An interesting survey by the Sydney Morning Herald found 74% of respondents said "I mostly travel by car". (No link to this, unfortunately; for some reason the Herald never published it on their web site.)
"I mostly travel by public transport": 13%
"I travel [by both] the same amount": 13%
Just as alarming, 60% of all respondents said they would not reduce their car use even if public transport services were improved. (I would. I mostly travel by public transport, but there is room for improvement if the routes and frequencies of buses were increased.) Optimistically, that leaves a full third capable of change, but that other intractible two thirds is a real problem.
Sydney's always been car-mad that way. The State government has put an amount of resources into increased public transport, but they've also encouraged the increased use of cars through a greatly increased network of motorways. Mainly tolls, but that doesn't discourage people. Most seem eager to cut minutes off their daily journeys, with a faster route. Ironic, then that the increased traffic results in more jams and they're back where they were, after a period of adjustment.
I've known several blokes in the past few years that have consistently commuted by car. Even when the public transport's there. Why? I could never get a straight answer from them. They'd say that it's just as cheap in a car. But I don't think those people are doing their sums, looking at the full overall costs, including petrol, wear and tear, on-road costs, parking, extra insurance costs, and depreciation. Some say they sometimes work late. But it's never enough to justify the car use. Why can't they make use of the extra time available to them just cruising along in a train, instead of being obliged to focus on the road the whole time? Possibly some of the answer is an environment sort of thing. Once they get in their car, it's their own world, hermetically insulated door to door. Still doesn't add up to a proper explanation, in my mind.
So, two questions getting in the way of major adjustments to our carbon emissions:
1) Why does a government, which has at least some environmental aspirations, intentionally drive up car usage?
2) Why do people drive when the public transport options are easier, cheaper, and give you more free time.
Until we can address those questions - political will and private will - we aren't really going to make enough inroads into our climate change problems.
16-Aug-06 Update: A new draft State Plan aims to address the concerns above. 'The failure of earlier plans is acknowledged in the draft: "People are rightly frustrated when plans are announced but not delivered."'
That's a good start. Let's hope that point above is kept in focus by the implementers.