Passenger transport demand
Growth in the volume of passenger transport has nearly paralleled that in GDP. Decoupling transport demand and GDP over the period has only occurred in two of the years, 1996 and 2002 and in both cases has been less than 0.5 % per year.
Is passenger transport demand being decoupled from economic growth?
Trend in passenger transport demand and GDP
Note: The decoupling columns displayed in the chart represent annual decoupling
Eurostat and UN Statistics Division
Trends in the annual intensity of passenger transport demand
Note: Total passenger transport demand data including air are not available for all countries and years
Over the past decade, passenger transport growth has been slower on average than growth in the economy. However, passenger transport demand has grown steadily in the EEA countries as a whole, thereby making it increasingly difficult to stabilise or reduce the environmental impacts of transport.
The majority of countries saw growth in passenger transport demand every year, with few exceptions. The main underlying factor in this trend is the growth in incomes coupled with a tendency to spend more or less the same share of disposable income on transport. Additional income therefore means additional travel budget, which allows more frequent, faster, farther and more luxurious travelling.
Overall growth in passenger transport demand has been very similar to that of GDP. Transport growth was marginally higher than GDP growth in 1996, but was then surpassed by growth in GDP from 1997 onwards. Decoupling (the difference between GDP and transport volume growth) between transport demand and GDP growth occurred in 1996 and 2002, and was less than 0.5 % in both cases.
Is the share of passenger car transport in total inland transport being reduced relative to other transport modes?
As part of the modal-split indicators project, Eurostat is working on methods regarding the calculation and territorial attribution of air passenger transport. Until such data becomes available, the core set indicator "passenger transport demand" will include an EU estimate of air for the headline graph.
Indicator specification and metadata
The indicator "passenger transport demand" will be presented in two different ways:
1) To measure decoupling of passenger demand from economic growth, we will use the volume of passenger transport relative to GDP, including separate trends for its two components. Both passenger demand and real GDP growth will be indexed on 1995. The decoupling indicator is defined as the ratio between passenger-km (inland modes) and GDP (Gross Domestic Product in constant 1995 EUR). It will be indexed on year t-1 in order to be able to observe changes in the annual intensity of passenger transport demand relative to economic growth.
2) Modal split share of passenger transport: This indicator is defined as the percentage share of transport by passenger car in total inland transport. The unit used is the passenger-kilometre (pkm), which represents one passenger travelling a distance of one kilometre. It is based on transport by passenger cars, buses and coaches, trains and air.
All data should be based on movements on national territory, regardless of the nationality of the vehicle. However, data collection methodology is not harmonised at the EU level.
The unit used is the passenger-kilometre (pkm), which represents one passenger travelling a distance of one kilometre. It is based on transport by passenger cars, buses and coaches, and trains. Estimates of passenger transport by air are also included in total inland passenger transport. Passenger transport demand and GDP are shown as an index (1995=100). The ratio of the former to the latter is indexed on year t-1 (i.e. annual decoupling/intensity changes).
When Eurostat results from the modal-split project become available, the modal split share for passenger transport will be shown as a percentage (%).
Policy context and targets
The objective of decoupling was first defined in the Transport & Environment (T&E) integration strategy that was adopted by the Council of ministers in Helsinki. Also in the sustainable development strategy, that was adopted by the European Council in Gothenburg, the objective decoupling is mentioned in order to reduce congestion and other negative side-effects of transport.
In the review of the T&E integration strategy in 2001 and 2002, the Council reaffirmed the objective of decoupling.
In the Sixth Community Environmental Action Programme, decoupling of economic growth and transport demand is mentioned as a key action in order to deal with climate change and to alleviate health impacts from transport in urban areas.
Shifting transport from road to rail is an important strategic element in the EU transport policy. The objective was first formulated in the Sustainable Development Strategy (SDS). In the review of the T&E integration strategy in 2001 and 2002, the Council states that the modal split should remain stable for at least the next ten years, even with further traffic growth.
In the White Paper on the Common Transport Policy (CTP) "European Transport Policy for 2010: Time to Decide", the modal shift is central and the Commission proposes measures aimed at the modal shift.
To decouple transport growth significantly from growth in Gross Domestic Product in order to reduce congestion and other negative side effects of transport.
To bring about a shift in transport use from road to rail, water and public passenger transport so that the share of road transport in 2010 is no greater than in 1998.
Related policy documents
COM (2001) 264 final
A sustainable Europe for a better world: A European Union strategy for sustainable development. Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament. COM (2001) 264 final.
COM (2001) 370 final. European transport policy for 2010.
WHITE PAPER European transport policy for 2010: time to decideCOM (2001) 370 final
Presidency conclusions of the Cardiff European Council, 15 June 1998
Presidency conclusions of the Cardiff European Council, 15 June 1998
Methodology for indicator calculation
To measure decoupling of passenger demand from economic growth, the volume of passenger transport relative to GDP (i.e. the intensity) is calculated. Separate trends for the two components of intensity are shown for the EU-25. Relative decoupling occurs when passenger transport demand grows at a rate below that of GDP. Absolute decoupling occurs when passenger transport demand falls while GDP rises or remains constant.
