Commission for Integrated Transport logo

Are we there yet? A comparison of transport in Europe

Foreword
Chapter 1. Introduction
Chapter 2. Travel patterns
Chapter 3. Road safety
Chapter 4. Environmental performance
Chapter 5. Freight
Chapter 6. Aviation
Chapter 7. Conclusions

Phase 1. Study (initial update of the research and data produced in 2001)
Phase 2. Study (more detailed analysis of the significant policy issues that arose from the Phase 1 work)

Foreword

In November 2001, CfIT published the findings of its first study comparing UK transport to that in other European States. It was the first comprehensive comparison of its type and the eventual report has been one of the Commission's most popular studies, receiving many hits on our website. Five years on, we felt the time was right to update the study in order to identify progress made and to see how our travel patterns in the UK compare to those of our European neighbours.

Our study took the 2001 report as a starting point. We were also keen additionally to explore recent developments in the freight and aviation sectors. And, with climate change high on the agenda at present, we wished to see how the UK transport industry's environmental performance has measured up on the European stage.

Far from being at the bottom of the league, our evidence shows a narrow range of performance between the UK and other large European nations. In some aspects the UK leads the way - we have among the safest roads in Europe, and, while there is still more to do, we have to date been more successful than many other nations in reducing ground transport emissions. We also tend to make more efficient use of our cars and lorries. And our aviation sector is the most highly developed in Europe - though this also raises some important environmental challenges.

On the flip side, we found a number of areas where the UK could look to examples being set by other European States. Despite our healthy overall record on road safety, pedestrians are more than twice as likely to be killed in the UK as in the Netherlands or Norway; a worrying trend which has persisted since our 2001 study. We also travel less by public transport, foot and bike than many other nations. For example, each year, cyclists in Denmark and the Netherlands cycle more than ten times as far as Britons. Closing the gap could bring significant health and environmental benefits to the UK.

Finally, I would like to pay particular thanks to the CfIT working group, DfT statisticians, Jacobs Consultancy and Atkins for their valuable guidance and expertise.

The value of benchmarking data is to highlight trends and differences which encourage us to ask questions about whether we are doing as well as we can in all areas of transport provision, and how we might do better. I hope that readers will approach this report in that sport and find it as thought-provoking as we have.

Andrew Sentance, CfIT Commissioner

Working group membership:
Andrew Sentance, CfIT (Chair); Helen Holland, CfIT; Lynn Sloman, CfIT; Richard Turner, CfIT; Dorothy Salathiel, DfT; Richard Mace, CfIT Secretariat; Catherine De Marco, CfIT Secretariat; Chris Watts, CfIT Secretariat.

Chapter 1. Introduction

Methodology

Our study comprised two phases:

Our Phase 1 study covered all European States, including the New Member States. However, in order to assess the UK's comparative performance accurately, it was necessary to select a group of "European peers" with broadly similar states of economic development and with broadly stable collection regimes over a long period.

Table 1: European Peer Group

AustriaFinlandIrelandNorwaySwitzerland
BelgiumFranceItalySpain
DenmarkGermanyNetherlandsSweden

Our Phase 2 policy analysis focussed on five key topics: travel patterns; road safety; environmental performance, freight and aviation. The first three topics reflected our desire to explore significant trends arising from the initial update of the 2001 report. We also felt it was important to extend the scope of our previous work in order to account for recent developments in freight and aviation policy across Europe. The scope was therefore expanded to cover these issues.

A word on data...[1]

From the outset of our investigations, it became evident that the lack of comparable data between 2001 and 2006 meant it would not be possible to produce a comprehensive update on all the issues covered in the 2001 report. In practice it is not always possible for countries to supply data according to the definitions required by international organizations. Also, different data collection methods, e.g. for road traffic volumes, may lead to inconsistencies between countries. Readers should therefore bear in mind when looking at differences between countries that some of this may be due to differences in definitions or methods of compilation.

Nevertheless, the data did enable us to compile a useful source of information and the first comparative assessment for five years. International trends are helpful in identifying common trends and, perhaps more importantly, where countries have pursued different policy courses and achieved different outcomes.

This report is a summary of our findings.

