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Case Study 5: The great Australian commute: understanding the journey to work (Target 1.2, Measure 1.2.2)

Many Australians face the daily commute to work, placing pressure on transport infrastructure. The ABS is using Census data to shed new light on commuting patterns and assist with local planning and urban design.

The ABS in 2018 released new information1 from the 2016 Census that measured the shortest road distance between where people lived and where they usually worked. This information is referred to distance to work, or commuting distance.

The ABS is using Census data on commuting distance for each employed Australian to assist analysts to understand commuting patterns and how they are associated with other detailed Census characteristics, such as sex, occupation, income and family type. Analysts now understand which occupations travel longer or shorter distances to work (for example, nurses and doctors), and that higher incomes are associated with greater commuting distances. The detailed geographic nature of this data means that regional and local commuting patterns can also be analysed and factored into local planning.

This new commuting distance data is vital to understanding the use of transport infrastructure and the functioning of labour markets (for example, how far people will travel for certain types of work). It also provides insights into the impacts of commuting on Australian workers and families, and the relationship with housing markets and urban design.

The ABS engaged with a range of key infrastructure and transport departments and experts across Australia during the development of the commuting distance data. These stakeholders, including the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Cities & Regional Development, provided direct input into statistical methods and the format of the outputs. This collaboration will help to ensure that the commuting distance information can inform key policy questions on road and transport infrastructure, and feed into research on urban design. This project provides a strong example of how the ABS can maximise the use of existing data to derive new statistical insights to meet an identified information need.

Users can access commuting distance information in many ways, including analytical reports, interactive maps2, detailed data cubes, and through the Census TableBuilder service.

Image of Melbourne commute to work map graphic


  1. See Census of Population and Housing: Commuting to Work - More Stories from the Census, 2016 (cat. no. 2071.0.55.001)
  2. See Census of Population and Housing: Commuting to Work - More Stories from the Census, 2016 (cat. no. 2071.0.55.001) Interactive Maps – Commuting Distance