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Passenger transport demand

Indicator Assessmentexpired Created 05 Nov 2013 Published 12 Dec 2013 Last modified 04 Sep 2015, 07:00 PM
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This content has been archived on 18 Dec 2014, reason: Other (New version data-and-maps/indicators/passenger-transport-demand-version-2/assessment-4 was published)
Indicator codes: CSI 035 , TERM 012

Key messages

Between 2010 and 2011, passenger transport demand in the EU-28 (without Croatia) increased by nearly 1 %, reaching a new all-time high, mainly attributed to a 10 % increase in aviation. Demand steadily increased between 1995 and 2009, but at a slower rate than GDP. The largest increases have been in air (66 %) and car (23 %) demand between 1995 and 2011. However, the economic recession led to a decline in 2009 and 2010 (0.1 %). The car dominates the land passenger transport share at 76 %, followed by air (9 %) bus and coach (8 %) and rail (6 %). 

Croatia experienced a 16 % increase in land passenger transport over the period 2001 to 2011. Land passenger demand, for the non-EU EEA Member States, also showed high growth. In particular, Turkey and Iceland at 53 % and 21 % respectively, compared to 7 % for the EU-28. Regarding the modal split, Switzerland’s rail share has increased over the past decade, being around 18 % in 2011, by far the highest value within the EEA-33. Correspondingly, the share for car in Switzerland is below the EEA-33 average. Turkey has the highest modal share of bus and coach use within the EEA-33 although it declined from 60 % in 1995 to 44 % in 2011. Iceland and Norway have car shares well above the EEA-33 average at 89 % and 88 % respectively.

Is passenger transport demand being decoupled from economic growth?

Passenger transport volume and modal split within the EU

Data sources: Explore chart interactively
Data sources: Explore chart interactively

Total passenger transport demand (pkm) including road, rail, air and sea in the EU-28 countries (excl. Croatia) increased by 11 % between 2000 and 2011. However, an estimate based on 2012 fuel consumption data suggests that passenger transport demand may have declined between 2011 and 2012. In all non-EU EEA Member States, growth in road and rail pkm was above EU-28 average. In Turkey, pkm in 2011 was almost 1.5 times higher than in 2000. In Iceland, pkm grew by 27 % and in Norway and Switzerland by between 17 % and 18 %, respectively.

In terms of land based passenger transport, from 2000 to 2011, growth in the EU-15 countries was 6 % and in the EU-13 30 %. However, from 2008 onwards there has been little land passenger transport growth, across all modes, both in the EU-15 and the EU-13 countries. In terms of contributions from different modes, there are also differences between the EU-15 and the EU-13 countries.

Car passenger km demand in the EU-15 increased by only 5 % over the 2000 to 2011 period, and actually fell 1.4 % between 2009 and 2011. This reflects the stabilisation of car demand in Western Europe (and the United States) which has been the subject of much research.

In contrast car passenger km in the EU-13 rose by 53 % between 2000 and 2011. This strong growth is due to the much lower levels of car ownership and use compared to the EU-15 at the start of this period, combined with strong GDP growth. Accession to the EU has also made it easier to import second hand vehicles from neighbouring countries.

Overall, car journeys are by far the dominant mode accounting for over 80 % of EU-15 and EU-13 land passenger kilometres, and 73 % of all internal EU-28 passenger transport kilometres, including land, air and sea (excluding Croatia). In Norway and Iceland, the car’s modal share is close to 90 % of land passenger transport.

Regarding growth in rail and bus passenger demand there are strong differences among EEA Member States. For rail, growth was 17 % for the EU-15 over the 2000 to 2011 time period with France and the UK accounting for the greatest increases in rail pkm. In contrast, in the EU-13 rail pkm decreased by 27 % over the same period. The modal share of rail in passenger land transport declined continuously, from 13 % in 1995, to 10 % in 2000 to 5 % in 2011. Thus, despite the historically prominent role of train travel in Eastern Europe the modal share of rail transport in the EU-13 is now significantly lower than in the EU-15. This trend needs to be reversed if the EU’s Transport White Paper target of the majority of medium distance (intercity) passenger transport going by rail in 2050 is to be met. Switzerland has the highest rail mode share in the EEA-33. It increased from around 14 % to around 18 % between 2000 and 2011.

