The Transport and Tourism (TRAN) Committee of the European Parliament has voted in favour of harmonising the loaded length of vehicle transporters to 20.75 metres. The vote will still have to pass in a plenary session of the Parliament and a council of transport ministers before the proposal could become law across the EU’s 28 member states.
The vote was held in relation to the revision of the European directive on weights and dimensions for road vehicles (96/53/EC), changes to which are expected to have significant impacts for the road haulage sector.
During the same session Members of Parliament also voted to postpone a decision on legalising the cross-border movement of longer trucks of 25.5 metres and carrying 60 tonnes permitted by some member states, known commonly as ‘gigaliners’.
The harmonised standard for vehicle transporters has been a long-standing lobby point for the Association of European Vehicle Logistics (ECG), which has campaigned for years against the ‘patchwork’ of existing loading standards in Europe. These differing lengths relate mainly to the amount of vehicle ‘overhang’ permitted. Most national government in Europe already allow loaded lengths of at least 20.75 metres, while some – including the UK, Italy and Nordic countries – allow more. Four countries – Slovakia, Greece, Malta and Cyprus – currently allow loading only up to the absolute truck length limit of 18.75 metres, while Austria allows 19.75 metres.
In transporting cars, the differences between these overhangs can equate to two or more vehicles per truckload. According to the ECG, harmonisation at 20.75 metres would have a significantly positive impact on costs and help to reduce CO2 emissions by allowing more vehicles to be carried on fewer trucks. It also won’t require any changes to carriers’ equipment or to road infrastructure.
“Our association is fully aware the stakes are high and go beyond vehicle transporters,” commented Mike Sturgeon, ECG's executive director, referring to the full scope of the 96/53/EC directive. “However, the harmonisation of their minimum loaded length will have two very powerful impacts: building a truly internal market for vehicle transportation whilst helping to deliver the environmental objectives of the Transport White Paper.”
The commission’s Transport White Paper has set a target of cutting transport emissions in Europe by 60% by 2050.
The issue of harmonised lengths will next be put before the plenary session of the European Parliament, currently scheduled for April 15th, followed by a meeting of the Council of National Transport Ministers schedule in June. Both would have to uphold the TRAN Committee vote and then enter into negotiations to reach a final agreement, which would at best be by early 2015, taking into account the likely delays following the European elections will undoubtedly causee.
An emotional debate
Although the final outcome is far from secure, this initial vote is important considering what the ECG has called the “highly emotional” debate over the 25.5 metre ‘gigaliners’. MEPs voted to postpone a decision on legalising the cross-border use of gigaliners, which would have allowed them to cross between member states that permit their use, until an impact assessment has been carried out. Since the proposals will now not be put before the plenary session in April, this postponement effectively shelves the possibility of a change in the law this year.
That vehicle transporters escaped this fate is important. Although an ECG statement reiterated that car carriers, with their relatively low weight, have nothing to do with gigaliners, they did risk being folded into reactions against the disputed trucks.
"The harmonisation of their minimum loaded length will have two very powerful impacts: building a truly internal market for vehicle transportation whilst helping to deliver the environmental objectives of the Transport White Paper" - Mike Sturgeon, Association of European Vehicle Logistics
For example, trucks carrying vehicles between EU member states are technically required to have loaded lengths no greater than 18.75 metres, even when moving between two countries that permit longer overhangs. Although the rule has been largely unenforced, the ECG and its nearly 100 members had expressed concern that changes to the weights and measures directive and the ‘emotion’ over the gigaliner would lead to stricter enforcement. That would have created an overnight requirement for as much as 20% more car transporters, according to the ECG’s EU affairs manager, Tom Antonissen.
The harmonisation of loaded lengths should stave off this threat for now. However, the vote still faces a long path to becoming law. That process could be delayed further, for example, should the plenary vote in April be postponed, particularly if it were to be pushed beyond the European elections scheduled in May. With euro-sceptic parties expected to gain seats in parliament, the outcome of any vote could be far less certain.