2. Defining goals, objectives and targets

Defining clear goals and objectives is a critical first step in making decisions about the transport system, whether these are about direction setting strategies, plans and policies, relatively minor regulatory and governance reforms or large-scale infrastructure investments.

There is often confusion about how these terms are used, so it is important for their meaning to be clear. In these Guidelines:

  • Goals and objectives are ‘direction setting outcomes based’ statements.
  • Goals are not transport specific - they are higher order general statements of desired economic, social and environmental outcomes.
  • Goals are higher level statements than objectives. Objectives describe the measurable contribution of the transport system to achieving the goals.
  • Targets are specific desired outcomes that support achievement of the objectives.

2.1 Defining goals

Goals are statements that describe the fundamental economic, social and environmental outcomes that a jurisdiction is aiming to achieve through its activities across all sectors (not just transport).

In other words, goals are societal outcomes or whole of government outcomes. They are not transport specific – they sit above transport. Goals draw on whole of government strategic plans and vision documents and occur at the highest level of planning: network, city or region.

Goals are not set as part of the development of transport initiatives. Rather, they occur well before, and guide the identification of transport initiatives. When making decisions about a transport reform or investment, the focus should be on determining how it will contribute to these goals.

Goals are found in whole-of-government policy documents, statements and strategies. Generally, goal statements are expressed in broad aspirational terms. In practice, the high-level goals adopted by governments often share common language and concepts because they reflect economic, social and environmental aspirations that are common across jurisdictions. It is important to recognise that goals (and objectives) may change with change of government.

Establishing a strong alignment between government goals and objectives and transport initiatives is critical. Without this, initiatives will not stand the test of time. They will also fail the strategic merit test (see F3), which requires transport initiatives to align with government goals and objectives.

2.1.1 Economic goals

Economic goals are a central concern for communities and governments. Examples of economic goals include:

  • A diverse and resilient economy
  • Higher levels of productivity and economic efficiency
  • Increased trade or exports
  • More competitive industries.

Economic goals are likely to be found in policies and plans aimed at driving economic and jobs growth, economic prosperity and industry diversity and competitiveness.

Social goals

Social goals are also important to communities and governments. These goals include the prerequisites for a stable, safe and progressive society and may be very broad or more focused. Examples include:

  • Fairer distribution of income
  • Improved public safety in the city centre
  • Social cohesion and inclusion
  • Equity between geographic areas (for example, in access to services and jobs).

Social goals can be found in strategies dealing with health and wellbeing, equity, social and economic inclusion, and community services.

Environmental goals

Environmental goals are becoming increasingly important to communities and governments. These goals can cover a very wide range of issues: from the protection and sustainable use of natural assets through to increasing the resilience of infrastructure to natural disasters such as floods and fires. Examples of environmental goals are:

  • Preserving healthy landscapes, such as clean air, land and waterways.
  • Reducing the loss of habitat and biodiversity
  • Increasing the efficient use of energy and water resources
  • Protecting sites with heritage, indigenous and cultural values
  • Enhancing the liveability and amenity of urban centres.

Environmental goals can also focus on intergenerational equity: for example, by aiming to secure the wellbeing of future generations by protecting the quality and diversity of the natural and cultural environment.

High-level environmental goals may appear in policies and strategies covering areas such as climate change, energy and water, biodiversity and land use planning.

Box 1 Triple bottom line focus

The ‘triple bottom line’ (TBL) concept is often used as a framework for measuring and reporting performance under three categories: economic (financial), social and environmental.

A TBL focus is used throughout all aspects of the Guidelines. It is used as more of a philosophy that influences the planning and assessment of the transport system, rather than a specific approach or methodology. Adopting a triple bottom line approach gives transport planners an important tool for assessing the implications of proposed initiatives across the full range of government policy goals.