Chapter 2. Travel patterns

Motorised travel

In the first instance we compared overall motorised travel in Great Britain (i.e. car, bus & coach, train and metro/tram, but excluding travel on foot and by bicycle) with our European peers. The comparison in figure 1 shows that our overall motorised travel is just 100kms above the European peer group average.

Figure 1: Motorised Travel (passenger-kms per capita per annum) in 2003

Figure 1: Motorised Travel (passenger-kms per capita per annum) in 2003

Source: ECMT, Eurostat, National Statistics. Note: Data are for motorised modes only.

Italian residents average nearly 15,000 kms of travel per year, 16% above the peer group average. This reflects their high propensity for motorised travel. Annual per capita travel by car is 14% above the peer group average and bus and coach travel 59% above. The French have almost as high a propensity for car travel as the Italians, but use bus and coach much less, and travel 12% more than the European peer group average. At the other end of the spectrum, the Netherlands, Spain and Ireland show considerably lower levels of travel per head[2]. Lower levels of motorised travel in the Netherlands may reflect their high levels of cycling.

Figure 2 shows the variation from the average level of travel per head for each mode and country. Great Britain has among the lowest levels of bus and coach kms in Europe. GB rail kms are also below the European peer group average, although the rail data are somewhat skewed by the Switzerland figure which accommodates many cross-Europe rail journeys and also includes tram and metro travel.

Figure 2: Comparative travel (variation from European peer group average) in 2003

Figure 2: Comparative travel (variation from European peer group average) in 2003

Source: ECMT, Eurostat, national statistics. Note: Data are for motorised modes only, measured in kms per capita per annum. Swiss rail figures include tram & metro. No data for Ireland tram & metro.

Car dependency

How dependent are we on our cars in comparison with our European counterparts? The answer to this question is far from straightforward. After exploring this issue in detail we discovered that car utilisation in Great Britain comprises many dimensions and interrelationships. On some key measures we appear heavily reliant on our cars. However, we also make more efficient use of our cars than other nations in our European peer group and car occupancy is generally higher. We found that high car dependency is not directly associated with above average car mileage per capita or car ownership. Car ownership in GB is also relatively low given our high income levels. The most significant trends are illustrated in the charts below.

Figure 3 illustrates the dominance of the car as the major form of motorised travel in Europe - and particularly in GB where we have the second highest mode share (88%). This trend has remained constant for more than a decade. However, it is important to bear in mind that the lack of comparable walking and cycling data from different countries leads to a different perception. The European WALCYNG study of 1999 showed as much as 30% of journeys in Great Britain made by either walking or cycling.

Figure 3: Overall mode share of distance travelled (%) in 2003

Figure 3: Overall mode share of distance travelled (%) in 2003

Source: ECMT, Eurostat, National Statistics.

The higher car mode share in GB is perhaps more surprising considering the fact we have relatively low car ownership levels compared with other peers with a large population (figure 4).

Figure 4: Car ownership (cars per 1000 inhabitants) in 2004

Figure 4: Car ownership (cars per 1000 inhabitants) in 2004

Source: Eurostat.

Despite this below-average level of car ownership, our level of car utilisation means that we return one of the highest mode shares in Europe: if we have a car, we tend to use it more than our European peers, but we also carry more passengers (see below). This is a significant point because, if car ownership levels rise to European average levels, then our propensity for car travel and car mode share could grow even further.

Figure 5 illustrates the total vehicle-kms completed by passenger cars per head of the population. This is surprisingly low, given that our overall car mode share is higher than most of our European peers. This can be explained by the level of car occupancy in GB which is slightly higher than the European peer group average.

Figure 5: Car travel (vehicle kms per capita per annum) in 2003[3]

Figure 5: Car travel (vehicle kms per capita per annum) in 2003

Source: UNECE Annual Bulletin of Transport Statistics - 2005, Transport Statistics GB - 2005.

Car ownership and income growth

All the countries examined in this study have experienced long term increases in car use. Increasing income levels are often seen as the major driver behind this trend. From a policy perspective, there is a concern that continued economic growth will lead to ever increasing levels of car ownership. As a matter of course, this also leads to increased congestion and adverse environmental impacts, as well as the potential social exclusion of people who do not have access to car travel. Therefore, there is a desire to break the link between the growth of GDP and demand for car travel. Figure 6 summarises the picture across Europe between 1990 and 2003.

