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STU 02-08 : Special topic : Long-Term Projections of Freight Transport and its Environmental Impact [Short Term Update 02-08]

The medium-term outlook for Belgium points towards an average GDP growth rate of 2% for the period 2008-2013. A slowdown is expected for the Belgian economy in 2008 and 2009 (GDP growth of only 1.7%), mainly as a consequence of less dynamic exports and a moderate increase in domestic demand. Belgian GDP growth should accelerate in 2010, thanks to the more favourable international environment and a more dynamic development of domestic demand. From 2011 onwards, Belgian GDP growth should stabilise slightly above its potential (equal to 2% on average). Note that the global economic situation is beset with many uncertainties and, therefore, the outlook is surrounded with considerable risks, especially for the short term.

The average yearly growth rate for private consumption should reach 1.7% for the period 2008-2013, which is slightly lower than the increase in households’ real disposable income. Purchasing power will be handicapped in 2008 by the high inflation rate (3.8%), but should be underpinned afterwards by employment growth and by higher increases in wage rates and social benefits. Investment growth should reach 2.8% for the period 2008-2013, reflecting the path of business investment growth (supported by business profitability and stable demand prospects after 2009). Growth in exports should reach 5% on average and the contribution of net exports to GDP growth is expected to be 0.1%-points. After an acceleration in 2008, the inflation rate should stabilise slightly below 2% for the period 2009-2013. This rather low inflation rate is mainly due to a moderate increase in imported costs and the persistence of a negative output gap until 2013.

The expected evolution of employment reflects a relatively favourable macroeconomic environment and persistently modest labour productivity growth (1.2% per year). After a particularly high number of new jobs created in 2007 (70,000), employment growth should remain sustained: about 42,000 units should be created every year during the period 2008-2013. Between 2007 and 2013, manufacturing industrial employment should fall by 35,000 but the number of jobs created in market services should exceed 270,000. Nevertheless, in view of the increase in the labour force (notably explained by incoming migration), the fall in unemployment should be limited to 22,000 persons. The unemployment rate (broad administrative statistics) should fall from 12.6% in 2007 to 11.6% in 2013.

Under the assumption of constant policy, public accounts are expected to deteriorate markedly, with a net public financing requirement of 0.3% of GDP in 2008, widening to 0.8% of GDP in 2009 and 0.9% of GDP in 2010, before gradually falling to 0.4% by the end of the projection period. Nevertheless, the total public debt to GDP ratio will continue to decline, from 84.8% in 2007 to 70.8% in 2013. [STU 2-08 was finalised on 26 May 2008]

Long-Term Projections of Freight Transport and its Environmental Impact

Transport provides an important contribution to the Belgian economy. However, it also leads to negative effects, of which congestion, accidents and air pollution are the most important. In order to get a better insight in the future development of transport the Federal Planning Bureau has constructed the PLANET model, a long-term transport model. This article describes the results of the PLANET model under a business-as-usual scenario to 2030. We focus on freight transport in Belgium by road, rail and inland navigation.

The Business-As-Usual Scenario

The business-as-usual scenario (BAU scenario) assumes a continuation of current transport policies and the implementation of currently decided European policies such as new emissions standards for motor vehicles and the introduction of biofuels. It is based on the November 2007 projections of the European Commission for energy prices and on projections of the PRIMES model for the energy mix in Belgian electricity production. The macroeconomic projections underlying the scenario are taken from the HERMES and MALTESE models. For road transport, the scenario assumes that road infrastructure capacity remains unchanged. For rail and inland navigation, the existing network capacity is taken to be large enough to accommodate additional transport while keeping speed constant.

The PLANET model explicitly considers the interaction of passenger and freight transport on the road network and presents projections for both of them. However, here we are focusing on freight transport. A distinction is made between national transport, international transport to and from Belgium and transit without transhipment. In the BAU scenario, passenger kilometres (pkm) are projected to increase by 21.7% between 2005 and 2030.