Transport system objectives can be aligned directly with high-level TBL goals. For example:

  • Objectives such as improving business access to markets, reducing transport costs and supporting business clustering will contribute to the broader economic goals of lifting productivity levels or increasing the diversity of the economy.
  • Objectives such as improving transport affordability and making public transport more widely available will contribute to social goals such as reducing social and economic disadvantage, and improving equity between geographic areas.
  • Objectives such as making transport infrastructure more resource-efficient and promoting the use of walking and cycling will align with the broader environmental goals of increasing the efficient use of natural resources and promoting environmental sustainability.

Victoria’s Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources (DEDJTR) has developed a resource that outlines how to link transport objectives to TBL goals as part of its description of the state’s Transport Integration Act. This can be found in Transport and the triple bottom line – Transport’s role in driving the economic, social and environmental objectives of the Transport Integration Act 2010, available from the DEDJTR website: economicdevelopment.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0020/1091063/Transport-and-the-triple-bottom-line-June-2012.pdf

2.2 Identifying goals

Goal development only occurs at the highest levels of planning. These goals may be national, state/territory and/or regional goals. Identifying goals is an important step in guiding the development of transport plans and initiatives.

As goals are typically developed without regard to the transport system (and by different people at different times), it is important to identify and select goals that transport has some potential to contribute towards. There is little point in selecting a goal that is completely unrelated to the transport system.

Some current goals at national and state/territory levels are identified below. These should be seen as examples only. While the Guidelines are updated to reflect changes in goals, practitioners should confirm contemporary goals set by their jurisdictions and at the national level.

Sample goals

At the national level, a number of bodies have identified strategic priorities that may provide guidance in selecting goals and formulating goal statements.

  • Infrastructure Australia has set out seven strategic priorities at a national level.
Strategic Priority 1 Strategic Priority 2 Strategic Priority 3 Strategic Priority 4 Strategic Priority 5 Strategic Priority 6 Strategic Priority 7
Expand Australia’s productive capacity Increase Australia’s productivity Diversify Australia’s economic capabilities Build on Australia’s global competitive advantages Develop our cities and/or regions Reduce greenhouse emissions Improve social equity and quality of life
  • The Transport and Infrastructure Council has adopted a high-level vision to support its work advising governments on the coordination and integration of transport policy in Australia.
National transport system vision
  • To maximise the contribution of effective transport to Australia's productivity, quality of life and equity
  • In pursuing this vision, ATC recognises that transport is ‘seamless’, both between modes and between domestic and international transport
  • The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) has formulated vision and goal statements for aspects of its national reform agenda, focusing on boosting productivity and workforce participation and mobility, and supporting wider social and environmental outcomes.

At the state/territory level, most jurisdictions have strategic plans with goals and objectives that are relevant to transport. These include metropolitan planning strategies, regional economic development strategies, strategies to improve global competitiveness and climate change and environmental policies. Some examples are provided below.

NSW 2021 Plan Melbourne Integrated Transport and Land Use Plan (SA) State Planning Strategy 2050 (WA)
A 10 year strategic plan that lists 32 objectives under five high-level headings:
  • Rebuild the economy
  • Return quality services
  • Renovate infrastructure
  • Strengthen our local environment and communities
  • Restore accountability to government
A planning strategy and vision for Melbourne with five high-level goals:
  • Protecting the suburbs
  • Developing in defined areas near services and infrastructure
  • Creating a clearer and simpler planning system with improved decision making
  • Rebalancing growth between Melbourne and regional Victoria
  • Identifying an investment and infrastructure pipeline
The goals for South Australia’s transport and land use plan is expressed in three high-level goal statements that focus on:
  • Healthy, safe and affordable communities
  • A strong, diverse and growing economy
  • Thriving natural and built environments
Western Australia’s long term planning approach sets five strategic goals to achieve a vision of ‘ ‘sustained growth and prosperity’ for the state:
  • Global competitiveness
  • Strong and resilient regions
  • Sustainable communities
  • Infrastructure planning and coordination
  • Conservation

Regional level goals may also need to be considered for some initiatives. These are typically found in regional planning and development strategies developed by state and territory governments, and in municipal plans developed by local councils.

