Freight transport demand
- Freight transport grew considerably in the EU‑28 between 2000 and 2008. A sharp fall in freight demand occurred in the years immediately following the economic crisis and, following a limited recovery, freight volumes have since remained largely stable.
- In 2013, total freight transport was 7.3 % higher than in 2000, but remains 9 % below its 2007 peak. It decreased by 2 % between 2011 and 2012, mainly due to a 3 % reduction in road freight transport, and remained broadly stable in 2013.
- Maritime freight transport decreased by 2 % between 2012 and 2013, whereas inland waterway transport increased by the same amount. Road transport increased by 1.6 %, air transport decreased by 1 %, and rail transport was stable compared to the previous year.
- The modal share remains constant; road transport dominates freight transported over land (75 %), followed by rail (18 %) and inland waterways (7 %).
Is freight transport demand being decoupled from economic growth?
Alongside economic growth and expansion, total land freight transport within the EU-28 (road, rail and inland waterways) increased steadily throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, growing by 22.4 % in the years up to 2007. Between 2000 and 2007, the real average annual growth rate of GDP was 2.3 % in the EU‑28, with higher growth in the EU‑13 than in the EU‑15. This growth took place in the context of continued globalisation, with rising trade volumes both within the EU and with trade partners outside of the EU. A sharp fall in freight demand occurred in the years immediately following the economic recession, and since then freight volumes have recovered slightly but have not yet reached pre-recession levels. In 2013, total land freight transport increased by 1.3 %, in comparison with 2012.
- Road: Total road freight volumes in 2013 were around 15 % higher than in 2000. In the EU-15, road freight transportation fell slightly in 2013 compared to 2012, but by differing amounts depending on the country. In the EU-13, volumes grew by almost 10 %. Road haulage accounted for three quarters of total inland freight movements within the EU-28 in 2013.
- Rail: The amount of freight transported by rail has stabilised overall. In the EU-28, rail freight volumes were higher in 2013 compared to 2000 (after having reached a peak increase of 11 % in 2007, compared to 2000). In 2013, rail freight transport demand remained almost unchanged compared to the previous year, while demand for road freight transport increased slightly. Changes in rail, both in the EU-13 and EU-15, were minor. In the non-EU EEA member countries, rail freight volumes fell by almost 5 % in Turkey and 3 % in Norway, but increased by almost 7 % in Switzerland.
- Inland waterways: In 2013, more than 150 billion tonne-kilometres of goods were transported by inland waterways in the EU-28, an increase of around 2 % compared to 2012. Throughout the years, a slow but steady increase can be observed in the volumes transported by inland waterways. Compared to 2000, total tonne-kilometers in the EU-28 have increased by 14 %. In addition, the EU-28 average masks important national differences. In the EU-15, tonne-kilometers have increased moderately compared to 2000, while they have almost tripled in the EU-13.
If the evolution of the intensity of freight transport in the EU‑28 economy (tonne kilometres per unit of GDP in constant 2010 prices) is considered with the year 2000 as a benchmark, freight intensity was lower from 2001 to 2003, but subsequently increased from 2004 to 2008. Since 2009, the intensity of freight transport in the economy has been around 5 % lower than in 2000. This lower intensity coincides with the period of lower or negative economic growth in Europe following the economic recession.
Is the share of goods transported by road being reduced relative to other transport modes?
The majority share of freight in the EU-28 is transported by road. Over time there has been no substantial change in this share at an aggregated EU level.
By way of contrast, within the EU-13, the share of rail in the total amount of freight transported by road and rail has decreased from more than 40 % in 2000 to almost 25 % in 2013. Conversely, the share of freight transported by road has increased. Despite the decrease in rail transport of freight, the share of rail in the EU-13 remains slightly higher than that in the EU-15, with the latter accounting for less than 20 %. Compared to 2000, the share of rail in the EU-15 has increased slightly.
Indicator specification and metadata
Freight transport demand is defined as the amount of inland tonne-kilometres travelled every year in the EEA-33. According to the latest metadata, inland freight transport includes transport by road, rail, inland waterway, air and maritime. Transport via rail and inland waterway 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 2010 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 waterway.
The unit used to express freight transport volume is the tonne-kilometre (tkm), which represents the movement of one tonne over a distance of one kilometre.
GDP is Gross Domestic Product expressed in constant euros, indexed to the year 2010.
Freight transport demand and GDP are shown as an index (2000=100).
The modal split for freight transport is shown as a percentage (%).
Policy context and targets
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 outlines concerns for curbing the demand for transport, which included the fact that economic growth will almost automatically generate greater needs for mobility, an increasing demand for goods and services, and more 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
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 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 (for freight transport demand: 2000=100; GDP at 2010 prices).
A detailed description of the concepts used and data collected in the transport database can be found in (http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/ramon) .
Methodology for gap filling
No gap filling is required for this indicator.
Data sets uncertainty
Population statistics (Eurostat)
provided by Statistical Office of the European Union (Eurostat)
Transport statistics (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 InfoDiana Vedlugaite
EEA Management Plan2015 1.1.2 (note: EEA internal system)
Frequency of updates
- 12 Dec 2014 - Freight transport demand
- 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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