The European Commission may be changing its interpretation of EU rules to allow the movement of longer and heavier vehicles (LHVs), also called gigaliners, across European country borders following comments this week by Siim Kallas, European commissioner for transport.
Under current EU haulage regulations trucks must conform to a maximum length of 18.75 metres with a 40 tonne weight limit in order to move between countries. Vehicles longer or heavier than this need to be decoupled at borders and the modules driven across individually.
However, under Directive 96/53 member states can conduct trials within their own borders of vehicles that are nearer the dimensions defined by the European Modular System (EMS), currently allowed in Sweden and Finland, where LHVs of 25.25 metres with a weight allowance of 44 tonnes are used.
The directive restricting the cross border movement of LHVs now appears to have been slackened following a statement by Siim Kallas (pictured), who told MEPs at a Transport and Tourism Committee meeting in Brussels on Monday that the wording of the directive was less straightforward when it came to the cross-border use of such vehicles between consenting member states.
"The decision to allow or not to allow the longer vehicles in cross-border transport remains up to member states," said Kallas, prompting recrimination from some MEPs who said the latest interpretation undermined the rule of law in the EU because it had not been introduced as a legislative proposal.
The Association of European Vehicle Logistics (ECG) said it is broadly supportive of the lifting of cross border restrictions but its priority lies with establishing a harmonized standard minimum length of 20.75 metres, through the use of front and rear overhangs. This would make it possible to move across multiple European countries without changing equipment or reducing load sizes according to the Association.
The recent comments by Kallas appear to go some way toward this in allowing trucks in excess of 25 metres to cross the borders of consenting member states and thus allowing the standard minimum length of 20.75 metres called for by the ECG.
"If the Directive is interpreted in a new way, ie allowing international transport, we feel that it would very much help our cause in allowing vehicle transporters loaded to more than 18.75 metres to also be allowed to cross borders," said the ECG's executive director, Mike Sturgeon.
However, the Association said that it is still very much up to the legal interpretation of the Directive following Kallas' statement. Tom Antonissen, the ECG's EU Affairs manager, urged caution until a clearer rule was established.
"Firstly, we need to see the legal interpretation to know exactly what it is about and so far Kallas' cabinet does not seem eager to talk to us about it," said Antonissen.
In the meantime, Antonissen said that policy remains limited to the trial of cross border movements, in other words, temporary rather than established practice. It is also remains restricted to individual operations between two consenting EU member states and thus every individual operation requires an approval process.
The situation is also more complicated for vehicle logistics providers should a strict application of EMS be applied because countries such as Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands, which are conducting trials and allow LHVs at 25.25 metres, have restricted the weight limit to 40 tonnes. According to the ECG, while vehicle logistics providers do not need a 44-tonne limit for an 18.75-metre truck, at 25.25 metres they would. This effectively means that if the EMS was rolled out further it would not be legally useable by vehicle logistics providers.
There are also issues around investment in modified trailers and infrastructure. LHVs would not typically be capable of carrying vehicles into urban areas in Europe given the size of roads in many areas.
Thus, the use of such trucks would prompt the need for infrastructure changes and the use of distribution centres outside those urban areas.