Road freight transport by journey characteristics

Data extracted in October 2017. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database. Planned update: November 2018.

This article presents road freight transport in the European Union (EU) regarding the type of transport operation performed. It presents total, national and international transport performed, with a special focus on international road freight transport. It presents also average loads carried and average distances on which goods are moved.

Together, this article and both articles 'Road freight transport by vehicle characteristics' and 'Road freight transport by type of goods' present a complete overview of road freight transport in Europe.

Table 1: Total road freight transport, 2012-2016
(million tonne-kilometres)
Source: Eurostat (road_go_ta_tott)
Figure 1: Evolution of EU-28 road freight transport, 2012-2016
(based on tonne-kilometres, 2012 = 100)
Source: Eurostat (road_go_ta_tott)
Table 2: Total road freight transport, 2012-2016
(thousand tonnes)
Source: Eurostat (road_go_ta_tott)
Figure 2: Evolution of EU-28 road freight transport, 2012-2016
(based on tonnes, 2012 = 100)
Source: Eurostat (road_go_ta_tott)
Table 3: National road freight transport, 2012-2016
(million tonne-kilometres)
Source: Eurostat (road_go_ta_tott)
Table 4:International road freight transport, 2012-2016
(million tonne-kilometres)
Source: Eurostat (road_go_ta_tott)
Figure 3: Share of international transport in total road freight transport, 2012 and 2016
(% in tonne-kilometres)
Source: Eurostat (road_go_ta_tott)
For full list of countries see here
Table 5: Share of international transport in total road freight transport, 2012-2016
(% in tonne-kilometres)
Source: Eurostat (road_go_ta_tott)
Figure 4: Share of each Member State in EU-28 total international transport, 2016
(% in tonne-kilometres)
Source: Eurostat (road_go_ta_tott)
Figure 5: Share of cross-trade and cabotage in international transport, 2016
(% in tonne-kilometres)
Source: Eurostat (road_go_ta_tott)
For full list of countries see here
Table 6: Share of each Member State in EU-28 total cross-trade transport, 2012-2016
(% in tonne-kilometres)
Source: Eurostat (road_go_ta_tott)
Figure 6: Average loads for total transport, 2016
(tonnes)
Source: Eurostat (road_go_ta_tott)
For full list of countries see here
Table 7: Average vehicle loads for total transport, 2012-2016
(tonnes)
Source: Eurostat (road_go_ta_tott)
Figure 7: Average distance on which goods are carried, 2016
(kilometres)
Source: Eurostat (road_go_ta_tott)
For full list of countries see here
Table 8: Average distance on which goods are carried for total transport, 2012-2016
(kilometres)
Source: Eurostat (road_go_ta_tott)
Table 9: Road freight transport by distance class, 2016
(million tonne-kilometres)
Source: Eurostat (road_go_ta_dc)
Figure 8: Share of empty journeys in the total journeys by type of operation, 2016
(% in vehicle-kilometres)
Source: Eurostat (road_go_ta_tott)
For full list of countries see here

Main statistical findings

Road transport by type of operation

Trends in road freight transport

EU-28 road freight transport continued its increase in 2016 compared with 2015, accounting for around 1 848 billion tonne-kilometres which represents an increase of 4.5 %.

Table 1 shows that in 2016 the majority of Member States reported an increase of their road freight transport compared with 2015 in terms of tonne-kilometres. The biggest increases in road freight transport were observed in Cyprus (+24.9 %), Romania (+23.5 %) and Ireland (+17.3 %), while the highest decreases were observed in the Czech Republic (-12.0 %), Italy (-3.6 %) and Latvia (-3.2 %).

Between 2012 and 2016, road freight transport increased by 9.1 % in terms of tonne-kilometres. The highest increases were registered by Romania (+62.4 %), Bulgaria (+45.3 %) and Lithuania (+32.1 %). Important decreases were observed in Cyprus (-21.5 %), France (-9.6 %) and Italy (-9.2 %).

