Transport: changes needed for less congestion
Trucks play an important role in Belgium’s mobility problem. There are a lot of trucks on the road, and many of them are empty, the rest only half full. A solution could be to load them more efficiently, but that’s not an easy task.
Meanwhile, the night opening of the PSA container terminal in Antwerp has been suspended. Night opening was only started last week to alleviate traffic on the congested Antwerp roads. But at the moment the solution is too expensive to be viable.
It’s an astonishing observation: a quarter of all trucks driving on the Belgian roads is empty. The remainder has a load rate of only 57%. Although those figures from the World Economic Forum date from 2009, they are still accurate, according to specialists.
Very inefficient and the situation unnecessarily leads to more trucks, causing more congestion. The main causes are strict regulations on cargo, the balance of trade in favor of export, and the lack of trust to group cargo of different companies.
Although the solution might seem simple, just load more into trucks, it is not. While transport companies want to increase the cargo per truck, they are often hindered by strict legal limitations.
Balance of trade
“Even if you transport cars, you might drive to the Port of Zeebrugge full, but from there deliver cars to a dealer in Sint-Niklaas less than full,” Verkinderen adds.
Another reason for half-empty trucks is Belgium’s uneven balance of trade, with more export than import. “Flanders exports twice as many goods to the UK than it imports from the country,” says Wouter Dewulf, transport economist at the University of Antwerp. “Trucks go to the UK full of goods and return only half full.”
“A hefty increase of the road-pricing for trucks would mean less but better-loaded trucks on the road,” says Thierry Vanelslander, another Transport economist at the Antwerp University.
Vanelslander emphasizes ‘hefty’. “When transport costs go up by 1%, only 0,1% less will be transported over the road. The road-pricing should also be differentiated, lower during the night. It will stimulate companies to spread their transports better. Higher road-pricing will also make companies bundle their flow of goods.”
Vanelslander feels that an increase in road-pricing for trucks is not enough. “There also has to be a system of road-pricing for cars. Otherwise, there will be more cars instead of trucks.” The chance that a better-developed system for road-pricing will soon be a reality is small. Most political parties seem to have buried the idea for car road-pricing.
But if the government can’t tackle congestion, maybe companies could do it themselves. “Talks with suppliers that deliver to our distribution centers are ongoing about how they can run their trucks as full as possible,” says Hanne Poppe, spokesperson for retailer Colruyt Group.
“We want to be a pioneer. We already have collaborations with thirty suppliers from the food industry that bundle their deliveries to our distribution centers. More suppliers will follow this month,” Poppe adds.
Night terminal too expensive
Meanwhile, one of the solutions for congestion in Antwerp, the night opening of container terminals on the right bank, has been suspended. Transport finds it too expensive, so the system doesn’t work. Harbour authorities and transport federations will get together to discuss.
From the start of the night opening, there was criticism. Transporters had to pay 2,34 euros to pick up a container, even during the day. Although there was an agreement before the start, they feel they are not responsible for those costs but have to pay for them anyway.
For the night opening of the container terminal on the left bank, in place since 2017, nothing changes. Not even at MPET, in which PSA participates. There, transporters don’t have to pay to get containers.
“We support every attempt to go to broader opening hours,” says Lode Verkinderen (TLV). “Mobility will not get easier in the years to come. But every party will need to take its responsibility. PSA wants transporters to pay the additional cost for the night shift, even when they come in during the day. But the margins are small, we can’t bear those costs.”