Questions and Answers on the proposal of the Combined Transport Directive

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What is Combined Transport Directive and why do we need this Directive?

The Combined Transport Directive (92/106/EEC) is one of the key EU legal instruments that directly aim at reducing the negative externalities of freight transport, such as CO2 and other emissions, congestion, noise and accidents, by supporting a shift from long-distance road transport to rail, inland waterways and maritime transport.

Road transport is responsible for the majority of negative externalities in transport in the EU, both because it is by far the most common mode of transport (74.4% of intra-EU inland transport and 53.3% of all intra-EU transport in 2020), and because it today causes more externalities per tonne kilometre of freight transport than rail, inland waterways or short sea shipping. A shift from road-only transport to intermodal transport would help to reduce the negative externalities of transport, while still ensuring the flexibility needed for freight services to reach every point in EU thanks to road feeder legs between the terminal and place of loading/unloading.

However, intermodal transport is often unable to compete with road-only transport on medium and shorter distances due to administrative hurdles, transhipment costs, and an incomplete internalisation of external costs. Therefore, the Combined Transport Directive creates a support framework to increase the competitiveness of intermodal and combined transport and thereby promote a shift away from road-only transport.

Which transport operations would the amended Directive promote?

The proposal provides a support framework for intermodal and combined transport operations.

Intermodal transport is a type of multimodal freight transport, in which goods are carried within a closed loading unit such as container, swap-body or semi-trailer, and the closed loading unit is transhipped between different transport modes without the goods themselves being handled.

Combined transport is a type of intermodal transport that meets specific conditions set out in this Directive; in particular it concerns operations that reduce by 40% the negative externalities compared to road-only operations. This essentially means operations for which the major part of a transport operation is carried out by rail, inland waterways or sea (short sea shipping), while the much shorter initial and final road legs act as feeders for the loading units between and place of loading/unloading and the terminal.

The proposal includes three provisions for promoting intermodal transport in general:

  • It reiterates that similarly to unimodal transport; all intermodal transport is free of authorisations and quotas.
  • It establishes a new obligation on Member States to adopt a national policy framework for facilitating the uptake of intermodal transport.
  • It establishes a transparency requirement for intermodal transhipment terminals to ensure that potential customers can easily find out which services and facilities are available.

For the combined transport specifically, the proposal includes two additional support measures:

  • It establishes a new EU-wide exemption from weekend, holiday and night driving bans for the short road legs of combined transport to ensure better use of terminal and non-road infrastructure capacity.
  • It establishes a target for Member States to reduce the average door-to-door cost of combined transport operations: a reduction by at least 10% within 7 years.

All existing EU-wide regulatory measures that are today applicable to combined transport will also remain in force. This includes the ban on quotas and authorisations, equivalent treatment of international combined transport with international road transport as regards use of non-resident hauliers, special definition of own-account transport on road legs, and a ban on price regulation.

Why is the Combined Transport Directive being revised?

The average external cost for rail transport and inland waterway transport per tonne-km (tkm) are almost three times lower (at respectively EUR 0.013 per tkm and EUR 0.019 per tkm), compared to the average external cost for heavy good vehicles (HGVs) at EUR 0.042 per tkm. Accidents (29.7%) and congestion (18.8%) are the biggest cost components for any given HGV transport operation, and these cannot be reduced by decarbonisation, only by reducing the relative share of road transport.

The Combined Transport Directive was last amended in 1992. The Commission presented two previous proposals to update the Directive, in 1998 and in 2017; in both cases, the amendment proposal was withdrawn by the Commission as no satisfactory agreement was reached by the co-legislators. Some parts of the Directive are however outdated, the definition and eligibility criteria are causing the industry practical problems, and support is not as effective as it could be. With the European Green Deal, the Commission proposed again to amend the Directive to provide a more ambitious support framework for modal shift to make a real difference.

How will the Directive benefit intermodal operations?

The essence of the Directive is to increase the uptake of intermodal transport and in particular, improve the competitiveness of these intermodal operations that contribute the most to making freight transport more sustainable. To achieve this, the Directive on the one hand defines such operations and, on the other hand, establishes a framework of regulatory and non-regulatory measures to support them.

The proposal will replace the current partly ambiguous definition, which is problematic for many operators, with a completely new approach ensuring that support will focus in particular on combined transport operations defined as intermodal operations reducing by at least 40% the negative externalities. Digital platforms established under the electronic freight transport information Regulation (eFTI) will provide a calculation tool allowing transport organisers to prove whether their operation is eligible for specific combined transport support. Transport organisers can digitally fill in the usual transport information using an accredited eFTI platform that will then automatically calculate and show eligibility for the combined transport support regime, both to the transport service providers as well as to authorities. There will be no more issues with different interpretations at national or local level about eligible operations.

In addition, the Directive sets a specific target for Member States to improve the competitiveness of combined transport. For this, Member States have to assess the barriers hindering the uptake of combined transport and ensure that national policy frameworks allow for an overall reduction of at least 10% of the average door-to-door cost of combined transport operations.

Furthermore, the Directive facilitates market entry by making the information about national support measures easily accessible. It also sets obligations for terminal operators to publish information about the services they provide.

What is the link between the amendment of the Combined Transport Directive and other EU policies impacting freight transport?

The Combined Transport Directive complements the legislation for rail, inland waterways, maritime and road transport that liberalises and regulates the internal market. Liberalisation also applies to a combination of transport modes, while sectoral rules continue to apply to ensure the safety and market functioning of each mode. For example, the two proposals that are part of the Greening Freight Package, the Rail Capacity Regulation and the Weights and Dimensions Directive for road transport, are both relevant for individual legs of intermodal and combined transport. Similarly, all procedural as well as substantial State aid and public procurement rules will continue to apply for any support measures that Member States plan to take to reach their target under the amended Combined Transport Directive.

In addition, the TEN-T Regulation, currently being discussed by the European Parliament and Council, will be relevant for the uptake of intermodal and combined transport as it ensures the development of modal infrastructure, as well as multimodal freight terminals necessary for the transhipment between the modes.