Recent signs indicate that a capacity crunch is looming in the transportation industry in Europe as freight rates continue to increase amid rising fuel prices and the growing load-to-truck ratio. An increasing shortage of qualified drivers has been cited as the underlying cause of the current tight road freight capacity across Europe. Exacerbating the problem, however, is a slew of municipal regulations pushing old and diesels trucks and cars out of Europe.
New regulations in European cities
In Germany, the Federal Administrative Court, the country’s highest court, decreed in February 2018 that German cities can, and, in some cases must, ban older diesel vehicles from congested downtown streets. The ruling upheld bans proposed in Stuttgart and Düsseldorf and set a precedent that applies across the country. However, Germany is not alone in its fight against diesel vehicles. Shortly after the German decision in February, Rome’s mayor announced on Facebook that the city would ban diesel cars altogether by 2024. Paris, Copenhagen, and London had already announced that they are considering bans on some diesel cars beginning in 2020.
In Spain, Madrid’s Air Quality and Climate Change Plan (Plan A), one of the most ambitious plans for restricting the use of diesel vehicles in a major European city, is scheduled to come into effect in November 2018. Madrid’s Plan A will establish a Central Low Emissions Area, which initially will prioritize residential areas in the central district, where non-resident car traffic will be eliminated. Among other provisions, Plan A prioritizes the use of light duty vehicles with Zero and Eco labels, while restricting the access of diesel vehicles. Beginning January 2020, diesel vehicles manufactured before September 2004 that does not have the “Emissions-Free” label from the Spanish Traffic Authority will not be allowed in the metropolitan area. A full list of restrictions applicable to light and heavy-duty vehicles are outlined below.
New traffic restrictions for cargo vehicles inside Madrid´s Metropolitan Area
|Vehicle type||Authorized delivery schedule||Effective date|
|Light-Duty Vehicles (LDV)||Zero and Eco Labels||24-hour delivery schedule||November, 2018|
|Unlabeled diesel vehicles manufactured before January 2005||Not Allowed to Transit||2022|
|Unlabeled diesel vehicles manufactured before September 2010||Not Allowed to Transit||2020|
|Heavy-Duty Vehicles||C Label (Gas and diesel vehicles registered after 2014)||24-hour delivery schedule||November, 2018|
|Standard Delivery Schedule (8:00 am to 9:00 pm)||2023|
|B Label (Gas and diesel vehicles registered between 2005 and 2013)||Standard Delivery Schedule (8:00 am to 9:00 pm)||November, 2018|
|Not Allowed to Transit||2025|
|Unlabeled diesel vehicles||Not Allowed to Transit||2023|
Challenges for trucking companies
The growing trend of restricting circulation of vehicles based on their emissions levels has raised concerns among European cargo transporters. In recent months, several transporters associations have expressed concerns about these regulations arguing that they will further exacerbate existing capacity issues. If environmental regulations become more stringent across Europe, many vehicles will likely be put out of circulation and haulers may find it difficult to renew their fleet. Uncertainty around what the new requirements entail and what the timeline for implementation will be is a major concern for haulers. This is especially true for smaller trucking companies, which cannot always afford to renew their fleet when environment regulations warrant it.
The lack of technology is another major concern for European haulers as they contemplate investment options for the future. For example, zero emissions heavy-duty vehicles do not exist yet. The only near-zero emissions heavy-duty vehicles available run on natural gas. In the future, electric heavy-duty vehicles would run on battery power and would require special charging stations to refuel. Although this alternative fuel source would be much cleaner, the engines would likely sacrifice power for lower emissions and an investment in associated infrastructural changes are necessary to make this transition.
For several decades, diesel vehicles had become the norm in light-duty vehicles in many European countries. However, upcoming city driving bans like ‘Plan A’ in Madrid, coupled with growing interest in electric vehicles, are reducing the interest in diesel vehicles. Although it is still unclear the kind of regulations the industry will face in the future, pressure on trucking capacity is likely to increase in the coming years, as more governments consider anti-diesel legislation and haulers are forced to operate under stricter regulations.