Indicators to Assess Sustainability of Transport Activities


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Transport is a priority action area for sustainable development. It plays a considerable role in the economy with its omnipresence throughout the production chain, at all geographic scales (Rodrigue et al., 2007). However, transport is also considered to be the sector with the fastest growth in environmental pollution (EC, 2005). Apart from energy generation and industrial processing, transport is a major contributor to air pollution. Current levels of air pollution cause severe health impacts in the enlarged European Union, resulting in 370,000 premature deaths each year, increased hospital admissions, extra medication, and millions of lost working days (EC, 2005a). There is an urgent need to implement adequate policy instruments which would help to mitigate and control the negative impacts of transport activities. Indicators may be considered as valuable policy tools for measurement and evaluation of transport sustainability performance.

Indicators are frequently defined as quantitative measures that can be used “to illustrate and communicate complex phenomena simply, including trends and progress over time” (EEA, 2005). During the last two decades measurement of sustainability issues by indicators has been widely used by the scientific community and policy-makers. Development of sustainable development indicators was first brought up as a political agenda issue at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. The UNCED policy declaration Agenda 21 requested countries at the national level and international governmental and non-governmental organizations at the international level to develop indicators in the context of improving information for decision making (United Nations, 1992, Chapter 40). Since then, indicators are thought to be important tools for measurement of different aspects of sustainable development, including transport related issues.

The integration of transport issues into sustainability indicator sets and development of transportspecific indicators is currently observed in many international initiatives. A number of international organizations have been involved in the development of indicators aiming to achieve a more sustainable transport on the local, regional, and global levels. The differences observed in the mission and policy priorities of various organizations are accordingly reflected in the selection of indicators. However, the three-dimensional framework of indicators based on economic, environmental, and social impacts is a common way to perform an impact-based analysis of transport activities.


The scope of this study is to review the major EU and other international practices of transport indicators and to develop a set of indicators for measurement and evaluation of transport sustainability performance. First of all the scope for measurement of transport sustainability is defined by outlining the major characteristics of sustainable transport system. After defining the indicator quality criteria, currently existing transport sustainability indicators initiatives are reviewed. The major ones include the EC Sustainable Development Indicators, the EC ETIS indicator study, the EEA TERM indicators, Eurostat transport indicators, transport indicator sets of OECD, US EPA, World Bank, UNECE and VTPI transport related indicators. Mainly on the basis of these indicator initiatives a set of transport sustainability indicators is developed. The major themes of the indicator framework proposed in the current study are presented as well as the logics behind is explained in the context of major EU transport policies. The indicator 9 framework is consequently analysed according the DPSIR (Driver-Pressure-State-Impact- Response) scheme. The principle aims of this report are: 1) to reflect the major international indicator initiatives developed in the EU and other international organisations. 2) on the basis of the existing information to propose a set of indicators suitable for the assessment of transport sustainability performance.

The report is structured as follows. The section 2 is focused on explaining the role of indicators and on defining and characterising sustainable transport. Section 3 presents the major indicator selection criteria. Section 4 reviews the major transport indicator initiatives of the EU and of other international organisations. Section 5 focuses on the newly developed framework of transport sustainability indicators by presenting the logics behind and by analysing the set according to the DPSIR scheme. Section 6 concludes.

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