EU-15 countries have invested heavily in high-speed rail (HSR) since 2000, increasing track capacity by over 150 %, resulting in an increase in passenger-km by HSR of almost 80 % (DG MOVE, 2012). Despite the growth in pkm the modal share of rail transport (relative to total land transport) in the EU-15 has remained fairly stable at around 7 % over the past decade (6.7 % in 2000 to 7.3 % in 2011).  

For bus travel, similar patterns were seen: in the EU-15, the share of pkm by bus and coach remained fairly stable at 8 % to 9 % over the 2000 to 2011 time period while the modal share of bus and coach transport in the EU-13 strongly declined from 22 % in 1995 to 11 % in 2011. Turkey’s 44 % mode share of busses and coaches is by far the highest among the EEA-33. Total pkm by bus and coach in Turkey have increased although the much faster increase in car pkm led to a drop in the relative share which was still at 60 % in 1995.

Air transport is the sector with the greatest growth over the period 2000 to 2011, increasing by 25 % in the EU-28 (excl. Croatia; DG MOVE, 2013). Aviation in the EU showed annual increases of between 3.5 to 4 % until the recent economic recession. However, total passenger kilometres fell by nearly 9 % between 2007 and 2009. In 2011, it saw strong growth again and reached similar levels to 2007. However, in 2012, the number of flight movements in the EU-28 (excl. Croatia) decreased by 3 % and are forecast to decrease by a further 0.5 % to 3.6 % in 2013. It therefore seems likely that air passenger kilometres will also have dropped. However, despite the recent slow-down, positive growth rates of between around 1 % and 3.5 % per year are forecast from 2014 onwards.

At the EU-28 level (excl. Croatia) GDP and passenger transport demand grew at similar rates. However, developments in the EU-15 are quite different to the EU-13. In the EU-15, greater relative decoupling occurred for car use, with GDP growing faster than car transport demand. This is linked, in part, to modal shift – demand for rail grew faster than GDP. In contrast, in the EU-13, there has been little or even negative decoupling with car pkm and GDP growing at similar rates over the past 15 years. However, while EU-13 GDP fell between 2008 and 2009 car pkm kept increasing. Therefore, in recent years, between 2008 and 2011, car pkm per Euro of GDP in the EU-13 was higher than during the late 1990s.

Is public tranport increasing its share of passenger transport?

Passenger transport modal split

Missing chart information, using default chart:
Passenger transport modal split

Note: N/A

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Passenger transport modal split

Data sources: Explore chart interactively
Data sources: Explore chart interactively

Between 2000 and 2011, the EU-13 converged towards the EU-15 in its modal split. This entailed a strong shift from buses and railways to cars. The share of cars in passenger kilometres in the EU-13 is now similar to that in the EU-15. In the EU-13, in particular, the decline of rail and bus passenger demand in both relative and absolute terms is remarkable. Total rail passenger kilometres in the EU-13 have fallen by a third over the past 15 years and the share of rail transport is now lower than in the EU-15. Bus passenger kilometres in the EU-13 have also fallen by over 20 % in the same period.

Indicator specification and metadata

Indicator definition

Passenger transport demand is defined as the amount of inland passenger- kilometre travelled every year in the EEA33. Inland passenger transport includes transport by passenger cars, buses and coaches, and trains.