2.3 Defining objectives

Objectives are specific statements of outcomes that a jurisdiction is aiming to achieve through its transport system.

Objectives support the high-level goals and can be expressed for each planning level: the whole transport system, city or region, a network, an area or corridor, or a specific route or link.

Objectives can also be set for specific initiatives, transport modes and local areas.

The suite of objective statements should be consistent and integrated across planning levels.

The difference between objectives and outcomes should be noted. Objectives are statements about desired outcomes. Outcomes are the end results that are achieved by meeting the objectives. For example, reducing fatalities from road trauma is an objective; the number of fatalities is an outcome. Similarly, reducing greenhouse gas emissions is an objective; the level of greenhouse gas emissions is an outcome.

2.3.1 Transport system objectives

Achieving agreed transport system objectives is the driving force for the ATAP Guidelines. These objectives provide a high-level statement of what governments are attempting to achieve through transport.

Transport system objectives may include:

  • Economic objectives - such as improving travel times, vehicle operating costs or the quality, comfort, safety and reliability of services
  • Social objectives - such as improving access to public transport or reducing road crashes
  • Environmental objectives - such as limiting air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, reducing noise impacts, minimising damage to the natural environment and increasing the resilience of transport infrastructure to weather events

Some of these objectives overlap. For example, improving road safety is an economic objective, due to the high cost of crashes, and a social objective, because of the devastating effects on individuals and families.

Practical examples of transport system objectives include:

  • Improve the patronage on public transport services
  • Enhance the efficiency of the transport network to support industry competitiveness
  • Ease congestion and reduce travel times
  • Increase walking and cycling as a mode of travel
  • Support opportunities for urban renewal and improved local amenity.

Like goals, it is important to recognise that objectives may change with change of government.

Objectives can be set:

  • Across planning levels – objectives can be identified for transport system, corridor, route and link
  • Across different markets – objectives can be identified for different segments of the transport market including freight, public transport or commuters.

2.4 Formulating objectives

In some cases, governments may decide to develop a new set of transport objectives. This is often the case when developing transport plans.

Usually, however, transport system objective statements already exist, and can be found in a number of places, including transport-related strategies developed by national, state and territory governments, legislation covering transport investment and activities, and municipal transport plans developed by local councils.

Examples of transport system objectives are shown below. These should be seen as examples only. While the Guidelines are updated to reflect changes in objectives, practitioners should confirm contemporary objectives set by their jurisdictions and at the national level.

Sample objectives

National Transport Commission Transport Integration Act (Victoria) Transport Coordination Plan for Queensland 2008-18 Sydney City Centre Access Strategy
The NTC’s Strategic Plan 2014-15 to 2016-17 lists four policy objectives:
  • Improve transport productivity
  • Improve environmental outcomes
  • Support a safe transport system
  • Improve regulatory efficiency
Victoria’s Transport Integration Act 2010 defines objectives under five broad headings. Objectives include:
  • Providing tailored infrastructure, services and support for persons who find it difficult to use the transport system
  • Enabling efficient and effective access for persons and goods to places of employment, markets and services
  • Improving the environmental performance of all forms of transport and the forms of energy used in transport
The Transport Coordination Plan sets the strategic direction for Queensland’s transport system over the next 10 years. Ten objectives have been defined that respond to the challenges and opportunities facing the transport system:
  • Make the most of the existing transport system
  • Invest in Queensland’s transport system
  • Keep the system working well
  • Get more people walking, cycling and using public transport
  • Support regional and remote communities
  • Move freight efficiently
  • Make transport safer
  • Make transport more secure
  • Care for our natural and build environment
  • Integrate transport planning and land use planning.
  • remote communities
  • Move freight efficiently
  • Make transport safer
  • Make transport more secure
  • Care for our natural and build environment
  • Integrate transport planning and land use planning.
This strategy presents a number of actions aligned against three objectives (called priorities):
  • Reducing congestion
  • Servicing future growth in demand
  • Improving the customer experience

Objectives should be chosen or developed with the intention of generating measurable targets/KPIs to monitor their performance. This means that objectives should have some measurable aspect, even where they are expressed in very broad terms.

