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Road freight transport statistics - cabotage

From Statistics Explained

Data from March 2013. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database.

This article presents the road freight cabotage transport in 2011 in the European Union (EU), from the points of view of hauliers performing cabotage abroad and of the countries where cabotage is performed. Cabotage is transport carried out in country A by hauliers registered in country B. Since national transport markets are not yet fully liberalised, the level of cabotage, together with cross-trade, may be seen as a sign of market integration.

Figure 1: Cabotage performed by hauliers from reporting countries, 2011(1)
(% in tkm)
Source: Eurostat (road_go_ta_tott)
Figure 2: Cabotage transport by country in which cabotage takes place, 2011(1)
(% in tkm)
Source: Eurostat (road_go_ca_c)
Figure 3: Cabotage penetration rate for hire and reward transport by country in which cabotage takes place
(based on tkm)
Source: Eurostat (road_go_ta_tott), (road_go_ca_c)
Table 1: Cabotage transport by country in which cabotage takes place
(million tkm)
Source: Eurostat (road_go_ca_c)
Table 2: Top 5 caboteurs, 2011(1)
(based on tkm)
Source: Eurostat (road_go_ca_hac)
Table 3: Top 5 cabotaged countries, 2011(1)
(based on tkm)
Source: Eurostat (road_go_ca_hac)
Table 4: Cabotage performed by hauliers from reporting countries
(million tkm)
Source: Eurostat (road_go_ta_tott)
Figure 4: Countries with increasing cabotage performance
(million tkm)
Source: Eurostat (road_go_ta_tott)
Figure 5: Countries with decreasing cabotage performance
(million tkm)
Source: Eurostat (road_go_ta_tott)
Figure 6: Cabotage performed by hauliers from reporting countries
(million tonne)
Source: Eurostat (road_go_ta_tott)
Figure 7: Evolution of EU-27 road freight cabotage transport
Source: Eurostat (road_go_ta_tott)

Cabotage performed by EU-27 hauliers recorded its fifth successive year of growth. Poland, the Netherlands and Germany are the largest supplier of cabotage in terms of tonne-kilometres (tkm) in 2011. In terms of tonnage carried, the Netherlands is the largest supplier but Germany and Poland follow closely. Germany has overtaken France as the main country where cabotage takes place.

Cabotage penetration rates have generally continued to rise, with Belgium, Luxembourg, Austria, Sweden and France the most penetrated. Most cabotage is undertaken in countries which share a common land frontier with the country the hauliers of which carry out the cabotage. There are some exceptions to this rule for Poland, Spain and Germany.

Main statistical findings

Cabotage penetration rate for hire and reward transport

Cabotage penetration rate for hire and reward transport for the EU-27 rose from 1.5 % in 2007 to 2.2 % in 2011

From the point of view of the reporting country, cabotage is considered as international transport, from the point of view of the movements of goods, it could be considered as national transport. In this case, cabotage can be seen as national transport of one country being undertaken by hauliers from another country.

Cabotage transport represents only a small percentage of total road freight transport: in 2011, 1.2 % of the tonne-kilometres performed by EU-27 hauliers and 0.6 % of the tonnes carried consisted of cabotage transport.

As road cabotage transport represents only a small part of total road transport and as data are collected on the basis of sample surveys, the importance of cabotage could sometimes either be over- or underestimated. The percentage standard error of cabotage transport varies significantly for both tonnes and tonne-kilometres.

An interesting indicator to study is the cabotage penetration rate for hire and reward transport, i.e. the share of cabotage transport in total national transport of a country (national transport for hire and reward + cabotage transport).

