Passenger transport demand

Indicator Assessment
Prod-ID: IND-35-en
Also known as: CSI 035 , TERM 012
expired Created 01 Dec 2010 Published 18 Jan 2011 Last modified 11 Sep 2015, 12:41 PM
Note: new version is available!
Topics: ,
This content has been archived on 18 Dec 2014, reason: Other (New version data-and-maps/indicators/passenger-transport-demand-version-2/assessment-4 was published)
Between 2007 and 2008 passenger transport demand in the EEA-32 declined, for the first time in the 13 years displayed, most likely due to the impacts of the global economic recession. However, this does little to change the long-term trend; overall passenger transport demand has grown by over a fifth since 1995. There is continued evidence to suggest a decoupling between passenger transport demand and GDP in the EEA-32. However, latest estimates for air passenger transport within the EU-27 indicate that demand has been growing at a much faster rate than any other mode of passenger transport.

Key messages

Between 2007 and 2008 passenger transport demand in the EEA-32 declined, for the first time in the 13 years displayed, most likely due to the impacts of the global economic recession. However, this does little to change the long-term trend; overall passenger transport demand has grown by over a fifth since 1995. There is continued evidence to suggest a decoupling between passenger transport demand and GDP in the EEA-32. However, latest estimates for air passenger transport within the EU-27 indicate that demand has been growing at a much faster rate than any other mode of passenger transport.

Is passenger transport demand being decoupled from economic growth?

Figure 1 shows that over the past decade, the growth in demand for passenger transport has been slower on average than the growth in the economy. Between 2007 and 2008, passenger transport demand fell for the first time in the 13 years displayed. However, this is an exceptional case, likely due to the global economic recession, and the main trend is still that passenger transport continues to grow. Despite the observed decoupling between passenger demand and GDP, the 20% growth in demand between 1995 and 2008 makes it increasingly challenging to stabilise or reduce the environmental impacts of transport. In addition, the apparent decoupling does not account for aviation (see footnote 1). Figure 2 shows  provisional estimates for intra-EU passenger air travel demand for the EU-27. It suggests that growth in the decade to 2008 has been greater than in any other mode (37%) and in 2008 could add as much as 10% to the overall demand for passenger transport. Were this trend to apply to the EEA-32, decoupling figures would reduce significantly. However, as with transport overall in Figure 1, demand fell between 2007 and 2008, by 2%. This is a greater decrease than that from land-based modes (where demand decreased by 0.2% overall), suggesting that aviation demand is more sensitive to economic stresses than other modes.

In the European Union, passenger transport demand has followed two distinct trends over the last decade that continues in 2008. Overall, land passenger transport is growing at around twice the rate in the EU-12 as in the EU-15. However, in the EU-12 demand for transport by rail and bus are falling, with car demand increasing at a much faster rate. This is contrasted in the EU-15, where passenger car transport demand is growing at a much slower rate overall (and indeed fell in 2008), but where there is continued growth in demand for rail and bus travel. Private car transport accounts for the majority of demand in all EEA member countries.

Despite an overall fall of 0.7% in passenger car kilometres in the EEA between 2007 and 2008, more than half the member states (17) experienced growth in demand. In the European Union, the EU-12 experienced a growth of 7% over this period, whilst the EU-15 saw a decline of 2%. The five Member States with the largest demand for passenger transport – Germany, France, Italy, the UK and Spain – all experienced a reduction in levels of demand between 2007 and 2008. However Poland, who in 2008 has the sixth-largest passenger transport demand, saw their demand grow by over 14% in the same period.

Is the share of public transport in passenger transport increasing?

Passenger transport modal split

Note: Passenger transport modal split, excluding Liechtenstein

Data source:

Eurostat - Statistical Office of the European Communities. Transport demand by mode. [accessed 10 September 2010]


Downloads and more info

In the last decade, bus demand grew by 8% in the EEA-32. This was driven mainly by EU-15 Member States, with an increase of 10%, contrasted by a 4% drop in demand from the EU-12 (possibly in part due to competition with passenger car travel as car ownership levels increase). Romania, however, bucks this trend amongst the new EU Member States, with continued strong growth in demand (14% in 2007/08). This compares to an overall rise of just 0.4% in the EU-15, and a negligible decrease (less than 0.1%) in the EU-12 in 2008.

Demand for rail passenger transport increased by 3.5% in the EEA-32 between 2007 and 2008, and 19% in the last decade. However, there was a marked contrast in trend between the EU-15 and EU-12, with the former growing by nearly 30% in the ten years to 2008, and the latter shrinking by around 20%.

Passenger car transport accounted for a large proportion of inland passenger transport among the EEA-32 (Figure 3, excludes Lichtenstein). Nine of the EEA-32 Member States meet over 85% of their passenger transport demand by car, and 20 have a car share of over 80%. Cars clearly remain the dominant mode of passenger transport amongst Europeans.  Lithuania has the highest share of passenger car transport in the EEA-32, at just over 90%. Lithuania has also experienced the largest growth in passenger car demand of any Member State, nearly 200% in the last decade. This means that, despite relatively modest changes in other modes, it has the largest 10-year growth in passenger demand of any Member State. This is accompanied by one of the strongest increases in GDP over the same period. These trends suggest that it may therefore be that the rapid growth in the economy has led to an increased demand for, and ability to afford, transport that is most easily met in the short term by the private car.

Indicator specification and metadata

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


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


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.

Data sources

Generic metadata


Transport Transport (Primary topic)

passengers | soer2010 | thematic assessments | consumption | transport indicators | transport demand | transport
DPSIR: Driving force
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
Indicator codes
  • CSI 035
  • TERM 012
Temporal coverage:
Geographic coverage:
Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom

Contacts and ownership

EEA Contact Info

Cinzia Pastorello

EEA Management Plan

2010 2.9.2 (note: EEA internal system)


Frequency of updates

Updates are scheduled once per year
European Environment Agency (EEA)
Kongens Nytorv 6
1050 Copenhagen K
Phone: +45 3336 7100