Objectives should be considered for different planning levels and different transport markets. This will assist practitioners to establish the desired outcomes for different geographical areas and different transport users. All of these should of course be consistent and integrated.

The process of formulating objectives should be an iterative one that refines objective statements through rounds of analysis, feedback and input. The final version (or iteration) should reflect a process in which proper consideration has been given to the trade-offs (see below).

Objectives must be expressions that describe the desired outcome. Objectives should not describe the actions required to achieve the desired outcomes.

Objectives should support and be directly linked to the high-level goals (see section 2.1).

2.4.1 Trade-offs

Transport decisions often involve trade-offs between objectives: for example, between efficiency and equity, between mobility and environmental objectives, or between different forms of accessibility. Trade-offs may also need to be made between short term and long term objectives. Being aware of and assessing trade-offs is an important part of defining and formulating objectives.

After transport system objectives have been identified, the relative importance of each objective can be considered. The importance of particular objectives will vary significantly across the community and, in some cases, between governments. Considerations such as mobility, travel time and vehicle operating costs are obviously important to transport users. However, some stakeholders may emphasise environmental concerns (such as reduced vehicle emissions and less noise) or equity issues (such as adequate access by remote communities to essential goods and services) ahead of other factors.

Where trade-offs are identified, governments may choose to rank objectives (indicating their order of importance) or prioritise (setting timeframes in which they will be achieved). Ranking objectives requires clear direction from Ministers on the relative priority of outcomes. It is usually not for practitioners to decide which objectives are the most important for particular jurisdictions.

Some objectives will complement each other. For example, an objective to improve accessibility to the central city may complement an objective to reduce congestion in inner urban areas. Complementary relationships between objectives should be identified, especially where these relationships can be measured. For example, for the complementary access/congestion objectives mentioned above, it may be possible to measure whether an increase in accessibility to the city has led to a reduction in congestion at specific locations on the road network.

2.5 Defining targets and KPIs

A key performance indicator (KPI) is a measure that enables monitoring of performance in terms of progress towards a specific, defined objective. A target is the desired level of performance for a specific performance indicator. Performance indicators and targets are mechanisms to operationalise objectives.

Targets should be measurable and realistic, but challenging. If targets are unrealistic and too difficult to achieve, they may discourage people rather than motivate them. On the other hand, targets that are too easy to achieve can lead to complacency.

Performance can be measured from several different perspectives, as illustrated below.

Figure 2: Different aspects of performance measurement

Different aspects of performance measurement

Ideally, targets and performance indicators should:

  • Be expressed in quantitative terms
  • Cover attributes that are important to transport users (such as travel time and safety) and that reflect a broader community perspective (such as noise and air pollution)
  • Not be biased towards a particular transport mode
  • Not be biased towards infrastructure rather than non-infrastructure solutions
  • Be based on analysis and established practices to ensure that targets are realistic.

Each objective should have at least one KPI and specific target.

Targets and KPIs should be set for objectives at all planning levels and be consistent and integrated. Some examples are shown below in relation to planning at the network and corridor levels.

Safety considerations (corridor level) Efficiency considerations (network level)


Improve transport safety within the corridor


Enhance the efficiency of the transport network to support industry competitiveness


Number of fatalities and serious injuries within the corridor


Variability in travel times for freight moving to international gateways


A 10% reduction in fatalities from road crashes in the corridor by 2020


No more than 10% variability in freight travel times along major routes

The comparison of targets with performance indicators is a gap analysis, which shows the extent to which objectives are being met.

