17 November 2017

Combined Transport: How the EU can give a boost to multimodality

Blog by Aidan Flanagan

As 2018, the European Year of Multimodality approaches, CLECAT is organising its annual Freight Forwarders Forum on Smart and Sustainable Logistics Solutions through Multimodal Transport on 24 November in Barcelona.

Effective multimodality permits forwarders to offer a tailor-made service to their customers, thus improving the flow of goods throughout the European economy and boosting growth. An efficient multimodal transport chain allows goods to bypass congestion, achieving value pricing through economies of scale and a flexibility which serves customer needs first. This furthermore brings important environmental benefits to the supply chain, and achieving seamless multimodality and synchro-modality in the transport system will be crucial in meeting Europe’s climate commitments.

Nonetheless, regulatory barriers to achieving seamless multimodality still exist in Europe. The Combined Transport (CT) Directive is intended to facilitate the transport of goods using lorry, trailer, semi-trailer, swap body or container of 20 feet or more, using the road on the initial or final leg of the journey and, on the other leg, rail or inland waterway or maritime services.

The Directive, however, currently discourages some combined transport operations by imposing an arbitrary limit on the road leg (‘nearest suitable terminal’ when transferring to/from rail, and within a radius not exceeding 150km of the port of loading for operations involving an inland waterway or maritime leg). These restrictions make it more attractive in some cases to transport the goods entirely by road, in case a port is even slightly outside this radius, or the nearest suitable rail terminal is too far away, contradicting the purposes of the Directive.

CLECAT supports the revision of this requirement, allowing the use of terminals which may not necessarily be the nearest to the point of departure, but which are appropriate to the operation in question, enabling a combined transport operation which would otherwise be a full road transport operation. Development of suitable terminal capacity would further incentivise the use of combined transport, along with the cost and emissions efficiency which it allows, and potential for new collaborative and synchro-modal innovations. Synchro-modality involves the use of real-time information to allocate freight to the most appropriate mode at a precise point in time, optimising the use of the transport and logistics system as a whole. It follows that such a concept is hindered by restrictions such as those in the CT Directive.

The proposed revision of the Combined Transport Directive makes some welcome steps to address these restrictions, by introducing greater flexibility in the distance requirements and removing the ‘nearest suitable terminal’ qualifier, as well as extending the scope of the Directive to purely intra-national operations. There are also welcome moves to simplify administrative requirements through digital transport.

The legislative process must ensure that the revised Directive does not hinder CT operations through an excessive administrative burden. This includes in the process to obtain an exemption from the road leg distance limitations, and for providing proof of a CT operation. Furthermore, the retention of the ‘cabotage exemption’ for combined transport is welcome, but coherence with the other mobility package proposal on posting of workers must be ensured, in order to avoid redundancies and contradictions in the legislative framework.

The proposed flexibility in the limitation of the road leg must also be examined to ensure that it facilitates Combined Transport to the greatest degree possible, while an effective CT Directive as part of a coherent and harmonised approach to weights and dimensions would reduce restrictions on cross-border transport. Simplicity and flexibility must be the order of the day if the EU is to succeed in using 2018 to promote true multimodality, and the Commission as well as the co-legislators must consider these points as they develop this Directive and future transport policies.

In the meantime, the 2017 Freight Forwarders Forum will be discussing these challenges with representatives of the European Commission and industry, as well as how logistics service providers innovate in the development of multimodality, how they use this to bring value to their customers, and how multimodal transport can be facilitated through collaboration in the supply chain. 

For more information on the FFF2017 and to register, please see here.