EU Land Transport Labour Market: A Critical Examination of Trends and Policy Implications

8 May 2024

In 2019, the European Commission adopted its Green Deal policy and committed itself to a 90% reduction in transport emissions by 2050, as well as to shift a substantial part of the 75% of inland freight carried by road to transport by rail and inland waterways. One year later, in its Smart and Sustainable Mobility Strategy, the Commission went further in setting goals and objectives: rail freight traffic is supposed to increase by 50% by 2030 and to double by 2050. The Strategy also acknowledges that great opportunities for a better quality of life and high-quality jobs will emerge from the transition to green transport. It also recognises that “the sustainable and smart transition will not be possible without the support and buy-in of transport workers”. At the same time, it admits that the transport sectors are facing a critical labour shortage and “suffer from harsh working conditions.”


In line with the EC’s prediction, today, road, rail, and urban public transport are all struggling with what is alleged to be an unprecedented labour shortage, but it should better be described as a shortage of job vacancies offering decent pay and conditions. So far, however, no policy action has been taken to reverse this trend. Jobs in transport fail to meet the basic expectations of today’s job seekers. Work schedules are unpredictable and disruptive to family and social life. A new post-COVID wave of violence by members of the public towards transport workers has hit sectors such as rail passenger and urban public transport, causing even more front-line workers to leave their jobs. Having to sleep in trucks or having to worry about being transferred from public to private operators with a significant worsening of pay and conditions has had a negative impact on job and personal security. Today’s job seekers are no longer prepared to take these risks. Europe is also far from meeting its climate goals. There is little, if any, hope that rail freight traffic can increase by 50% in the next seven years. Freight volumes transported by road continue to increase as road transport continues to engage in wage dumping and, therefore, remains cheap.


Two years ago, the ETF launched a project to look in more detail at the roots of the above trends. Three reports – on road, rail and urban public transport were developed within the frame of the project to cast light on how liberalisation and market-opening policies led to undesirable effects that put at stake the very goals and objectives set by the same policymakers. The reports look into why road transport is kept artificially cheap, benefitting neither the road sector nor the modal shift of freight from road to rail. On the road, a new wave of social dumping, with 3rd-country drivers at its core, is now a reality. Reports also highlight, among others, the low number of bidders responding to public transport service tender procedures – proof that treating public transport as a profit-making activity is an ideological failure in itself. Re-municipalisation and re-nationalisation of transport services by rail and road are no longer uncommon, as private operators don’t stay in business when there is no profit.

For more details, we invite you to access the reports and the policy recommendations; they’re available in the column on your right.

The ETF project was funded under one of the budget lines of the European Commission.