The cabotage penetration rate for hire and reward transport for the EU-27 rose from 1.5% in 2007 to 2.2% in 2011 (Figure 3). Most individual countries also saw increased penetration with Belgium recording a rate of 8.4 % in 2011, nearly double the 2007 level, and Luxembourg at 6.8 % in 2011. Austria, with a penetration of over 5 %, Sweden and France with penetration rates between 4 and 5 % also recorded substantial rises, although the figure for France has stabilised since 2009. Among the other major transport markets, Germany saw penetration rise from 1.7 % in 2007 to 3 % in 2011. In contrast, the UK and Spain recorded falls in their cabotage penetration rate between the same two years.

Table 1 shows a rising trend in the levels of cabotage in most countries since 2007.

Cabotage performed in the EU-27 has increased year by year since 2006, reaching 20 billion tonne-kilometres in 2011. In 2011, Germany overtook France as the country with the highest level of cabotage, rising from 6 billion tonne-kilometres in 2010 to 6.7 billion in 2011. France recorded a decline between the two years to a level of 6.1 billion tonne-kilometres in 2011. The level of cabotage in other countries was much smaller with only Belgium, Italy, Sweden and the UK recording figures over 1 billion tonne-kilometres in 2011.

Cabotage partnering

Cabotage is often performed by a neighbouring country

Table 2 shows details for the 5 countries with the largest amount of cabotage undertaken. In all cases, a neighbouring country with a common land boundary is its major partner.

For Poland, Germany accounted for over half the cabotage provided in 2011, followed at some distance by France and the UK.

For the Netherlands, Germany is again the recipient of almost half Netherlands’ cabotage, followed by Belgium and Sweden.

For Germany, the cabotage is more evenly spread with France accounting for more than a quarter, Italy a fifth, a country with no land boundary with Germany, and Denmark about a tenth.

Luxembourg has land borders with three countries and they all appear in the list where most cabotage is undertaken. France accounts for over half the total, with Germany and Belgium accounting for around a fifth each.

For Spain, France, a major economy with a common land border, accounts for over 90% of Spain’s cabotage, followed at some distance by Germany and Italy, both countries with no land boundary with Spain.

For Belgium, France is also the recipient of a very large part of its cabotage (over 70 %). Belgian hauliers carry out most of their remaining cabotage in two other neighbouring countries, Germany (12 %) and the Netherlands (11 %).

Table 3 shows which countries are performing cabotage in the 5 countries where the highest cabotage transport takes place. As seen in Table 2, cabotage within a country is often carried out by a neighbouring country with a common land boundary. However, the case of Italy is different, as the 3 main caboteur countries, Germany, Bulgaria and Poland, have no land boundary with Italy.

Table 3 also provides additional information to Table 2. Even if France is the second market for Polish hauliers, they do not appear in the top-3 countries that performed cabotage in France.

A large proportion of Dutch cabotage is carried out in Sweden with which it does not share a land boundary.

Growth and decline

Steady growth in cabotage in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Spain

In four countries, the Czech Republic, Latvia, Hungary and Slovakia, the haulage industry has recorded consistent year-on-year growth in cabotage from 2006 to 2011. In two others, Poland and Bulgaria, cabotage peaked in 2010 before falling back slightly in 2011. Cabotage by the Romanian haulage industry reached a new peak in 2011.

In part, this reflects the general increase in international movements by industries in Member States which have joined the EU in 2004 as well as their increasing sophistication in the search for cabotage transport while their vehicles are outside home territory. A further factor is the increasing awareness of cabotage among the shippers of goods and the development of systems to link hauliers with potential customers, using the internet.

In contrast, in four countries, Belgium, Italy, France and Austria, cabotage activity in 2011 reached its lowest level since 2007. The strong competitive pressures felt by the haulage industries in these countries may help explain these trends. Ireland’s cabotage was also very low in 2011.

Tonnes carried

In terms of tonnes carried, the Netherlands is the largest supplier of cabotage

The picture for cabotage is very different when measured in tonnes carried rather than tonne-kilometres. On this measure, Dutch hauliers made the largest contribution to cabotage in 2011 and have overtaken Germany after a fall of nearly 40% of the cabotage performed by German hauliers between 2007 and 2011, while there has been little change in the total for the Netherlands. Poland in contrast has seen its total nearly quadruple, taking it into third place, followed by Luxembourg and Belgium. Other countries to see large rises of over 100% between 2007 and 2011 are Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Latvia, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia. Outside this group, three other countries made substantial gains: Spain, Denmark and Greece.

