Passenger transport demand

Indicator Assessment
Prod-ID: IND-35-en
Also known as: CSI 035 , TERM 012
expired Created 11 Dec 2008 Published 21 Apr 2009 Last modified 11 Sep 2015, 12:41 PM
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Passenger transport demand in EEA-32 is growing slower than GDP. Demand for air transport is growing faster than for any other mode of passenger transport with rail transport coming second (between 1996 and 2006).

Key messages

Passenger transport demand in EEA-32 is growing slower than GDP. Demand for air transport is growing faster than for any other mode of passenger transport with rail transport coming second (between 1996 and 2006).

Is passenger transport demand being decoupled from economic growth?

Trend in passenger transport demand and GDP

Note: Aviation is not included

Data source:


Downloads and more info

Over the past decade, passenger transport growth has been slower on average than the growth of the economy. However, passenger transport demand has grown steadily in the EEA countries as a whole, thereby making it increasingly difficult to stabilise or reduce the environmental impacts of transport.

The majority of countries saw growth in passenger transport demand every year, with the exception of Austria and Switzerland. Private car passenger growth was observed in all countries, which influenced the demand for passenger transport in the region. The main underlying factor in this trend 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 more frequent, faster, farther and more luxurious travelling.

Overall growth in passenger transport demand has been slower than for GDP. Passenger transport growth was marginally higher than GDP growth in 2002, but was then surpassed by growth in GDP from 2003 onwards.

Between 1996 and 2006 Turkey and Austria's bus usage has increased the most. Iceland, Estonia and Belgium have experienced the highest level of decline in bus usage across Europe.

The UK increased rail use by 45 % over a ten year period from 1996 to 2006. France experienced an increase in rail usage by 34 % over the same period. Bulgaria, Switzerland and Romania all experienced declines in rail usage.

Turkey and Greece experienced the largest increase in road use. The only country to have a decline in road use was Austria (less than one percent).

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)

csi | 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, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom

Contacts and ownership

EEA Contact Info

Cinzia Pastorello

EEA Management Plan

2009 2.10.2 (note: EEA internal system)


Frequency of updates

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