Passenger transport demand by mode and purpose

Indicator Fact Sheet (Deprecated)
Prod-ID: IND-35-en
Also known as: TERM 012
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This content has been archived on 12 Nov 2013, reason: Content not regularly updated

Assessment made on  01 Jun 2006

Generic metadata


Transport Transport (Primary theme)

DPSIR: Driving force


Indicator codes
  • TERM 012

Policy issue:  Break the link between economic growth and passenger transport growth.


Key assessment

Transport of goods and passengers is connected with most economic activities such as production, distribution and purchasing of goods and services, wherefore policies aimed at increasing economic activity generally result in greater transport volumes. The objective of decoupling is therefore seldom directly linked to concrete actions.

Transport volumes grow

Over the past decade the passenger transport volume has grown steadily in the EEA-23, This growth makes it increasingly difficult to reduce the environmental impacts of transport.

Most countries faced a steady transport growth every year, but there are a few exceptions, notably Germany, where the transport volume has remained stable since 1999.

Passenger transport volumes per capita also increased during the nineties to above 10 000 km in the EEA-23 in 2003 There are several factors underlying the strong relation between passenger transport demand and economic growth and hence the continuing growth of passenger-km. Moreover, there also exist factors on the supply side of the passenger transport market that induce volume growth.

Decline of bus/coach transport

The slow decline of bus/coach passenger transport demand is a problem in light of the objective of stabilizing and eventually increasing the shares of alternative modes. On EEA-23 level the decline is nevertheless slow. However, for the five new Member States for which data are available, the decline has been much greater, and is probably greater yet if the 1990-1993 period is included. The decline is related to increased car ownership in those countries (see TERM 32 "size and composition of vehicle fleet") and, at least for some relations, to improved rail transport.

Other underlying reasons could be the (real and perceived) advantages of private transport over public and alternative transport modes: private transport is generally perceived as faster, more flexible (in particular outside urban areas), more comfortable and cheaper than public transport. First, the increasing participation of women in the labour market forces people to combine professional and family tasks. This force to combine several tasks is also caused by an increasing amount of time spending to leisure activities. Combining tasks lead to a call for more flexible and faster means of transport. In most cases, these requirements are met by private cars better than by public transport. Second, the current transport costs structure (with high share of fixed vehicle costs rather variable costs linked to transport usage) does not contribute to remove the perception of private transport being cheaper than public transport. Car users generally only take the additional fuel costs into account when deciding on a trip. As a result, in many cases variable costs of car transport are lower than those of public transport.

In urban areas, the situation can be somewhat different. Public transportation is often well developed in the central parts of urban areas and competitive with cars in terms of time and costs. Introduction of a congestion charge, like in London (see Box 2), as part of a package of instruments which complements each other (e.g. parking policy, better public transport, etc.) will significantly influence the competitiveness of the various modes by favouring public transport over private car usage. In the outskirts of urban areas, where public transport is much less accessible, accessibility to basic services by public transport, cycling or walking decreases. This leads to more car usage and subsequent traffic bottlenecks around and in cities. Hence, urban sprawl - the expansion of cities - could lead to greater car dependency and usage, and more urban congestion.

(High-speed) rail transport

The share of rail transport has remained stable since 1996. However, the regular rail connections have lost some share in favour of high-speed rail. Long distance rail transport competes with air transport and the rise of low-cost carriers has made regular rail transport less favoured for longer distances. Besides, international rail connections are still slowed down by border-crossings. High-speed rail lines are developing quickly to better compete with air transport. Moreover, high-speed rail in certain cases promotes commuting to and from work over longer distances, especially when prices are kept low. This is the case on many TGV lines from and to Paris. Furthermore, high-speed rail is more energy-consuming than regular rail transport. Therefore, the observed trend may cause additional environmental problems.

Growing share of air transport

The growing share of air traffic is linked to a rapidly growing tourism industry. The high growth of low cost airlines has also contributed. In 2001 the share of air transport declined for the first time as a consequence of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York. Later, the war in Afghanistan and Iraq, and SARS added to the decline. The crisis forced the carriers into fierce competition to accelerate the recovery of the demand, and hence a hold to price increases. The number of flights declined in 2001 and 2002, but this decline was temporary in nature. In the period 2002-2004 the number of flights increased by 7% (Eurocontrol, 2004).

Private car transport

The share of car transport in the EEA-23 has been stable, but there are regional disparities. In the new member countries the share has increased (see figure 1b), a trend linked to increased car ownership. The faster growth in air transport compared to car transport in the EU-15 causes the decreasing share of car transport in total passenger transport for this group of countries. Increased congestion and higher fuel prices since 1999 may be other contributing factors.


Cycling and walking have the potential to increase their modal share at the expense of cars in local transport, especially in urban regions. Half of all car trips are for less than 6 km, for which cycling could often be faster than driving (in urban areas), certainly when time for finding a parking space is included. 10 % are for less than 1 km, an ideal walking distance (European Commission, 2002b). Box 1 provides additional information about the potential of these environmentally friendly modes.

European Environment Agency (EEA)
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1050 Copenhagen K
Phone: +45 3336 7100