Passenger transport demand
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
Trends in the annual intensity of passenger transport demand
Note: Total passenger transport demand data including air are not available for all countries and years
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
'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 Plan2009 2.10.2 (note: EEA internal system)
Frequency of updates
- 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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