Passenger transport demand
- Passenger transport demand in the EU-28 increased by nearly 1.1 % between 2012 and 2013, after an overall downward trend since its peak in 2009. Car passenger travel remains the dominant transport mode, with a share well above 70 %. Air transport grew by 10 % in 2011, but stabilised in 2012 and 2013. However, it retained its pre-crisis modal share (9 %). The share of rail passenger travel has grown slightly in recent years, accounting for 6.6 % of transport demand in 2013.
- Land only passenger transport demand continued to grow in 2013 in the non-EU-28 countries, with Iceland experiencing 2.9 % growth, Turkey 3.2 %, Switzerland 1.6 % and Norway 1.3 %.
Is passenger transport demand being decoupled from economic growth?
Passenger transport demand in the EU-28, measured in passenger kilometres (pkm), experienced a sustained period of robust growth until 2005 for all modes. Following its peak in 2009 (9 % higher than in 2000), it has remained broadly stable, with only a slight overall reduction being seen as a result of the economic recession from 2008 onwards. In 2013, total passenger demand was 8.4 % higher than in 2000, and reached a level just 0.5 % lower than that of the peak year, 2009.
Since 2000, the changes in passenger transport volume (pkm) across the different modes are:
- Passenger cars – 7 %;
- Powered two-wheelers – 16 %;
- Buses and coaches – -4 %;
- Railways – 14 %;
- Trams and metro – 22 %;
- Aviation – 27 %;
- Sea – -7 %.
In absolute terms, passenger cars account for most of the overall increase in passenger transport volumes seen since 2000, followed by aviation and railways. Since 2000, the EU population has grown by 3.7 %, less than the 8.4 % growth seen in passenger transport. Car mobility peaked in the EU‑15 in 2004, and most EU‑15 Member States reached peak car travel values sometime between 1999 (Denmark) and 2007 (Sweden), before the economic downturn.
In most EU‑13 Member States, per capita car travel keeps growing, likewise in some non‑EU countries such as Turkey, which experienced strong growth of around 25 % between 2009 and 2013.
Rail passenger traffic volumes since 2008 have dropped significantly in many countries owing to the economic crisis, historic decline, or both. Traffic loss has been particularly high in many eastern European Member States, as well as in certain western countries such as Italy and Portugal. In contrast, rail demand between 2008 and 2013 has continued growing in a few EU‑15 countries, in some cases by amounts approaching 10 % or more. This includes Austria, Denmark, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Trends in passenger demand for high-speed rail are difficult to assess, as traffic growth trends are, not surprisingly, greatly influenced by the opening of new services over the past decades. Nevertheless, it seems that its share in total rail passenger traffic is increasing in certain countries such as Italy, while in others it peaked in 2010 (France and Spain) or earlier (Belgium, Portugal and Sweden).
Air transport, including intra-EU trips in the EU–28, has varied substantially since 2000. While it grew rapidly between 2000 and 2007, air transport traffic was particularly affected by the economic crisis – traffic fell by 6.9 % in 2009. Whereas traditional airlines were particularly hard hit by the recession, low-cost airlines have grown every year since 2008. Their growth has helped drive overall growth in the aviation sector since 2009, with air pkm increasing and reaching their highest level in 2013.
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 EEA-33 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.
Is public transport increasing as a proportion of total passenger transport?
Restrictions on data availability mean that modal split analysis, including air transport, is limited to the EU-28. Modal share trends have remained largely stable in the EU-28 in recent decades. Since 1995, the share of air transport (including intra-EU trips) has steadily increased from 6.5 % in 1995 to 9.0 % in 2013, at the cost of land transport modes. The decrease in the share of car transport is rather modest, from 73.3 % in 1995 to 72.3 % in 2013, after peaking at 74 % in 2002 and 2003. Rail retained a similar market share in 2013 compared to 1995 (6.5 %), after a slow but continuous recovery from its low of 5.9 % in 2003 and 2004. Buses and coaches kept losing market share at a very slow rate, from 9.4 % in 1995 to 8.1 % in 2013. 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 share of car transport compared with other modes.
There is no comprehensive EU-wide data on cycling and other forms of non-motorised passenger transport. Various efforts have been made to improve the rates of non-motorised transport in the EU, and estimates of the varying importance of cycling across EU Member States are available in the report "Quality of transport" (Special Eurobarometer 422a). On average, 8 % of respondents to the Eurobarometer survey mention cycling as the most important mode of travel on a typical day. This ranges from cycling rates of 1 % or less in Cyprus, Malta, and Portugal to 36 % in the Netherlands.
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 Plan2015 1.1.2 (note: EEA internal system)
Frequency of updates
- 18 Dec 2014 - Passenger transport demand
- 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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