When it comes to total transport in tonnes, the same trends can be seen with an increase of 2.5 % in 2016 compared with 2015 (see Table 2 for complete data). The biggest increases were observed in Cyprus (+36.7 %), Estonia (+22.8 %) and Ireland (+20.2 %), while the highest decreases were observed in Bulgaria (-9.2 %), Italy (-5.8 %) and France (-3.8 %).

Over the period 2012-2016, total tonnes carried followed the same ascending trend with an increase of 3.7 %. The highest increases were registered by Sweden (+46.8 %), Ireland (+32.2 %) and Lithuania (+31.3 %). Important decreases were observed in Italy (-19.6 %), Cyprus (-14.3 %) and France (-14.0 %).

When looking at the evolution of EU-28 road freight transport from the last years, globally the same trends can be observed for the national road freight transport and international road freight transport for both tonnes and tonne-kilometres (Figure 1 and 2).

Table 3 shows that in the EU-28 national road freight transport increased between 2015 and 2016 by 3.8 %, with most of the countries recording increases. The highest increases were recorded in Cyprus (24.8 %), followed by Ireland (19.6 %) and Estonia (17.6 %), while the highest decreases can be found in Portugal (-3.8 %), Italy (-3.7 %) and Croatia (-1.7 %).

The importance of national transport at country-level is very different: in 2016, it accounted for more than 90 % in Cyprus, the United Kingdom, France and Sweden, but less than 20 % in Lithuania, Slovenia, Luxembourg and Slovakia. While Cyprus had the highest share of national transport (97.4 %), Lithuania had the lowest share (9.6 %); this can be explained by the size and location of the country.

Focus on international road freight transport

An important factor in the increase of road freight transport observed since 2012 is the development of international transport. Indeed, an increase of international transport implies longer distances are travelled and often heavier loads are carried: international transport is usually performed by heavier vehicles, empty journeys are avoided as much as possible and distances travelled are longer.

In 2016 compared with 2012, an increase in the share of international transport in total road freight transport can be seen in all Member States that joined the EU since 2004, except for the Czech Republic and Hungary. The highest increases were recorded in Cyprus (+35.0 %), Romania (+27.0 %) and Croatia (+24.5 %). Increases were observed in half of the Member States (see Table 5 for complete data). Between 2012 and 2016, important decrease in the share of international transport in total road freight transport was recorded in Finland (-39.3 %), the United Kingdom (-32.4 %) and Denmark (-27.8 %).

When looking at the evolution of international transport for the EU total, the impact of the increase of a Member State’s international transport is also linked to the share represented by that Member State in the EU total international transport. This information is provided in Figure 4. In 2016, Poland continues to have the highest share in EU international transport (28.2 %) and saw its share of international transport growing from 60.0 % in 2012 to 63.3 % in 2016, followed by Spain with a share of 11.0 % which recorded a slight growth of it's share of international transport from 33.1 % in 2012 to 33.2 % in 2016.

Figure 5 shows the share of cross-trade and cabotage in international transport for 2016. The EU-28 share of cross-trade is 26.3 % and cabotage represents 5.9 %. For eight Member States (Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Estonia, Ireland and Greece), the share of cross-trade in international transport represented more than 40 % of international transport. It can be observed that for Estonia the share of cabotage is also very high with 21.4 %. This can be explained by the location of the country.

When looking at the repartition of cross-trade between the different Member States in 2016, the seven countries with the highest shares are Poland, Lithuania, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Hungary and Slovakia, all Member States that joined the EU after 2004 (Table 6). Most of these Member States have seen an increase of their shares since 2012, while the Czech Republic, Denmark and the United Kingdom recorded the highest decreases over the same period. Poland takes the lion’s share and performed 30.9 % of total EU cross-trade in 2016, while the other Member States all have shares below 10 %.

Average vehicle loads

In this article, the "average load" has been calculated by dividing annual freight transport performance (tonne-kilometres) by the corresponding laden distance travelled (vehicle-kilometres, equivalent to kilometres). This indicator provides information on the average weight in tonnes carried per road vehicle in each Member State and at EU level.

