Road freight transport by journey characteristics


Data extracted in August 2018.

Planned article update: January 2020.

Highlights

International road freight transport increased by 6.4 % between 2016 and 2017.

Poland remained the top country performing international transport in 2017.

At EU-28 level, a fifth of road freight journeys were performed by empty vehicles in 2017.

Average vehicle loads for total road freight transport, 2017 (tonnes)

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.

This article, together with the articles 'Road freight transport by vehicle characteristics', 'Road freight transport by type of goods' and 'Road freight transport statistics' present a complete overview of road freight transport in Europe.

Full article

Road transport by type of operation

Trends in road freight transport

EU-28 road freight transport continued its increasing trend in 2017, accounting for around 1 913 billion tonne-kilometres which represented an increase of 4.5 % compared to 2016.

Table 1 shows that in 2017 half of the Member States reported an increase of their road freight transport compared with 2016 in terms of tonne-kilometres. The largest increases in road freight transport were observed in Lithuania (+26.2 %), Cyprus (+17.5 %) and Greece (+15.5 %), and the highest in Belgium (-13.4 %), Czechia (-12.0 %) and Estonia (-7.8 %).

Between 2013 and 2017, road freight transport increased by 11.8 % in terms of tonne-kilometres. The highest increases were registered in Greece (+71.1 %), Romania (+60.8 %) and Lithuania (+48.5 %), and the largest in Czechia (-19.3 %), Belgium (-18.5 %) and Portugal (-6.5 %).


Table 1: Road freight transport, 2013-2017
(million tonne-kilometres)
Source: Eurostat (road_go_ta_tott)


When it comes to total transport in tonnes, the same trends were observed, with an increase of 2.8 % in 2017 compared to 2016 (see Table 2 for complete data). The biggest increases were observed in Cyprus (+30.0 %), Lithuania (+21.1 %) and Slovenia (+14.9 %), while the highest decreases were observed in Estonia (-16.2 %), Belgium (-6.4 %) and Greece (-5.2 %).

Over the period 2013-2017, total tonnes carried followed the same ascending trend with an increase of 6.1 %. The highest increases were registered in Sweden (+62.0 %), Cyprus (+58.8 %) and Lithuania (+47.1 %). Important decreases were observed in Belgium (-20.4 %), France (-14.3 %) and Italy (-13.5 %).


Table 2: Road freight transport, 2013-2017
(thousand tonnes)
Source: Eurostat (road_go_ta_tott)


When looking at the evolution of EU-28 road freight transport from 2013 onward, globally the same trends were observed for the national road freight transport and international road freight transport for both tonnes and tonne-kilometres (Figure 1 and Figure 2).


Figure 1: Road freight transport, EU-28, 2013-2017
(based on tonne-kilometres, 2013 = 100)
Source: Eurostat (road_go_ta_tott)


Figure 2: Road freight transport, EU-28, 2013-2017
(based on tonnes, 2013 = 100)
Source: Eurostat (road_go_ta_tott)


Table 3 shows that the national road freight transport in EU-28 increased between 2016 and 2017 by 3.5 %, with most of the countries recording increases. The highest increases were recorded in Cyprus (+17.3 %), followed by Latvia (+15.4 %) and Bulgaria (+13.7 %), while the largest decreases were seen in Belgium (-13.1 %), Estonia (-9.0 %) and Denmark (-3.5 %).


Table 3: National road freight transport, 2013-2017
(million tonne-kilometres)
Source: Eurostat (road_go_ta_tott)


The importance of national transport at country-level is very different: in 2017, it accounted for more than 90 % in Cyprus, the United Kingdom, Finland, France and Sweden, but less than 20 % in Lithuania, Slovakia, Luxembourg and Slovenia. While Cyprus had the highest share of national transport (97.1 %), Lithuania had the lowest share (8.1 %); this can be explained by the size and location of these countries.

Focus on international road freight transport

An important factor in the increase of road freight transport observed since 2013 is the development of international transport. Indeed, an increase of international transport implies that longer distances are travelled and often heavier loads are carried: international transport is usually performed by heavier vehicles on longer distances, while the empty journeys are avoided as much as possible.

