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Passenger transport demand

Indicator Specification Created 09 Dec 2008 Published 21 Apr 2009 Last modified 18 Dec 2015, 03:43 PM
Topics: ,
Indicator codes: CSI 035 , TERM 012

Assessment versions

Published (reviewed and quality assured)


Justification for indicator selection

The main underlying causes of the increase in passenger transport demand 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 for more frequent, faster and more luxurious travel over longer distances. 

Transport activity is one of the main sources of greenhouse gas emissions and also gives rise to significant air pollution and noise, which can seriously damage human health and ecosystems. The relevance of the modal split policy for the environmental impact of passenger transport arises from differences in the environmental performance (resource consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, pollutant and noise emissions, land consumption, accidents etc.) of transport modes.

This indicator helps to understand developments in the passenger transport sector (transport's 'magnitude'), which in turn explains observed trends in transport's impact on the environment. It also helps to explain the main variables that influence transport modal choice and the relative success of the policy measures that the EU and/or each country are implementing to reduce demand or to influence modal choice.

Scientific references

  • No rationale references available

Indicator definition

Passenger transport demand is defined as the amount of passenger-kilometres travelled every year in a country or group of countries. Inland passenger transport includes transport by passenger cars, buses and coaches, and trains.

Modal split is defined as the proportion of total passenger-kilometres allocated to different transport modes every year.

The decoupling indicator is defined as the annual changes in the ratio between passenger-kilometres (inland modes) and GDP (Gross Domestic Product in constant prices) growth. 



The unit used to express passenger transport volume is the passenger-kilometre (pkm), which represents one passenger travelling a distance of one kilometre. It is based on transport by cars, buses and coaches, and trains. 

GDP is Gross Domestic Product expressed in constant euro indexed to the year 2005.

Passenger transport demand and GDP are shown as an index (2005=100). The ratio of the former to the latter is indexed on year t-1 (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 (GDP). For the oldest indicators (before 2010) passenger transport demand and GDP are shown as an index (2000=100).

Policy context and targets

Context description

The EU has set itself the objective of reducing the link between economic growth and passenger transport demand ('decoupling') in order to create a more sustainable transport system. Reducing the link between transport growth and GDP has been a central theme in EU transport policy intended to minimise the negative impacts of transport.


The policy target considered in this indicator is the significant decoupling of transport growth  from GDP growth in order to reduce the negative environmental effects of transport and congestion.

Related policy documents

  • 10917/06
    Review of the EU Sustainable Development Strategy (EU SDS): Renewed Strategy, by the Council of the European Union, No. 10917/06.
  • A sustainable future for transport
    In 2001, the Commission issued a White Paper setting an agenda for the European transport policy throughout 2010. This programme was updated in the mid-term review of 2006. Approaching the end of the 10-year period, it is time to look further ahead and prepare the ground for later policy developments.
  • 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.
  • Keep Europe Moving: Sustainable Mobility for our Continent
    European Commission, 2006. Keep Europe Moving: Sustainable Mobility for our Continent. Mid-term review of the EC’s 2001 Transport White Paper.
  • Transport White paper 2011
    Roadmap to a Single European Transport Area - Towards a competitive and resource efficient transport system
  • WHITE PAPER European transport policy for 2010: time to decide
    The need for integration of transport in sustainable development

Key policy question

Is passenger transport demand being decoupled from economic growth?

Specific policy question

Is the share of public transport in passenger transport increasing?


Methodology for indicator calculation

To measure the decoupling of passenger demand from economic growth, the volume of passenger transport relative to GDP (i.e. the intensity) is calculated.

Methodology for gap filling

No need for gap filling

Methodology references

Data specifications

EEA data references

  • No datasets have been specified here.

Data sources in latest figures


Methodology uncertainty

To answer the question of whether passenger demand is being decoupled from economic growth, the intensity of passenger transport demand relative to changes in real GDP is looked at. A reduction in intensity should signal relative decoupling, as a relative break in the correlation between transport demand and economic growth would then be achieved.

A decoupling indicator compares pressures on the environment to changes in the relevant economical variables to which the environmental pressures are causally linked. The present indicator compares the pkm growth rate as a proxy of the pressures on the environment caused by transport. It is considered a good proxy for the intended analysis, even though it is known to be inaccurate, as pkm in isolation do not fully explain the level of environmental pressures. 


Data sets uncertainty

Figures on passenger-kilometres travelled by air are available only as an EU-28 aggregate. Air passenger-kilometres are a provisional estimate for domestic and intra-EU-28 flights. Figures for car, bus and rail travel are available separately for all EU-28 Member States. The sources used by the European Commission (DG-MOVE) include national statistics, estimates, the International Transport Forum and Eurostat.

Rationale uncertainty

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 environmental impact has to be complemented on the basis of the energy consumption and fuels used to satisfy passenger demand, and the technology used, in addition to the new infrastructure-related impacts.

Further work

Short term work

Work specified here requires to be completed within 1 year from now.

Work description

Across 2009, Eurostat have consolidated the development of community data collection on road traffic measurement (road vehicle kilometres). This improved data quality will be incorporated into future indicators. The definition of the core set indicator (as opposed to the structural indicators) includes "air transport" demand as part of total passenger demand. Air transport data originates from the European Commission's Directorate General for Transport and Energy. Eurostat is reviewing methods regarding the calculation and territorial attribution of transport performance data for air transport so that it can be possibly included in total passenger demand. Any change in the structural indicators, particularly with regards to the methodology (i.e. possible inclusion of air transport demand) and the metadata section (i.e. quality) will be incorporated as soon as Eurostat validates the data.

Resource needs

No resource needs have been specified


In progress


2015/12/31 00:00:00 GMT+1

Long term work

Work specified here will require more than 1 year (from now) to be completed.

General metadata

Responsibility and ownership

EEA Contact Info

Cinzia Pastorello


European Environment Agency (EEA)


Indicator code
CSI 035
TERM 012
Version id: 2
Primary theme: Transport Transport


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Frequency of updates

Updates are scheduled once per year


DPSIR: Driving force
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)

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