The share of more sustainable transport modes used for both passengers and freight in Europe remained relatively stable from 2010 through 2019. Collective transport modes for passengers, such as buses, trains, trams and metro were used to meet about 18% of transport demand in the EU-27 during this period. Furthermore, the use of rail and inland waterways to transport freight fell from 25% to 24%. Mobility restrictions during the COVID-pandemic depressed the shares for both passenger and freight transport in 2020 and 2021 only saw a partial recovery. Without decisive actions at both EU and national levels, it is unlikely that a modal shift towards more collective public transport and less carbon intensive freight transport modes will occur in the near future.

Figure 1. Contribution of collective and non-road modes to inland passenger and freight transport, respectively, in the EU-27
Contribution of collective and non-road modes to inland passenger and freight transport, respectively, in the EU-27

Changes to the EU’s mobility system will be required if the EU is to realise its green and digital transformation ambitions and increase resilience to future crises. In 2020, the European Commission adopted a sustainable and smart mobility strategy along with an accompanying action plan of 82 initiatives aimed at promoting, for example, the use of more sustainable transport modes. Objectives include increasing the number of passengers travelling by rail and commuting by public transport and active modes, and transporting more goods by rail, inland waterways and short sea shipping, instead of by road. These transport modes for both passenger and freight, especially when the occupancy level/payload is high, are a sensible choice in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and, for some, air pollutants emissions. Increasing and optimising their use is therefore relevant in an environmental perspective .

In the period 2010-2019, the share of total passenger transport demand met by collective passenger transport modes in the EU-27 remained relatively constant, at 18%. This sharply decreased to 14% in 2020 and remained at similar levels in 2021 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, total inland passenger transport activity increased by 8% between 2010 and 2019, indicating an increase in the use of both private cars and public transport ridership in absolute terms.

Similar trends are apparent for freight transport: the share of total freight transport accounted for by non-road modes, such as inland waterways and trains, decreased from 25% to 24% between 2010 and 2019, while total goods transport activity rose by 11%. The pandemic in 2020-2021 had a more limited effect on freight transport than on passenger transport.

These trends suggest that neither the share of passenger transport demand met by buses and trains nor the share of freight transport accounted for by trains and inland waterways is likely to grow substantially based on current policies alone.

Figure 2. Changes in the share of collective modes in inland passenger transport and of non-road modes in inland freight transport across European countries between 2010 and 2021
Changes in the share of collective modes in inland passenger transport and of non-road modes in inland freight transport across European countries between 2010 and 2021

There are large differences between countries in the use and share of sustainable modes and the change in that share over time. Between 2010 and 2021, the use and share of total inland passenger transport accounted for by collective modes in the 27 EU Member States decreased significantly (by at least three percentage points) in 20 countries and remained relatively unchanged (+/- 3%) in the remaining seven countries. The limited accuracy of passenger data could affect data comparability between countries and the reported trends.

For freight transport, in the same period, the shares of more sustainable transport modes decreased in 15 countries, remained unchanged in 10 countries and increased in one country.