Freight transport demand
Freight transport volumes in the EU‑28 decreased by 2 % between 2011 and 2012, mainly due to a 3 % reduction in road freight transport (with Italy leading the road drop by 13.8 % compared to its 2011 figure). Rail transport also decreased by 4 % between 2011 and 2012, whereas IWW transport increased by 6 %. Maritime and air transport did not vary significantly. Overall, total freight transport volumes in the EU‑28 are now 10 % below the peak volumes experienced in 2007. The modal share remains constant; road transport dominates land freight transport at 75 %, followed by rail (18 %) and IWW (7 %).
Switzerland experienced a decrease of 4 % in road and rail transport, whereas Norway and Turkey’s overall land freight transport increased (by 4 % and 6 % respectively), and Iceland’s demand remained roughly constant between 2011 and 2012.
Is freight transport demand being decoupled from economic growth?
Total land freight transport within the EU-28 (road, rail and IWW) increased steadily throughout the 1990s and the early 2000s. Before the start of the recession in 2008, total transport volumes had grown by 22.4 % compared to 2000. Then, between 2007 and 2009, volumes plummeted (by 1.6 % in 2008 compared to 2007, and by 11.5 % in 2009 compared to 2008). In 2009, freight volumes were barely higher than in 2003. In 2010, volumes started growing again, but in 2011 and 2012, they dropped back by 0.2 % and 2.6 % respectively. Compared to 2000, the cumulative growth of freight volumes is still under the 10 %. In the non-EU EEA, cumulative growth between 2000 and 2012 exceeded 15 %, reaching 35 % in Iceland.
Road haulage accounted for 75 % of total inland freight movements within the EU-28 in 2012, slightly lower than in 2011. Total road freight volumes in 2012 were below their levels in 2004, but still 11 % higher than in 2000. In the EU-15, road freight transportation fell by 5.4 % in 2012 compared to 2011, varying from a 13 % drop in Italy to a 3.5 % increase in Denmark. In the EU-13, volumes grew by 4.1 %, varying from a 6.6 % drop in the Czech Republic to a 12.6 % and 14.9 % increase in Romania and Bulgaria, respectively. In the non-EU EEA member countries, road shares range from 54 % in Switzerland to 100 % in Iceland.
The tonne-kilometres transported by rail have stabilised overall. In the EU-28, rail freight volumes were slightly higher in 2012 compared to 2000 (after having reached a peak increase of 11 % in 2007, compared to 2000). In 2012, the fall in rail tonne-kilometres was larger than for road transport (− 3.6 % compared to − 3.0 %). The drop in rail in the EU-13 was larger than in the EU-15, with a 5.7 % decrease in tonne-kilometres between 2011 and 2012. In the non-EU EEA members, rail freight volumes have fallen too, by up to 4 % in Switzerland.
In 2012, 150 billion tkm of goods were transported by IWW in the EU-28, an increase of 6 % compared to 2011. Throughout the years, a slow but steady increase can be observed in the volumes transported by IWW. Compared to 2000, total tonne-kilometres in the EU-28 were up by 12 %. Here also, the EU-28 average masks important national differences. In the EU-15, tonne-kilometres have remained stable compared to 2000, while they have almost tripled in the EU-13.
At EEA-33 level, freight transport demand (by road, rail and IWW) grew at more or less the same rate as GDP in 2006 and 2007, followed by a very sharp decoupling in the first two years of the financial crisis (2008 and 2009). In 2010, this decoupling was reversed, but it picked up again in 2011 and 2012.
If we look at the evolution of freight intensity of GDP with the year 2000 as a benchmark, we see that this intensity was lower from 2001 to 2003, but increased again from 2004 to 2008. Since 2009, the freight intensity of GDP has again been lower than in 2000.
Decoupling has thus only occurred in periods of economic recession or stagnation. This is not surprising, as manufacturing tends to respond more than the service sector does to changes in economic activity (Foster-McGregor et al., 2012).
For the EU-15, the ‘road freight intensity’ of GDP has decreased steadily since 2004, and tonne-kilometres have gone down since 2007 (with a small rebound in 2010). For the EU-13, road tonne-kilometres have more than doubled since 2000. The ‘road freight intensity’ of GDP has increased by 60 % over the same period, with just one small decrease in 2009 and a stabilisation in 2011. In interpreting these data, one should bear in mind that international transport is reported according to the country of registration of the vehicle, and not according to where transport takes place.
Is the share of goods transported by road being reduced relative to other transport modes?
In the EU-13, the share of rail in the road/rail total decreased, from 43 % in 2000 to 24 % in 2012. Since 2009, this share seems to have stabilised. It still remains higher than in the EU-15 (18 %). Compared to 2000, the share of rail in the EU-15 has increased slightly (up from 16 %).
Indicator specification and metadata
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
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
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
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 (Found in RAMON, http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/ramon) .
Methodology for gap filling
no gap filling
No methodology references available.
Data sets uncertainty
Population evolution (Eurostat)
provided by Statistical Office of the European Union (Eurostat)
Transport statistics - freight (Eurostat)
provided by Statistical Office of the European Union (Eurostat)
Transport (Primary topic)
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
- CSI 036
- TERM 013
Contacts and ownership
EEA Contact InfoCinzia Pastorello
EEA Management Plan2014 1.1.2 (note: EEA internal system)
Frequency of updates
- 12 Dec 2013 - Freight transport demand
- 18 Jan 2011 - Freight transport demand
- 07 Sep 2010 - Freight transport demand
- 21 Apr 2009 - Freight transport demand
- 22 Dec 2008 - Freight transport demand
- 28 Jun 2006 - Freight transport demand by mode and group of goods
- 03 Oct 2005 - Freight transport demand
- 28 Apr 2005 - Freight transport demand by mode and group of goods
- 28 Mar 2004 - Freight transport demand by mode and group of goods
- 28 Oct 2003 - Freight transport demand by mode and group of goods
- 01 Jun 2001 - Freight transport demand
- 01 Jun 2001 - Freight transport
For references, please go to www.eea.europa.eu/soer or scan the QR code.
This briefing is part of the EEA's report The European Environment - State and Outlook 2015. The EEA is an official agency of the EU, tasked with providing information on Europe’s environment.
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