Analyses
20 sep 17

So, how do Europeans get to work?

In discussions on mobility to and from work – not least during this European Mobility Week – the focus is often on the mobility of the future. But how do Europeans commute to and from work today? 

The latest data from European statistics office Eurostat provide some interesting detail on the popularity of the most common modes of transport to and from work in the continent's cities. Those modes of transport are, of course: the car, public transport (buses, trams, metros and urban trains), cycling and walking.  

Public transport

In Eurostat's 75-city survey, conducted in 2015, collective transport turned out to be the principal way to commute for 49% of respondents, making it the most popular mode of transport. 

Public transport was the most popular in four capital cities: at least two-thirds of the respondents in Vienna, Bern, Paris and Prague reported it as their number one means of commuting. 

Commuting by bus, tram, metro or urban train was also very popular in the capital cities of Budapest, Stockholm, Sofia, Madrid, Helsinki, Warsaw, Brussels, Berlin, and Bucharest, where more than 50% of the respondents said it was their preferred way to get to and from work. 

Among the large cities ranking lower on the scale were Palermo, Antwerp, and Manchester, where less than 30% of residents use collective transport as their main way of getting around.

For the most part, the smaller and less dense a city is, the less use of collective transport occurs. According to the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), a New York-based NGO, the best urban mobility scheme would be to have at least 50% of a city's population living within 1km of the public transport system.

But as the example of Tallinn shows, it can be hard to change the commuting habits from car to public transport. In 2013, the Estonian capital decided to make public transport free – the first European capital to do so – in order to boost usage. However, the 2015 figures show that a majority of local commuters still prefer the car to public transport. 

The car

Cars are the second-most popular transport mode for commuting in the European Union.  And nowhere more so than in the Cypriot capital of Nicosia, the only capital city where more than two-thirds of commuters come into work by car. 

Nevertheless, cars were the most popular (>50%) mode of commuting in 14 of the 31 capital cities surveyed for the Eurostat study. 

The most negative aspects about commuting by car, according to the people surveyed for the study, were traffic congestion and the lack of affordable parking. 

Walking and cycling

Finally, the Eurostat study shows that walking to work is the third-most used mode, and cycling is the fourth. Most cycling and walking occurs in smaller cities that have relatively compact centres.

Paris is the only city where more than 50% of the poll takers said they walk to work. Other cities where walking to work is quite common are Athens, Budapest, Vienna, Helsinki, and Stockholm.

The cities most keen on bicycling are Copenhagen and Amsterdam, where more than half of the respondents indicate that they cycled to work, followed by Ljubljana and Berlin, where about one in four people commute by bicycle. 

One of the main factors positively influencing the use of bicycles for travelling to work is a well-organised cycling path network.

Image: Ludovic Hirlimann, CC BY-SA 2.0

Authored by: Daniel Bland