Newcastle University students test the limits of our favourite transportation modes

TWO years after the first petrol-driven car was built in Australia in 1901, the first organisation dedicated to the car came into being.

Harley Tarrant had barely rolled the first Tarrant automobile out of his small Melbourne workshop when the Australian Motoring Association was formed, dedicated to the motor vehicle, its makers and owners.

Tarrant and his bicycle maker assistant Howard Lewis had used the workshop to build engines, and they powered the first Tarrant car with a rear-mounted six-horsepower Benz engine.

History doesn’t record whether there was ever a race between Harley Tarrant in his vehicle, and Howard Lewis on a pushbike, but what we can be sure of is that they weren’t encumbered by traffic.

More than a century later Australians love their cars more than ever. A stunning and record-breaking 1.178 million new cars were sold in 2016, up 2 per cent on the previous year. Australian Bureau of Statistics figures from 2016 show 48 per cent of Newcastle households had access to two or more motor vehicles. The figure was significantly less than the Hunter region figure of 54 per cent.

The figure might be partly explained by a University of Newcastle test of the best ways to travel from its Callaghan campus to the beautiful NewSpace building in the central business district.

While participants expected the car to blitz the field, it came in a slow and expensive fourth out of a field of four. It was beaten by three cyclists, a bus passenger and a university shuttle bus passenger. While it might have traversed the distance quicker than other modes, the inability to find parking and 780 metre walk from parking space to NewSpace pushed it to last place. But as a reflection of the reality of using a car to travel between the two university sites, it was an honest outcome.

All participants were surprised that the government bus made the 11 kilometre trip faster than the other modes of travel. Some based their assessment on previous experiences of bus travel. It is probably accurate to suggest public transport was not rated highly before the experiment because Australians, as a rule, see public transport as the mode of travel you use when you don’t have another mode of travel.

We love our cars, but in Newcastle it’s a love that’s starting to come at a cost.

Issue: 38,569.

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