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Polish Transport Industry Faces Crisis: 60% of Carriers Plan Job Cuts, Urges Government for Support

TSLPolish Transport Industry Faces Crisis: 60% of Carriers Plan Job Cuts, Urges Government for Support

The Polish transport industry holds a 33 percent share of the EU road transport market, employs nearly one million workers, and contributes 16 billion PLN in taxes and fees to the state budget, according to the Association of International Road Carriers (ZMPD). However, its current situation is very challenging: approximately 60 percent of industry entrepreneurs signal plans to reduce their fleet and employment in the coming months, and 13 percent of carriers are on the brink of insolvency and are not meeting their obligations on time. The number of bankruptcies in the first months of 2024 has doubled. This is a result of the post-pandemic economic downturn, the war in Ukraine, and the sharp increase in costs. Additionally, the EU’s climate policy and the challenges associated with emission reductions pose further challenges.

“The green transformation, which includes Fit for 55, the Green Deal, and EU directives, is a huge challenge for all companies, including those in the TSL sector – transport, forwarding, logistics. Unfortunately, we must face and adapt to these regulations as they are pan-European and EU-wide, implemented in Poland with no way around them,” says Dr. Maciej Stajniak, professor at the Higher School of Logistics in Poznań, to Newseria Biznes. “Logistics is best prepared for this, as there are not as many regulations affecting it. Forwarding is also not heavily impacted, but transportation, which emits harmful substances into the atmosphere, is the most affected. From a Polish perspective, transport is our national asset. We are the largest carrier in Europe.”

The transport sector is one of the most important branches of the Polish economy. It generates about 6 percent of GDP, but according to ZMPD and TLP, it is fundamental in creating over 51 percent of GDP. Furthermore, it ensures a positive balance of payments in economic relations with other EU countries and contributes 16 billion PLN annually to public finances. The sector employs over 950,000 people, making it the third-largest group in the service sector after trade and education. In 2021, the Polish road transport sector transported a total of 380 billion tonne-kilometers, the most in the EU, and 24 percent more than the second-place Germany. Poland also has the largest truck fleet in the EU (about 1.2 million) – on average, one in five trucks on EU roads is registered in Poland. All this contributes to the leading position of Polish carriers, who are responsible for nearly 1/5 of all transports in EU member states (data from PSPA).

However, the Polish transport industry is currently facing many challenges, including EU regulations aimed at combating climate change and increasing client demands for emission reductions. This is because trucks – although they make up only 3 percent of the entire fleet of vehicles on European roads – account for 19.4 percent of EU road transport CO2 emissions.

“Also concerning are the rising costs of running a transport business, as regulations automatically translate into this aspect. Fuel price increases or the rise in road tolls in Germany, which depend on vehicle emission standards – all of this impacts the TSL industry. The protests by carriers, which we haven’t seen in Europe for many years and which are now emerging, indicate that the industry is struggling, and carriers are finding it increasingly difficult to make a living,” says Dr. Maciej Stajniak.

He points out that the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the start of the war in that country have also significantly contributed to the current crisis in the transport industry, as about 20,000 trucks focused solely on Polish-Russian destinations were taken out of service almost overnight, forcing carriers to completely suspend operations in this direction.

“This was the first blow to carriers mainly oriented towards the eastern direction. Finding freight on the domestic market was impossible, and the Scandinavian market is already full, so many of these companies had to suspend operations,” says the professor from the Higher School of Logistics in Poznań. “In 2023, as many as 7,000 transport companies declared bankruptcy, which means that costs are rising and all these upheavals are having a significant impact on the industry.”

After several difficult years for carriers – marked first by the pandemic and disruptions in supply chains, then the economic downturn in Europe, and then the outbreak of war in the East – their situation was further worsened by the lifting of the requirement for transport permits for Ukrainian transport companies. Under a liberalization agreement signed with the EU, these companies gained access to the community market and quickly began to “undercut” Polish and European companies. This resulted in loud protests by carriers and the blockade of borders with Ukraine, which also affected international trade.

“The protests of our carriers, which we observed, were caused by unequal access criteria, as bilateral transport is 92 percent carried out by the Ukrainian side and only 8 percent by the Polish side, so there is no question of fair competition. In other words, preferential conditions for Ukrainian carriers mean that a new player, who does not adhere to any conditions of fair competition, is entering our already crowded market,” says Dr. Maciej Stajniak.

In May, the two largest associations of Polish carriers – Transport and Logistics Poland (TLP) and the Association of International Road Carriers (ZMPD) – jointly appealed to the government for immediate support for the transport industry to help it survive the current crisis. They pointed out that already about 60 percent of industry entrepreneurs signal plans to reduce their fleet and employment in the coming months, and 13 percent of carriers are currently on the brink of insolvency and are not meeting their obligations on time. This is due to the difficult situation in the transport market and the sharp rise in costs, partly due to the 80 percent increase in road tolls in the EU. Therefore, the industry has appealed to the government to introduce temporary reliefs or exemptions from public-law obligations. This could include the transport tax or social security contributions for drivers. The appeal also covers subsidies for the mandatory replacement of tachographs in used trucks by the end of this year (a cost of several thousand PLN per vehicle for carriers).

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