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

The decoupling indicator is defined as the annual changes of the ratio between passenger-kilometres (inland modes) and GDP (Gross Domestic Product in constant 2005 EUR) 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 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 to minimise the negative impacts of transport:

  • The objective of decoupling passenger transport demand from GDP was first mentioned in the Transport and Environment integration strategy that was adopted by the Council of ministers in Helsinki (European Council, 1999). Here, the expected growth in transport demand was named as an area where urgent action was needed. In the sustainable development strategy that was adopted by the European Council in Gothenburg, the objective of decoupling is set in order to reduce congestion and other negative side-effects of transport (European Commission, 2001a): “A sustainable transport policy should tackle rising volumes of traffic and levels of congestion, noise and pollution [.]. Action is needed to bring about a significant decoupling of transport growth and GDP growth, in particular by a shift from road to rail, water and public passenger transport”.
  • Shifting passenger transport from road to water and rail is an important strategic element in the EU transport policy. The objective was first formulated in the Sustainable Development Strategy in 2001(European Commission, 2001a).
  • In the White Paper on the Common Transport Policy "European Transport Policy for 2010: Time to Decide", (European Commission, 2001b) the Commission outlined concerns for curbing the demand for transport, which included the fact that economic growth will almost automatically generate greater needs for mobility, therefore increasing demand for goods services and for passengers. The objective of breaking the link between economic growth and transport growth was therefore considered as the basis for the White Paper for the next decade. A number of measures were subsequently proposed within the White Paper aimed at achieving mode shift and decoupling from GDP.
  • In the review of the Transport and Environment integration strategy in 2001 and 2002, the Council reaffirmed the objective of reducing the link between the growth of transport and GDP (European Council, 2002a and 2002b). The review also states that modal split should remain stable for at least the following ten years, even with further traffic growth.
  • In the Sixth Community Environmental Action Programme, decoupling of economic growth and transport demand is named as one of the key objectives in order to deal with climate change and to alleviate health impacts from transport in urban areas.
  • The European Commission's White Paper on transport published in 2011, " Roadmap to a Single European Transport Area – Towards a competitive and resource efficient transport system" acts as a framework to guide future policy developments in the transport sector over the next decade. The White Paper sets out 10 goals for a competitive and resource-efficient transport system. These goals serve as benchmarks for achieving the target of a 60 % reduction in GHG emissions from transport by 2050 target (from 1990 levels).


To decouple transport growth significantly from GDP growth in order to reduce 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. Separate trends for the two components of intensity are shown for the EU-32. 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.

For EU Member States according to the Regulation No 1172/98 (European Council, 1998), road transport data are based on all movements of vehicles registered in the reporting country. All other transport data refer mainly to movements within the national territory, regardless of the nationality of the vehicle. Eurostat contains data on different transport modes. A detailed description of concepts used and data collected in the transport database can be found in Eurostat's concepts and definitions database.


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 were 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. 

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. In order to know 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 also seems to be 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. 

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

The two 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 or DG MOVE database.

According to the latest metadata, all data should be based on movements within the national territory, regardless of the nationality of the vehicle. However, the data collection methodology is not harmonised at the EU level. The dataset for total passenger transport demand for many countries is incomplete, mainly due to lack of data on transport by passenger car but also to incoherent coverage of rail transport performance (small enterprises, commuter trains in large urban areas). 

Vehicle occupancy is a key factor playing a key role in the assessment of whether or not there is “an effective” decoupling of passenger transport demand from GDP growth. Since occupancy rates 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 is caused by 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.

Rationale uncertainty

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 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 GDP (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 increased passenger transport demand.

Intensity can be also explained using the concepts of relative and absolute decoupling. Relative decoupling in passenger transport demand occurs when passenger transport volume grows at a rate below that of GDP. In this case, however, the volume of passenger transport may well increase as long as this increase is less rapid than the one observed for economic activity. Absolute decoupling in passenger transport demand occurs when the volume of passenger transport falls and GDP increases or remains unchanged. If GDP falls, there is absolute decoupling only if the fall in passenger volumes is greater than the contraction of 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 positive 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 environmental impact has to be made on the basis of the energy consumption and fuels used to satisfy passenger demand. The primary fuels today are gasoline and diesel, but other options are becoming available.

Data sources

Generic metadata


Transport Transport (Primary topic)

passengers | soer2010 | thematic assessments | consumption | transport demand | passenger transport | modal split | 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, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, 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

2013 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