Figure 6: Car ownership and income growth for a selection of European countries (1990 - 2003)

Figure 6: Car ownership and income growth for a selection of European countries (1990 - 2003)

Source: OECD Factbook 2006: Economic, Environmental and Social Statistics, own calculations.

The chart shows the rate at which car ownership has grown within each country between 1990 and 2003, as income levels have risen. The important factor to consider is the gradient displayed for each nation. It can be seen that all countries have experienced growth in demand for car travel as income levels have risen. The trajectory for the UK (shown in red) is similar to many other European States and close to the European peer group average. Steeper gradients for Italy, Germany and Austria indicate that they have experienced more pronounced growth in demand for car travel in a shorter period of income growth.

The fact that there are different gradients between European States suggests there is no necessary correlation between car ownership and income growth. The flatter trajectories for Norway and Denmark indicate that it might be possible to break the link through long-term pro-active promotion of walking, cycling and public transport. This is an issue which merits further study.

Walking and cycling

We encountered major problems with data availability throughout this section. Data collection difficulties and the lack of consistent definitions mean that the main European source of information, Eurostat, has not published statistical information since 2000. Such data must therefore be treated with caution, however we can make some basic observations.

Figure 7 shows the walking levels for the EU15 countries in 2000. The UK figure of 355 kms is near the bottom of the league and in the same position as in 1995. However, most countries fall within a fairly narrow range. There is no obvious relationship with car ownership; some of the countries with the lowest car ownership - Spain, Portugal and Ireland also have low walking levels.

Figure 7: Walking levels per annum in 2000 (EU-15)

Figure 7: Walking levels per annum in 2000 (EU-15)

Source: EU Energy & Transport in Figures, 2003 (data for 2000), Eurostat.

As we learned from the case studies in our 2001 study, cycling can play a role in reducing demand for car travel for short trips. We saw from figure 6 that countries which have actively promoted cycling as an integral part of their transport strategy have been more successful in managing the demand for car travel as income levels have risen. Cycling also offers wider benefits to society such as reducing obesity and extending life expectancy. In the UK, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) recently recommended in their guidance for tackling obesity that local authorities introduce changes to city-wide transport which make it easier and safer to walk and cycle.

Figure 8 shows the cycling levels per annum for the EU15 countries in 2000. As was seen in 1995, the UK still has among the poorest levels of cycling among the EU15. Denmark and the Netherlands remain the clear leaders. In contrast to the UK, both countries have developed a positive cultural attitude towards cycling since the 1970s through programmes of infrastructure development and transport planning. As a result, cycling is seen as a mainstream choice of mode. The UK weather is no excuse - Denmark has a very similar climate. It is also interesting to note that, as leaders in more active travel, both Denmark and the Netherlands have obesity rates of less than half that of the UK[4].

Figure 8: Cycling levels per annum in 2000 (EU-15)

Figure 8: Cycling levels per annum in 2000 (EU-15)

Source: EU Energy & Transport in Figures, 2003 (data for 2000), Eurostat.

Chapter 3. Road safety

Road safety remains a success story for the UK. The fact remains that we still have among the safest roads in Europe in terms of fatality rates.

Figure 9: Fatality exposure and risk[5] (2002)

Figure 9: Fatality exposure and risk (2002)

Source: International Road and Traffic Accidents Database (IRTAD), 2005 (data for 2002) and EU Energy & Transpoprt in Figures 2004, Eurostat (data for 2002). No data available for Greece.

Figure 10 shows the rate of road accident fatalities per head of population for the UK and the European peer group average. We have a significantly lower fatality rate, but with only marginal improvements since the mid 1990's. Our European peers have started to close the gap in performance in recent years. There are significant variations from country to country, with the Netherlands and Sweden performing marginally better than the UK in 2004.

Figure 10: Road fatalities (per million inhabitants)

Figure 10: Road fatalities (per million inhabitants)

Source: OECD Factbook 2006: Economic, Environmental and Social Statistics.

