Passenger transport statistics

Data from April 2017. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database. Planned article update: December 2017.

This article provides details relating to the most recent situation and recent developments 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.

Figure 1: Modal split of inland passenger transport, 2014
(% of total inland passenger-km)
Source: Eurostat (tran_hv_psmod)
Figure 2: Change in the index of inland passenger transport relative to GDP, 2004–2014
Source: Eurostat (tran_hv_pstra)
Table 1: Rail passenger transport, 2013–2015
Source: Eurostat (rail_pa_typepkm) and (demo_gind)
Figure 3: Rail passenger transport, 2015
(passenger-km per inhabitant)
Source: Eurostat (rail_pa_typepkm) and (demo_gind)
Figure 4: Top 15 airports, passengers carried (embarked and disembarked), EU-28, 2015
(million passengers)
Source: Eurostat (avia_paoa)
Figure 5: Air passenger transport, 2005 and 2015
(passengers per inhabitant)
Source: Eurostat (avia_paoc) and (demo_gind)
Figure 6: Sea passenger transport, 2005 and 2015
(passengers per inhabitant)
Source: Eurostat (mar_pa_aa)

Main statistical findings

Modal split

Passenger cars accounted for 83.4 % of inland passenger transport in the EU-28 in 2014, with motor coaches, buses and trolley buses (9.1 %) and trains (7.6 %) 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 Figure 1.

Between 2004 and 2014 the relative importance of the use of passenger cars was quite stable, with its share always within the range of 83.0 % to 83.7 %. Over this period, the relative importance of passenger transport by train increased fairly steadily (although there were small falls between 2008 and 2009 and between 2012 and 2013), from 6.7 % at the beginning of the period under consideration to 7.6 % by the end of it. Combined with this development was a fall in the importance of passenger transport by motor coaches, buses and trolley buses, down from 9.9 % in 2004 to 9.1 % by 2014, with most of this fall occurring between 2008 and 2009.

Relative growth of passenger transport and the economy

Overall, between 2004 and 2014, inland passenger transport grew 5.0 % slower than constant price gross domestic product (GDP) in the EU-28. It should be underlined that the indicator showing the relation of inland passenger transport to constant price GDP 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. In some countries national (domestic) maritime and air transport passenger services may also be noteworthy.

In a small majority of EU Member States, the rate of change of constant price GDP was higher than the rate of change of inland passenger transport between 2004 and 2014, resulting in a fall in the ratio between passenger transport and constant price GDP — see Figure 2. By contrast, the reverse situation was observed in 11 Member States, most notably Greece and Cyprus and to a lesser extent Bulgaria and Estonia, reflecting a strong increase in passenger transport and/or a weak economic development. By contrast, the rate of change in constant price GDP was 35.4 % higher than that for inland passenger transport between 2004 and 2014 in Slovakia, while in Lithuania the difference was 31.0 %. Among the non-member countries shown in Figure 2, the index of inland passenger transport relative to GDP increased substantially over the period studied in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and to a much smaller extent in Norway, while it fell in Iceland and Switzerland.

Road passengers

Among the EU Member States, the relative importance of passenger cars was highest in 2014 in Portugal, where cars accounted for 89.8 % of passenger transport in 2014. In most Member States, the share of passenger cars was between 80.0 % and 90.0 %, although there were seven Member States where the share was lower, most notably in Hungary (67.5 %); in Turkey, the share was even lower (64.9 %).

The relative importance of motor coaches, buses and trolley buses exceeded one fifth of inland passenger transport in Hungary (22.6 %), the highest share among the EU Member States in 2014, although an even higher share (33.5 %) was reported for Turkey. This share was between 10.0 % and 20.0 % in 19 other Member States while the lowest share for motor coaches, buses and trolley buses was in the Netherlands (3.3 %).

Rail passengers

In 2014, trains accounted for more than one tenth of all inland passenger transport in Austria and Denmark, as well as in Switzerland, while their share fell below 2.0 % in Estonia, Lithuania and Greece, as well as in Turkey and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia; there are no rail lines in Iceland, Cyprus or Malta.

Based on the latest data available (generally for 2015), there were 392 billion passenger-kilometres travelled on national railway networks in the EU (including 2014 data for Denmark, Germany and Hungary; excluding Belgium and the Netherlands). This figure was considerably higher than the 23 billion passenger-kilometres travelled on international journeys (the comparison is based on the same availability for the EU Member States) — see Table 1.