EU-28 average vehicle loads were 13.6 tonnes in 2016, with national loads of 12.7 tonnes and international loads of 15.8 tonnes. Greece had the highest international load at 19.6 tonnes, while Finland has the highest national load at 17.0 tonnes (Figure 6).

Vehicle loads were higher for longer distance journeys with the exception of the United Kingdom. It can be noticed that the average load in national transport in Slovakia was 59.2 % below the EU average, with only 5.2 tonnes.

Table 7 shows the development of average vehicle loads for EU Member States, Norway and Switzerland over the period 2012 to 2016. EU-28 average vehicle load decreased slightly from 13.7 tonnes in 2012 to 13.6 tonnes in 2016, a value that remained quite stable over this period.

At individual Member State level, in 2016 almost two thirds of the countries recorded increases of their average vehicle loads compared to 2015, which is exactly the opposite that can be seen for the period 2015 compared to 2014 when almost two thirds of the countries recorded decreases of their average vehicle loads. In 2014, half of the countries recorded increases compared to 2013, while in 2013 less than half of the countries recorded increases in the average vehicle load compared to 2012.

In 2016, ten Member States recorded an increase of 1 % or more and seven Member States recorded a decrease of 1 % or more in the average vehicle load compared with 2015.

The highest increases can be observed in Greece (4.6 %), Denmark (4.1 %) and Belgium (3.6 %), while on the other end France (-6.0 %), Finland (-5.2 %) and the Czech Republic (-4.3 %) recorded the highest decreases.

Among the Member States that joined the EU since 2004, five (the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania and Hungary) recorded decreased average loads between 2012 and 2016. The growth was substantial in the case of Bulgaria (increasing from 14.7 tonnes in 2012 to 15.6 tonnes in 2016), Slovakia (from 14.9 tonnes in 2012 to 15.7 in 2016) and Estonia (from 16.5 tonnes in 2012 to 16.9 tonnes in 2016). These substantial changes possibly reflect the continuous integration of these Member States into the EU and investment in upgrading their commercial vehicle fleets.

These data show a strong trend for carrying heavier loads in road vehicles, especially in the Member States that joined the EU since 2004.

Average distance travelled

The average distance on which goods are carried used in this publication has been calculated by dividing tonne-kilometres by tonnes for laden journeys only. This indicator provides information on the average distance travelled per journey in each Member State and at EU level.

Average distance of journeys performed in road freight transport in the EU-28 was 126 kilometres in 2016. This average distance was 88 kilometres in national transport and 582 kilometres in international transport. The average distance obtained for individual Member States depends on the size of the country and on its involvement in international transport where longer distances are travelled.

Among Member States, distances travelled by Lithuanian hauliers were much higher than in most other countries, reaching 487 km. This is a reflection of the importance of international transport in that country. In contrast, the distances travelled by hauliers registered in Cyprus and Greece were much lower at 36 km and 50 km respectively.

Table 8 shows the evolution of average distance travelled for EU Member States, Norway and Switzerland over the period 2012 to 2016. For this period, average distance in the EU-28 recorded an increase of 5.1 %.

In 2016, EU-28 showed an increase of 2.0 % compared with 2015, following an increase of the average distance travelled in 15 Member States. Nine Member States recorded a decrease of more than 2 %, the highest ones being recorded in Estonia (-12.7 %), the Czech Republic (-11.0 %) and Cyprus (-8.6 %). The highest increases were recorded in Bulgaria (20.8 %), Romania (13.6 %) and Portugal (11.5 %).

Transport by distance classes

At EU-28 level, most of the goods are carried over distances between 300 km and 999 km (39.1 % in 2016). This is also the case for most of the countries (see Table 9). However, in specific cases, some countries have different patterns.

For some small islands or countries with an important domestic market, the share of road freight transport over short distances (less than 150 km) is higher: Ireland, Cyprus, the Netherlands and Austria. On the other hand, countries with important international transport usually have a higher share of road freight transport over long distances (over 1 000 km), such as Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Portugal, Romania and Slovakia.

