Because of the ongoing congestion on our roads, freight transport has gained a bad reputation. Trucks are being held accountable from a range of perspectives: they are responsible for traffic jams, they are involved in serious accidents and they contribute towards emissions of CO2, particulate matter and nitrogen oxides. The reality, however, shows a different side to the story, where all users of our public infrastructure share responsibility for the aforementioned issues.

When there are realistic alternatives using inland shipping, train or shortsea routes, you may wonder whether it’s useful and sustainable to use the truck for the complete journey. For many transporters that use the roads today, there is no alternative via water or rail. Think about supplying shops or fuel stations, delivering building materials to a construction site in the city centre or picking up rubbish in the street. For these and other examples of vital unimodal transport, the critical question to be asked concerns efficiency.


Where truck transport is necessary, it is important to keep the vehicle’s load volume high and keep the empty runs or repositioning distance as limited as possible over the journey. Major transportation companies with a wide variety of assignments can succeed in aligning the planning in such a way that trucks are fully loaded. The percentage of empty kilometres has significantly decreased in the past few years, even though a rate of 20% empty kilometres is still not exceptional.

Possible measurements to increase the load volume, and/or to limit empty kilometres:

Regarding the vehicle:

  • LZV
  • Combi trailer (combination of a truck with fixed loading space and trailer, max. 38 euro pallets instead of 33 in a normal tractor-trailer)
  • Trailers with a lower floor (more loading height)
  • Lightweight trailer (are 2 to 3 tons lighter which results in more practical loading capacity)
  • Double-decker trailers
  • Jumbo tankers (tankers with multiple compartments to load other products after a first discharge without having to clean the full truck)


Regarding transport planning and organization

  • Horizontal collaboration
  • Vertical collaboration
  • Efficient planning software
  • Increase drop size in combination with lowering drop frequency
  • Supply/pickup during evening/night
  • Selectively accepting work


Regarding the goods

  • Adjusting packaging to type of transport (cfr. VIL project LogPack)
  • Adjusting packaging to logistic carrier.


Unless both sender and recipient of goods have their own rail connection or quay, it will remain necessary to plan pre and post transport using road transport.  Even when a rail connection and quay are available, sender and recipient need to have the necessary equipment to load and unload the goods (whether packed in containers or not). More often than not, there are multimodal solutions which involve an initial journey by truck, a main journey by rail, inland ship or coaster and the last section by truck.

When the loading space of the truck serves as transport packaging, there are many types of goods that cannot be transported loose or on pallets, by train or ship. Subsequently, the goods need to be transported in a standardized multimodal unit, such as the container. The term ‘standardized’ is relative because is a large range of ‘standards’ (see shortsea, types of containers).

Particularly with short trajectories (<100km per ship and <250km per train), pre and post transport services and the extra care required (handling the goods on and off the truck, ship or train) have a huge impact on the overall costs of the multimodal solution. For this reason, transport by road needs to be organized very efficiently, with closed roundtrips, efficient routes and minimum waiting times for loading and unloading, both for the sender, the receiver and at the terminal.

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