Passenger transport demand

Indicator Assessment
Prod-ID: IND-35-en
Also known as: CSI 035 , TERM 012
expired Created 07 Aug 2009 Published 07 Sep 2010 Last modified 11 Sep 2015, 12:41 PM
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Passenger transport demand in the EEA-32 continues to grow, but at a slower pace than GDP indicating a decoupling between these two metrics. The latest data shows that since 2002 air passenger transport has been growing at a much faster rate than any other mode of passenger transport.

Key messages

Passenger transport demand in the EEA-32 continues to grow, but at a slower pace than GDP indicating a decoupling between these two metrics. The latest data shows that since 2002 air passenger transport has been growing at a much faster rate than any other mode of passenger transport.

Is passenger transport demand being decoupled from economic growth?

Passenger transport modal split

Note: Passenger transport modal split, excluding Cyprus and Malta

Data source:

Eurostat - Statistical Office of the European Communities. Transport demand by mode.


Downloads and more info

Figure 1 shows that over the past decade, passenger transport growth has been slower on average than the growth in the economy. However, passenger transport is still continuing to grow, thereby making it increasingly difficult to stabilise or reduce the environmental impacts of transport.
A growth in car passenger kilometres was observed in the majority of EEA-32 countries between 2006 and 2007. However Hungary, Iceland, Lithuania, Slovakia and Switzerland showed a decrease during this period.  The biggest increase in car passenger transport demand during the period 1997 and 2007 was observed in Lithuania, where demand increased by more than a factor of 3.

Between 1997 and 2007, bus demand increased the most in Latvia and Luxembourg (54 %), while Slovakia, Slovenia, the Netherlands and Poland experienced the largest decline in bus demand across Europe (22 %, 19 %, 19 % and 17 % from 1997 levels respectively).

The overall increase in rail demand in EEA-32 was 15 %. However there were marked contrasts between regions, with the EU-15 overall displaying an increase in rail passenger demand and the EU-12 showing a fall. For example, Sweden, Ireland and the UK experienced the highest increase in rail passenger kilometres over the decade from 1997 to 2007 (46 %, 45 % and 43 % respectively), whereas Bulgaria, Romania and Lithuania experienced the biggest fall in rail transport demand between 1997 and 2007.

Car transport accounted for a large proportion of inland passenger transport among the member states for which data is available (Figure 2). The reliance on the car was particularly strong in Lithuania, Iceland and Norway, where it accounted for more than 88% of passenger kilometres in 2007.

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)

passengers | soer2010 | thematic assessments | consumption | transport indicators | 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, Czech Republic, 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, 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
European Environment Agency (EEA)
Kongens Nytorv 6
1050 Copenhagen K
Phone: +45 3336 7100