International road freight transport between 2016 and 2017 increased by 6.4 %, while between 2013 and 2017 it increased by 15.3 %. More than half of the Member States recorded increases of their international transport.


Table 4: International road freight transport, 2013-2017
(million tonne-kilometres)
Source: Eurostat (road_go_ta_tott)


Compared with 2013, in 2017 an increase in the share of international transport in total road freight transport was seen in all Member States that joined the EU since 2004, except for Czechia, Hungary and Slovakia. The highest increases were recorded in Greece (+95.2 %), Croatia (+21.5 %) and Romania (+18.9 %). Decreases were observed in almost two thirds of the Member States (see Table 5), the most important ones being recorded in Finland (-58.7 %), Czechia (-29.8 %) and the United Kingdom (-28.5 %).


Table 5: International transport in road freight transport, 2013-2017
(% share in tonne-kilometres)
Source: Eurostat (road_go_ta_tott)


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 3 and Figure 4. In 2017, Poland continued to have the highest share in EU international transport (30.8 %) and saw its share of international transport growing from 59.5 % in 2013 to 64.2 % in 2017, followed by Spain with a share of 10.9 % which recorded a slight decrease of its share of international transport from 34.1 % in 2013 to 33.1 % in 2017.


Figure 3: International transport in road freight transport, 2013 and 2017
(% share in tonne-kilometres)
Source: Eurostat (road_go_ta_tott)


Figure 4: International road freight transport, 2017
(% share of EU total in tonne-kilometres)
Source: Eurostat (road_go_ta_tott)


Figure 5 shows the share of cross-trade and cabotage in international transport for 2017. The EU-28 share of cross-trade transport was 26.7 % while cabotage transport represented 6.5 %. For six Member States (Lithuania, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia and Luxembourg), the share of cross-trade in international transport represented more than 40 % of international transport. For Luxembourg, the share of cabotage is also very high with 19.8 %; this can be explained by the location of the country.


Figure 5: Cross-trade and cabotage in international road freight transport, 2017
(% share in tonne-kilometres)
Source: Eurostat (road_go_ta_tott)


When looking at the repartition of cross-trade between the different Member States in 2017, the seven countries with the highest shares are Poland, Lithuania, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Hungary and Slovenia, all Member States that joined the EU after 2004 (see Table 6). Poland continued to be the top cross-trade transporter in 2017, with a share of 33.1 % of total EU cross-trade transport, followed by Lithuania and Romania (11.2 % and 10.5 % respectively). All the other Member States had shares below 10 %. Most of the Member States recorded decreases of their shares since 2013, the highest decreases were observed in Czechia, Finland and Denmark, while Romania, Croatia and Ireland recorded the highest increases over the same period.


Table 6: Cross-trade transport, 2013-2017
(% share of EU total in tonne-kilometres)
Source: Eurostat (road_go_ta_tott)

Average vehicle loads

In this article, the "average load" was 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 13.7 tonnes in 2017, with national loads of 12.7 tonnes and international loads of 15.9 tonnes. Cyprus had the highest international load at 24.0 tonnes, while Finland had the highest national load at 17.0 tonnes (see Figure 6).

Vehicle loads were higher for longer distance journeys. The average load in national transport in Slovakia was 57.2 % below the EU average, with only 5.4 tonnes.


Figure 6: Average loads for total road freight transport, 2017
(tonnes)
Source: Eurostat (road_go_ta_tott)


Table 7 shows the development of average vehicle loads for EU Member States, Norway and Switzerland over the period 2013 to 2017. EU-28 average vehicle load remained quite stable during this period, at 13.7 tonnes, with just a small variation in 2015 (13.6 tonnes) and 2016 (13.5 tonnes).

At individual Member State level, in 2017 almost two thirds of the countries recorded increases of their average vehicle loads compared to 2016, situation which occurred also in 2016 compared to 2015. The most decreases were seen between 2014 and 2015 when almost two thirds of the countries recorded decreases of their average vehicle loads, while a balanced situation was seen in 2014 compared to 2013.

