Decoupling of road freight transport and economic growth trends in the UK: An exploratory analysis

Alan C. McKinnon

    Research output: Contribution to journalLiterature reviewpeer-review

    106 Citations (Scopus)


    Between 1997 and 2004, gross domestic product increased in real terms in the UK by one-fifth, while the volume of road freight movement remained stable. This suggests that the long-awaited decoupling of economic and freight transport growth has begun, possibly leading to a new era of sustainable logistics. This paper reviews previous research on the decoupling issue and recent trends in gross domestic product/freight tonne-km elasticities in Europe and the USA. It then examines 12 possible causes of the observed decoupling in the UK using published statistics from a wide range of British and European sources. This analysis indicates that around two-thirds of the decoupling is due to three factors whose impact can be quantified: the increased penetration of the British road haulage market by foreign operators, a decline in road transport's share of the freight market, and real increases in road freight rates. Several other factors, most notably the relative growth of the service sector, the diminishing rate of centralization, and the off-shoring of manufacturing, appear to be having a significant effect, though this finding cannot be measured on the basis of available statistics. The paper concludes that, while the decoupling is in the right direction from a public policy standpoint, the net environmental benefits are likely to be quite modest.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)37-64
    Number of pages28
    JournalTransport Reviews
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - Jan 2007


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