Close to three quarters (72 %) of all rail travel (national and international combined) in the EU (excluding Belgium and the Netherlands) took place within one of the four largest EU Member States, with France and Germany (2014 data) together accounting for 42 % of national rail travel within the EU and 72 % of international rail travel. The number of international passenger-kilometres travelled by passengers in France in 2015 was more than twice the level for Germany 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 (as shown in the right-hand side of Table 1 and in Figure 3). Travel on the national rail network in Austria, Sweden, France, Denmark (2014 data) and Germany (2014 data) averaged more than 1 000 passenger-kilometres per inhabitant in 2015; this was well below the average recorded in Switzerland (2 193 passenger-kilometres per inhabitant). By contrast, among the EU Member States in 2015 the lowest average distances travelled on national railway networks were recorded in Greece (116 passenger-kilometres per inhabitant) and Lithuania (85 passenger-kilometres), while the average in Turkey (61 passenger-kilometres) was lower still and that in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (85 passenger-kilometres) was equal to the average distance travelled in Lithuania.

In terms of international rail travel, the only EU Member States to report averages of more than 100 passenger-kilometres per inhabitant in 2015 were Luxembourg (204 passenger-kilometres) and France (169 passenger-kilometres); this level that was also surpassed in Switzerland (116 passenger-kilometres). 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-28 in terms of passenger numbers in 2015 (75 million), as it has been since the beginning of the time series in 1993. It was followed — at some distance — by Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport (66 million), Frankfurt airport (61 million) and Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport (58 million) — see Figure 4. The same four airports have been the largest four in the EU since 2011 when Amsterdam Schipol moved from fifth to fourth place.

The overwhelming majority of passengers through the four largest airports in the EU were on international flights; the lowest share was recorded for Frankfurt airport (88.7 %), rising to 100.0 % for Amsterdam Schiphol. By contrast, national (domestic) flights accounted for 28.0 % of the 46 million passengers carried through the EU’s fifth busiest passenger airport in 2015, namely Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas. There were also relatively high proportions of passengers on national flights to and from Paris Orly (47.2 %), Roma Fiumicino (29.7 %) and Barcelona airport (27.0 %).

Some 918 million passengers were carried by air in 2015 in the EU-28. The United Kingdom reported the highest number of air passengers in 2015, with 232 million or an average of 3.6 passengers per inhabitant. Relative to population size, the importance of air travel was particularly high for the holiday islands of Malta and Cyprus (10.7 and 9.0 passengers carried per inhabitant) in 2015, as well as in Iceland (14.7) and Norway (7.2). The lowest ratios were recorded for 10 of the eastern or Baltic Member States, each reporting averages of less than 2.0 air passenger carried per inhabitant in 2015.

Maritime passengers

Ports in the EU-28 recorded 395 million maritime passengers in 2015. Italian and Greek ports recorded 70 million and 66 million maritime passengers in 2015, together accounting for just over one third of the EU-28 total. Denmark (42 million passengers) had the next highest number of maritime passengers, followed by Germany, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Croatia, France and Spain, which all recorded between 30 million and 25 million passengers in 2015.

Relative to national population, in 2015 the importance of maritime passenger transport was particularly high in Malta (22.9 passengers per inhabitant), followed by Estonia (10.8), Denmark (7.3), Croatia (6.5) and Greece (6.1); other than Finland, Sweden and Italy, the number of maritime passengers per inhabitant in 2015 averaged less than 1.0 in each of the remaining EU Member States; note that the Czech Republic, Luxembourg, Hungary, Austria and Slovakia are landlocked 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.

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 based on data 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 2005. This indicator provides information on the relationship between passenger demand and the size of the economy and allows the development 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 transport 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; nor do Liechtenstein or Switzerland.

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. 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. 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’.

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 to build a competitive transport system over a 10-year period that aims to increase mobility, remove major barriers in key areas and fuel growth and employment.

More details concerning the European Commission’s proposals for transport policy initiatives are provided in an introductory article on transport in the EU.

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)


Multimodal data (tran)
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 - detailed annual and quarterly results (mar_pa)
Air transport (avia)
Air transport measurement - passengers (avia_pa)

Dedicated section

Methodology / Metadata

Reference manuals

Methodological notes

ESMS metadata files

Source data for tables and figures (MS Excel)

Other information

External links