Indicator Assessment

Occupancy rates of passenger vehicles

Indicator Assessment
Prod-ID: IND-117-en
  Also known as: TERM 029
Published 05 Jul 2010 Last modified 11 May 2021
7 min read
This page was archived on 06 Aug 2015 with reason: No more updates will be done

Passenger car occupancy is falling in countries where data is available, but the rate of decline has slowed in recent years. Occupancy rates for air transport have been rising steadily. Rail and bus occupancy rate data is scarce and trends are inconclusive.

This indicator is discontinued. No more assessments will be produced.

TERM29 Occupancy rates in passenger transport

Note: N/A

Data source:

Data provenance info is missing.

Passenger cars

The rate of car occupancy continues to decline, but at a slower rate than during the 1980s and 1990s. The most recent data for the average number of passengers per car (including the driver) for the countries sampled is approximately 1.45 passengers per vehicle (in the UK - 1.58; Germany - 1.42 and Netherlands - 1.38 passengers accordingly) (see Figure 1). Possible reasons for this include the greater individualisation of society, reflected by the decline in household sizes, and the increase in car ownership. The data is limited to a few countries, but the trend is likely to be representative of the whole EU.

Buses and coaches

Bus and coach data is difficult to obtain as it is rarely made public due to the increasingly privatised nature of national public bus services. The result of privatisation has been the closure of less profitable bus routes (those with low occupancy rates) and a shift to smaller sized buses for special routes. The resulting data therefore indicates higher occupancy rates and higher usage efficiency. The reduction of bus services has contributed to an increase in demand for cars, which further reduces car occupancy rates as users tend to use cars individually. Whereas some bus passengers would have spent only part of their trip on the unprofitable route before transferring to another, shifting these users to other modes can mean losing some passengers on the otherwise high-occupancy (profitable) routes. This can offset occupancy improvements.


The occupancy rate of rail has seen an overall decline in those countries surveyed. The occupancy rate differs for different times of day, as well as between route types. Variation in occupancy rates can be significant; urban/suburban rates in Turkey showed occupancy of around 70 % in the late 1990s, but this fell to 50 % in 2007. This differs from Slovakia which has seen occupancy rates remain at around 23 % over the 10 years sampled. The overall assessment of EU train occupancy shows a gradual decline and a move away from train use throughout the continent. Occupancy rates for rail could be increased through marketing strategies or technical improvements to the system. Train sizes may also be varied for differing demand levels (UIC, 2003).

As a comparison, the US rail passenger occupancy rate fluctuates between 40 and 57 % and in average is below 50 % (US DoT, 2008)


The seat occupancy of European airlines is high and has increased slightly over the past decade. Growing competition among airlines has put pressure on profit margins and airline efficiency. On average, aircraft seats are now around 70 % occupied. There is significant variation from airline to airline, and since only five airlines control more than half of the market, a change in practise in one airline can lead to large changes in overall load factor. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) released data showing that the global passenger occupancy factor was 73.3 % in February 2008. This is 0.6 percentage points less than the passenger load factor in February 2007. Moreover it is the most significant drop in the passenger occupancy factor for 4 years. The same source points out that the European air passenger occupancy factor in February 2008 was recorded at 71.7 % (, 2008).

Supporting information

Indicator definition

The indicator consists of the occupancy rate for cars, occupancy rate for buses, occupancy rate for trains and occupancy rate for aircraft expressed as a percentage (see below definitions for each transport mode).

The occupancy rate is calculated as a ratio between transport performance (passenger-kilometres) and the supplied vehicle kilometres. A vehicle-kilometre is a unit of measurement representing movement of a vehicle over one kilometre.


Percentage (%) of available seats occupied, passenger-kilometres and vehicle-km.


Policy context and targets

Context description

The total number of vehicle-kilometres can be significantly reduced if the efficiency of passenger transport (in terms of vehicle occupancy rates) increases. Consequently, fewer vehicles would be needed to transport the same number of persons, which would help to combat congestion and avert environmental damage. A potential downside is reduced passenger comfort due to fuller vehicles.

Measures to increase occupancy rates for cars include schemes for favouring vehicles with more than one occupant (through-traffic privileges and financial incentives). There are no explicit targets for this indicator at EU level, and neither are there any policy targets for car sharing programs. There are, however, a number of different initiatives in place to increase levels of car occupancy. Private companies are, for example, increasingly promoting car sharing. Some member states have also developed policies for improving transport occupancy rates.


No targets have been specified.

Related policy documents



Methodology for indicator calculation

Rail, air and bus occupancy rates (%) are calculated using a passenger-kilometre / vehicle-kilometre ratio. Data was collected from Eurostat, the Association of European Airlines (AEA), and through a Europe-wide e-mail questionnaire. Information was made available for a selection of European states. The occupancy rate for cars is calculated as the average number of persons occupying a car, including the driver. Air, train and bus figures are based on the percentage of seats occupied. Air transport refers to principal European airline carriers.  The data may be obtained from the airports. The Council Regulation on statistics on air transport requests information on passengers and number of flights (EC, 2003).

Methodology for gap filling

Train data is available for 13 EU states, obtained through questionnaire results.  Bus and coach data was obtained from questionnaires sent by 10 EU states. Car occupancy rates were received from 11 EU states. Due to limited data being available, the results have been presented by Member State and therefore no gap filling has been required in order to present the data.

Methodology references

No methodology references available.



Methodology uncertainty

The data only reflects information from those Member States that responded to the questionnaire. Therefore, the data trends may not reflect the position in Europe as a whole.

Data sets uncertainty

The value of occupancy was calculated differently across countries. For example, in some cases the value of occupancy for a particular year was calculated based on trend information. This can create some discrepancies when collating, analysing and reporting the data.

Questionnaire responses in 2008 were limited and scarce. However, TERM 2009 produced a higher number of responses than 2008. Therefore, it is likely that there will be considerable differences between the data collected in 2008 and data collected in 2009.

Rationale uncertainty

No uncertainty has been specified.

Data sources

Other info

DPSIR: Driving force
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
Indicator codes
  • TERM 029
Frequency of updates
This indicator is discontinued. No more assessments will be produced.
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Filed under: transport
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