Load factors for freight transport

Indicator Fact Sheet (Deprecated)
Prod-ID: IND-118-en
Also known as: TERM 030
Note: new version is available!
Topics: ,

Assessment made on  01 Sep 2005

Generic metadata


Transport Transport (Primary theme)

DPSIR: Driving force


Indicator codes
  • TERM 030

Policy issue:  Load vehicles more efficiently

Key messages

  • Load factors have generally declined for road freight transport in the countries where data is available and inland shipping, while it has increased for air freight transport. The fact that load factors are generally under 50 % (by weight), and that some freight transport companies achieve much higher load factors than others in the same sector suggests that load factors can be improved.


Key assessment

Load factors are generally far below the theoretical maximum. While it is relatively easy to achieve full load on an outward trip, it is a complex puzzle to find return loads. Therefore, empty return trips are frequent. Transport of certain goods requires specialized vehicles that makes it impossible to find return loads - a gasoline tanker can neither bring milk nor pallets as a return load.

Load factors for road and inland freight transport have declined in most of the member states surveyed, indicating that vehicles are being less efficiently used. For road transport, the slow decline in load factors hides more marked developments in opposite directions: on the one hand a decline of empty haulage (see table 1) as result of better fleet management, and on the other hand a decline in load factors for laden trips. Companies are often more concerned with efficient time-management than efficient transport, resulting in an increasing number (more vehicle-kilometres) and a decreasing size of shipments (TNO, 1999), thereby contributing to lower efficiencies. "Just-in-time" deliveries may stimulate this development. On the other hand, increased use of IT has contributed to better fleet management and may have compensated. An alternative explanation for the decline in load factors could be that loads are being increasingly constrained by volume or deck space (see box 2), or a shift in the goods market away from bulk or bundled cargo and towards palleted goods (see box 3).

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European Environment Agency (EEA)
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