Statistics Explained

Road freight transport by journey characteristics


Data extracted in October 2021.

Planned article update: November 2022.

Highlights

Total road freight transport fell by 0.9% in the EU in 2020; out of 26 Member States, 20 recorded a decrease in tonne-kilometres compared to 2019.

Between 2019 and 2020, the total EU road freight transport recorded a fall of -3.8% in the tonnes carried.

Poland remained the top country for performing international transport in 2019 and 2020.

At EU level, a fifth of road freight journeys were performed by empty vehicles in 2019 and 2020.

[[File:Barchart_Average_loads.xlsx]]

Average loads of road freight transport by type of operation, 2019 and 2020

This article presents road freight transport in the European Union (EU) regarding the type of transport operation performed, up to and including 2020. It describes the trend up to 2019, before the outbreak of the Covid pandemic, and contrasts this with the impact of the pandemic on freight transport by road in 2020. The article presents total, national and international transport performed, with a special focus on international road freight transport. It also presents average loads carried and average distances over which goods were moved.

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

Full article

Road transport by type of operation

EU road freight transport continued its increasing trend in 2019, accounting for around 1 820 billion tonne-kilometres which represented an increase of 12.7 % compared to 2015.

Table 1 shows the total road freight transport over the period 2015 to 2020. It also provides the trend over the pre-pandemic period 2015-2019 and the change from 2019 to 2020.

In 2019, more than half of the Member States reported an increase in their road freight transport compared to 2015 in terms of tonne-kilometres (16 out of 26). The largest increases in road freight transport were observed in Lithuania (+100.6 %), Romania (+56.4 %), Cyprus (+52.4 %) and Greece (+42.7 %), while the highest decreases over this period were reported by Bulgaria (-36.4 %), Czechia (-33.5 %) and Estonia (-23.5 %).

Between 2019 and 2020, EU road freight transport recorded a decrease of -0.9 % in terms of tonne-kilometres, caused mainly by the COVID-19 pandemic. Among the 26 Member States for which 2020 data is available, 20 recorded decreases compared to the previous year. The highest falls were registered in Portugal (-21.8 %), Cyprus (-17.4 %) and Luxembourg (-16.3 %), while there was strong growth in Bulgaria (+58.5 %) and Czechia (+43.6 %) compared to 2019.

Table 1: Road freight transport, 2015-2020
(million tonne-kilometres)
Source: Eurostat (road_go_ta_tott)

When it comes to transport in tonnes, the same trends were observed, with an increase of +6.9 % in 2019 compared to 2015 (see Table 2 for complete data). The biggest increases were observed in Cyprus (+103.9 %), Lithuania (+72.0 %) and Ireland (+35.3 %), while the highest decreases over this period were observed in Bulgaria (-29.1 %), Greece (-15.7 %) and France (-9.0 %).

Between 2019 and 2020, total EU road freight transport recorded a fall of -3.8 % in the tonnes carried. This reflects the national trends; the transported tonnage fell in 20 of the EU Member States, rising in only six (Malta is exempt from reporting data). The strongest falls were registered in Luxembourg (-18.8 %), Greece (-18.3 %) and Estonia (-17.9 %). Among the Member States with rising tonnages, the largest increases were observed in Bulgaria (+18.9 %), Denmark and Lithuania (both with +6.2 %).

Table 2: Road freight transport, 2015-2020
(thousand tonnes)
Source: Eurostat (road_go_ta_tott)

When looking at the evolution of EU road freight transport from 2015 onwards, the trends observed for national road freight transport and international road freight transport measured in tonne-kilometres are very similar to each other (Figure 1) and to the trend for national transport measured in tonnes (Figure 2). However, international transport in tonnes showed more rapid growth than national transport in 2016 and 2017. In 2018, while national transport in tonnes remained relatively unchanged, international transport fell. Both national and international transport in tonnes grew from 2018 to 2019, but while international transport remained at the same level in 2020, national transport fell (Figure 2).

