Load factors for freight transport

Indicator Specification
Indicator codes: TERM 030
Created 04 Jul 2008 Published 04 Oct 2010 Last modified 04 Sep 2015, 06:59 PM
Topics: ,
Load Factor: The load factor is the ratio of the average load to total vehicle freight capacity (vans, lorries, train wagons, ships), expressed in terms of vehicle kilometres. Empty running is excluded from the calculation. Empty running is calculated as the percentage of total vehicle-kilometres which are run empty.

Assessment versions

Published (reviewed and quality assured)
  • No published assessments


Justification for indicator selection

The relevance of this indicator is contingent to the fact that efficient loading of vehicles results in less vehicle-kilometres being needed to transport the same number of tonnes. Consequently, less environmental damage occurs for transporting the same tonnage.

Scientific references

Indicator definition

Load Factor: The load factor is the ratio of the average load to total vehicle freight capacity (vans,
lorries, train wagons, ships), expressed in terms of vehicle kilometres. Empty running is excluded from the calculation.
Empty running is calculated as the percentage of total vehicle-kilometres which are run empty.


Load factors and empty running are both expressed as percentages.

Policy context and targets

Context description

Vehicle utilisation is a measure of how efficiently the freight sector is transporting goods with its vehicles. If vehicle utilisation can be improved, through reduced empty running and making better use of each vehicle's carrying capacity then the same goods can be carried with fewer vehicle movements. This helps to reduce total freight vehicle traffic, measured as vehicle-km, thereby leading to reduced congestion, emissions, accidents and other environmental impacts of freight transport.
The liberalisation of the internal EU market has led to complex freight transport movements, an impact of which has been the practice of cabotage whereby hauliers from one country pick up and deliver goods within another country. Cabotage, which constitutes approximately 1 % of national road transport demand within the EU (EC, 2006b) is only legal if hauliers conduct no more than three cabotage operations in the country of destination within seven days of completing a delivery. However, the European Parliament has called for the lifting of all limits on cabotage by 2014. This should reduce the levels of empty running, improving the efficiency of transporting goods.


No international targets have been specified (although individual countries may have national targets in place).

Related policy documents

Key policy question

Are freight vehicles making full use of available capacity?


Methodology for indicator calculation

The Indicator covers load factors, also known as lading factors. This is expressed as a percentage utilization of the available capacity in tonne-km. The indicator is based on qualitative information collected through the annual questionnaire (EEA) and other sources (studies and publications retrieved from the Internet).
As the maximum permissible load weight for a vehicle may vary between countries, the classifications from the country of vehicle registration are used. This should minimise inconsistencies when comparing data between countries.
Freight capacity for ships is equal to the deadweight (DWT), which is the difference between the displacement of a ship on summer load-line, and the total weight of the ship

Methodology for gap filling

Verification with EEA member countries via questionnaires.

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

The sources of data determining load factors as the number of tonne-km divided by the number of vehicle-km were disregarded. This was partly because this approach yields erratic results, and partly because the developments in tonnes per vehicle may equally well be explained by changes in vehicle size rather than degree of utilization of available capacity. Also, some countries report utilization as percentage of available tonne-km, others report as percentage of tonnes, not taking into account distances travelled. These two are not equivalent and show significant differences.
In road transport cases, the laden factor concerns transport of goods on national territory. Data has to be harmonised to include the contribution from empty running. In all cases the data included transport on own account and hired transport.
In addition, the base data could be inaccurate and may contain some errors due to low response rate of EU states. Errors could be reduced or eliminated with a higher response rate.

Data sets uncertainty

Strengths and weaknesses (at data level): load factors as expressed in percentage of maximum available tonne-km are not corrected for volume, as many loads are constrained by volume or deck space, rather than weight. A decline in weight-based load factors may hence be due to an increase in volume constrained loads rather than reduced utilization.
Questionnaire responses in 2008 were limited and scarce. However, TERM 2009 produced a higher number of responses than 2008. Therefore, it is likely that there will be considerable differences between the data collected in 2008 and data collected in 2009.

Rationale uncertainty

No uncertainty has been specified

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
TERM 030
Version id: 1
Primary theme: Transport Transport

Frequency of updates

Updates are scheduled every 3 years


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