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Freight transport demand

Indicator Specification Created 09 Dec 2008 Published 21 Apr 2009 Last modified 26 Nov 2014, 04:38 PM
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Justification for indicator selection

The European Union (EU) 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. 

The relevance of modal split when considering the environmental impact of freight transport arises due to differences in environmental performance (resource consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, pollutant and noise emissions, land consumption, accidents etc.) of transport modes. Additionally the differences in performance within specific modes can be substantial, e.g. older trains versus newer trains. The most accurate environmental effect of mode shift 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 modal shift/co-modality depend on, amongst others, the type of goods lifted - 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-kilometre travelled every year in the EEA33. According to the latest metadata Inland freight transport includes transport by road, rail, inland waterways, air and maritime: rail and inland waterways transport are based on movements on 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. data index = 2000.

The modal split of freight transport is defined as the percentage share of modes (road and rail) to 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 express 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

The EU set itself the objective of reducing the link between economic growth and freight transport demand ('decoupling') in order to create a more sustainable transport network. Reducing the link between transport growth and GDP is a central theme in EU transport policy to minimise the negative impacts of transport:

  • 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, 2001a): “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, 2001a).
  • In the White Paper on the Common Transport Policy "European Transport Policy for 2010: Time to Decide", (European Commission, 2001b) 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 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 mode shift and decoupling from GDP.
  • In the review of the Transport and Environment integration strategy in 2001 and 2002, the Council reaffirmed the objective of reducing the link between the growth of transport and GDP (European Council, 2002a and 2002b). The review also stated that the modal split should remain stable for at least the following ten years, even with further traffic growth.
  • In the Sixth Community Environmental Action Programme, decoupling of economic growth and transport demand is named as one of the key objectives in order to deal with climate change and to alleviate health impacts from transport in urban areas.
  • 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 GHG emissions from transport by 2050 target (from 1990 levels).


  • 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


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 EEA33. 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.

The unit is the tonne-kilometre (tkm), which represents the movement of one tonne over a distance of one kilometre.

Freight transport demand and GDP are shown as an index (2000=100). The ratio of the former to the latter is indexed on the previous year (i.e. annual decoupling/intensity changes) in order to be able to observe changes in the annual intensity of freight transport demand relative to economic growth.

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

Methodology for gap filling

no gap filling

Methodology references

No methodology references available.

Data specifications

EEA data references

  • No datasets have been specified here.

External data references

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

Cinzia Pastorello


European Environment Agency (EEA)


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


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Frequency of updates

Updates are scheduled once per year in October-December (Q4)


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

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