Freight transport demand
Published (reviewed and quality assured)
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.
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 and inland waterways: 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.
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 (2005=100). For older indicators (before 2010) tha data are indexed to the year 2000.
The modal split share for freight transport is shown as a percentage (%).
Policy context and targets
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;
Bring about a shift in transport use from road to rail, water and public passenger transport so that the share of road transport in 2010 is no greater than it was in 1998
Related policy documents
A sustainable future for transport
In 2001, the Commission issued a White Paper setting an agenda for the European transport policy throughout 2010. This programme was updated in the mid-term review of 2006. Approaching the end of the 10-year period, it is time to look further ahead and prepare the ground for later policy developments.
COM (2001) 264 final
A sustainable Europe for a better world: A European Union strategy for sustainable development. Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament. COM (2001) 264 final.
COM (2001) 370 final. European transport policy for 2010.
WHITE PAPER European transport policy for 2010: time to decideCOM (2001) 370 final
Keep Europe Moving: Sustainable Mobility for our Continent
European Commission, 2006. Keep Europe Moving: Sustainable Mobility for our Continent. Mid-term review of the EC’s 2001 Transport White Paper.
Sixth Environment Action Programme
DECISION No 1600/2002/EC OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL of 22 July 2002 laying down the Sixth Community Environment Action Programme
Transport White paper 2011
Roadmap to a Single European Transport Area - Towards a competitive and resource efficient transport system
WHITE PAPER European transport policy for 2010: time to decide
The need for integration of transport in sustainable development
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 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. It includes transport by road, rail and inland waterways. Rail and inland waterways transport are based on movements within national territory, regardless of the nationality of the vehicle or vessel. Road transport is based on all movements of vehicles registered in the reporting country.
Freight transport demand and GDP are shown as an index (2005=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.
For EU Member States, according to the Regulation (EC) No 1172/98, road transport data are based on all movements of vehicles registered in the reporting country. All other transport data refer mainly to movements within the national territory, regardless of the nationality of the vehicle.
A detailed description of concepts used and data collected in the transport database can be found in(Found in RAMON, http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/ramon) .
Freight transport demand data do not include maritime transport. This is fully consistent with the structural indicators.
The core set indicator (see http://themes.eea.europa.eu/IMS/whycsi ) can also be presented as the share of road transport relative to that for total inland transport (i.e. modal split share for freight transport). Eurostat is currently working on methods for the calculation and territorial attribution of performance data for short sea shipping which, if included, would have a significant impact on the freight modal shares. When Eurostat's results become available, the core set indicator will be reviewed and the modal split shares may be shown.
 Short Sea Shipping means the movement of cargo and passengers by sea between ports situated in geographical Europe or between those ports and ports situated in non European countries having a coastline on the enclosed seas bordering Europe. Short sea shipping includes domestic and international maritime transport, including feeder services, along the coast and to and from the islands, rivers and lakes. The concept of short sea shipping also extends to maritime transport between the Member States of the Union and Norway and Iceland and other States on the Baltic Sea, the Black Sea and the Mediterranean (European Commission).
Methodology for gap filling
no gap filling
EEA data references
- No datasets have been specified here.
External data references
Data sources in latest figures
To answer the question of whether freight demand is being decoupled from economic growth we need to look at the intensity of freight transport relative to changes in real GDP. A reduction in intensity should signal relative decoupling as a relative break in the correlation between transport demand and economic growth would then be achieved.
GDP in constant prices simply takes away the effect of price increases from year X to year Y but it does not guarantee that GDP in year X for country A is comparable to GDP in country B (as year X is the result of price increases from previous years etc). Therefore, cross-country comparisons of transport intensities based on real GDP may be relevant for trends (i.e. growth/changes over time) but not for comparing intensity values in specific years. If we are interested in knowing whether freight transport intensity is higher in one country than in another, GDP should ideally be measured in purchasing power parities. These are currency conversion rates that both convert to a common currency and equalise the purchasing power of different currencies (i.e. they eliminate the differences in price levels between countries).
It is arguable, however, whether purchasing power parities are the best currency unit for time-series analysis. One way to avoid such problems is to use population instead of GDP. This would in principle be appropriate for the comparison of intensities between countries as well as for looking at trends over time. It seems also more equitable. To respond to the question of whether or not we are decoupling transport demand from economic activity (i.e. looking at growth rates over time) we would still need to use GDP.
Total inland freight transport demand excludes maritime transport. This is due to methodological problems related to the allocation of international maritime transport to specific countries. Thus, the effect of globalisation (production being moved from Europe to for example, China) does not have a measurable impact on the indicator in spite of having large real consequences for total freight transport demand. It would be important to capture such effect, which currently accounts for about 40% of freight transport demand for short sea shipping in the EU (i.e. excluding maritime transport from or to destinations outside the EU).
