Open roads for freight a bonus from COVID pandemic


Less congestion and more-consistent travel times help, says Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics

Open roads for freight a bonus from COVID pandemic
Smooth sailing along the Hume Freeway in NSW

 

The COVID-19 pandemic has produced a plus for road freight in the form of reduced congestion, according to the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics (BITRE).

The bureau’s Freight route performance under COVID-19 information sheet shows the nation’s  response to the pandemic led to large reductions in urban commuter traffic in Australian capital cities from late-March and early-April as many firms and schools shutdown or requested staff to work from home.

"Freight traffic did not reduce but, due to reduced congestion, has experienced lower and more predictable travel times on the freight network, helping to maintain supply chains during the pandemic," BITRE’s analysts report.

The figures compare estimated travel times for selected routes in the five mainland state capitals for the weeks starting January 6, February 24 and April 20.

For most routes there is a clear pattern:

  • the early January period is in the height of the summer school holidays, when urban congestion is less significant, and consequently freight vehicle travel times were relatively constant over the day and the interquartile range was relatively narrow, so there was a fair amount of certainty about how long a trip would take
  • by late February, as holidays had ceased and students returned to school, distinct morning and/or afternoon peak periods had emerged, so the median trip took longer and the expected travel time was more uncertain.
  • by late April, following the closure of many schools and workplaces in late March, these peak periods had become less pronounced or had disappeared altogether, and expected times and uncertainty were either comparable with or improved relative to early January.

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 The review focused on:

Sydney

Pennant Hills Road and Princes Highway: By late February, distinct morning and afternoon peaks had appeared with longer and more uncertain travel times than in January. In particular, travel times at the 3rd quartile were over 2.3 times as long as those at the 1st quartile, making trip planning difficult. By late April, however, these peaks had disappeared and travel times were comparable to early January.

Georges River Road: From January to late February, median journey times in the morning peak increased around 20 per cent, from 12 to 15 minutes, and the 3rd quartile had increased 29 per cent from 15 to 21 minutes. By the end of April, however, these times had fallen to slightly below their early January levels.

Melbourne

Hoddle Street and Punt Road: Although short, congestion means that freight vehicles travelling on this route faced high variability in travel times even in early January – travel times at the 3rd quartile were eight minutes longer or three times as much as the 1st quartile. By late February, travel times at the 3rd quartile in the morning peak were nearly 15 minutes, or three times those at the 1st quartile. By late April, however, the 3rd quartile in the morning peak was only six minutes, which was 10 minutes less than in February, six minutes less than early January and only twice as long as the 1st quartile.

Monash Freeway: Even in January travel times were relatively uncertain with travel times at the 3rd quartile almost twice travel times at the 1st quartile. By late February, however, median travel times were comparable those at the 3rd quartile in January, and those at the 3rd quartile were over an hour – over three times as long as in non-peak periods. By late April, however, both morning and afternoon peaks had disappeared and median travel times were roughly 20 minutes at all times.

Brisbane

Gateway Motorway: Journey times in the afternoon increased by more than three minutes (14 per cent) at the median and by over six minutes (20 per cent) at the 3rd quartile between January and April. Travel times improved in April but were still slightly higher than in January.  

Port Drive: On this route from the Port of Brisbane to the Gateway Motorway, travel times were little changed throughout the period. This route has comparatively little commuter traffic relative to freight vehicles when compared to other routes. This helps demonstrate the variation in other routes is caused by changes in passenger vehicle numbers.

Perth

Mitchell Freeway and Kwinana Freeway: In January, there were recognisable peak periods but by Late February these had become highly distinct. Median travel times in these peak periods were five minutes (25 per cent) longer than at less congested times and travel times at the 3rd quartile were around 20 minutes (100 per cent) longer than those at the 1st quartile. By late April uncertainty at peak periods had reduced considerably and median travel times were more consistent throughout the day than they had been in January.

Stirling Highway and Leach Highway: By late February, there were distinct morning and afternoon peaks where median travel times had increased roughly 10 per cent, and 3rd quartile times by 25 per cent compared to January or to non-peak periods. By late April however, travel times were similar to those in early January.

Adelaide

Port River Expressway and North South Motorway: Like Port Drive in Brisbane, this route shows relatively little change throughout the four months although it carries commuter traffic from the northern suburbs of Adelaide.

 

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