The unit is the passenger-kilometre (passenger-km), which represents one passenger travelling a distance of one kilometre. It is based on passenger transport by car, bus, coach and train. Estimates of passenger transport by air are, where available (EU-15), included in total inland passenger transport.
Passenger transport demand and real GDP are shown as an index (1995=100). The ratio of the former to the latter is indexed on the previous year (i.e. annual decoupling/intensity changes) in order to be able to observe changes in the annual intensity of passenger transport demand relative to economic growth.
For EU Member States according to the Regulation (EC) No 1172/98, road transport data are based on all movements of vehicles registered in the reporting country. All other transport data refer mainly to movements on the national territory, regardless of the nationality of the vehicle. Eurostat metadata for different transport modes can be found here.
A detailed description of conceptsused and data collected in the transport database can be found in Eurostat's concepts and definitions database
Gross domestic product (GDP) is the central aggregate of National Accounts. Methodological information related to GDP can be found here.
The definition of the core set indicator (as opposed to the European Commission's structural indicator) includes "air transport" demand as part of total passenger demand. Estimates for air passenger demand will be based on the European Commission's Directorate General for Transport and Energy. In particular, their annual publication "Pocket Book Energy and Transport in Figures"
The core set indicator can also be presented as the share of transport by passenger car in total inland transport (i.e. modal split share for passenger transport). Eurostat is currently working on methods for the calculation and territorial attribution of performance data for air transport which, if included, would have a significant impact on the passenger modal shares. When Eurostat's results become available, the core set indicator will be reviewed and the modal split shares may be shown.
Methodology for gap filling
According to Eurostat "where data have been unobtainable from Eurostat/ECMT/UNECE Common Questionnaire on Transport Statistics (passenger transport performance) and Regulation (EC) No 91/2003 on rail transport statistics (rail transport data from 2003), figures have been taken, where possible, from national statistical institutes, ECMT, UNECE, UIC, DG for Energy and Transport".
All data should be based on movements on national territory, regardless of the nationality of the vehicle. However, data collection methodology is not harmonised at the EU level. Sources are Eurostat, National Statistical Offices, ECMT, UNECE, UIC, DG TREN.
To answer the question of whether passenger demand is being decoupled from economic growth we need to look at the intensity of passenger transport relative to changes in real GDP. A reduction in intensity should signal relative decoupling. This has some implications on the interpretation one makes of the observed intensity values. GDP in constant prices simply takes away the effect of price increases from year X to year Y but it does not guarantee that GDP in year X for country A is comparable to GDP in country B (as year X is the result of price increases from previous years etc). Therefore, cross-country comparisons of transport intensities based on real GDP may be relevant for trends (i.e. growth/changes over time) but not for comparing intensity values in specific years. If we are interested in knowing whether passenger transport intensity is higher in one country than in another, GDP should ideally be measured in purchasing power parities. These are currency conversion rates that both convert to a common currency and equalise the purchasing power of different currencies (i.e. they eliminate the differences in price levels between countries).
It is arguable, however, whether purchasing power parities are the best currency unit for time-series analysis. One way to avoid such problems is to use population instead of GDP. This would in principle be appropriate for the comparison of intensities between countries as well as for looking at trends over time. It seems also more equitable. To respond to the question of whether or not we are decoupling transport demand from economic activity (i.e. looking at growth rates over time) we would still need to use GDP.
There is one important difference between passenger transport demand from the structural indicators and passenger transport demand according to the core-set indicator definition, in that the latter includes air transport demand. In 2004, Eurostat launched a project to produce a set of modal split indicators. The aim of the project is to establish consistent and comparable datasets for the transport performance (in tonne-kilometres, passenger-kilometres and vehicle-kilometres) of road, rail, inland waterways, maritime and air transport on the national territory ('national territory' principle) of the countries and to use those series in a regular annual production of modal split indicators. With regards to the air transport data, Eurostat does not collect data on transport performance on the national territory of the countries where this performance takes place, as would be required by the "national territory principle". Recognising the increasing importance of air transport demand, Eurostat is working on methods regarding the calculation and territorial attribution of transport performance data for air transport. Until such data becomes available, the aggregate for the core set indicator "passenger transport demand" will include estimates of air transport demand based on the European Commission's Directorate General for Transport and Energy. In particular, their annual publication "Pocket Book Energy and Transport in Figures"
We are awaiting the results from Eurostat's project in order to apply their methodology as soon as it is validated.
Data sets uncertainty
The unit used to measure the volume of passenger transport is, as defined in the indicator, passenger-kilometre (pkm). It represents one passenger travelling a distance of one kilometre. Load factors for car passenger transport (i.e. the average number of passengers per car) are not obligatory variables as data on passenger transport performance are collected through the Eurostat/ECMT/UNECE Common Questionnaire on Transport Statistics.
