Occupancy rates of passenger vehicles

Indicator Fact Sheet (Deprecated)
Prod-ID: IND-117-en
Also known as: TERM 029
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This content has been archived on 06 Aug 2015, reason: No more updates will be done

Assessment made on  01 Oct 2004

Generic metadata


Transport Transport (Primary theme)

DPSIR: Driving force


Indicator codes
  • TERM 029

Policy issue:  Increase vehicle occupancy rates


Key assessment

Passenger cars

Occupancy rates for passenger cars (Figure 1) are declining as a result of increasing car ownership (see TERM 2002 32 EU - Size of the vehicle fleet), increased use of cars for commuting (where occupancies typically are low) and a continued decline in household size.

Table 1 shows some purposes and the corresponding occupancy rates. Family trips and leisure trips are generally much better occupied than commuting trips.

While greater use of car sharing is a positive development, it is doubtful if it has the potential to reverse the trend of fewer occupants per car. Certainly the underlying forces mentioned above would not be easy to control. However, pricing policies may be an effective indirect way to influence occupancy rates.

Buses and coaches

Information on rail and bus transport is rarely publicly available, certainly after the disappearance of many national public monopolies. In most Member States there is a tendency to privatise bus companies and/or cut back subsidy levels. Hence, unprofitable bus routes are being closed down. This results in higher occupancy rates and corresponding improvements in usage efficiency. It is unclear whether this development will eventually be desirable, as it may make it more difficult to shift users from car transport to public transport, another important objective.


Occupancy rates in rail transport have declined somewhat in the Netherlands and the Czech Republic, the two countries surveyed. Raising occupancy rates could happen through marketing strategies or by technical means, such as use of short modular train sets in order to adjust the train length to the demand (UIC, 2003). See Box 2 for the environmental implications of over-capacity during off-peak hours.

Occupancy rates for trains vary between train types and time of day (see TERM 2001). Conventional trains are on average 35 % full, while the occupancy rate of high-speed trains is generally higher, varying for different countries and connections (e.g. about 80 % for the Paris-Lyon TGV, about 50 % on average for the German ICE).


The seat occupancy of European airlines is high and has increased slightly in the past decade. On average, aircraft are now around 65 % occupied. There is significant variation from airline to airline, and since only five airlines control more than half of the market, a change in practise in one airline can lead to large changes in overall load factor; this explains the irregular curve of the occupancy rate.

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