Parliament supports heavier trucks on EU roads in plenary session

The European Parliament voted in support of longer and heavier trucks on EU roads on Tuesday (12 March), adopting its position on a new law that will also see the harmonisation of the cross-border movement of these trucks. 

The Parliament’s position on the Weights and Dimensions directive is in line with the position adopted by its transport committee last month: They are in favour of standardising international travel rules for heavier trucks and allowing member states to have heavier trucks on their roads while providing incentives for companies to switch to low-emission vehicles in the coming years.

The rules will “make road freight transport more sustainable and safe,” lead lawmaker Isabel García Muñoz of the centre-left S&D group said in a press release.

“I am very glad with the result,” she told Euractiv in emailed comments.

“The revision of the weight and dimensions is about harmonising rules of cross-border traffic in order to make rules simple to follow and improve their enforcement, but above all to comply with the principle of a fair, level playing field that should reign in the EU internal market.”

UETR, the European Road Hauliers Association, said that current inconsistencies between member states regarding the maximum allowed size of trucks on their roads means a load of cargo that can fit in one truck in one member state might have to be divided among multiple trucks to pass through another member state, creating more greenhouse gas emissions in the process.

Markus Ferber, an MEP with the conservative EPP, said the revised directive will improve these perceived inefficiencies.

“There is a need for clarity regarding the use of longer and/or heavier vehicles in cross-border transport, which in consequence will lead to reduction of emissions and getting rid of unnecessary bureaucratic burden,” Ferber said.

Environmental and safety concerns

The original aim of the Commission’s proposal was to facilitate the uptake of electric trucks by increasing the maximum allowed length and weight dimensions across the EU so trucks could be outfitted with batteries (heavier than combustion engines) while not compromising freight capacity.

Under this proposal, however, all 44-tonne trucks, regardless of the fuel they use, would be able to cross member state borders.

In a press release on Tuesday, environmental organisation Transport and Environment T&E stated that, “while long-distance electric trucks need the extra weight to compensate for batteries, diesel ones will simply increase their cargo capacity.”

It called on lawmakers “to avoid making freight moved by diesel trucks cheaper and putting electric trucks at a disadvantage.”

Greens MEP Ciarán Cuffe expressed concerns that allowing for heavy trucks to cross borders would contribute to greater road degradation and increase emissions.

“Making fossil fuel-powered road transport even more competitive by allowing much heavier, larger trucks on Europe’s roads is bad for road safety, infrastructure, and for decarbonising our transport system,” Cuffe said today.

“Six more votes today would have completely removed gigaliners from the text, so it’s clear that a very large proportion of MEPs understand the risks that allowing such trucks would bring,” he added.

The “gigaliners” are trucks weighing over 60 tonnes that are currently allowed on some member state roads. The cohort unsuccessfully proposed an amendment to prevent gigaliners from operating internationally, but García Muñoz said mega trucks’ impacts on road safety and infrastructure will be assessed prior to their use.

While diesel trucks up to 44 tonnes may be able to cross borders now, from 2035, the increased weight ceiling will only apply to zero-emission trucks, according to UETR.

“For a successful green transition, a holistic approach is required,” UETR wrote in a statement following the vote. “UETR believes that the new framework has to facilitate the allowance of 44 tonnes for any vehicle in the long term, independently of the source of energy used.”

Road versus rail

There were also concerns from some MEPs and rail industry stakeholders that increasing the dimensions of trucks for cross-border transport would disadvantage the rail industry. 

The Community of European Railway and Infrastructure Companies (CER) “expressed strong concern and disappointment with today’s vote” in a press release.

“Such vehicles bring with them a whole plethora of safety concerns and a significant risk to existing infrastructure … Furthermore, their introduction will further hamper efforts to promote intermodality and risks causing a reverse modal shift towards road,” it said.

The European Transport Safety Commission (ETSC) also raised concerns about increasing road freight capacity at the risk of the rail industry.

“A recent study also shows that the expansion of longer and heavier road freight transport will have substantial negative effects on the rail freight sector, which has a considerably better safety record,” the ETSC said in a statement.

García Muñoz said, “We will cooperate to increase rail capacity while we make road transport more sustainable at the same time we adopt a common methodology to report emissions in the EU.”

“The rail capacity needed for the freight demand is not enough and, therefore, road has to become greener,” she added.

EU countries still need to agree on a joint position on the draft law in the Council, before negotiations between the Commission, Council, and Parliament take place in the next legislative term.

First Published by Olivia Gyapong – Euractiv


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