Tonne Kilometres

The evolution of tonne kilometres (tkm) depends on projections for the number of tonnes lifted and on the evolution of the generalised transport costs, which include both the monetary and the time costs. The tonnes lifted are derived from projections for the value of domestic production, imports and exports, combined with projections for the values per tonne. In addition, transit transport is taken to depend negatively on transport costs in Belgium with an elasticity equal to -1.5. Figure 1 presents the evolution of tonne kilometres (tkm) in Belgium in the BAU scenario. The total number of tkm in Belgium is projected to increase by 47% between 2005 and 2030. National transport – which accounted for 45% of tkm in 2005 – should increase by 37% in the same period. International transport from Belgium was responsible for 20% of tkm in 2005 and is projected to rise by 71%. International transport to Belgium had a share of 21% of tkm in 2005 and will increase by 90%. The growth rate of tkm in Belgium is larger for international transport than for national transport, reflecting mainly the higher growth rate of tonnes lifted for international transport movements. For all transport flows the model projects an increase in the average distance per tonne. The increase is higher for international than for national transport flows. Finally, transit without transhipment, accounting for 15% of tkm in 2005, is projected first to increase and then to fall due to the worsening traffic conditions in Belgium. In 2030 it will be 15% lower than in 2005.

Graph 1 - Billion tonne kilometres in Belgium (2005-2030) - BAU scenario

Modal Shares

The PLANET model considers four modes for freight transport in Belgium: trucks, vans, rail and inland navigation. For road transport a further distinction is made between peak and off-peak transport. The choice of the mode and the time period is determined iteratively based on the evolution of the generalised costs – which depend on the modal choice – and the transport production process.

Graph 2 - Modal shares in tkm in Belgium (2005-2030) - BAU scenario



The BAU scenario projects a shift to the non-road modes, which are expected to increase their share in tkm in Belgium from 24.7% in 2005 to 29.7% in 2030 (Figure 2). Note that in the first instance the growth in tonnes lifted would be more or less assigned to the modes in a similar way as in 2005. However, the resulting increase in road flows puts a downward pressure on road speed. This will encourage a shift towards rail and inland navigation.

Within road transport there will be a shift from trucks to vans. This is mainly because the tonnes lifted of goods that can be transported by vans should increase faster than for other goods.

Road Flows and Average Speed

The number of vehicle kilometres (vkm) driven by trucks and vans is expected to increase by 22% and 66%, respectively, between 2005 and 2030. Together with the evolution of passenger demand, the growth of road freight transport should imply a fall in road speed. In 2030 average road speed in the peak period will be 23% lower than in 2005, while in the off-peak period it will be 13% lower. This should lead to a shift from the former to the latter period for the road modes. In 2030 the share of the peak in truck and van vkm will be 24.8%, compared to 26.8% in 2005.

Environmental Impact

Combining the projections for freight transport with the exogenous evolution of the vehicle stock composition and with emission factors provided by VITO, allows us to project the evolution of freight transport emissions. Figure 3 considers the emissions in Belgium of four main pollutants and of greenhouse gases (expressed in CO2 equivalents). For rail it includes both direct and indirect emissions. The latter are related to electricity production.

Graph 3 - The evolution of emissions in Belgium by road, rail and inland navigation freight (2005 = 100) - BAU scenario

The BAU scenario projects a rise in the emissions of greenhouse gases, CO and NMVOC by freight transport. This is mainly due to an increase in freight transport flows. Additional explanatory factors are a rising load factor for trucks and the growing share of rail transport. The emission factors of rail should rise after 2020 due to the larger share of coal in electricity production (partly resulting from the phasing out of nuclear energy). The emissions of PM and NOx will first fall thanks to cleaner technologies but then rise again due to increased emissions by vans and rail.

In addition to total emissions, the model also provides an insight into the marginal external air pollution and climate change costs. These refer to the air pollution and climate change damage per additional tkm transported by each mode. In 2005 these costs were the lowest for rail (EUR 3/1000tkm) and inland navigation (EUR 4/1000tkm). For vans and trucks they equalled EUR 87.5 and EUR 9.8/1000 tkm respectively. Over time the introduction  of cleaner technologies and fuels should lead to a fall in the damage per tkm for all modes except rail. For rail it is projected to increase by 81% between 2005 and 2030 because of the change in the energy mix for electricity production. For the other modes it should fall significantly: by 20% for inland navigation, by 11% for vans, and by 31% for trucks.

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