2.6 Setting targets and KPIs

Several issues should be carefully considered when formulating targets and KPIs. In addition to the broad characteristics outlined above, targets and KPIs should:

  • Be simple and easy to convey - The language used to express targets and KPIs should be non-technical and straightforward, capable of being understood easily by the public.
  • Relate directly to the identified objectives - Targets and KPIs need to be formulated carefully to accurately reflect objectives and facilitate problem identification. Inappropriate, incomplete or unrealistic performance indicators can lead to the misdiagnosis of problems or skewed and undesirable outcomes. It should be possible to trace a clear ‘pathway’ from a target/KPI to a related objective (and back to the high-level goal).
  • Relate to outcomes, not outputs - Outcomes are better indicators of the effectiveness of an activity. Outputs usually measure the level of activity and not its end result (economic, social and environmental).
  • Enable benefit measurement - Formulating targets and KPIs in terms of positive outcomes or improvements enables the assessment of the benefit of a specific initiative against its cost.
  • Be measurable from a practical perspective - Theanalytical tools, data and/or resources needed to monitor a target or KPI should be readily available at a reasonable cost. Where this is not the case, consideration needs to be given to how the target/KPI will be measured, and the cost and other implications of developing new tools or methodologies.
  • Reflect recognised performance measures - Targets/KPIs should incorporate measures that are recognised as reliable and appropriate. This may include meeting particular legislative criteria or standards set by professional bodies. Where new measures are proposed, consideration should be given to consulting with the relevant stakeholders to ensure a robust indicator is set and to reduce the likelihood of disputes at a later stage.

Targets and KPIs can be expressed in trends over time (for example, ‘a 15% reduction in pedestrian fatalities in the central city over the next five years’) or in comparisons with other jurisdictions (for example, ‘reduce crashes on country roads to below the national average’).

While targets and KPIs should be measurable, this should not exclude ‘soft’ measures such as public and user perceptions. For example, commuter perceptions that train travel is more comfortable or safe may be an important indicator of the success of initiatives aimed at encouraging more people to use public transport.

2.6.1 Exploring more comprehensive indicators

Integrated, multi-modal transport planning requires more comprehensive indicators than have traditionally been applied in transport system assessment and planning. Some examples of more comprehensive indicators are shown below.


Travel time and costs required by various users to reach important destinations such as work, education and services

Percentage of children who can walk or cycle to school

Average commute time


Proportion of annual/weekly household expenditure devoted to transport (including motor vehicle running costs, fuel and parking costs)

Land use density

Number of jobs and services within a specific distance from people’s homes

Transport diversity

Variety of transport options available in an area

User satisfaction

Check goals, objectives and targets are integrated across planning levels

Check strategic alignment with national goals and objectives

Health and wellbeing

Percentage of people that regularly use active transport modes

Box 2 Identifying data for measuring performance

Many of the problems associated with targets and KPIs are related to the costs of collecting and processing data. In theory, goals and objectives should determine the selection of performance measures. In practice, some preferred targets and KPIs might prove to be unrealistic due to limited resources.

In formulating targets and KPIs, consider what data is required and whether it is already being collected and/or processed. Conventional, established data collection programs and methodologies may be sufficient for indicators that measure outputs; however, measuring broader economic, social, environmental outcomes - such as social inclusion or environmental sustainability - may require additional types or volumes or combinations of data.

Data sources that may be useful include:

  • Surveys, such as household travel and expenditure surveys, workplace surveys and customer satisfaction and perception surveys
  • Datasets held by public sector agencies such as the ABS and the BITRE
  • Transport performance monitoring data, such as annual statistics on road crashes
  • Data held by private firms such as toll road operators and freight companies
  • Data generated from longitudinal studies conducted by research bodies.

Setting KPIs

Most jurisdictions will have guidelines for developing targets and KPIs. The SMART criteria are commonly used to guide practitioners in the development of KPIs.

  • Specific – well defined and focused
  • Measurable – can be measured to track progress
  • Achievable – realistic, practical and stretching
  • Relevant – directly relate to objectives
  • Time-bound – clear timeframes set for each indicator

Other sources of information that support the development of KPIs include Performance Information and Indicators, Australian Government Department of Finance (October 2010).