Figure 1: Road freight transport by type of operation, EU, 2015-2020
(based on tonne-kilometres, 2015 = 100)
Source: Eurostat (road_go_ta_tott)


Figure 2: Road freight transport by type of operation, EU, 2015-2020
(based on tonnes, 2015 = 100)
Source: Eurostat (road_go_ta_tott)

Table 3 shows that the overall national road freight transport in the EU increased by 11.5 % from 2015 to 2019 in tonne-kilometres, with most of the Member States recording increases. The highest increase was recorded in Cyprus (+51.6 %), followed by Romania (+38.2 %), Hungary (+29.2 %), Ireland (+28.9 %) and Slovenia (+28.3 %). In contrast, the largest decreases were reported by Luxembourg (-32.4 %) and Bulgaria (-20.3 %), with Portugal (-3.5 %) and Denmark (-2.9 %) following far behind.

Between 2019 and 2020, the steady increase in national freight transport was interrupted, declining by -0.9 % against the backdrop of the slow-down in activity caused by the Covid pandemic. Sixteen of the EU Member States recorded decreases in national transport, most emphatically in Estonia (-25.6 %), Luxembourg (-22.7 %) and Cyprus (-19.1 %). Nevertheless, despite the pandemic, national transport grew in 10 of the Member States, with particularly strong growth recorded in Bulgaria (+29.6 %), Czechia (+13.0 %), Lithuania (+12.4 %) and Latvia (+10.9 %).

Table 3: National road freight transport, 2015-2020
(million tonne-kilometres)
Source: Eurostat (road_go_ta_tott)

The importance of national transport within the transport sector varies considerably between the Member States: in 2019 and 2020, national transport accounted for more than 90 % of the tonne-kilometres in Cyprus, Sweden, France and Finland, but less than 20 % in Lithuania, Luxembourg, Slovakia and Slovenia (only 2020). While Cyprus recorded the highest share of national transport (96.9 % in 2019 and 94.8 % in 2020), Lithuania recorded the lowest share (6.7 % in 2019 and 7.2 % in 2020); this may be explained by a combination of the size and the geographical location of these countries.

International road freight transport

An important factor in the increase of road freight transport between 2015 and 2019 is the development of international transport. Indeed, an increase of international transport in tkm implies either that longer distances are travelled or that heavier loads are carried, often in combination: international transport is usually performed with heavier loads on longer distances, while empty journeys are avoided as far as possible.

At EU level, international road freight transport in tkm grew by 14.6 % between 2015 and 2019 (see Table 4). Ten Member States recorded increases over this period, several of them considerable. International transport more than doubled in Greece (+172.3 %) and Lithuania (+110.3 %), and grew strongly also in Cyprus (+80.8 %) and Romania (+64.6 %). At the other end of the scale, among the 16 Member States for which international transport fell, Czechia (-62.6 %), Bulgaria (-41.0 %) and Estonia (-34.9 %) stood out.

In 2020, international transport fell by 1.0 % in the EU. Only five Member States recorded increases. Notably, the strongest increases were reported by Czechia (+98.0 %) and Bulgaria (+69.6 %), the two countries that reported the strongest decreases over the period 2015-2019. The other 21 Member States for which data are available (Malta is exempt) registered falls of between -0.5 % and -24.7 % in international transport in tkm, reflecting the effects on activity level and on cross-border transport movements of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Table 4: International road freight transport, 2015-2020
(million tonne-kilometres)
Source: Eurostat (road_go_ta_tott)

The share of international transport in total EU road freight transport stood at 38.6 % in 2019, up 1.8 percentage points (pp) compared to 2015 when the share was 37.9 %. In 2020, the share at EU level remained unchanged at 38.6 % (see Table 5).

Over the period 2015-2019, the share of international transport in total road freight transport increased in 10 of the Member States. The highest increase by far was recorded in Greece (+90.8 %), followed at some distance by Cyprus (+14.8 %) and Poland (+10.0 %). Significant decreases were observed in Czechia (-43.7 %), Finland (-40.8 %) and Sweden (-29.3 %).

In 2020, the share of international transport rose in only nine Member States, most noticeable in Cyprus (+67.7 %) and Czechia (+37.8 %). At the other end of the scale, the largest decreases in these shares were observed in Denmark (-18.0 %) and Finland (-17.6 %).

Table 5: International transport in road freight transport, 2015-2020
(% share in tonne-kilometres)
Source: Eurostat (road_go_ta_tott)

When looking at the evolution in international transport at EU level, the impact of an increase in a Member State’s international transport is also linked to its share in the total international transport of the EU. This information is provided in Figure 3 and Figure 4.

