While passenger travel, both short distance and long distance, was heavily curtailed through Australia’s COVID-19 response, freight movements were generally stable or in some cases slightly increased. This was shown in a number of data sources that were available through the period.
Data on freeway use in Sydney from Transurban shows that COVID-19 movement restrictions impacted car movements more than truck movements.
Data collected by BITRE from truck telematics also suggests that truck vehicle kilometres fell slightly during the April lockdown period, but not by the same magnitude as passenger travel.
Freight vehicles also experienced a reduction in congestion on roads due to lower passenger traffic. BITRE’s GPS truck activity sample data shows AM peak period average truck speeds on the Western Highway (Melbourne) were much higher in Week 13 (23-29 March), in comparison with Week 9 (24 February-1 March). The following charts show estimated truck travel times (median and 1st and 3rd quartiles) along selected roads by time of day. From top to bottom, the roads are located in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane.
Travel time reliability (measured as the distance between the 1st and 3rd quartile) during the w/e 26 April is also similar or better than that experienced during the summer holiday period.
The BITRE congestion data can also be viewed in an interactive map.
Some examples increases in domestic freight movements in particular sectors include:
In the short term, Australia’s goods exports do not appear to have been significantly reduced due to COVID-19. Maritime exports to China held up well in the March quarter 2020. Australia exported 218.5 million tonnes of goods worth $32.7 billion to China by sea in the March quarter 2020. This is up eight per cent by weight and nine per cent by value compared to exports in the March quarter 2019.
Imports fell significantly during the early stages of the pandemic, in February and March, but returned to more normal levels by April.
The Imports and Exports dashboard allows users to view these trends in more detail.
During 2020, the value of goods imports did not fall significantly. In April, goods imports equalled the five year April average. March imports were three per cent higher than the five year average, and February imports three per cent lower than the five year average. China largely accounts for the February result. Australia only imported 4.0 million tonnes of goods worth $12.8 billion by sea from China in the March quarter 2020. This represents a decline of 16 per cent by value and nine per cent by weight compared to the March quarter 2019. Imports from China fall significantly in February or March every year, but the fall in 2020 was larger and longer due to production disruptions.
After staying relatively low in March, imports from China rose more than 50 per cent in April, to 40 per cent above the five-year average.
The same pattern is shown in data on ship arrivals. The lockdown in China caused a significant drop in container carriers arriving directly from China during February and March 2020. However, since then container shipping from China has largely returned to pre-pandemic levels.
Over the first half of 2020, the number of unique ships calling directly from China was down 12 per cent compared to the first half of 2019. By the end of April, container ship arrivals were similar to the equivalent week in 2019.
The container ship arrivals from Other East Asia, South East Asia, and Other Oceania did not show the obvious sharp drop that container carriers directly from China showed. However preliminary data shows that the number of unique container ship arrivals from Other East Asia, South East Asia and Other Oceania in the first half of 2020 were down 11 per cent, 12 per cent and one per cent respectively, compared to the first half of 2019.
In August 2020, Port Botany recorded an increase of 18 per cent in twenty-foot equivalent unit (TEU) trade compared to August last year.
The Container Counts dashboard allows users to view these trends in more detail.
In contrast to maritime trade, domestic and export air freight volumes declined during the COVID-19 period with reductions in passenger flights. Australia’s April 2020 domestic air freight volumes were nearly 30 per cent below its April 2019 volumes, with exports 40 per cent lower.
Australia is reliant on imports for some of the medical equipment and products needed in response to COVID-19. The graph below shows the risk associated with access to selected products. A risk index of 0 is no risk whereas a risk index of 1 reflects an extreme risk to the supply chain. International transport networks will affect the risk index but global demand is also a key factor. For example, when the number of COVID-19 cases globally is high, demand for these goods is high and consequently the risk index is high.
The improvement in the risk index in some commodities from July 2020 reflects improvements in the handling of COVID-19 in many countries including the Philippines and Hungary.