Promoting sustainable transport modes such as public transport can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental pressures such as air pollution and noise. The EU Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy calls for decisive action to shift towards more public passenger transport like buses and trains. However, the share of buses and trains in total passenger transport has changed very little since 2005, albeit with fluctuation and rebound in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Without decisive action, it is unlikely but uncertain that a modal shift towards public transport will occur in the near future.

Figure 1. Share of bus and trains in total inland passenger transport activity in the EU-27
Share of bus and trains in total inland passenger transport activity in the EU-27

Changes to the EU’s mobility system will be vital if the EU is to realise its green and digital transformation ambitions and become more resilient to future crises. In 2020, under the umbrella of the European Green Deal, the European Commission adopted, a Sustainable and Smart Mobility strategy aimed at promoting, inter alia, the use of more sustainable transport modes. One of the objectives of the strategy is to increase the number of passengers travelling by rail and commuting by public transport, instead of with a personal car. Achieving this objective could reduce greenhouse gas and air pollutant emissions and other environmental pressures .

In the period 2005-2019, the share in the EU of total passenger transport demand met by buses and trains remained relatively constant, at around 18%. It fell sharply to 13% in 2020 as a result of COVID-19 pandemic-driven travel restrictions and changed mobility habits, then recovered slightly in 2021 . However, at 14%, the 2021 share may reflect continued mobility restrictions associated with the pandemic. At the same time, total inland passenger transport activity increased by 11% between 2005 and 2019, indicating an increase in the use of both private cars and public transportation in absolute terms. These trends suggest that it may be unlikely that the share of passenger transport demand met by buses and trains will increase significantly in the coming years compared to the 2005-2019 period, beyond the continued pandemic recovery.

Significant efforts to encourage the use of public transport would be needed to achieve this objective and would require changes in the way Europeans commute and travel and in the way European cities are planned. On the supply side, the European Commission launched important initiatives, such as the TEN-T revision, rail capacity regulation, which are aimed to increase the availability of public transport modes. National policies that reduce public transport ticket prices could further contribute to a higher uptake of public transport. Digitalisation can also provide practical tools to internalise the external costs of transport and raise awareness of the pressures exerted by our mobility needs and preferences . For example, the European Commission is working on frameworks supporting modal shifts and multimodal trips, as also discussed in the last TERM report from EEA . In this context, investments and funding are also needed to finance safe, clean and modern infrastructure to ensure access to public transport for all.

Figure 2. Percentage point variation in the share of bus and trains (collective modes) in total inland passenger transport activity by country
Percentage point variation in the share of bus and trains (collective modes) in total inland passenger transport activity by country

There are large country differences in the use of shared modes in passenger transport activity, both in terms of share values and time evolution. In all EU countries except for Sweden (+0.5%), the share of collective modes in total inland passenger transport decreased between 2005 and 2021, with the decline exceeding 3% in 19 countries and exceeding 5% in 14 countries. For all other European Environment Agency member and for cooperating countries for which data are available, the share is decreasing, with figures varying from -1.1% to -21.7%. Note that for Serbia and Montenegro passenger transport data are available only from year 2010.

Importantly, to fully realise a transition to a more sustainable mobility system, a combination of approaches will be needed including, but not limited to, a more efficient and attractive public transport system. For example, active modes such as walking and biking are important in reducing the impacts of mobility in cities. However, as data are not currently available for these modes, they are not presented as part of this indicator for the time being.