In 2019 and 2020, Poland continued to have the highest share of EU international transport in tkm with 32.7 % and 33.2 %, respectively (see Figure 4). International transport made up a share of 59.8 % of total road freight transport in tkm in Poland in 2015, growing to 65.8 % in 2019 before falling slightly to 65.1 % in 2020. After Poland, Spain followed as the second largest operator of international transport in the EU, with a share of EU international transport of 11.9 % in 2019 and 11.3 % in 2020. The share of international transport in total road freight transport in Spain was down from 34.5 % in 2015 to 33.5 % in 2019, before a sharper fall to 32.4 % in 2020.

Figure 3: International transport in road freight transport, 2015, 2019 and 2020
(% share in tonne-kilometres)
Source: Eurostat (road_go_ta_tott)


Figure 4: International road freight transport, EU, 2019 and 2020
(% share in tonne-kilometres)
Source: Eurostat (road_go_ta_tott)

Figures 5a and 5b show the share of cross-trade and cabotage in international transport in tkm for 2019 and 2020, respectively. The share of cross-trade transport for the EU was 26.8 % in 2019 and 28.3 % in 2020. Cabotage transport represented 7.0 % and 7.4 %, respectively.

In five Member States (Bulgaria, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Romania and Slovenia), the share of cross-trade in international transport represented more than 40 % of international transport in tkm in both 2019 and 2020. For cabotage, Luxembourg stood out with a share in international transport of 20.4 % in 2019 and 21.3 % in 2020, which may be explained by the small size and the central geographical location of the country. The second highest share of cabotage was recorded by Ireland, but with 13.3 % in 2019 and 13.0 % in 2020 it was considerably lower.

Figure 5a: Cross-trade and cabotage in international road freight transport, 2019
(% share in tonne-kilometres)
Source: Eurostat (road_go_ta_tott)


Figure 5b: Cross-trade and cabotage in international road freight transport, 2020
(% share in tonne-kilometres)
Source: Eurostat (road_go_ta_tott)

When looking at the distribution of total EU cross-trade in tkm between the different Member States, the six countries with the highest shares in 2019 and 2020 were Bulgaria, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovenia and Slovakia (see Table 6). Poland continued to be the main cross-trade transporter by far, alone accounting for 35.4 % of total EU cross-trade transport in 2019 and 37.4 % in 2020. It was followed by Lithuania (16.7 % and 17.2 % respectively) and Romania (10.5 % and 8.4 %, respectively). All the other Member States registered shares below 8 %.

Most of the Member States recorded decreases in their shares of total EU cross-trade transport in tkm over the period 2015-2019 as well as in 2020. The highest decreases between 2015 and 2019 were observed in Czechia (-4.2 pp), Bulgaria (-4.1 pp), Hungary (-4.0 pp) and Slovenia (-3.0 pp), while Lithuania (+8.1 pp), Poland (+6.5 pp) and Romania (+3.6 pp) increased their share of EU total cross-trade the most.

In 2020, only three Member States increased their share in the EU total by more than 1.0 percentage points compared to 2019: Bulgaria (+3.5 pp), Poland (+2.0 pp) and Czechia (+1.5 pp). In contrast, their shares in the EU total fell by more than 1.0 pp only for Romania (-2.1 pp), Hungary (-1.1 pp) and Portugal (-1.0 pp).

Table 6: Cross-trade transport, 2015-2020
(% share of EU total in tonne-kilometres)
Source: Eurostat (road_go_ta_tott)

Average vehicle loads

In this article, the 'average load' (tonnes) 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 vehicle in the Member States and at EU level. The indicator is calculated separately for national, international and total transport. For total transport, national and international tonne-kilometres are added and then divided by the total laden distance travelled.

EU average vehicle loads were 14.3 tonnes in 2019, with national loads of 13.4 tonnes and international loads of 16.0 tonnes. In 2020, these average loads at EU level remained the same or changed only marginally: 14.3 tonnes for total transport, 13.5 tonnes for national and 15.9 tonnes for international transport.

In 2019, Cyprus had the highest international load at 27.0 tonnes, followed by Finland (23.0 tonnes) and Greece (20.2 tonnes). Finland had the highest national load at 18.1 tonnes, ahead of Italy (16.4 tonnes) and Sweden (16.3 tonnes) (see Figure 6a).

