Fewer and fewer people are commuting on foot and by public transport. Increasingly, people in Estonia prefer to travel to work by car

Posted on 17 March 2024, 18:33

In the last 20 years, the share of people walking to work has fallen by nearly half. There is less use of public transport, while commuting by car has risen. Tea Vassiljeva, analyst at Statistics Estonia, looked at the data and examined how the commuting habits of Estonians have changed in recent decades.

The majority of people travel to work either on foot, by public transport, or by their own car. While 20 years ago the shares of these three modes of transportation were more or less equal, the proportions have now changed dramatically. The share of people walking to work has dropped from 27.3% to 14.6%. We also see a strong decline in the use of public transport. 29.9% of people travelled to work by public transport in 2003, whereas 17.8% did so in 2023. As the number of people commuting on foot and by public transport has fallen, the share of people travelling by private car has risen: 25% of people drove their own car to work in 2003, whereas 46.9% did so last year. Notably, the share of women commuting by private car has increased more over the last 20 years than that of men. 

What could be behind these changes? 

The increase in car use is, of course, due to a general rise in the number of cars. In addition, the distance between the place of work and home has increased somewhat. There has been a drop in the share of people working up to than 2 kilometres from their place of residence and an increase in the share of people whose workplace is more than 10 kilometres away. However, the percentage of people travelling 2 to 10 kilometres from home to work has remained fairly stable. Overall, the average distance between the place of work and place of residence has increased by 3.5 kilometres. 

Employed persons by distance between place of main job and place of residence, %

Let's have a look at the relatively comfortable walking distance of 2 kilometres. The proportion of people whose workplace is within 2 kilometres of their home has fallen from 32.2% to 22.6% over the last 20 years. So there is less reason to walk to work. However, in 2003, three quarters of the people living within 2 km of their workplace walked to work. In 2023, just over half did so. Thus, it is not only the distance to work, but also people’s other choices that have made walking less popular. In 2023, people commuting on foot walked an average of 1.3 km to their place of work, while 20 years earlier their journey to work was 100 metres shorter. 

What about public transport? 

The distances covered by public transport have also changed just a little. Last year, the average public transport user lived 11.1 kilometres from their workplace, compared with 10.2 kilometres 20 years ago. The average distance travelled by own car has increased by 1.7 kilometres. The distance travelled by transport provided by the workplace (including office car) has increased the most, by 5.5 kilometres. 

Average distance between place of main job and place of residence by means of transportation to work, km

Apparently, the prevailing modes of transportation 20 years ago were due to a lack of opportunities. In the last 20 years, the number of privately owned cars has doubled, which means that their use has also increased. This is a reflection of growing economic prosperity. There have been other developments as well over the course of 20 years. Awareness of the environmental impact of human activity and the health effects of daily exercise has been growing in recent years. Hopefully, this will also be reflected in future statistics on modes of transport. 

More detailed data have been published in the following tables in the statistical database: TT230, TT231 and TT232

When using Statistics Estonia’s data and graphs, please indicate the source. 

For further information: 

Kai Kaljumäe
Communications Partner
Marketing and Dissemination Department
Statistics Estonia
Tel +372 625 9181
press [at] stat.ee