Passenger transport statistics

From Statistics Explained

Data from October 2013 and July 2014. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database. Planned article update: October 2014.
Table 1: Modal split of inland passenger transport, 2002 and 2012 (1)
(% of total inland passenger-km) - Source: Eurostat (tran_hv_psmod)
Table 2: Index of inland passenger transport relative to GDP, 2001–11
(index 2000 = 100) - Source: Eurostat (tsdtr240)
Table 3: Rail passenger transport, 2010–12 - Source: Eurostat (rail_pa_typepkm) and (tps00001)
Figure 1: Rail passenger transport, 2012 (1)
(passenger-km per inhabitant) - Source: Eurostat (rail_pa_typepkm) and (tps00001)
Figure 2: Top 15 airports, passengers carried
(embarked and disembarked), EU-28, 2012
(million passengers) - Source: Eurostat (avia_paoa)
Table 4: Air and sea passenger transport, 2011 and 2012 (1) - Source: Eurostat (ttr00012), (tps00001) and (mar_pa_aa)

This article provides details relating to recent trends for passenger transport statistics within the European Union (EU). It presents information on a range of passenger transport modes, such as road, rail, air and maritime transport. Among these, the principal mode of passenger transport is that of the passenger car, fuelled by a desire to have greater mobility and flexibility. The high reliance on the use of the car as a means of passenger transport across the EU has contributed to an increased level of congestion and pollution in many urban areas and on many major transport arteries.

Main statistical findings

Passenger cars accounted for 84.1 % of inland passenger transport in the EU-28 in 2012, with motor coaches, buses and trolley buses (9.6 %) and trains (6.8 %) both accounting for less than a tenth of all traffic (as measured by the number of inland passenger-kilometres (pkm) travelled by each mode) — see Table 1.

Between 2002 and 2012 there was a marked increase in the relative importance of the use of passenger cars among many of the Member States that joined the EU since 2004, in particular in Bulgaria, Estonia, Slovakia and Lithuania; there was also a substantial increase in the use of passenger cars in Turkey. By contrast, the relative importance of cars as a mode of inland passenger transport fell in eight of the EU-15 Member States. The most sizeable reductions in the relative importance of the car between 2002 and 2012 were recorded in Italy (the share of cars in total inland passenger transport falling 4.4 percentage points), Luxembourg (-2.7 points) and the United Kingdom (-2.4 points), while the relative importance of the car also fell in three more of the largest EU Member States — Germany, Spain and France. The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (-3.5 points) and Switzerland (-2.4 points) also recorded a contraction in the relative importance of passenger cars for inland passenger transport.

In the vast majority of EU Member States, gross domestic product (GDP) grew faster than the level of inland passenger transport between 2001 and 2011 — see Table 2. Note that in some years the level of transport actually declines, as can GDP: the index shown in Table 2 presents the relative development of these two measures, regardless of whether they are increasing or decreasing. Between 2001 and 2011, GDP grew 41.2 % faster than the rate of growth for inland passenger transport in Slovakia, while in Latvia, the Czech Republic and Hungary GDP growth was more than 25.0 % faster than that of passenger transport. The main exception to this general pattern was Greece where the rate of growth of inland passenger transport was 20.6 % faster than the rate of growth for GDP, while in Lithuania, Cyprus and Poland the difference was close to or just over 10.0 %. Among the non-member countries shown in Table 1, Norway recorded faster growth in inland passenger transport than GDP over the period under consideration, as did the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (between 2001 and 2008).

It should be underlined that the analysis above refers only to inland transport by car, motor coach, bus and trolley bus, or train, and that a significant proportion of international passenger travel is accounted for by maritime and air transport passenger services, while in some countries national (domestic) maritime and air transport passenger services may also be noteworthy.

Road passengers

Reliance on cars for passenger transport was particularly high in Lithuania, Portugal and the Netherlands, where cars accounted for at least 88 % of all inland passenger-kilometres in 2012; a relatively high usage of passenger cars was also recorded for Norway and Iceland (also both above 88 %). Passenger cars accounted for less than 75 % of all inland passenger-kilometres in the Czech Republic and Hungary (note there is a break in series), as well as in Turkey. Somewhat less than one quarter (22.2 %) of the inland passenger-kilometres travelled in Hungary were by motor coaches, buses and trolley buses, a share that was exceeded in Turkey (36.6 %).

Among the EU Member States, the relative importance of the use of motor coaches, buses and trolley buses was lowest in the Netherlands where this mode of transport accounted for 3.0 % of the modal split.

Rail passengers

The modal share of trains in total inland passenger transport was highest in 2012 among the EU Member States in Austria (11.5 %), followed by Hungary (10.1 %), France (9.5 %), Sweden (9.1 %) and Germany (9.0 %); although the share of trains was substantially higher in Switzerland (17.2 %). In total there were 372.6 billion passenger-kilometres travelled on national railway networks within the EU-27 (excluding the Netherlands, including 2010 data for Germany and Greece) in 2011; this figure was considerably higher than the 23.3 billion passenger-kilometres travelled on international journeys.