It is perhaps not surprising that those countries with the highest starting fatality rates have made the greatest improvements in recent years, drawing on the best practice achieved by the UK and others. The challenge for the leading countries is now to overcome the "plateauing" in fatality rates and continue to achieve annual reductions in fatalities.

Our analysis went on to consider rates of all injuries in comparison with the rest of Europe. At first glance, the international statistics show the UK in a much less favourable light. However, measuring injuries is fraught with difficulties and there is scope for very different interpretations: What counts as an injury? Does the victim have to be admitted to hospital? Receive some form of medical treatment? What is the reporting mechanism? - police records? - hospital records? - insurance claims? Our analysis indicated that the UK has a wider definition of road accidents than many other countries. The intention in the UK is to record all accidents resulting in injuries, whereas other countries for example may only record those where casualties are admitted to hospital. Even so, there is evidence to suggest a substantial degree of under-reporting of casualties and crashes in the UK.

Figure 11 shows for each country the percentage of total fatalities accounted for by each user group. It is clear from this pedestrians form a higher proportion of fatalities in the UK than other countries. The rate of pedestrian fatalities per head of population is almost three times the level experienced in the Netherlands.

Figure 11: Fatalities by user group (percentage breakdown) in 2004

Figure 11: Fatalities by user group (percentage breakdown) in 2004

Source: OECD/ECMT. Note: Data for Denmark did not add up to 100%.

Norway and the Netherlands have the best performance in achieving low rates of pedestrian fatalities. The OECD study of comparative performance examined rates on a country by country basis. For the Netherlands the good performance was attributed to high levels of segregation between pedestrians and motorised traffic. The Netherlands has been pursuing policies designed to prioritise vulnerable road user groups and is extending the application of lower speed limits within urban areas.

Chapter 4. Environmental performance

The environmental impact of the growth in demand for travel across all modes has led to concern in recent years, based on transport's negative impact on local air quality, noise pollution and climate change. In the UK, the transport sector is the fastest growing source of greenhouse emissions and is now a leading contributor to climate change.

We compared the emissions of various pollutants per 1000 population from key Member States. In summary the UK has:

Figure 12: Transport CO2 emissions in 2001

Figure 12: Transport CO2 emissions in 2001

Source: EEA - www.eea.europa.eu/data-and-maps/data/

In comparison with other States the UK performs better than average, with the exception of NOx. Looking back to chapter 2, our more efficient use of cars means that our environmental performance is better. All States have taken significant steps to reduce levels of local air pollutants. The challenge across Europe, and globally, is for the transport sector to break the link between increased demand for travel and rising greenhouse gas emissions. CfIT sees this as a crucial issue, and is currently engaged in major research on transport and climate change, due for publication in Spring 2007.

Chapter 5. Freight

Our analysis of freight patterns across Europe revealed two success stories for the UK. Firstly, our recent increase in rail freight against a backdrop of decline across mainland Europe. Secondly, freight tonnage is growing at a slower rate than economic growth.

The drive to reduce goods transported by road and transfer them onto railways is seen as an important step in developing a more sustainable distribution system. In the UK, the volume of freight moved by rail has increased while levels have remained relatively static on the road. By comparison across Europe there has been a much stronger rise in the volume of road traffic. This trend is even more marked in the new EU Accession Countries, where there has been a 50% increase in road traffic over the period and a decline, although with a recent recovery, in rail traffic.

Figure 13: Evolution of rail freight (index 1997 = 100)

Figure 13: Evolution of rail freight (index 1997 = 100)

Source: Eurostat.

Figure 14: Growth in tonne-kms by mode in the EU-15

Figure 14: Growth in tonne-kms by mode in the EU-15

Source: Eurostat.

The EU has set itself the objective to reduce the link between economic growth and freight transport demand ('decoupling') in order to achieve more sustainable transport. Reducing the link between transport growth and GDP is a central theme in EU transport policy for reducing the negative impacts from transport. The volume of freight transport relative to GDP (i.e. the intensity) is one measure of the decoupling of freight demand from economic growth.

Figure 15: Freight intensity in the UK[6], European peer group, EU-15 and EU-25

Figure 15: Freight intensity in the UK, European peer group, EU-15 and EU-25

Source: Eurostat.

