Road freight transport by journey characteristics
Data extracted in December 2019.
Planned article update: November 2021.
Road freight transport increased by 1.2 % between 2017 and 2018 in terms of tonnage.
Poland remained the top country performing international transport in 2018.
At EU level, 12.3 % of road freight journeys in international transport were performed by empty vehicles in 2018.
Average vehicle loads for total road freight transport, 2018 (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.
Road transport by type of operation
Trends in road freight transport
Between 2017 and 2018, high increases were registered in Cyprus (8.0 %) and Romania (7.4 %), while large decreases were recorded in Poland (-5.8 %) and Hungary (-4.4 %). Table 1 shows that in 2018 half of the Member States reported an increase of their road freight transport compared with 2014 in terms of tonne-kilometres. The largest increases in road freight transport were observed in Romania (67.2 %), Cyprus (65.8 %) and Lithuania (55.3 %), and the highest decreases in Estonia (-8.5 %), Denmark (-7.4 %) and Portugal (-5.4 %).
When it comes to total transport in tonnes, the same trends were observed, with an increase of 1.2 % in 2018 compared to 2017 (see Table 2 for complete data).
The biggest increases were observed in Cyprus (14.5 %) and Hungary (9.8 %), while the highest decreases were observed in Poland (-7.4 %) and Greece (-6.9 %). Over the period 2014-2018, the highest increases were registered in Cyprus (100.9 %), Lithuania (54.7 %), Romania and Slovakia (24.2 % each). Important decreases were observed in Greece (-10.3 %), Denmark (-6.0 %) and Finland (-2.1 %).
When looking at the EU road freight transport by type of operation in tkm (see Table 3), ten Member States recorded increases in both national road freight transport and international road freight transport (Ireland, Spain, Croatia, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovenia and Slovakia), while only one recorded decreases in both type of operations over the period 2014-2018 (Denmark).
When it comes to the EU road freight transport by type of operation in tonnes (see Table 4), the trends are more or less the same: ten Member States recorded increases in both national and international road freight transport (Ireland, Spain, Croatia, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Sweden), while three Member States recorded decreases on both national and international transport: Denmark, France and Italy.
Table 5 presents the national road freight transport in tkm, with most of the countries recording increases between 2017 and 2018. The highest increases were recorded in Lithuania (14.4 %), followed by Hungary (8.7 %) and Cyprus (7.9 %), while the largest decreases were seen in Bulgaria (-7.1 %), Poland (-4.5 %) and Denmark (-4.0 %). Between 2014 and 2018, high increases were recorded in Cyprus (64.4 %), Czechia (40.0 %) and Hungary (34.8 %). Decreases were registered only in Denmark (-6.8 %).
The importance of national transport at country-level is very different: in 2018, it accounted for more than 90 % in Cyprus and the United Kingdom, but less than 20 % in Lithuania, Slovenia and Slovakia. While Cyprus had the highest share of national transport (97.1 %), Lithuania had the lowest share (8.4 %); this can be explained by the size and location of these countries.
Focus on international road freight transport
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 in tkm between 2017 and 2018 decreased by 2.8 %. More than half of the Member States recorded decreases of their international transport. The highest decreases were registered in Bulgaria (-28.4 %), followed by Czechia (-21.7 %) and Sweden (-14.5 %), while the highest increases were recorded in Lithuania (11.2 %), Croatia (10.0 %) and the United Kingdom (8.7 %).
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 1 and Figure 2. In 2018, Poland continued to have the highest share in EU international transport (29.5 %) and saw its share of international transport growing from 61.5 % in 2014 to 63.7 % in 2018; it was followed by Spain with a share of 11.8 % and Romania with 6.5 % for year 2018.
Figure 3 shows the share of cross-trade and cabotage in international transport for 2018. The EU share of cross-trade transport was 26.2 % while cabotage transport represented 6.2 %. For five Member States (Lithuania, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Romania and Slovakia), the share of cross-trade in international transport represented more than 40 % of international transport.
When looking at the repartition of cross-trade between the different Member States in 2018, the seven countries with the highest shares are Poland, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Slovenia and Hungary, all Member States that joined the EU after 2004 (see Table 7). Poland continued to be the top cross-trade transporter in 2018, with a share of 32.9 % of total EU cross-trade transport, followed by Lithuania and Romania (14.0 % and 11.5 % respectively). All the other Member States had shares below 10 %.