More than 70.0 % of all rail travel (national and international combined) in the EU-28 was accounted for by the four largest EU Member States (note that neither Cyprus nor Malta has a railway network), with France and Germany together accounting for approximately 43 % of national rail travel within the EU-28 and around 63 % of international rail travel. In 2012, the number of international passenger-kilometres travelled by passengers in France was more than twice the level for Germany (in 2010)which in turn recorded a figure that was more than twice as high as that for the United Kingdom.

In order to compare the relative importance of rail transport between countries, the data can be normalised by expressing the level of passenger traffic in relation to population. France, Sweden, Denmark and Austria registered the longest distances travelled on national railways in 2012, each of these countries averaging more than 1 000 passenger-kilometres per inhabitant, although they were well below the 2 151 passenger-kilometres per inhabitant in Switzerland.

In terms of international rail travel, the longest distances per inhabitant covered by rail were recorded for Luxembourg (in 2011), Austria, France and Belgium as these were the only EU Member States to report averages of more than 100 passenger-kilometres per inhabitant in 2012, a level that was also surpassed in Switzerland. These figures may reflect, among others, the proximity of international borders, the importance of international commuters within the workforce, access to high-speed rail links, and whether or not international transport corridors run through a particular country.

Air passengers

London Heathrow was the busiest airport in the EU-27 in terms of passenger numbers in 2012 (70.0 million), followed — at some distance — by Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport (61.4 million), Frankfurt airport (57.3 million), Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport (51.0 million) and then Madrid Barajas (45.1 million) — see Figure 2.

With the exception of Barajas, the overwhelming majority (at least 88 %) of passengers through the other four largest airports in the EU were on international flights. By contrast, national (domestic) flights accounted for 31.9 % of the passengers carried through Barajas in 2012. There were also relatively high proportions of passengers on national flights to and from Paris Orly (51.7 %), Barcelona airport (32.6 %) and Roma Fiumicino (32.1 %).

Some 832 million passengers were carried by air in 2012 in the EU-28 — see Table 4. This represented a small increase (0.7 %) compared with 2011, following on from growth of 5.7 % in 2011 and 3.5 % in 2010; the number of air passengers carried in the EU-28 in 2012 was 3.7 % above the pre-financial and economic crisis peak reached in 2008.

The United Kingdom reported the highest number of air passengers in 2012, with just over 203 million or 3.2 passengers per inhabitant (which was double the EU-28 average). Relative to population size, the importance of air travel was particularly high among the EU Member States for the popular holiday islands of Malta and Cyprus (8.7 and 8.5 passengers carried per inhabitant) in 2012, as well as for Iceland (8.6) and Norway (6.9). The lowest ratios were recorded for Slovakia, Romania, Poland, Slovenia, Hungary and Bulgaria, each reporting less than 1.0 air passengers carried per inhabitant in 2012.

Maritime passengers

Table 4 also shows that ports in the EU-28 handled more than 412 million maritime passengers in 2011; this marked the third successive annual decline in passenger numbers, down 2.9 % compared with 2010, after falls of 1.2 % in 2010 and 2.1 % in 2009. Italian and Greek ports each handled roughly twice as many passengers in 2011 than in any other EU Member State (accounting for 19.9 % and 19.2 % of the EU-28 total respectively). The next busiest ports in terms of passenger numbers were in Denmark (42 million passengers), followed by ports in Sweden, Germany, the United Kingdom, Croatia and France which each handled between 25 million and 30 million passengers in 2011. The enlargement from EU-27 to EU-28 with the accession of Croatia increased the EU’s total number of maritime passengers for 2011 by 7.0 %.

Relative to national population, the importance of maritime passenger transport was particularly high in Malta (19.9 passengers per inhabitant), followed by Estonia (8.9), Denmark (7.5), Greece (7.1) and Croatia (6.1); other than Finland, Sweden and Italy, the number of maritime passengers per inhabitant in 2011 averaged less than 1.0 in each of the remaining EU Member States.

Data sources and availability

The majority of inland passenger transport statistics are based on vehicle movements in each of the reporting countries, regardless of the nationality of the vehicle or vessel involved (the ‘territoriality principle’). For this reason, the measure of passenger-kilometres (pkm, which represents one passenger travelling a distance of one kilometre) is generally considered as a more reliable measure, as a count of passengers entails a higher risk of double-counting, particularly for international transport. The methodology used across the EU Member States is not harmonised for road passenger transport. As such, the figures, especially those for the smallest reporting countries, may be somewhat unreliable.

The modal split of inland passenger transport identifies transportation by passenger car, motor coach, bus and trolley bus, and train; it generally concerns movements on the national territory, regardless of the nationality of the vehicle. The modal split of passenger transport is defined as the percentage share of each mode and is expressed in passenger-kilometres. For the purpose of this article, the aggregate for inland passenger transport excludes domestic air and water transport services (inland waterways and maritime).

The level of inland passenger transport (measured in passenger-kilometres) may also be expressed in relation to GDP; within this article the indicator is presented based on GDP in constant prices for the reference year 2000, with the series converted into an index with a base of 2000 = 100. This indicator provides information on the relationship between passenger demand and the size of the economy and allows the intensity of passenger transport demand to be monitored relative to economic developments.

