Indicator Assessment

Passenger transport demand

Indicator Assessment
Prod-ID: IND-35-en
  Also known as: CSI 035 , TERM 012
Published 18 Oct 2017 Last modified 11 May 2021
10 min read
This page was archived on 17 Jan 2019 with reason: Other (Replaced by: Passenger and freight transport demand (CSI056/TERM039))
  • Passenger transport demand in the EU-28 increased by 2.6 % between 2014 and 2015, the largest annual growth rate since 1999. Car passenger travel remains the dominant transport mode accounting for well over 70 % of total transport. Air transport demand grew by 6 % in 2015 and reached a modal share of almost 10 %. Rail passenger travel is stable, accounting for 6.7 % of transport demand in 2015.
  • Land-based passenger transport demand also grew in the other EEA member countries. Growth in 2015 compared with the previous year was 7.2 % in Iceland, 5.4 % in Turkey, 2.3 % in Norway and 1.7 % in Switzerland.
This indicator is discontinued. No more assessments will be produced.

Passenger transport volume and modal split

Data sources:
Data sources:

Passenger transport demand in the EU-28, measured in passenger-kilometres (pkm), experienced a sustained period of robust growth until 2008 for all modes. Since its peak in 2008 (8.4 % higher than in 2000), it had remained broadly stable, with only a slight overall reduction being seen as a result of the economic recession from 2009 to 2012. Since 2012, passenger transport demand grew by 5.3 %. In 2015, total passenger demand was 12 % higher than in 2000, exceeding the 2008 peak by 3.3 %.  

Since 2000, passenger transport volumes (in pkm) across the different modes have changed as follows:

  • Passenger cars: +10 %;
  • Powered two-wheelers: +20 %;
  • Buses and coaches: –1 %;
  • Railways: +19 %;
  • Trams and metro: +28 %;
  • Aviation: +41 %;
  • Sea: –25 %.

In absolute terms, passenger cars account for most of the overall increase in passenger transport volumes since 2000, followed by aviation and railways. Since 2000, the EU population has grown by slightly more than 1 %, significantly less than the 12 % growth in total passenger transport. In great majority of Member States, car mobility was greater in 2015 than in any preceding year.

In most of the newer Member States, per capita car travel keeps growing. The same is true in some non-EU countries such as Turkey, which has experienced a high growth of around 61 % between 2009 and 2015. 

Since 2008, rail passenger traffic volumes have dropped significantly in many countries owing to the economic crisis, historic decline or both. The decrease has been particularly high in many eastern European Member States. In contrast, between 2009 and 2015, rail demand has grown in a few EU-15 countries, in some cases by 10 % or more. This includes Austria, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, Spain, Sweden 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 in certain countries, such as the Netherlands and Spain, high-speed rail is increasing as a proportion of total rail passenger traffic, while in others it peaked in 2012 (Italy) or earlier (Germany, Finland and the United Kingdom).

Air transport, including flights within the EU-28, has varied substantially since 2000. Although it grew rapidly between 2002 and 2007, air transport traffic was particularly affected by the economic crisis; traffic fell by 7 % in 2009. Whereas traditional airlines were particularly badly affected by the recession, low-cost airlines have grown every year since 2008. Their growth has helped to drive overall growth in the aviation sector since 2009, with air pkm greater than in all previous years.

Trends in inland passenger transport demand and gross domestic product (GDP) have decreased in intensity (pkm/EUR) since the mid 1990s, with the exception of 2009 for which the impacts of the economic recession are clear. In 2009, the sharp reduction in GDP in the EEA-33 was however still associated with a slight increase in passenger transport volumes compared with previous years, suggesting that passenger transport demand reacted less (and more slowly) to changes in GDP than did freight (see indicator CSI 036 Freight transport demand) .

Passenger transport modal split

Data sources:
Data sources:

Restrictions on data availability mean that modal split analysis, including that of air transport, is limited to the EU-28. Modal share trends have remained largely stable in the EU-28 in recent decades. Since 1995, air transport (including flights within the EU) has steadily increased from 6.5 % of total transport in 1995 to 9.8 % in 2015, while land transport modes have decreased. As a proportion of total transport, car transport has remained almost constant, decreasing from 73.2 % in 1995 to 71.5 % in 2015, after peaking at 75 % in 1997-1999, 2002 and 2004. Rail transport retained a similar market share as in 2014, compared with 1995 (6.6 %), after a slow but continuous recovery from its low of 6 % in 2003. The market share for bus and coach transport has continued to decrease at a very slow rate, from 9.7 % in 1996 to 8.2 % in 2015. 

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.

Supporting information

Indicator definition

'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, 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

Context description

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



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

Methodology references

No methodology references available.



Methodology uncertainty

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 analyses 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.

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

Other info

DPSIR: Driving force
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
Indicator codes
  • CSI 035
  • TERM 012
Frequency of updates
This indicator is discontinued. No more assessments will be produced.
EEA Contact Info


Geographic coverage

Temporal coverage