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This content has been archived on 06 Aug 2015, reason: No more updates will be done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 Sep 2005

Generic metadata



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 - likely a result of greater individualisation of society as reflected in declining household sizes and increasing car ownership (see TERM 2002 32 EU -- Size of the vehicle fleet), partly due to increased use of cars for commuting where occupancies typically are low (table 1). While data is limited to only a few countries, as the underlying driver of car ownership is general (increasing in all countries), the declining car occupancies are very likely representative of the whole EU.

Buses and coaches

Information on load factors in rail and bus transport is rarely publicly available 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. This will come at the cost of forcing users to other transport modes (primarily cars). Whereas some bus passengers would have spent only part of their trip on the unprofitable route later to transfer to another, shifting these users to other modes would mean losing some passengers on the otherwise high-occupancy (profitable) routes too, so part of the occupancy improvement will be offset. Also, shifting users away from public transport conflicts with the objective of turning users away from cars to other modes.


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. Growing competition among airlines has put pressure on profit margins, and has undoubtedly put pressure on airlines to improve efficiency. 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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