Rail passengers

A rail passenger is any person, excluding members of the train crew, who makes a journey by rail. Rail passenger data are not available for Malta and Cyprus (or Iceland) as they do not have railways. Annual passenger statistics for national and international breakdowns generally only cover larger rail transport enterprises, although some countries use detailed reporting for all railway operators.

Air passengers

Air transport statistics concern national and international transport, as measured by the number of passengers carried; information is collected for arrivals and departures. Air passengers carried relate to all passengers on a particular flight (with one flight number) counted once only and not repeatedly on each individual stage of that flight. Air passengers include all revenue and non-revenue passengers whose journeys begin or terminate at the reporting airport and transfer passengers joining or leaving a flight at the reporting airport; excluded are direct transit passengers. Air transport statistics are collected with a monthly, quarterly and annual frequency, although only the latter are presented in this article. Air transport passenger statistics also include the number of commercial passenger flights, as well as information relating to individual routes and the number of seats available. Annual data are available for most of the EU Member States from 2003 onwards.

Maritime passengers

Maritime transport data are generally available from 2001 onwards, although some EU Member States have provided data since 1997. Maritime transport statistics are not transmitted by the Czech Republic, Luxembourg, Hungary, Austria or Slovakia, as none of these has any maritime traffic.

A sea passenger is defined as any person that makes a sea journey on a merchant ship; service staff are not regarded as passengers, neither are non-fare paying crew members travelling but not assigned, while infants in arms are also excluded. Double-counting may arise when both the port of embarkation and the port of disembarkation report data; this is quite common for the maritime transport of passengers, which is generally a relatively short distance activity.


EU transport policy seeks to ensure that passengers benefit from the same basic standards of treatment wherever they travel within the EU. With this in mind the EU legislates to protect passenger rights across the different modes of transport:

  • Regulation 261/2004 establishing ‘common rules on compensation and assistance to passengers in the event of denied boarding and of cancellation or long delays of flights’; in March 2013 the European Commission proposed a revision of this Regulation (COM(2013) 130 final) aiming to clarify grey areas, introduce new rights (for example concerning rescheduling), strengthen oversight of air carriers, and balance financial burdens;
  • Regulation 1371/2007 on ‘rail passengers’ rights and obligations’;
  • Regulation 181/2011 establishing ‘the rights of passengers in bus and coach transport’;
  • Regulation 1177/2010 establishing ‘the rights of passengers when travelling by sea and inland waterway’.

Passengers already have a range of rights covering areas as diverse as: information about their journey; reservations and ticket prices; damages to their baggage; delays and cancellations; or difficulties encountered with package holidays. Specific provisions have also been developed in order to ensure that passengers with reduced mobility are provided with necessary facilities and not refused carriage unfairly. In December 2011, the European Commission adopted ‘A European vision for passengers: communication on passenger rights in all transport modes’ (COM(2011) 898 final). This acknowledged the work undertaken to introduce passenger protection measures to all modes of transport but notes that a full set of rights is not completely implemented. The Communication aims to consolidate the existing work, and move towards a more coherent, effective and harmonised application of rights alongside better understanding among passengers.

In March 2011, the European Commission adopted a White paper, the ‘Roadmap to a single European transport area — towards a competitive and resource efficient transport system’ (COM(2011) 144 final). This comprehensive strategy contains a roadmap of 40 specific initiatives for the next decade to build a competitive transport system that aims to increase mobility, remove major barriers in key areas and fuel growth and employment.

In the transport introduced article more information is available on the White paper, as well as the European Commission’s proposals for a new EU transport infrastructure policy.

See also

Further Eurostat information


Main tables

Transport, volume and modal split (t_tran_hv)
Volume of passenger transport relative to GDP (tsdtr240)
Modal split of passenger transport (tsdtr210)
Railway transport (t_rail)
Rail transport of passengers (ttr00015)
Air transport (t_avia)
Air transport of passengers (ttr00012)


Regional transport statistics (tran_r)
Maritime transport of passengers by NUTS 2 regions (tran_r_mapa_nm)
Air transport of passengers by NUTS 2 regions (tran_r_avpa_nm)
Maritime transport of passengers by NUTS 2 regions (questionnaire) (tran_r_mapa_om)
Air transport of passengers by NUTS 2 regions (questionnaire) (tran_r_avpa_om)
Railway transport - national and international railway passengers transport by loading/unloading NUTS 2 region (tran_r_rapa)
Transport, volume and modal split (tran_hv)
Volume of passenger transport relative to GDP (tran_hv_pstra)
Modal split of passenger transport (tran_hv_psmod)
Railway transport (rail)
Railway transport measurement - passengers (rail_pa)
Road transport (road)
Road transport measurement - passengers (road_pa)
Maritime transport (mar)
Maritime transport - passengers (mar_pa)
Air transport (avia)
Air transport measurement - passengers (avia_pa)

Dedicated section

Methodology / Metadata

Methodological notes

ESMS metadata files

Source data for tables and figures (MS Excel)

Other information

External links