Detailed information about road transport (including data quality) is available from Eurostat
Loading of the vehicle is a key factor playing a key role in the assessment of whether or not there is decoupling of passenger transport demand from GDP growth. Since load factors are not available a sound assessment of passenger transport trends becomes very difficult. One could not, for instance, properly determine what share of the trend observed for passenger-kilometres belongs to changes in the average number of passengers in the vehicle. For a complete picture of transport demand and the related environmental problems, it would therefore be valuable to complement the data on the number of passenger-kilometres with vehicle-kilometres.
The 2 indicators "volume of passenger transport relative to GDP" and "modal split of passenger transport" are part of the European Commission's structural indicators. As such, their components are already calculated and downloadable in their final form from Eurostat's database. Where data is not available, estimations have been made or data has been taken from other sources: national statistical institutes, ECMT, UNECE, UIC or DG for Energy and Transport. Estimates are not always included in Eurostat's Newcronos database but are used for the purpose of calculating the structural indicators. Data are kindly provided by Eurostat's Transport Statistics Unit in the form of an Excel Spreadsheet for internal use. The final calculations (i.e. the indicators) are published on the structural indicator's homepage.
Eurostat is in the process of reviewing/completing the quality section of the metadata part for the 2 structural indicators as well as on the possibility to include the estimates in the Newcronos database.
All data should be based on movements on national territory, regardless of the nationality of the vehicle. However, data collection methodology is not harmonised at the EU level. The coverage of passenger transport for many countries is incomplete, mainly due to lack of data on transport by passenger car.
The main policy question relates to whether passenger demand is being decoupled from economic growth. Thus, one needs to monitor trends in the intensity of passenger transport demand relative to changes in GDP at constant prices. The ratio of inland passenger transport to GDP could increase even though the actual passenger transport volume falls. Similarly, the indicator could fall despite of a possible increase in the volume of passenger transport. What makes the ratio increase or decrease is the relative change in the volume of passenger transport (numerator) to gross domestic product (denominator). As long as the numerator increases more (or falls less) than the denominator, the indicator "passenger transport demand" will increase. The indicator does indeed summarise "passenger transport intensity". From an environmental point of view, it is important not to overlook trends in the total volume of passenger transport. The actual absolute values are key to understand environmental pressures originating from more passenger transport demand.
Intensity can be also explained using the concepts of relative and absolute decoupling. Relative decoupling in passenger transport demand occurs when its volume grows at a rate below that of gross domestic product. In this case, however, the volume of passenger transport may well increase as long as this increase is less rapid/strong than the one observed in economic activity. Absolute decoupling in passenger transport demand occurs when the volume of passenger transport falls. This is the necessary condition. Absolute decoupling is present if GDP increases or remains unchanged. If GDP falls, there is absolute decoupling only if the fall in passenger volumes is stronger than the contraction in GDP. This is important since from a purely statistical point of view one could imagine a situation where no absolute decoupling is observed and yet this may be good for the environment. For example, both GDP and passenger volumes could fall, with the latter falling less than the former. The fact that the volume of passenger transport goes down is good for the environment but the hypothetical situation just described does not strictly correspond to absolute decoupling.
Even if two countries have the same passenger transport intensity or show the same trend over time there could be important environmental differences between them. The link to the environmental pressure has to be made on the basis of the energy fuels used to satisfy passenger demand. The primary fuels today are gasoline and diesel but other options may be available in the future.
In relation to the modal split indicator (i.e. percentage share of transport by passenger car in total inland passenger transport), what makes a share increase or decrease for a particular mode depends on the change in the volume of transport for that specific mode relative to the total volume of all modes vis a vis the relative changes observed for the other modes. That is, not only it depends on whether the volume of passenger car transport increases or decreases but also on how the increase or decrease in the total volume of inland passenger transport is distributed across the different modes. From an environmental point of view, the relative contribution of each mode to the total volume of passenger transport has to be put in the wider context. Absolute (as opposed to relative) values of transport volumes for each mode are key to understand the environmental pressures.
Annual Macroeconomic Database
provided by Directorate-General for Economic and Financial Affairs (DG ECFIN)
Transport statistics - freight (Eurostat)
provided by Statistical Office of the European Union (Eurostat)
Transport (Primary topic)
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
- CSI 035
Contacts and ownership
EEA Contact InfoPeder Gabrielsen
EEA Management Plan2010 (note: EEA internal system)
- 28 Nov 2007 - Passenger transport demand - outlook from WBCSD
- 08 Jun 2007 - Passenger transport demand - outlook from WBCSD
- 08 Jun 2007 - Passenger transport demand - outlook from OECD
- 29 Jun 2006 - Passenger transport demand
- 28 Jun 2006 - Passenger transport demand by mode and purpose
- 28 Mar 2005 - Passenger transport demand by mode and purpose
- 27 Aug 2004 - Passenger transport
- 28 Apr 2004 - Passenger transport demand by mode and purpose
- 28 Oct 2003 - Passenger transport demand by mode and purpose
- 01 Jun 2001 - Passenger transport demand
For references, please go to www.eea.europa.eu/soer or scan the QR code.
This briefing is part of the EEA's report The European Environment - State and Outlook 2015. The EEA is an official agency of the EU, tasked with providing information on Europe’s environment.
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