It has to be noted that there were important variations since 2012 in each distance class, however the global trend of a country’s road freight transport is often observed in most of the distance classes.

Empty runnings

Figure 8 shows the percentage of vehicle-kilometres recorded as empty. At EU-28 level, a quarter of journeys were performed by empty vehicles (25.4 % in 2016). The share of empty journeys grows to 30.3 % for national transport, but is only 14.3 % for international transport in 2016.

At the total transport level, most Member States fall in the range between 15 % and 30 % empty journeys. However, the figure for Cyprus is 77.6 %, probably a reflection of the journeys carrying goods imported through ports and construction traffic, which is largely one way. Empty journeys for Greece and Ireland, recording 56.4 % and 51.8 % empty vehicle-kilometres respectively, again possibly reflect port and construction traffic. At the other extreme are Belgium with 5.1 % empty vehicle-kilometres, Luxembourg with 5.9 % and Denmark with 11.2 %.

The total figures largely reflected performance in national transport. In contrast, for international transport, all Member States reported substantially lower levels of empty runnings, only four countries being over 25 % (the Netherlands with 27.4 %, France with 27.0 %, Austria with 26.6 % and Ireland with 25.2 %). This shows the economic importance of finding loads for international return journeys, while empty journeys can be more present in domestic transport.

Data sources and availability

Bulgaria and Romania: While Bulgaria and Romania had no obligation prior to accession in 2007, they started to report data for the reference year 2006.

Croatia: While Croatia had no obligation prior to accession in 2013, it started to report data for the reference year 2008.

Malta: Regulation (EU) No 70/2012 does not apply to Malta, so long as the number of Maltese-registered goods road transport vehicles licensed to engage in international transport does not exceed 400 vehicles.

Finland: National and international surveys have been harmonised and follow a common methodology from Q1 2011 onwards, leading to a break in time series in 2011.

Sweden: A break in series was produced in 2014 following a change in methodology. On the basis of a specific survey, Sweden corrected the European road freight survey results for trucks participating to the sample which were not in use over the surveyed period.

EU-28 totals calculated in this publication refer to road freight transport reported by the 28 Member States excluding Malta which does not report road freight statistics.

International transport loaded and unloaded: International transport as presented in this publication is based on goods loaded and unloaded in the reporting Member States. Double counting is avoided since reporting relates only to resident carriers of the reporting countries: the figures sum up the goods transported by resident carriers to all other countries of the world and the goods brought into the reporting country by resident carriers from all other countries of the world.

Data availability: The figures presented in this publication have been extracted from Eurostat’s free dissemination database and reflect the state of data availability on the 31/10/2017.

In this article:

  • 1 billion = 1 000 000 000
  • "- "not applicable
  • ": "not available
  • "c "confidential

Context

Data presented in this publication were collected in the framework of Regulation (EU) No 70/2012 on statistical returns in respect of the carriage of goods by road (recast). These data are based on sample surveys carried out in the reporting countries, i.e. EU Member States, Norway and Switzerland, and record the road goods transport undertaken by vehicles registered in these countries.

Reporting countries use their own national surveys for the collection of data based on returns from road hauliers. The results are microdata referring to vehicles and their linked journeys providing detailed information on goods transported. At European level, common aggregation procedures have been used that might diverge from national practices. Therefore differences might occur between the figures in this publication and national values.

See also

Further Eurostat information

Publications

Main tables

Road transport (t_road)

Database

Road transport (road)
Road freight transport measurement (road_go)

Dedicated section

Source data for tables and figures (MS Excel)

Other information

  • Regulation (EC) No 70/2012 on statistical returns in respect of the carriage of goods by road (recast)
  • Regulation (EU) No 1304/2007 of 7 November 2007 amending Directive 95/64, Regulation (EC) No 1172/98, Regulations (EC) No 91/2003 and (EC) No 1365/2006 with respect to the establishment of NST 2007 as the unique classification for transported goods in certain transport modes