In 2020, Finland topped both lists, with its lorries carrying the highest loads for both national (19.5 tonnes) and international transport 21.0 tonnes (see Figure 6b). For national transport, Sweden and Italy had the second and third highest loads, with 16.9 tonnes and 16.4 tonnes, respectively. For international transport, other Member States with high average vehicle loads were Greece (19.0 tonnes), Cyprus (18.5 tonnes), France (18.3 tonnes) and Spain (18.1 tonnes).

The average load in national transport in Slovakia was around 58.5 % below the EU average, with only 5.6 tonnes in both 2019 and 2020.

Figure 6a: Average loads of road freight transport by type of operation, 2019
(tonnes per vehicle)
Source: Eurostat (road_go_ta_tott)


Figure 6b: Average loads of road freight transport by type of operation, 2020
(tonnes per vehicle)
Source: Eurostat (road_go_ta_tott)

Table 7 shows the development in average vehicle loads for EU Member States, Norway, Switzerland and Montenegro over the period 2015 to 2020 (total transport). At EU level, the average vehicle load remained quite stable over this period, ranging from 14.0 tonnes to 14.3 tonnes.

Over the period 2015-2019, 14 of the 26 Member State for which data are available recorded increased average vehicle loads, while eight recorded decreasing loads and four unchanged average loads. Greece stood out with an increase of 12.8 % between 2015 and 2019, corresponding to an increase of 1.8 tonnes from 14.1 tonnes in 2015 to 15.9 tonnes in 2019 after having peaked at 16.1 tonnes in 2018. Other high increases were seen in Italy (+6.5 %) and Bulgaria (+5.8 %). At the other end, Czechia (-15.5 %, corresponding to -2.0 tonnes), Slovenia (-8.0 %) and Ireland (-5.2 %) recorded the highest decreases.

When looking at 2020 compared to 2019, the EU average load remained stable at 14.3 tonnes. Among the Member States, the highest increases were observed in Finland with +6.5 %, corresponding to an increase of 1.2 tonnes, followed by Cyprus (+5.7 %) and Ireland (+5.5 %). The largest decreases were seen in the average load of freight vehicles in Luxembourg (-3.7 %), Greece (-2.5 %) and the Netherlands (-2.3 %).

Table 7: Average loads for total road freight transport, 2015-2020
(tonnes per vehicle)
Source: Eurostat (road_go_ta_tott)

Average distance travelled

The average distance over which goods are carried 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. The indicator is calculated separately for national, international and total transport. For total transport, national and international tonne-kilometres are added and then divided by the total tonnes transported.

The average distance of journeys performed in road freight transport was 135 kilometres in the EU in 2019, increasing to 139 kilometres in 2020 (see Figure 7a and Figure 7b). Correspondingly, the average distance in national transport increased from 91 kilometres in 2019 to 94 kilometres in 2020. However, in international transport the average distance was slightly down, from 590 kilometres in 2019 to 585 kilometres in 2020.

The average distance calculated for individual Member States generally depends on the size of the country and on its involvement in international transport where longer distances are travelled. Among the Member States, distances travelled by Lithuanian hauliers were substantially higher than in most other countries, reaching 527 km in 2019 and 517 km in 2020. This is a reflection of the importance of international transport for the Lithuanian road transport sector; whereas the average journey distance for Lithuanian national transport was 82 kilometres in 2019 and 88 kilometres in 2020, the corresponding distances for international transport were 866 kilometres and 832 kilometres, respectively. At the other end of the scale, the distances travelled by hauliers registered in Cyprus were much lower, with only 29 km in 2019 and 27 km in 2020. This reflected that national transport is much more important than international transport to the road freight sector in Cyprus: the overall average distance was very close to the distances in national transport, at 28 kilometres in 2019 and 26 kilometres in 2020, while average distances journeyed in international transport in these two years were 931 kilometres and 1 480 kilometres, respectively.

Figure 7a: Average distance of road freight transport by type of operation on which goods are carried, 2019
(kilometres)
Source: Eurostat (road_go_ta_tott)


Figure 7b: Average distance of road freight transport by type of operation on which goods are carried, 2020
(kilometres)
Source: Eurostat (road_go_ta_tott)

Table 8 shows the evolution of average distance travelled for the EU Member States, Norway, Switzerland and Montenegro over the period 2015 to 2020 (total transport). Over this whole period, the average distance in the EU increased by 8.6 %.

