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By Ross Elliott

Where we work defines how we get there (and explains a lot about the public transport challenge)

Where we work has everything to do with the transport choices available to us for getting there.

For CBD and inner-city workers, transport choices are amongst the widest – including a variety of forms of public transport (ferries, buses, trains) along with more options for walking and cycling (thanks to the infrastructure but also because CBD and inner-city workers tend to live close to the inner city).

If almost everyone worked in the CBDs and inner cities, the fantasy of public transport advocates (“we must get people out of cars and onto public transport”) could be realised.


But the economic reality is that the proportion and number of jobs in CBDs and inner cities remain low and are likely to fall further in the future.

The greatest majority of jobs are suburban, and these workplaces are typically not served by public transport.

Evidence of this economic reality is provided by the Census, for those who can be bothered to consult the data.

The graph below shows total job numbers for Southeast Queensland by location based on the Census results of 2011, 2016, and 2021.

This is for all jobs – part-time, casual, and full-time, and for all industries.


In 2021, Brisbane’s CBD was home to 146,393 jobs. In the 10 years since 2011, this had grown by 30,261 jobs (part-time, casual, and full time remember - full-time white-collar professionals are a subset of this number).

The inner city reached 235,441 jobs or a growth of 49,067 since 2011 while the SA4 statistical area (very crudely approximating a 5 km radius from the CBD) reached 364,268 jobs and a growth of 77,488 jobs.

The greater Brisbane metro region by comparison was home to 1,194,277 jobs – an increase of 268,888 jobs since 2011.

The SEQ region – which forms the basis of most planning frameworks – reached a total jobs pool of 1,702,408 or a decade increase of 481,896.

What this indicates is that the CBD and inner city are overall minority destinations for the 1.7 million employed in SEQ.

Yes, the CBD/inner city is the largest single job agglomeration, but in terms of its overall share of jobs by location, we are talking about a destination for a minority of the region’s employed.

The CBD accounts for 8.5% of jobs in the region, the inner city for 14%, and the wider 5klm ring (for which there seems no scientific or professional basis other than it’s a popular measure) for 21%.

Even at the most generous spatial definition (a 5klm radius is a 10klm diameter - which stretches well into leafy suburban areas), there are 8 in 10 people who do not work in the inner city.

This lies at the root of the public transport challenge.

The hub and spoke nature of public transport (which tends to serve the CBD and inner city) works for only around 10% to 15% of people with inner city or CBD jobs to go to.

Increasing investment in public transport networks that reinforce this hub and spoke structure will not increase the proportion for whom PT is a legitimate choice (though it will no doubt add to the amenity and comfort of those for whom it already is).

Adding to the challenge is that, despite decades of adulation and the bestowment of almost mythical job creation and attraction powers, CBDs and inner cities are not growing as fast as job markets in metro and suburban regions.


Technology (and now WFH) is eroding the numbers of jobs in inner city locations, while much faster job growth in health and education industries is fuelling significant job growth in suburban and outer areas.

Finance and property were once (in the 1990s) in the top 5 growth industries.

It is now bottom 5.

Health and education lead growth on almost any indicator you care to consult.

Another way of looking at this is by what shares of jobs growth are going where.

Over the ten-year period to 2021, the Brisbane CBD secured 6% of regional jobs growth and the inner city 10%.

Metro Brisbane (for which read suburban business districts, strip centres, shopping centres, and other locations) accounted for more than half.


This geographical pattern of job growth and contraction is reshaping our cities but sadly so much of our thinking remains rooted in the mistaken notion that “most jobs are in the inner city.”

Inner-city professionals in fields as diverse as public policy, government administration, academia, planning, property, law, engineering, and the like seem to have fallen into the trap of thinking that everyone must be like them: commuting to inner-city office towers.

As the economy grows (they argue), many more jobs will be in the inner city so to address congestion, we must invest more in public transport networks designed to carry people from middle and outer suburban homes to their inner-city workplaces.

There is no evidence to support this.

The reality is very different.

There are things we could be doing.

Exploring options around electric, autonomous vehicles (including PT), along with more tunnels to move more suburban traffic (which includes, increasingly, freight).


A more dispersed transport network will serve an increasingly dispersed future economy.

There are unexplored options around train stations as work destinations (not just as places to embark on a city-bound journey).

Plus there are many options for the development of mixed-use suburban business hubs – suburban renewal which mixes housing, work, and social infrastructure such that shorter trips are possible and brings both jobs and services closer to where people live.

Former US President John F Kennedy once famously said:

“The great enemy of truth is very often not the lie - deliberate, contrived and dishonest - but the myth - persistent, persuasive and unrealistic.

Too often we hold fast to the cliches of our forebears.

We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations.

We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.”

That was way back in 1962.

Are we really such slow learners?

About Ross Elliott Ross Elliott has spent close to 30 years in real estate and property roles, including as a State Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer of the Property Council of Australia, as well a national executive director of the Residential Development Council. He has authored and edited a large number of research and policy papers and spoken at numerous conferences and industry events. Visit
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