The ‘lockdown’ impact on European transport

Despite the continuing movement of trans-European freight, the lockdowns, border restrictions and economic uncertainty is forcing profound changes in the road freight market that are difficult for many to follow.

Mirroring what we’ve seen on the sea and in the air, demand for road transport of non-essential goods disappeared overnight, replaced by irresistible demand for PPE, medical products, food and all manner of essential supplies.

Truck traffic fell by more than 50% in Spain, 46% in France and 37% in Italy during a single week in mid-April as lockdowns took effect across Europe.

For the larger hauliers, shifting capacity from falling demand in one area to meet fast-growing demand in another is a far simpler prospect than for smaller hauliers.

For the myriad of small haulage operators across the continent (who make up more than half of Europe’s road capacity) it’s difficult to break into new sectors in the best of times, so doing so in days or weeks, simply isn’t possible.

”Metro continue to monitor and manage all customer requirements and will always provide alternative options available on the day”

The shock to the European transport sector has been rapid as volume in some sectors fell overnight and spiked in others just as quickly.

When measured in congestion and border crossing times, the impact was most acute in the early stages of lockdowns and restrictions, but over time the effects regionalised, with problems varying in degree and intensity in different parts of Europe.

Hauliers with newly idle assets were quick to recognise the opportunity, but have to match capacity with the new demand and locations.

When the lockdowns came into force in mid-to-late March, there was a sharp decline in available capacity. Within two weeks, however, capacity had reoriented from sectors and locations where demand had fallen to those in which demand had spiked, and so capacity was again available.

Understanding what goods need to move, to which standards and along which routes is critical, to reposition assets and drivers and plan operations.

On the whole, the European road freight sector has adapted well, but the near-complete shutdown of Europe’s manufacturing capacity is bad news for operators who need base and back loads. 

So while in the short-term, many operational-level challenges have been met by the sector, it will be in the nature and speed of the recovery where we’ll see the most significant strategic decisions being made.

As with other modes of transport the overland logistic solutions continue to be very fluid especially over the next few weeks as many European governments, including the UK begin to lift regional lockdown.

Metro continue to monitor and manage all customer requirements and will always provide alternative options available on the day.