Use of collective transport modes for passenger transport and non-road transport modes for freight transport in Europe

From 2005 to 2019, collective transport modes, such as buses and trains, were used to meet about 17.5% of passenger transport demand in the EU-27. This share fell to 13% in 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The share of freight transport accounted for by rail and inland waterways decreased from 26% to 24% between 2005 and 2019 and to 23% in 2020. The total demand for inland passenger transport in the EU-27 increased by 11% between 2005 and 2019, while freight transport demand increased by 9%. The EU is therefore not on track to shift transport toward more efficient modes, which is one of the objectives of the sustainable and smart mobility strategy.

Published: ‒ 25min read

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, 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, instead of with a personal car, and transporting more goods by rail, inland waterways and short sea shipping, instead of by road. Achieving these objectives could reduce greenhouse gas and air pollutant emissions and other environmental pressures. Such transport modes for both passenger and freight, especially when the occupancy level is high, are a sensible choice in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and, for some, also air pollutants emissions. Increasing and optimizing their use is therefore relevant in an environmental perspective [1].

In the period 2005-2019, the share of total passenger transport demand met by collective passenger transport modes, such as buses and trains, in the EU-27 remained constant, at 17%. This sharply decreased to 13% in 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, total inland passenger transport activity increased by 11% between 2005 and 2019, indicating an increase in the use of private cars in absolute terms. This decreased by 12% in 2020 (with respect to 2005). Similar is true for freight transport: the share of total freight transport accounted for by non-road modes, such as inland waterways and trains, decreased from 26% to 24% between 2005 and 2019 (23% if 2020 is considered), while total goods transport activity rose by 9% (6% if 2020 is considered). However, the pandemic in 2020 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 unlikely to increase during the 8th EAP period of 2021-2030. Significant efforts to discourage the use of private cars and lorries for transport and encourage the use of public transport by passengers and non-road transport modes by businesses would be needed to achieve these objectives. It remains to be seen to what extent and for how long the COVID-19 pandemic will impact the use of private cars as well as the goods delivery sector.

There are large differences between countries in terms of both the shares of total transport activities accounted for by sustainable modes and the changes in these shares over time. Between 2005 and 2020, the shares of total inland passenger transport accounted for by collective modes in the 27 EU Member States decreased significantly (by at least 3 percentage points) in 20 countries and remained relatively unchanged in the remaining seven countries. For freight transport, the shares decreased in 10 countries, remained unchanged in 11 countries and increased in four countries. For Serbia and Montenegro, passenger transport data are available from only 2010. If evaluated with respect to this year, Serbia shows a significant increase, while Montenegro’s share remains constant. The limited accuracy of passenger data could affect data comparability between countries and the reported trends.

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