Despite frequent discussions about the significant difference between countries and their transport usage a new ‘International Modal Comparisons‘ report for the RAC Foundation has found that the car remains the dominant method of travel for all nine of the countries assessed*, accounting for around 85% of passenger km. Bus and train travel contrary to popular belief only each account for 7% of all passengers kms. In 1975 the corresponding figures for car, bus and train kms were similar at 80%, 12% and 8%.
The shift in mode usage since 1975 can be split into two periods – up to 1995 and beyond. The first period represents a continuing rise in car use largely at the expense of the bus and to a lesser extent the train. This change in the main reflects the rapid rise in car ownership over this period. Since 1995, there has been greater stability with some slight shift away from the car and bus towards the train. This possibly represents bus users switching to cars as car ownership continued to grow, albeit at a slower rate, with a number of car owners switching to rail for some longer journeys.
The number of passenger kms travelled by car has doubled over the past 30 years. Some of the strongest growth has been seen in Spain following the country’s significant economic development and road building programme. Strong growth in the number of km driven by car has also been seen in Italy.
Travel by bus is 5-10% of that by car and has stayed static in the majority of countries over the past 30 years, except in Italy and Spain where it has almost doubled, which now sees Italy and Spain have the highest bus useage per head.
Passenger usage of trains has grown in every country considered, ranging from nearly doubling in the Netherlands to a quarter increase in Germany and Japan. Japan has the highest usage and the USA the lowest by a factor of 40 compared with Japan and in both countries usage has remained static over the past 30 years.
In all countries there has been growth of between 1 and 3% per year in total travel by road, bus and rail. However there is clear indication that the rate has decreased since 1990 in Europe. In the Netherlands there has been no growth in total travel since 1990.
When road safety performance is compared there are significant improvements that can be seen across the board. All countries reviewed have reported a dramatic decline in road deaths both in absolute numbers and in the number per million population which have fallen by 60-70%.
When talking about Great Britain’s reliance on the car it is important to consider how the country’s situation compares to that of other nations, which as this report demonstrates is not so unlike. It is interesting to note that while the submission to the EU of rail, freight and maritime statistics is prescribed by EU regulations, road passenger statistics are voluntary and therefore much less reliable. This report has made as much use as possible of the statistics available, but with 85% of all passenger km travel taking place by road, there is clearly a need to have a better statistics base for this activity.
The report ‘International Modal Comparisons‘ was written by David Leibling for the RAC Foundation.
* Data from the following nine international countries was reviewed in the report:
- Great Britain
- Japan (where appropriate data exists)
- US (where appropraite data exists)