Figure 14 shows that freight intensity has been steady or increasing across mainland Europe and has been decreasing for the UK. This suggests a healthy picture for the UK, with GDP growing faster than inland freight volumes.

This change may be indicative of increasing freight transport efficiency, but it is more likely to be explained by changes in the structure of the UK economy. In recent years there has been a shift in production away from traditional manufacturing and primary industry towards higher value production and a service based economy in which goods transportation plays a smaller role. In the UK, the service sector has grown at a much faster rate than the rest of the economy and increased its share of total GDP. This differential growth in services has been much more marked in the UK than for other European states, as is shown in Figure 15.

Figure 16: Growth of the service sector and the non-service sector

Figure 16: Growth of the service sector and the non-service sector

Source: Eurostat.

Chapter 6. Aviation

Our analysis of aviation across Europe explored air travel between 1997 and 2003. Although the availability of data constrained us to this six-year period, this was an interesting period for air travel which included:

Total annual air passengers across the EU-15 member states rose from 505 million in 1997 to 812 million in 2003 - at an annual growth rate of 8.2%. Figure 16 illustrates the dominance of the UK, German and Spanish markets, which together accounted for more than 50% of the total in both years. The significant growth for the UK, Spain and to a lesser extent Germany are reflected particularly in the growth in "low-cost" air travel.

The UK aviation system is the most highly developed in Europe. This is a reflection of our geography and the early liberalisation of our aviation market.

Figure 17: Total annual air passenger movements in 1997 and 2003

Figure 17: Total annual air passenger movements in 1997 and 2003

Source: Eurostat.

By comparing total air passenger movements to the resident population, we were able to establish an average propensity to fly (PTF). Again we see significant differences between countries, reflecting geography, market factors and the development of aviation.

Figure 18: Annual air passenger movements per resident in 2003

Figure 18: Annual air passenger movements per resident in 2003

Source: Eurostat.

Although the development of "low-cost" airlines was facilitated by the deregulation of air transport across the European Union as a whole, the initial focus of the industry was the United Kingdom and Ireland. By the end of 2003, "low-cost" airlines accounted for 42% and 38% of the UK and Irish scheduled intra-European capacity. This compared with 20% across the remainder of the European Union.

This approach is now being followed more widely in Europe. A number of airports have grown very rapidly as a result of the development of "low-cost" airlines. Smaller airports with spare capacity and a willingness to agree to very competitive airport user charges have experienced significant growth.

Figure 19: Fastest growing major European passenger airports

Figure 19: Fastest growing major European passenger airports

Source: ACI.

In 1996, when "low-cost" operations effectively began in Europe, they accounted for just over 1% of all intra-European scheduled airline seats. By the end of 2003, this proportion had risen to 20%. In 1998, there was competition between full service and "low-cost" carriers on 10% of all scheduled intra-European services. By July 2003, this proportion had risen to 30% (311 routes) with a further 315 exclusively "low-cost" carrier routes. Figure 19 illustrates the rapid growth that took place across Europe during that period.

Figure 20: Annual change in intra-European scheduled airline capacity 1997-2003

Figure 20: Annual change in intra-European scheduled airline capacity 1997-2003

Source: Eurostat.

The growth of air travel across Europe poses some significant environmental challenges. While the impact of air transport on greenhouse gas emissions is small at present - in the UK around 5% of CO2 emissions are accounted for by aviation - this contribution is expected to grow in future - against a background where global cuts in emissions are required. In addition, there may be additional climate change impacts created by aircraft flying at altitude, though these are more uncertain, and aircraft add NOx emissions around major airports. These are challenges which are not unique to the UK. But they have come into sharper focus here because of the more advanced development of the aviation market in this country. Establishing frameworks within which these impacts can be managed - such as incorporating aviation into the EU emissions trading scheme (ETS) and establishing airport air quality management plans - will be critical if the growth of air travel is to be compatible with an environmentally sustainable economy.

Figure 21: Greenhouse gases from UK-based international aviation and shipping bunkers, 1990-2004

Figure 21: Greenhouse gases from UK-based international aviation and shipping bunkers, 1990-2004

Source: DEFRA e-digest.