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 average vehicle loads for international transport were 16.0 tonnes in 2018. Cyprus had the highest international load at 26.0 tonnes, while Finland had the highest national load at 17.2 tonnes (see Figure 4). Slovakia recorded the lowest average load in national transport (only 6.0 tonnes).
Table 8 shows the development of average vehicle loads for EU Member States, Norway and Switzerland over the period 2014 to 2018.
In 2018, there was a balanced situation with twelve countries recording increases while eleven countries recorded decreases of their average vehicle loads compared to 2017. In 2017 compared to 2016 as well as in 2016 compared to 2015, almost two thirds of the countries recorded increases of their average vehicle loads. Between 2014 and 2015 almost two thirds of the countries recorded decreases of their average vehicle loads.
In 2018, seven Member States recorded increases of 1 % or more and six Member States recorded decreases of 1 % or more in the average vehicle load compared to 2017. The highest increases were seen in Cyprus (14.1 %), Slovakia (10.7 %) and the United Kingdom (3.6 %), while on the other end Portugal (-3.8 %), Estonia (-3.0 %), Czechia and Ireland (-1.7 % each) recorded the highest decreases.
Among the Member States that joined the EU since 2004, only five (Czechia, Estonia, Latvia, Hungary and Romania) recorded decreased average loads between 2014 and 2018. The growth was substantial in Cyprus (increasing from 10.2 tonnes in 2014 to 12.6 tonnes in 2018), Slovenia (from 15.1 tonnes in 2014 to 16.1 in 2018) and Bulgaria (from 15.7 tonnes in 2014 to 16.4 tonnes in 2018). 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 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 international road freight transport in the EU was 581 kilometres in 2018 (see Figure 5). 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 489 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 30 km.
Table 9 shows the evolution of average distance travelled for EU Member States, Norway and Switzerland over the period 2014 to 2018. Between 2017 and 2018, ten Member States recorded decreases of more than 2 %, the highest ones being recorded in Bulgaria (-18.9 %), Hungary (-12.9 %) and Latvia (-11.2 %). The highest increases were recorded in Greece (10.9 %), Slovenia (7.8 %) and Croatia (4.4 %).
Transport by distance classes
At Member State level, most of the goods were carried over distances between 300 and 999 km (see Table 10). 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: Czechia, 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. It has to be noted that there were important variations since 2014 in each distance class, however the global trend of a country’s road freight transport was often observed in most of the distance classes.
Figure 6 shows the percentage of vehicle-kilometres recorded as empty in 2018. At EU level, 12.3 % of road freight journeys in international transport were performed by empty vehicles.
At total transport level, most Member States fell in the range between 15 % and 30 % empty journeys. However, the figure for Cyprus was 50.0 %, 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 35.1 % and 34.2 % empty vehicle-kilometres respectively, again possibly reflect port and construction traffic. At the other extreme was Denmark with 9.3 % empty vehicle-kilometres.
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 three countries being over 20 % (Austria with 22.1 %, the Netherlands with 21.5 % and France with 20.6 %). This shows the economic importance of finding loads for international return journeys, while empty journeys can be more present in domestic transport.
Source data for tables and graphs
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 totals calculated in this publication refer to road freight transport reported by the EU Member States excluding Malta which is currently exempted from reporting road freight statistics, and Luxembourg for which data is not available for 2018.
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 12/12/2019.
In this article:
- 1 billion = 1 000 000 000
- "- "not applicable
- ": "not available
- "c "confidential
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.
- Transport, see:
- Road transport (t_road)
- Transport, see:
- Road transport (road)
- Road freight transport measurement (road_go)
- Energy, transport and environment statistics - 2019 edition - Statistical book
- Glossary for transport statistics - 5th edition - 2019 - Manuals and guidelines
- Methodologies used in surveys of road freight transport in Member States, EFTA and Candidate Countries - Revised, 2017 edition - Manuals and guidelines
- Road freight transport methodology - Revised edition, August 2017 - Manuals and guidelines
- Road freight transport measurement (ESMS metadata file)
- Regulation (EC) No 70/2012 on statistical returns in respect of the carriage of goods by road (recast)
- Summaries of EU legislation: Rules for the compilation of statistics regarding goods carried by road
- 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