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Road transport

Minimum operating costs still unclear after European Court verdict.

Paolo Castiglia

Back to the drawing board after the judgment of the European Court of Justice on the minimum cost issue, which certainly does not put an end to the dispute between haulers and customers. The ruling, in fact, responding to a specific request from the T.A.R. (Regional Administrative Court), concentrates its opinion on the legitimacy of the Observatory established at the General Council of road haulage and logistics, organizations that no longer exist.

The European Court of Justice, in particular, considers the former Observatory of the General Council a representation of private companies and therefore not suitable to define public minimal costs of operation. Paragraph 41 of the verdict specifically states that, given the composition and mode of operation of the Observatory, at the time of making decisions that determined the minimal cost of operation, this was to be considered an association of undertakings, and not a public body.

In fact, the judgment of the Court of Justice responds to a specific request from the T.A.R. referred to a case dated a few years ago, when the Observatory still existed and calculated these minimal costs for the sector. For the past two years, however, the Observatory has been replaced in this task by the Ministry of Transport, which obviously meets the criterion of public interest.

Hence, while for the case judged by the T.A.R. this verdict has full validity, on the general discussion related to the legitimacy of the minimum cost of operation it has a  far less significant weight, although not completely negligible. In fact, Article 51 of the verdict raises questions when it states, "Although we cannot deny that the protection of road safety may constitute a legitimate aim, the determination of the minimum cost for the year is not suitable either directly or indirectly to ensure its achievement". A statement that will surely be used by customer associations to support the futility of such costs.


Meanwhile, from an important part of the industry comes a 10 steps proposal to save the national transport system: tax relief for fleet renewal, reforms to ensure efficient port facilities and  connections between ports and destinations, reviving the “motorways of the sea”, refinancing the ferrobonus (combined road-rail transport) incentives, the amendment of Title V of the Constitution, entrusting exclusively to the State all the sector’s responsibilities, a binding national Plan for transport and logistics, the reactivation of the General Council, suppressed by Monti’s spending review and the establishment of an "International Registry" for trucking companies in order to battle the plague of illegal and unfair competition. 

This is the 10 steps action plan presented by Confcommercio in support of the study on the health of the Italian road transport sector. These are essential demands - according to the confederation - to boost transport and economic recovery in Italy. "The State must have the courage to make decisions - clearly states Paolo Uggè, vice- president of Confcommercio - establishing priorities." Among these, first and foremost, port reforms, also invoked by Raffaele Aiello, CEO of SNAV SpA, who has called for a transport committee, in order to upgrade port facilities to accommodate  investments in new ships. Even Michele Mario Elia, CEO of RFI, spoke of  integration between rail and rubber, while Debora Serracchiani, President of the Region of Friuli Venezia Giulia, has called for a new strategic port policy. 

Among other priorities, lowering the tax burden on the industry that is pushing many companies to relocate. "France - said Pasquale Russo, secretary general of Conftrasporto - is defending through appropriate regulations its companies, we believe that our companies have to go to Europe in search of business opportunities, but must be in the best possible conditions to do so."

Russo has also asked the Government to respect past agreements and placed emphasis on the need for a labor reform and the possibility "to privilege those customers who provide added value to road haulage." 

Road transport is no longer the dominant mode for freight traffic in both domestic and international haulage. The crisis is forcing great changes on the Italian road transport sector: companies, harassed by national taxation, "migrate" towards  countries with a “friendlier” tax policy.

The signs of recovery are very shy but, in the absence of decisive action, may disappear again for many years. This is in short the core of the analysis presented by Centro Studi Confcommercio with a symbolic title: "Transport ... ing the upturn."
Fingers are pointed at the sector’s inefficiency that, between 2000 and 2012,  sent up in smoke 24 billion euro of GDP.

An obstacle to development that must be taken into account, especially at a time like this, when breaking free from the deadlock of the economic recession is a struggle. First, the study seeks to dispel some common myths about road transport: maritime transport has been gaining large shares of the market, undermining the predominant position of road haulage, while, during the same period, the tax burden on the sector has increased, particularly the cost of labor, making it uncompetitive compared to   many European countries.


In addition, Confcommercio records a rather peculiar trend: too many businesses are closing, a dubious rate even in times of economic crisis, which makes one suspect a forced relocation to Eastern Europe. In short, a sector that, while catching a glimpse of positive glimmers, cannot - under current conditions - drive the sector to a recovery. A negative signal, given the close proximity between the growth of GDP and transport. The price paid by a hypothetical buyer of a ton of freight per kilometer has increased from 0,072 euro in 2007 to € 0,084 euro in 2012, an increase of 16.6%.

It is the only thing that has recorded an increase: prices have fallen in rail transport (from 0,046 to 0,038 euro) in maritime transport (from 0,013 to 0,009 euro) and in air transport (from 1,487 to 1,353 euro). The exodus of companies, a dubious mortality: in two years, between 2011 and 2013, more than 10 thousand trucking companies have disappeared.

 It is true that the economic crisis has hit mainly small companies, too weak to stand on an ever more demanding market, but the figures are - according to the analysis of Conftrasporto - the warning sign of a forced relocation that weakens the whole  Italian economic system as well as social security. Only in 2015 will a slight recovery of traffic be seen, around 1%,  while for 2014 the only positive changes are expected for transport leaving Italy and heading to foreign countries. Looking at road transport, a decline of 0.3% is still expected for this year, while 2015 should see an increase of 0.4%. The largest growth  during 2015 is expected for maritime transport, with an increase of 1.5%.



Road freight wins over sea


The market share of road transport, only managed to pass the 45%  mark in 2012, while maritime transport covered 48.7% of all transported goods. This analysis by Confcommercio took  additionally into account all traffic flow originating from or destined to foreign countries, with part of the journey taking place within our national borders, both by land and with the other modes.

By this criterion, the traditional view, supported by Eurostat, has been overturned; this only takes into account rail and road transport, which brings to 85.9% the market share held by road carriers. Moreover, also the Statement of National Infrastructure and Transport, which counts as maritime transport only national cabotage, still managing a 30% share, receives a blow.

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