Nearly 100 industry and government representatives attended a hearing to discuss what measures might be needed to help the European motor carrier industry survive the economic crisis. The meeting provided a view of the severity of the economic impact on trucking, but has yet to offer solutions.
"The road transport sector is the most important pillar for the exchange of goods in the internal market,” said Commission Vice-President Antonio Tajani, in charge of transport policy. “This stakeholder meeting helps all actors better understand how serious the consequences of the economic downturn on road transport undertakings are. At the same time it is clear that short term measures should not be taken at the expense of market integration and the objective of a sustainable transport system. The crisis must be used as an opportunity to modernize the transport sector."
The first conclusion: Since it is closely linked to general economic conditions, transport activity is suffering from the crisis. Demand for transport services is decreasing rapidly and transport companies are facing economic difficulties and bankruptcies. The report of the meeting noted, the first component of transport to feel the crisis is that of freight, which is more directly linked to economic activity and trade than passenger transport.
Moving through a list of consequences and indicators of the severity of the market situation, the group noted, limited access to credit is a major concern for capital intensive operators such as logistic operators investing in and employing costly equipment. In cases where transport equipment is leased, operators may be protected by long term contracts, and in these cases it is the equipment owners that are suffering the economic consequences. The road transport sector also depends on a large number of labor-intensive small and medium enterprises (SMEs), which are economically more fragile.
An increasing number of road haulage companies [motor carriers] are having difficulties keeping up with their payments. According to the International Road transport Union (IRU), the number of bankruptcies of road haulage companies may have increased by up to 110% since the end of 2007. Financial difficulties also seem to affect businesses whatever their size. French road transport organization FNTR reports that out of 210 insolvency cases recorded in the road goods transport sector in France in January 2009, 82% took place in small or very small enterprises. Larger companies of over 50 employees, usually subcontracting to self-employed, are however also at risk. Still according to FNTR, cases of insolvency had increased threefold in French businesses of more than 50 employees between 2007 and the end of 2008.
According to figures of IRU, a total of 140 000 jobs in EU road freight transport are currently at risk or have already been lost since the end of 2007. The number of jobs lost is only one indicator of the effects of the crisis on employment. Employment conditions in existing jobs are also affected by the crisis, with many businesses choosing to reduce or adapt working hours. The first forecasts for the rest of 2009 are pessimistic. In January 2009, the IRU published its yearly road transport indices, according to which growth in the transport sector in Western Europe is set to stagnate at a low level over the first half of 2009. Results communicated by ACEA (the European Association of Automobile Manufacturers) confirm this view: over the year 2008, new truck (> 3.5 tonnes.) registrations fell by 4.0% in the EU-27 and EFTA (without Cyprus and Malta), mainly because of the 21.1% decrease in the EU-12. The latest figures for HGV registrations in February show the same trend for the beginning of the year, with a drop of 43.7% compared to February 2008 for the over 3.5 tonnes category and 46.4% for the over 16 tonnes segment.
The economic downturn is already having a dramatic impact on HGV traffic. Traffic volumes on motorways have dropped by between 5% (France) and 34% (Spain) in December 2008 compared to the same month in 2007. First figures for 2009 show that this trend is expected to worsen in the near future. Traffic (measured in vehicle per kilometre) dropped 8.27% in December 2008 in Austria compared to the same month a year before, while the decrease recorded in January 2009 reached 20.27%. The fall in traffic is also visible when measured in terms of Average Daily Traffic (ADT). ADT in the Liefkenshoek tunnel in Belgium was reportedly 5% lower in December 2008 than it was the same month the year before, and 22% lower in January. International road traffic, which was set to grow rapidly before the crisis, also appears to be affected by the recession. The latest statistics from German motorways (Mautstatistik) show that the number of HGV crossing borders on toll roads in Germany in February 2009 had decreased 17.3% compared to the previous year.