probably a major factor, most people want to own a car anyway, so that they can get around outside work hours. Therefore, they are happy to pay the extra cost of using their car to get to work.
My own experience throughout my career is an interesting example. When I lived in Sydney, I used public transport. I had to travel 15 minutes by bus to the railway station, followed by a 50 minute train journey to the city, finishing with a 10 minute walk to my workplace. That makes a 75 minute journey, both in the morning and in the evening. All up, that was 2 and a half hours per day sitting on the bus and train, and walking. I used the time to my benefit by doing the weekly readings for my Masters degree. Earlier in my career, when I was a teacher in Perth, Western Australia, I used my car to get to work, as I was able to teach at a school around 15 minutes by car from home. I guess that is the ideal situation. However, in Australia’s big cities, that can be difficult due to the high cost of housing in most areas. In my last few months of working, before I retired, I rode my motorbike to work in the city centre. It was quicker, cheaper and I was able to easily find a free parking spot. Now, as a retired person on my early morning walks, I look at the busy roads each morning and I realise I am happy to be no longer travelling to work.
If you have a question or comment to make, please leave it in the comments box at the bottom of this page. Or, you can send me an email at email@example.com. I would love to hear from you. Tell me where you live, a little bit about yourself and what you think of my Slow English podcast. I will write back to you, in English of course. If you would like to take a short quiz to see if you have understood this podcast, you will also find it on my website. Goodbye until next time.
Podcast 151 Quiz - Did you understand the podcast?
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Question 1 of 10
True or False – Rob used the Census data from the 2021 Census and the 2016 Census for his podcast.Correct
Question 2 of 10
True or False? – In 2021, around one fifth of working Australians worked from home.Correct
The overall purpose of the guidelines is to help Australians have good mental and physical wellbeing.
Question 3 of 10
True or False? – Working from home is now no longer popular in Australia, as pandemic restrictions on travelling to work no longer apply.Correct
Question 4 of 10
True or False? – Working from home removes the need to travel to work, allowing people to save money and have more time with their families.Correct
There are plants from all over the world in the Royal Botanic Gardens living collections.
Question 5 of 10
True or False? – By using online communication, workers who work from home can still have the same interaction with their colleagues.Correct
Question 6 of 10
True or False? – In 2021, around 71% of Australia’s workers travelled to their workplace every day.Correct
Question 7 of 10
True or False? – Rob is surprised that more people don’t drive their cars to work every day.Correct
There is so much to see, so people stroll through the gardens, rather than walk fast.
Question 8 of 10
True or False? – Rob explains that driving your own car to work every day is much more expensive than taking public transport.Correct
Question 9 of 10
True or False? – The average cost of owning and driving your own car to work is around 20% of the average after-tax salary in Australia.Correct
The herbarium holds the collection of plant specimens for scientists to study.
Question 10 of 10
True or False? – Rob makes the point that you can use the travel time on public transport to do something valuable in your life.Correct
While Rob now understands how someone can be a plant enthusiast, but still says he is not yet a plant enthusiast (PS motorcycles are so much fun!)
after-tax wage = the wage or pay or salary to get after you have paid all your tax
all up = when all the parts are added up
apply = (here) in place, to be followed
appointment = a time and date when you will meet with somebody
average = the middle number in a range of numbers.
avoid = when you don’t have to do something which you don’t like
benefit = when something is valuable to you
by comparison = compared to, when you look at the differences between 2 things
Census = Australia’s day when everyone is counted, once every 5 years
colleagues = people you work with
commercial = when something is a business, where you must pay for services and goods
communication = to exchange ideas or information with another person
convenience = when something is made easy
due to = caused by
effectively = correctly, when you do something the right way
employers = the person or company which gives you a job and pays you
ensure = to make sure something happens
environment = the natural world, or a part of it, in which we live
estimates = (here) makes a good guess about something which hard to find out
extent = (here) amount
feature = characteristic
first hand = seen with your own eyes
form = (here) type
ideal situation = the best situation you can get
including = when something is a part of something else
innovation = new ideas, new ways of doing things
interaction = when you talk with other people
isolated = when you are alone
journey = when you go from one place to another
keen = very interested, excited about
loan = when the bank gives you money so you can buy something, but you must pay it back
maintenance = to keep things in good order and good condition
major factor = one of the most important things
major impact = a big effect
make up the time = to work extra hours to pay back some time you had away from work
massive = very, very large
Masters = a university degree which comes after the Bachelors Degree
medical professionals = doctors, nurses and other who look after sick people
medium = not small, not large, but in between these two
observe = to see, to notice
occupations = the different types of jobs that people can do
option = when something is possible, an alternative, a choice you can make
pandemic = when a sickness is caught by many, many people
petrol = used in cars, trucks and motorcycles to give power
post-pandemic = after the pandemic
pre-pandemic = before the pandemic
primarily = mostly
productive = when you are doing good things in your job
public transport = buses, trains and ferries which carry people from one place to another
realise = when you understand something for the first time
reduced = becomes smaller or less
relationships = when you know other people and communicate with them
restrictions = when you are not allowed to do some things
spark = (here) to start, like a match can spark a fire
tedious = boring, too slow, dull, too long
traffic flows = the movement of cars, trucks, buses and motorcycles along the road
transport = all types of vehicles which move people and things around. Eg. Cars, buses, etc
travelled = to go from one place to another
unexpectedly = when something was not expected to happen
warehouse = a large building where things are stored
wear and tear = when things are used a lot, they start to break
work-life balance = a balance between working time and leisure (non-working) time