How UK road freight changed in 2020

2021/09/16 at 9:07 AM

While for the rest of the world 2020 was the first year of Covid-19 pandemic restrictions, for the UK it was also the first year it left the European Union. Both domestic and international freight activity decreased dramatically last year.

According to data derived from the Continuing Survey of Road Goods Transport, GB-registered heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) lifted 1.27 billion tonnes of goods that were moved inside the kingdom. It was 12 per cent less than in 2019. Goods moved made 136 billion tonne-kilometres in total (-11 per cent compared to 2019) and lorries made 16.2 billion kilometres in total (-15 per cent).

Domestic operations

The road freight activity depended on several factors but the pandemic restrictions were the basic ones. In January-March, the number of goods lifted was 331.8 million tonnes. The subsequent quarter showed a 25 per cent decrease (to 249.6 million tonnes). April-June was a period of the first national lockdown. Reopening of some businesses in mid-July brought some signs of recovery for the 3rd quarter of the year. In October-November 2020, the number of goods lifted increased to 367 million tonnes. This figure turned out to be 13 per cent higher than the same period of 2019. And this was despite the fact that the last three months of 2020 included a four-week lockdown and 48-hour France-UK border closure.

Loading a truck with pallets, source: Bibby Distribution

So what was the commodities structure? The top-5 were food products, groupage, metal ore and other mining and quarrying, waste related products and glass, cement and other non-metallic mineral products. All of them decreased by 8-25 per cent compared to 2019 except ore which showed 7 per cent growth. 3 per cent of all HGV journeys within the kingdom involved at least one element of the intermodal activity. Most of them (78 per cent) started or finished at a shipping dock. The railway was involved in 19 per cent of them, 3 per cent were related to aviation. The number of HGV drivers employed across all the sectors decreased by 7 per cent to 278,700 last year. They got an average gross pay of 11.8 British pounds per hour.

International freight

6.6 million tonnes of freight was lifted by the UK-registered HGVs, which is 19 per cent less than a year earlier. 3.2 million tonnes were exported (-20 per cent) and 3.4 million tonnes were imported (-17 per cent). Just like in domestic road freight, activity on the international market depended on the economies having been stopped by several lockdowns. France with 18 per cent of the total volume remained UK’s biggest trade partner in terms of goods lifted by GB-registered HGVs. France, Belgium, Ireland were also in the top-3 in terms of exports from the UK. Top-3 countries of import consisted of Belgium, France and Netherlands.

HGV moves a container from Birmingham Intermodal Freight Terminal, source: Maritime Transport

UK-registered HGVs mostly transported food, groupage, machinery and equipment, agricultural and chemical products. The total number of British HGVs travelling to Europe from the UK in 2020 was 284,000 (down by 15 per cent compared to 2019). At the same time, the number of foreign-registered vehicles transporting goods to/from the UK reached 1.8 million (6 per cent less than in 2019). The most common of them were HGVs registered in Poland (462,000), followed by Romania, the Netherlands, Spain and Germany.

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