In addition to Germany, other countries to record substantial falls in the amount in tonnes of cabotage carried out between 2007 and 2011 were Belgium, Ireland, France, Italy, Austria, Portugal and Sweden. All this reflects the strong competition in this market segment.

Figure 7 shows the development of road freight cabotage transport in terms of tonne-kilometres, tonnes and vehicle-kilometres (vkm), based on 2006=100. Since 2006, transport measured in tonnes has been quite erratic, rising by 15 % in 2008 before dropping back by 9 % in 2009 as the economic crisis developed. While it recovered in the next two years, it still stands below the 2008 level. This may reflect less emphasis on the movement of heavy goods such as transport materials, following the crisis.

In contrast, transport measured in tonne-kilometres and vehicle-kilometres was much less affected by the economic crisis. Both stabilised in 2009 but resumed strong growth thereafter, reaching in 2011 values about 35% above the 2006 figure, while the transport measured in tonnes increased only by 13%. This may be a reflection of changes in the supply chain, favouring movements of goods from countries closer at hand, rather than imports from the far east. Such a change would be beneficial to the road freight industry.

Data sources and availability

Bulgaria and Romania: While Bulgaria and Romania had no obligation prior to their accession in 2007, they started to report data for the reference year 2006.

Malta: Regulation (EU) No 70/2012 does not apply to Malta, so long as the number of Maltese-registered goods road transport vehicles licensed to engage in international transport does not exceed 400 vehicles.

Finland: National and international surveys have been harmonised and follow a common methodology from Q1 2011 onwards, leading to a break in time series in 2011.

United Kingdom: As road transport data for 2011 have not been reported yet, 2010 data have been used instead.

Liechtenstein: Liechtenstein reports only international road freight transport.

EU-27 totals calculated in this publication refer to road freight transport reported by the 27 Member States excluding Malta which is not reporting road freight statistics.

Total transport

Total transport includes national transport, international transport of goods loaded in the reporting countries, international transport of goods unloaded in the reporting countries, cross-trade and cabotage

More detailed data and metadata are available in the Eurostat dissemination database.

Data availability

The figures presented in this publication have been extracted from Eurostat’s free dissemination database and reflect the state of data availability on the 22/03/2013.

Country codes

See list, and some third countries: Ukraine (UA), Russia (RU).

In this publication

1 billion = 1 000 000 000

":" = not available


Data presented in this publication were collected in the framework of Regulation 70/2012 on statistical returns in respect of the carriage of goods by road (recast). These data are based on sample surveys carried out in the reporting countries, i.e. EU Member States, Croatia, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland, and record the road goods transport undertaken by vehicles registered in these countries.

Reporting countries use their own national surveys for the collection of data based on returns from road hauliers. The results are micro-data referring to vehicles and their linked journeys providing detailed information on goods transported. At the European level, common aggregation procedures have been used that might diverge from national practices. Therefore differences might occur between the figures in this publication and national values. For the distinction between national and international transport, journey related information is used at the European level, which might cause differences in corresponding values from those countries that are using goods related information for these statistics.

Further Eurostat information


Main tables

Road transport (t_road)


Road transport (road)
Road freight transport measurement (road_go)

Dedicated section

Source data for tables and figures

Other information

  • Regulation 70/2012 of 18 January 2012 on statistical returns in respect of the carriage of goods by road (recast)
  • Regulation 1304/2007 of 7 November 2007 amending Directive 95/64, Regulation 1172/98, Regulations 91/2003 and 1365/2006 with respect to the establishment of NST 2007 as the unique classification for transported goods in certain transport modes

See also