EU traffic volumes in tentative recovery

Fresh data shows toll roads and airports improving performance but significant regional differences remain.

As the European economy slowly recovers from macroeconomic woes so does traffic on its main airports and motorways, according to Moody’s.

The rating agency says 2013 has seen a steady improvement in traffic performance trends on the continent’s toll roads, with volumes slightly rising in core European countries thanks to a pick-up in heavy vehicle traffic. This contrasted with continued decline in Europe’s ‘periphery’, where reduced disposable income and lower industrial production have continued to weigh on volumes.

Abertis’s Spanish network experienced the sharpest fall, with 5.2 percent less vehicles than in 2012. It was followed by Brisa – the Jose de Mello and Arcus Holdings-owned Portuguese operator – and Milan-listed SIAS, which reported drops of 2.8 percent and 2.5 percent respectively. Major French networks, by contrast, posted an average 1 percent increase on the year.

The last quarter did bring good news to most European networks, however, including a reduction of the rate of decline, or even slightly positive growth, in Southern European markets. Most impressive was the recovery of Brisa’s network, which started the year on a 9.9 percent decline but posted 2.4 percent growth in Q4 2013.

The picture was also positive for traffic at European airports, which saw an overall increase of 2.8 percent in passenger volumes in 2013. An interesting trend was the pick-up in passengers over the year, with an average 5.5 percent growth in December 2013 compared with a drop of 1.6 percent in January of the same year.

Most of the largest airports recovered from the activity troughs they experienced in the aftermath of the Crisis, Moody’s said, helped by resilient international travel.

Fortunes were contrasted across the region, however, with non-EU airports reporting solid growth (at 9.6 percent) while EU airports posted a more modest 1 percent. Passenger volumes at the airports in the capital cities of Spain or Greece remain some 25 percent below their peaks.