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New data shines light on bus and coach use as a feature of sustainable transport systems in the UNECE region

Discussions on the future of transportation are often dominated by headline-grabbing ideas: autonomous or electric vehicles, intelligent transport systems focusing on mobility services; ever-faster high-speed trains. Within this debate bus transport is often an unfashionable afterthought, a relic of 20th Century transportation networks. Nevertheless, bus travel is a low-cost, safe, green and effective means of transporting large numbers of people into and around cities, and thus an important transportation tool that countries can apply to achieve many Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In particular:

  • SDG 3: Good health and well-being. Bus travel is one of the safest means of transportation in terms of fatalities per passenger-km (SDG indicator 3.6.1), and a short walk to a bus stop can have positive health impacts compared to private car usage, improving health outcomes.
  • SDG 7: Sustainable energy. The energy intensity of bus travel (energy per passenger-km) is less than a third that of a passenger car, and its environmental footprint can be expected to decline further with the uptake of trolley buses, electric buses and more efficient vehicles.
  • SDG 9: Industry, innovation and infrastructure. Well-developed bus transport is a key part of any efficient transportation service, allowing the generation of employment and wealth and driving economic development
  • SDG 11: Sustainable cities and communities. When bus stops are safely positioned near to where people live and work, buses can aid the transportation needs of everyone, in particular those in vulnerable situations, women, children, persons with disabilities (in particular when “low-floor” vehicles are used) and older persons.

New insights to inform sustainable transport policy

A new UNECE and Eurostat dataset shines some light on bus transportation at the national level in the UNECE region. In many countries, bus and coach travel represents the second-largest passenger-km share after private car use.

The dataset covers bus and coach passenger numbers, vehicle-km and passenger-km, and journeys and seats offered by bus companies, with data broken down by national versus international transport, occasional (i.e. chartered) versus regular (scheduled) journeys, and urban versus inter-urban routes.

Of nineteen countries with data available, fourteen had a bus passenger-km value greater than that of their train passenger-km value (and given that in some cases bus transport excluded either urban or inter-urban journeys, the true figure may be higher). 

Figure 1: comparison of bus passenger-km with train passenger-km in UNECE countries with available data

The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), Estonia and Latvia had the greatest proportion of public transport by buses, while Switzerland and Germany had the lowest. In addition, looking at overall passenger transport, the percentage of which were undertaken by bus ranged from 5% in Switzerland to 24% in FYROM.

By publishing these data, UNECE aims to provide policy-makers with the necessary information on all transport modes, to make informed decisions about how to make future transport systems safe, efficient, accessible and sustainable.

The data can be accessed through UNECE’s transport statistics database at http://w3.unece.org/PXWeb/en.