Chapter 7. Conclusions

UK performance

The performance of UK transport in comparison with our European peers is often a popular topic of conversation among the media and the travelling public. Are we better or worse? In reality, overall performance has many dimensions. It is inevitable that some degree of subjectivity will be used in deciding upon a fair measure. Below we have attempted to summarise UK ground passenger transport performance in comparison with our largest European peers.

Figure 22: UK ground passenger transport in comparison with European peers

Figure 22: UK ground passenger transport in comparison with European peers

Key: Red - Above European Peer Group (EPG) , Clear - Around EPG (+/- 5%), Blue - Below EPG.

Definitions of indicators in figure 22:
Total Travel = Passenger-kms per capita per annum in 2003
Car Travel = Passenger-kms per capita per annum in 2003
Car Journeys = Vehicle-kms per capita per annum
Car Occupancy = Occupants per passenger-car
Car Ownership = Cars per 1000 inhabitants in 2004
Car Utilisation = Annual kms per passenger car in 2002
Other modes = Passenger-kms per capita per annum in 2003
Bus and Coach = Passenger-kms per capita per annum in 2003
Tram and Metro = Passenger-kms per capita per annum in 2003
Rail = Passenger-kms per capita per annum in 2003
Walking and Cycling = Walking and cycling levels per annum in 2000

Almost inevitably, the UK performs well in some areas and worse in others. Our research has certainly dispelled the myth that we are bottom of the league. We found a number of success stories:

At the same time there are areas we should look to improve upon:

Policy observations

International comparisons can be helpful in identifying common trends and, perhaps more importantly, where countries have pursued different policy courses and achieved different outcomes. However, many of the trends examined during the course of this research show a narrow range of performance, based on fundamental economic and geographical forces.

From the comparisons that we have made, it is clear that we share many of our major transport challenges in the UK with other States within our European peer group. The UK is not alone in facing the challenges associated with managing transport systems that are heavily dependent upon private car travel. We have managed, to a limited degree, to offset our level of car utilisation through more economically efficient use of our vehicles and we have the most highly developed aviation sector in Europe. However, these factors present us with some serious environmental challenges. The UK, like all European nations, is having to face up to the challenge of breaking the link between rising greenhouse gas emissions and increased demand for travel.

It is clear that the UK does not use public transport to the same extent as other European nations. Whilst we have made more efficient use of our cars, we could do better at providing alternative modes of transport. As we currently have one of the worst obesity rates in Europe, there could be significant health benefits for the UK in better promotion of walking and cycling.

With economic and geographical conditions imposing such a profound influence on our travel behaviour, it is important that policy interventions provide cost effective solutions. CfIT's research on Climate Change, scheduled for publication later this year, is likely to be a relevant and significant piece of research, identifying economic policies which provide cost-effective levers for behavioural and technological change. The Commission is also in the process of examining the cost effectiveness of various modes of transport and the rationale for subsidy in England.

Data

The Commission has found this to be a rewarding study - the first of its type for 5 years, which will provide a useful source of information for CfIT's research programme and the wider transport research community. As with any study of this type, effective benchmarking relies upon accurate data. Our 2001 study highlighted a lack of consistent and comprehensive data across Europe, impeding the ability to benchmark many areas of transport policy effectively. Five years on, it is disappointing not to have seen enhancements to the consistency of data, and the loss of the walking and cycling dataset beyond 2000. However, Eurostat are proposing in their work programme for 2008 and beyond that harmonized passenger mobility surveys be developed. We recommend that DfT raises the need for data on walking and cycling during discussions.

Agreed Europe-wide definitions of performance are a powerful tool in helping us identify how our national transport policies are progressing on an international stage. A long-term concerted and consistent focus on data collection across Europe would enable us to establish a more accurate picture of trends. There is much that we can learn from the international community.


1: Data in chapter 2 refers to Great Britain unless otherwise stated.
2: Spain and Ireland both started from a lower stage of economic development (OECD Factbook 2006).
3: Cross-country comparisons are rather difficult to make since countries use different methods to calculate their vehicle-km figures.
4: Source: OECD Fact book (2006).
5: Exposure = fatalities per billion pkm by car; Risk = fatalities per 100,000 population.
6: Measured in tonne kms per GDP.

[ Previous ] [ Contents ] [ Next ]