UK road freight growth figures for 2015 encouraging, but don’t get carried away

According to Department for Transport (DfT) statistics, the UK registered HGVs domestically transported 11% more tonnage, covered 10% more distance, and the measure which combines the two, tonne kilometres (traffic), increased by 12% year-on-year.

While these initial numbers sound promising, it is worth noting that the DfT data also asserts that tonnage and traffic levels remain 10% and 3% below what they were in 2007 (Ti’s own market sizing data also suggests the market remains below its historic peak: see European Road Freight reports). DfT also noted that 2014 figures were curtailed to an extent by major storms early on in the year, providing an artificial boost to 2015 growth.

Third-party hauliers, which accounted for 68% of domestic traffic in 2016, recorded traffic growth of 12%, marginally lower than the 13% rise for own account operators.

Looking at the data in more detail by commodity, the food, beverages & tobacco grouping, which accounted for almost a quarter of domestic traffic, experienced growth of 16.2% year-on-year. Grouped goods (groupage) traffic was up by 20.8% (11.4% of total traffic).

By ‘mode of appearance’, palletised goods traffic, which accounts for almost one third of total traffic, grew by 17.2% year-on-year.

So for core general road freight, and particularly for a sector like retail contract logistics, the figures look even more encouraging than the overall headline figures suggest. But once again optimism must be tempered by the fact that both the aforementioned commodity groups are still 7.9% short of their historic traffic peaks.

In terms of efficiency, the average load factor for all HGVs was 64%, the highest figure on record since 2000, though the number has only fluctuated between 62% and 64% since 2011. The rate of empty running for all HGVs was 29% and has been approximately this since 2012.

Cabotage transports (transports within the UK by foreign registered hauliers) accounted for just 1% of road freight traffic.

The data for international transport provided by the DfT is less interesting because it does not reflect the whole market, only transports to and from the UK by domestically registered HGVs. They transported 8.2m tonnes in 2015, which marked the continuation of a downward trend that has been ongoing for more than a decade. In 2014 (latest data available), foreign HGVs moved 34.2m tonnes to and from the UK.

Overall, the message is that the 2015 figures are reassuring, but optimism should be tempered by the fact that many historic peaks in road freight data have not yet been surpassed.

Note: DfT road freight data is derived from ongoing surveys. They state, “Figures are weighted to be representative of the HGV population however, like any statistical source, there are limitations. For example, as a sample survey resulting figures are estimates with associated sampling error.”

More Insight?

Source: Transport Intelligence, August 23, 2016

Author: David Buckby