In 2017, thirteen Member States recorded increases of 1 % or more and five Member States recorded decreases of 1 % or more in the average vehicle load compared to 2016.

The highest increases were seen in Portugal (7.1 %), Cyprus (5.0 %) and Bulgaria (4.2 %), while on the other end Slovakia (-9.9 %), Belgium (-4.7 %) and Czechia (-3.4 %) recorded the highest decreases.

Among the Member States that joined the EU since 2004, only four (Czechia, Slovakia, Latvia, and Hungary) recorded decreased average loads between 2013 and 2017. The growth was substantial in Bulgaria (increasing from 15.2 tonnes in 2013 to 16.3 tonnes in 2017), Slovenia (from 15.2 tonnes in 2013 to 15.8 in 2017) and Estonia (from 16.3 tonnes in 2013 to 17.0 tonnes in 2017). 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.


Table 7: Average vehicle loads for total road freight transport, 2013-2017
(tonnes)
Source: Eurostat (road_go_ta_tott)

Average distance travelled

The average distance on which goods are carried used in this publication was 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 131 kilometres in 2017. This average distance was 90 kilometres in national transport and 591 kilometres in international transport (see Figure 7). 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 508 km. This is a reflection of the importance of international transport in that country. In contrast, the distances travelled by hauliers registered in Cyprus were much lower, only 32 km.


Figure 7: Average distance on which goods are carried, 2017
(kilometres)
Source: Eurostat (road_go_ta_tott)


Table 8 shows the evolution of average distance travelled for EU Member States, Norway and Switzerland over the period 2013 to 2017. For this period, the average distance in the EU-28 recorded an increase of 5.4 %.

In 2017, the EU-28 average distance travelled showed an increase of 1.7 % compared to 2016, following the increases of the average distance travelled in 12 Member States. Twelve Member States recorded decreases of more than 2 %, the highest ones being recorded in Czechia (-17.3 %), Slovakia (-13.4 %) and Cyprus (-9.6 %). The highest increases were recorded in Greece (21.9 %), Estonia (10.0 %) and France (8.4 %).


Table 8: Average distance on which goods are carried for total road freight transport, 2013-2017
(kilometres)
Source: Eurostat (road_go_ta_tott)

Transport by distance classes

At EU-28 level, most of the goods were carried over distances between 300 and 999 km (39.3 % in 2017). This was also the case for most of the countries (see Table 9). However, in specific cases, some countries had different patterns.

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

It has to be noted that there were important variations since 2013 in each distance class, however the global trend of a country’s road freight transport was often observed in most of the distance classes.


Table 9: Road freight transport by distance class, 2017
(million tonne-kilometres)
Source: Eurostat (road_go_ta_dc)

Empty runnings

Figure 8 shows the percentage of vehicle-kilometres recorded as empty in 2017. At EU-28 level, one fifth of road freight journeys were performed by empty vehicles. The share of empty journeys increased to 23.1 % for national transport, but was only 12.2 % for international transport in 2017.

At total transport level, most Member States fell in the range between 15 % and 30 % empty journeys. However, the figure for Cyprus was 44.0 %, probably a reflection of the journeys carrying goods imported through ports and construction traffic, which is largely one way. Empty journeys for Ireland and Austria were slightly higher than the average, recording 34.8 % and 33.9 % empty vehicle-kilometres respectively, again possibly reflect port and construction traffic. At the other extreme were Belgium with 5.8 % empty vehicle-kilometres, Luxembourg with 6.5 % and Denmark with 9.4 %.

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 20 % (Austria with 22.1 %, Ireland with 21.2 %, France with 21.0 % and the Netherlands with 20.9 %). This shows the economic importance of finding loads for international return journeys, while empty journeys can be more present in domestic transport.


Figure 8: Empty road journeys by type of operation, 2017
(% share in vehicle-kilometres)
Source: Eurostat (road_go_ta_tott)

Source data for tables and graphs

Data sources

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

Croatia: While Croatia had no obligation prior to accession in 2013, it started reporting 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 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 15/08/2018.

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.

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