Passenger transport demand
Passenger transport demand in the EU-28 decreased by nearly 1.5 % between 2011 and 2012, following a slight downward trend since its peak in 2009, broken only by a 1 % increase in 2011. Car passenger travel remains the dominant mode, with a share well above 70 %. Air transport grew by 10 % in 2011, but stabilised in 2012. However, it retained its pre-crisis modal share (9 %). Rail passengers’ share has grown slightly in recent years, and accounted for 7 % in 2012, after the slight increase in the last two years (2011 and 2012).
Land passenger transport demand in non-EU-28 countries kept growing overall in 2012, with a 1.7 % growth in Iceland, and 1.5 % in Switzerland. Norwegian land transport demand figures remain stable, with car and rail demand growth (1.3 % and 3.6 % respectively) offsetting a 20.2 % loss in rail. The quick deterioration of rail passenger transport in Turkey (-22 % in 2012) was accompanied by a significant increase (6.2 % in 2012) in total land transport demand, sustained by a 10.5 % growth in car travel. It is worth noting that, according to Eurocontrol (Eurocontrol, 2014), Turkey is also the main driver of air passenger traffic growth in the European skies.
Is passenger transport demand being decoupled from economic growth?
Passenger transport demand in the EEA-33, measured in passenger-kilometres, experienced a sustained period of robust growth until 2005 for all modes. From that year until 2007, several countries, including France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom showed a significant reduction in passenger car use (from 0.8 % in the United Kingdom, up to − 9.6 % in Italy) which may be associated with the impact of the economic downturn that affected some European countries before the financial crisis, to having passed a peak in car travel, or to a combination of both. Since 2008, the impact of the economic crisis has been evident in passenger transport demand. Generally speaking, air transport seems more sensitive, and was the first to decrease — by − 1.9 % in 2008 and by − 6.9 % in 2009 — whereas car transport demand did not start to drop till 2010.
Focusing on passenger car transport, the total decrease over the last three years (2009–2012) is − 3.5 %; the decrease mainly affected EU-15 countries, with a total decrease of − 4.2 %, whereas car transport in the EU-13 grew by 1.7 %. However, it is worth noting that there are striking differences among countries in this period, with demand decreasing significantly in some of them (such as Italy, Spain or the Netherlands) and growing boldly in others (such as Poland and Denmark).
In the last four years (2008–2012), rail passenger traffic volumes have dropped significantly owing to the economic crisis, historic decline, or both. However, passenger rail demand between 2008 and 2012 has continued growing in a few EU-15 countries, in some cases above 5 %, as in the United Kingdom (15.0 %), the Netherlands (11.7 %), Luxembourg (8.4 %), Denmark (7.5 %), Germany (7.2 %), Sweden (5.8 %) or Switzerland (8.4 %).
Air transport traffic has been particularly affected by the economic crisis. Traffic fell to record lows in 2009, with a decrease of 6.9 %, and after some gains in 2010, 2011 and 2012 were years of further air transport decline in Europe.
Trends in inland passenger transport demand and GDP show a general decreasing trend in intensity (pkm/EUR), originating in the mid 1990s, with the exception of 2009. That year, the sharp reduction in GDP in the EEA33 was associated with a slight increase in transport volumes compared to previous years, suggesting that passenger transport demand reacts less (and more slowly) to changes in GDP than freight does.
It is worth noting that current decoupling patterns, as illustrated in the figure, are consistent with the peak car travel hypothesis: the slow decoupling trend might suggest that countries are reaching an asymptotic value regarding car travel, which remains by and large the main component of inland travel demand. However, data are still based on estimations, and therefore are not robust enough to extract a conclusion yet.
Is public transport increasing as a proportion of total passenger transport?
Modal split analysis including air transport is limited to the EU-28, due to data availability restrictions. Modal shares trends have remained largely stable in the EU-28 in recent decades. Since 1995, air transport (including only intra-EU trips) has steadily increased its share, from 6.5 % in 1995 to 9.0 % in 2012, at the cost of land transport modes. The decrease in the car share is rather modest, from 73.3 % in 1995 to 72.2 % in 2012, after peaking at 74 % in 2002 and 2003. Rail retained a similar market share in 2012 compared to 1995 (6.5 %), after a slow but continuous recovery from its low at 5.9 % in 2003 and 2004. Buses and coaches kept losing market share at a very slow rate, from 9.4 % in 1995 to 8.2 % in 2012. There has been a steady trend in the EU-13 towards convergence with EU-15–average modal split values, mainly reflected in the quick growth in the car share compared with other modes.
Indicator specification and metadata
'Passenger transport demand' is defined as the number of pkm travelled every year in a country or group of countries. Inland passenger transport includes transport by passenger car, bus and coach and train.
'Modal split' is defined as the proportion of total pkm allocated to different transport modes every year.
The 'decoupling indicator' is defined as the annual changes in the ratio of pkm (inland modes) to GDP (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 1 km. It is based on transport by car, bus and coach and train.
Gross domestic product (GDP) is expressed in constant euros, 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 to the year t – 1 (i.e. annual decoupling/intensity changes) in order to observe changes in the annual intensity of passenger transport demand relative to economic growth (GDP). For the oldest indicators (i.e. before 2010), passenger transport demand and GDP are shown as an index (2000 = 100).
Policy context and targets
The EU has set itself the objective of decoupling economic growth from passenger transport demand in order to create a more sustainable transport system. This decoupling has been a central theme in EU transport policy and is intended to minimise the negative impacts of transport.
In this indicator, the policy target to significantly decouple transport growth from GDP growth in order to reduce the negative environmental effects of transport and congestion is considered.
Related policy documents
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
In order 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
To understand whether or not passenger demand is being decoupled from economic growth, the intensity of passenger transport demand relative to changes in real GDP is analysed. A reduction in intensity should signal the relative decoupling of transport demand from economic growth.
A decoupling indicator compares pressures on the environment with changes in the relevant economical variables, to which the environmental pressures are causally linked. This indicator compares the growth in pkm as a proxy of the pressures on the environment caused by transport. It is considered a good proxy; however, it is known to be inaccurate as pkm values in isolation do not fully explain the environmental pressures.
Data sets uncertainty
Figures on pkm travelled by air are available as an EU-28 aggregate only. Air pkm are a provisional estimate for domestic flights and flights between EU countries. 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.
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.
National accounts, including GDP (Eurostat)
provided by Statistical Office of the European Union (Eurostat)
Transport statistics (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
- TERM 012
Contacts and ownership
EEA Contact InfoCinzia Pastorello
EEA Management Plan2014 1.1.2 (note: EEA internal system)
Frequency of updates
- 12 Dec 2013 - Passenger transport demand
- 18 Jan 2011 - Passenger transport demand
- 07 Sep 2010 - Passenger transport demand
- 21 Apr 2009 - Passenger transport demand
- 21 Dec 2008 - Passenger transport demand
- 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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