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Cycling and walking to work in New Zealand, 1991-2006: regional and individual differences, and pointers to effective interventions

Sandar Tin Tin1*, Alistair Woodward2, Simon Thornley1 and Shanthi Ameratunga1

Author Affiliations

1 Section of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, School of Population Health, University of Auckland, Private Bag 92019, Auckland 1142, New Zealand

2 School of Population Health, University of Auckland, Private Bag 92019, Auckland 1142, New Zealand

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International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2009, 6:64  doi:10.1186/1479-5868-6-64

Published: 20 September 2009

Abstract

Background

Active commuting increases levels of physical activity and is more likely to be adopted and sustained than exercise programmes. Despite the potential health, environmental, social and economic benefits, cycling and walking are increasingly marginal modes of transport in many countries. This paper investigated regional and individual differences in cycling and walking to work in New Zealand over the 15-year period (1991-2006).

Methods

New Zealand Census data (collected every five years) were accessed to analyse self-reported information on the "main means of travel to work" from individuals aged 15 years and over who are usually resident and employed in New Zealand. This analysis investigated differences in patterns of active commuting to work stratified by region, age, gender and personal income.

Results

In 2006, over four-fifths of New Zealanders used a private vehicle, one in fourteen walked and one in forty cycled to work. Increased car use from 1991 to 2006 occurred at the expense of active means of travel as trends in public transport use remained unchanged during that period. Of the 16 regions defined at meshblock and area unit level, Auckland had the lowest prevalence of cycling and walking. In contrast to other regions, walking to work increased in Wellington and Nelson, two regions which have made substantial investments in local infrastructure to promote active transport. Nationally, cycling prevalence declined with age whereas a U-shaped trend was observed for walking. The numbers of younger people cycling to work and older people walking to work declined substantially from 1991 to 2006. Higher proportions of men compared with women cycled to work. The opposite was true for walking with an increasing trend observed in women aged under 30 years. Walking to work was less prevalent among people with higher income.

Conclusion

We observed a steady decline in cycling and walking to work from 1991 to 2006, with two regional exceptions. This together with the important differences in travel patterns by age, gender and personal income highlights opportunities to target and modify transport policies in order to promote active commuting.