You are here: Home / Data and maps / Indicators / Freight transport demand

Freight transport demand

Indicator Specification Created 09 Dec 2008 Published 21 Apr 2009 Last modified 07 Mar 2016, 03:04 PM
Topics: ,
Indicator codes: CSI 036 , TERM 013

Assessment versions

Published (reviewed and quality assured)


Justification for indicator selection

The European Union (EU) has set an objective to disconnect mobility from its negative side effects. The transport sector is one of the main sources of greenhouse gas emissions and also gives rise to significant levels of air pollution, which can seriously damage human health and ecosystems. Reducing the demand for transport would consequently reduce its environmental burden. 

When considering the environmental impact of freight transport, the modal split is relevant because of the differences in environmental performance (resource consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, pollutant and noise emissions, land consumption, accidents etc.) of various transport modes. Additionally, the differences in performance within specific modes can be substantial, e.g. performance of older trains versus that of newer trains. The most accurate environmental effect of a modal shift in transport type can only be determined on a case-by-case basis, where local circumstances and specific local environmental effects can be taken into account (e.g. transport in urban areas or through sensitive areas). Opportunities for a modal shift and/or co-modality depend on, among other things, the type of goods transported (e.g. perishable goods or bulk goods) and the specific transport requirements for these goods.

Scientific references

  • No rationale references available

Indicator definition

Freight transport demand is defined as the amount of inland tonne-kilometres travelled every year in the EEA33. According to the latest metadata, inland freight transport includes transport by road, rail, inland waterways, air and maritime. Transport via rail and inland waterways is based on movements within national territory ('territoriality principle'), regardless of the nationality of the vehicle or vessel; road transport is based on all movements of vehicles registered in the reporting country.

The ratio of annual growth of inland freight transport to GDP, measured in 2005 prices, determines the amount of coupling between GDP and transport. The decoupling indicator is defined as unity minus the coupling ratio, where the data index = 2000.

The modal split of freight transport is defined as the percentage share of modes (road and rail) in total inland transport. It includes transport by road, rail and inland waterways.


The unit used to express freight transport volume is tonne-kilometre (tkm), which represents the movement of one tonne over a distance of one kilometre.

GDP is Gross Domestic Product expressed in constant euro, indexed to the year 2005.

Freight transport demand and GDP are shown as an index (2000=100). 

The modal split share for freight transport is shown as a percentage (%).

Policy context and targets

Context description

Minimising the negative impacts of transport is a central theme in EU transport policy:

  • The objective of decoupling freight transport demand from GDP was first mentioned in the Transport and Environment integration strategy that was adopted by the Council of Ministers in Helsinki (European Council, 1999). Here, the expected growth in transport demand was named as an area where urgent action was needed. In the sustainable development strategy that was adopted by the European Council in Gothenburg, the objective of decoupling is set in order to reduce congestion and other negative side-effects of transport (European Commission, 2001): “A sustainable transport policy should tackle rising volumes of traffic and levels of congestion, noise and pollution. Action is needed to bring about a significant decoupling of transport growth and GDP growth, in particular by a shift from road to rail, water and public passenger transport”.
  • Shifting freight from road to water and rail is an important strategic element in the EU transport policy. The objective was first formulated in the Sustainable Development Strategy in 2001 (European Commission, 2001).
  • In the White Paper on the Common Transport Policy - "European Transport Policy for 2010: Time to Decide" (European Commission, 2001) - the Commission outlined concerns for curbing the demand for transport, which included the fact that economic growth will almost automatically generate greater needs for mobility, therefore increasing demand for goods and services, and for passengers. The objective of breaking the link between economic growth and transport growth was therefore considered as the basis for the White Paper for the next decade. Thus, a number of measures were proposed within the White Paper, aimed at achieving a modal shift and decoupling from GDP.
  • The European Commission's White Paper on transport published in 2011 - "Roadmap to a Single European Transport Area – Towards a competitive and resource efficient transport system" - acts as a framework to guide future policy developments in the transport sector over the next decade. The White Paper sets out 10 goals for a competitive and resource-efficient transport system. These goals serve as benchmarks for achieving the target of a 60 % reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from transport from 1990 levels, by 2050. One of these goals is that "30 % of road freight over 300 km should shift to other modes such as rail or waterborne transport by 2030, and more than 50 % by 2050, facilitated by efficient and green freight corridors"


  • Decouple transport growth significantly from growth in GDP in order to reduce congestion and other negative side effects of transport;
  • In the EU, a total of 30 % of road freight over 300 km should shift to other modes such as rail or waterborne transport by 2030, and more than 50 % should shift by 2050, facilitated by efficient and green freight corridors 

Related policy documents

Key policy question

Is freight transport demand being decoupled from economic growth?

Specific policy question

Is the share of goods transported by road being reduced relative to other transport modes?


Methodology for indicator calculation

To measure the decoupling of freight transport demand from economic growth, the volume of freight transport relative to GDP (i.e. the intensity) is calculated. Separate trends for its two components are shown for the EEA-33. The annual tkm growth rate is therefore compared with the annual GDP growth rate. Relative decoupling occurs when freight transport demand grows at a rate below that of GDP. Absolute decoupling occurs when freight transport demand falls and GDP continues to rise or remains constant. If demand and GDP both fall, they remain coupled.

Freight transport demand and GDP are shown as an index (2000=100). 

A detailed description of concepts used and data collected in the transport database can be found in Eurostat's concepts and definitions database ( .

Methodology for gap filling

No gap filling is required for this indicator.

Methodology references

Data specifications

EEA data references

  • No datasets have been specified here.

Data sources in latest figures


Methodology uncertainty

not applicable

Data sets uncertainty

not applicable

Rationale uncertainty

not applicable

Further work

Short term work

Work specified here requires to be completed within 1 year from now.

Long term work

Work specified here will require more than 1 year (from now) to be completed.

General metadata

Responsibility and ownership

EEA Contact Info

Diana Vedlugaite


European Environment Agency (EEA)


Indicator code
CSI 036
TERM 013
Version id: 2
Primary theme: Transport Transport


Permalink to this version
Permalink to latest version

Frequency of updates

Updates are scheduled once per year


DPSIR: Driving force
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)

Related content

Data references used

Latest figures and vizualizations

Relevant policy documents

Sign up to receive our reports (print and/or electronic) and quarterly e-newsletter.
Follow us
Log in

Forgot your password?
European Environment Agency (EEA)
Kongens Nytorv 6
1050 Copenhagen K
Phone: +45 3336 7100