University travel survey finds bikes hold ground

The 2021 biennial University of Tasmania travel survey was always going to be an outlier because of the impact of COVID-19 restrictions, but pleasingly bike usage has held its ground.

This is the fifth travel survey, which has been conducted every two years since 2013, with participation up this year to 3354 responses. Nearly a third of staff participated and around 13% of the on-campus student population for its Tasmanian and New South Wales campuses.

Not surprisingly COVID-19 restrictions and their impact on international student numbers and face-to-face learning has skewed the results this time around.

Sustainable transport options had been trending upwards and personal car use trending down over the course of the survey’s life, however, COVID-19 sent many people back to their cars. This result may partly be skewed by the reduced number of international students on campus as they are more likely to walk or catch the bus.

Students in greater Hobart showed an increase in bicycle use: 7.1% of trips to uni were by bicycle compared to 5.8% in 2019 and students based in Hobart’s CBD were more likely to ride (13.5%). Public transport use was down by 6% and private car use was up by about 8%.

The northern Tasmanian campuses had small sample sizes because of the numbers of people studying from home so their results are not as comparable as the Hobart statistics.

University staff are more likely to drive to work than students, but they are also more likely to ride a bicycle, with riding accounting for 8.7% of trips in 2021 at all campuses compared to 7.5% in 2019. Hobart CBD staff showing high interest in riding at 15.2% of trips while Sandy Bay staff trips are going backwards with the 6.5% of trips by bike reported this year the lowest recorded across all years.

Staff at the northern and north-west campuses have very high levels of private car use at over 85%, similar to commuters generally in Launceston and Burnie, although there was a big increase in bicycle use this year at 7.7% compared to just 2.5% in 2019.

Getting more people riding

While cycling is slowly increasing, the travel survey shows there are significant challenges to getting more people riding, similar to challenges for the Tasmanian population more generally.

Heavy traffic, driver aggression and safety are seen as the main barriers, with women being more strongly influenced against riding by these factors.

The other issues in Tasmania are the hills in all three campus sites, and dark, cold winter weather.

While the university has been gradually improving its facilities, the main causes for low cycling numbers are somewhat outside its control: “The relatively limited change in bicycle mode share over time points to the limits of urban cycling infrastructure and cycling road safety conditions.”

Southern campuses are doing well in terms of more women riding, with noticeable changes since 2015 of the proportion of female staff and students riding.

Good quality end-of-trip facilities are also shown to encourage people to ride. The Hobart CBD buildings have undercover, secure bike storage which the survey found close to 90% of riders used. This compares to Sandy Bay where there is less storage of this kind with about 35% of respondents using it compared to uncovered hoops which were used by about 50% of riders.

The survey found e-bike use in the south is growing, with 18% of staff and student riders using an e-bike. The university has installed e-bike chargers to cater to these riders and this year has introduced a salary sacrificing option for staff wanting to use an e-bike.

The university’s current sustainable transport strategy 2017–21 expires this year, and its replacement will cover a longer ten year period 2022–2032 to reflect the moves into the Hobart CBD and Inveresk campuses.