In 2019, the EU average distance travelled showed an increase of 5.4 % compared to 2015, following the increases in the average distance travelled in 10 Member States. However, 16 Member States recorded decreases of more than 2 %, with the highest decrease in Czechia (-42.1 %), Cyprus (-25.3 %) and Estonia (-24.0 %). The highest increases were recorded in Greece (+69.0 %), France (+24.6 %) and Romania (+21.1 %).

In 2020, the EU average distance travelled continued its ascending trend with an increase of 3.0 % compared to 2019. Fifteen Member States showed increases in their average distance between the two years, the highest ones being observed by Czechia (+57.4 %) and Bulgaria (+33.3 %), with Greece following in third place with a considerably lower increase (+9.3 %). The largest decreases were noticed in Romania (-13.2 %), Latvia (-10.7 %) and Denmark (-7.7 %).

Table 8: Average distance on which goods are carried for total road freight transport, 2015-2020
(kilometres)
Source: Eurostat (road_go_ta_tott)

Transport by distance classes

At EU level, most of the goods were carried over distances between 300 and 999 km (40.0 % in 2018, 40.2 % in 2019 and 40.7 % in 2020). This was also the case for most of the countries (see Table 9a). However, the data of some countries shows a different pattern with respect to the main distance classes for road freight.

For some islands and for some countries with an important domestic market, the share of road freight transport over short distances (less than 150 km) was higher: Cyprus, Ireland, the Netherlands and Austria. For Cyprus, more than 90 % of transport is carried over distances of less than 150 kilometres. On the other hand, countries where international road transport plays a key role for the transport industry usually had a higher share of transport over long distances (over 1 000 km); transport over 1 000 kilometres or more accounts for more than 40 % of total tkm in Bulgaria, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, Portugal and Romania.

Often, the overall trend in a Member State’s total road freight transport is reflected across the different distance classes for that country. For example, strong growth in total transport for a Member State generally is reflected in strong growth for that Member State in each (or at least most) of the different distance classes. As a result, there were considerable variations within each distance class, mirroring the different overall trends in the Member States (see Table 9b).

A more detailed picture on the breakdown by distance class is presented in the article 'Road freight transport statistics'.

Table 9a: Road freight transport by distance class, 2018-2020
(million tonne-kilometres)
Source: Eurostat (road_go_ta_dc)


Table 9b: Growth rates for road freight transport by distance class, 2018-2019 and 2019-2020
(%)
Source: Eurostat (road_go_ta_dc)

Empty runnings

Figures 8a and 8b show the percentage of vehicle-kilometres recorded for empty runnings in 2019 and 2020. At EU level, around one fifth of total road freight performance was carried by empty vehicles (19.9 % in 2019 and 20.2 % in 2020). The share of performance by empty vehicles is somewhat higher for national transport than for the total, at almost one quarter (23.4 % in 2019 and 23.6 % in 2020). In international road transport, the share of empty performance was only 12.1 % in 2019 and 12.9 % in 2020.

For total road freight transport, most Member States recorded a share of performance by empty vehicles in the range between 15 % and 30 %; in 2019, this was the case for 19 Member States, in 2020 it was the case for 18. The figure for Cyprus stood much higher, at 43.8 % in 2019 and 44.3 % in 2020, which likely indicates that a big share of the road freight performance is linked either to goods imported through ports or construction traffic, both of which are largely one-directional traffic. Road freight performance by empty vehicles for Ireland and Austria was also well above the EU average, recording between 33.6 % and 34.4 % vehicle-kilometres on empty runnings. At the other extreme were Belgium, with only 5.8 % vehicle-kilometres by empty vehicles in 2019 and 6.0 % in 2020, and Denmark with 8.4 % in 2019 and 8.0 % in 2020.

The total figures largely reflected performance in national transport. In contrast, for international transport, all Member States reported substantially lower levels of empty runnings, with only a few countries recording shares of road freight performance by empty vehicles over 20 % in 2019 and 2020: Luxembourg, Austria, the Netherlands and France (only in 2019). This shows the economic importance of being able to acquire loads for return journeys in international transport, while empty runnings are more prevalent in domestic transport as the distances are typically much shorter.

Figure 8a: Road transport performed by empty vehicles by type of operation, 2019
(% share in vehicle-kilometres)
Source: Eurostat (road_go_ta_tott)


Figure 8b: Road transport performed by empty vehicles by type of operation, 2020
(% 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 occurred 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 in 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 27 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 25/10/2021.

In this article:

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

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. the EU Member States, Norway, Switzerland and Montenegro, 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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