The concept of decoupling is simple and intuitive. The graphs represent the change in GDP with the change in tonne-kilometres and relate the two parameters. But the decoupling concept does not necessarily link directly with the environment’s capacity to sustain transport pressures.
Data sets uncertainty
The unit used to measure the volume of freight transport is, as defined in the indicator, the tonne-kilometre (tkm). It represents the movement of one tonne over a distance of one kilometre. Load factors for road freight transport are not obligatory variables (i.e. they are optional) which are collected only in the framework of Council Regulation (EC) No 1172/98. Even for those countries where such variables are provided, data have been reported to Eurostat only since 1999. Dissemination of the loading of vehicles was not foreseen by the Regulation.
Loading of the vehicle is a key factor playing a key role in the assessment of whether or not there is decoupling of freight transport demand from economic activity. One could hypothetically think of a situation where the number of vehicles is replaced by larger trucks capable of loading more cargo. Since load factors are not available the task of making a sound assessment of freight transport trends becomes very difficult. One could not, for instance, properly determine what share of the trend observed for tonne-kilometres belongs to changes in the cargo loaded. For a complete picture of transport demand and the related environmental problems, it would therefore be valuable to complement the data on the number of tonne-kilometres with vehicle-kilometres.
The two indicators "volume of freight transport relative to GDP" and "modal split of freight transport" are part of the European Commission's structural indicators. As such, their components are already calculated and downloadable in their final form from Eurostat's database. Where data is not available, figures have been taken, where possible, from national statistical institutes, ITF, UNECE, UIC, Directorate-General for Energy and Transport or estimated by Eurostat. Estimates are not always included in Eurostat's Newcronos database but are used for the purpose of calculating the structural indicators. Data are kindly provided by Eurostat's Transport Statistics Unit in the form of an Excel Spreadsheet for internal use. The final calculations (i.e. the indicators) are published on the structural indicator's homepage. Where data is not available, gap filling has been used to ensure a consistent dataset. The approach follows that used in the EU Monitoring Mechanism.
Overall accuracy can be considered as high.
The main policy question relates to whether freight demand is being decoupled from economic growth. Thus, one needs to monitor trends in the intensity of freight transport demand relative to changes in GDP at constant prices. The ratio of inland freight transport to GDP could increase even though the actual freight transport volume may fall. Similarly, the indicator could fall despite a possible increase in the volume of freight transport. What makes the ratio increase or decrease is the relative change in the volume of freight transport (numerator) to GDP (denominator). As long as the numerator increases more (or falls less) than the denominator, the indicator "freight transport demand" will increase. The indicator does indeed summarise "freight transport intensity". From an environmental point of view, it is important not to overlook trends in the total volume of freight transport. The actual absolute values are key to understanding environmental pressures originating from increased demand for freight transport.
Intensity can be also explained using the concepts of relative and absolute decoupling. Relative decoupling in freight transport demand occurs when freight transport volume grows at a rate below that of GDP. In this case, however, the volume of freight may well increase as long as this increase is lower than the one observed for economic activity. Absolute decoupling in freight transport demand occurs when the volume of freight transport falls and GDP increases or remains unchanged. If GDP falls, there is absolute decoupling only if the fall in freight volumes is greater than the contraction of GDP. This is important since from a purely statistical point of view one could imagine a situation where no absolute decoupling is observed and yet this may be good for the environment. For example, both GDP and freight volumes could fall, with the latter falling less than the former. The fact that the volume of freight transport goes down is good for the environment but the hypothetical situation just described does not strictly correspond to absolute decoupling.
Even if two countries have the same freight transport intensity or show the same trend over time there could be important environmental differences between them. The link to environmental impact has to be made on the basis of the energy consumption and fuels used by the freight fleet. The primary fuel today is diesel but other options may be available in the future.
In relation to the modal split indicator (i.e. percentage share of road in total inland freight transport), what makes a share increase or decrease for a particular mode depends on the change in the volume of transport for that specific mode relative to the total volume of all modes vis a vis the relative changes observed for the other modes. That is, not only it depends on whether the volume of road freight transport increases or decreases but also on how the increase or decrease in the total volume of inland freight transport is distributed across the different modes. From an environmental point of view, the relative contribution of each mode to the total volume of freight transport has to be put in the wider context. Absolute (as opposed to relative) values of transport volumes for each mode are key to understand the environmental pressures.
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.
Responsibility and ownership
EEA Contact InfoCinzia Pastorello
Frequency of updates
ClassificationDPSIR: Driving force
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A – What is happening to the environment and to humans?)