Exploring the Sustainability Challenges of Long-distance Passenger Trends in Europe

Exploring the Sustainability Challenges of Long-distance Passenger Trends in Europe


Ángel Aparicio, Technical University Madrid (UPM)


This paper explores pre-crisis and current trends in interurban passenger demand in Europe and their policy implications from a sustainability perspective.


This paper is based on some indicators of the Transport and Environment Reporting Mechanism (TERM) of the European Environment Agency (EEA). It explores the environmental impacts of interurban (i.e. long-distance) passenger demand in Europe, and their policy implications. The different transport modes are examined, with a focus on car and air travel. The topics analysed include (1) the evidence for peak-travel in interurban car travel, (2) induced intra-European air travel demand based on low-cost strategies, (3) stagnation and decline in the number of long-distance trips travelled per capita, and (4) the influence of population trends. The analysis is based on the review of recent trends, focusing on differences and similarities among European countries and the influence of the economic downturn.
Long-distance transport has a disproportionate environmental impact compared to the number of trips involved. This is a logical consequence of the distance travelled, and means that a comparatively reduced number of personal decisions account for a substantial part of GHG transport emissions in Europe. There is significant potential in terms of reducing the environmental pressure of transport activities by curbing current demand patterns.
The environmental impacts of long distance passenger transport include impacts of a local, regional and global character. Local impacts are due to conflicts among long-distance flows or key transport nodes, and their surrounding areas; impacts of a regional character include air pollutant emissions, and must be addressed with protective strategies at the appropriate spatial level, like in the case of mountainous areas; global impacts, and particularly GHG emissions, are still difficult to assess, jeopardised by many data limitations that are described in the paper.
The main variables explaining long distance transport demand include population patterns (including migration trends), induced demand, as a consequence of falling prices due to the yield management strategies of a growing number of long-distance transport operators; and changes in a part of the population, and particularly the young, away from traditional high-mobility lifestyles. In all these areas there seems to be much potential for policy action at the national and EU level.


Association for European Transport