A review of policy instruments to promote freight modal shift in Europe: Evidence from evaluations.
Preprint, 2021

This paper presents a review of past and present public policy instruments in Europe promoting a
modal shift of freight transports. The identified policy instruments are categorized based on several
shared characteristics. To the extent that ex-post evaluations are available, policy performance is
discussed, and the evaluations are compared.

The study identifies 93 public policy instruments in Europe. The most common type of policy is
subsidies/grants to rail and/or water implemented at the national level. Most policy instruments only
focus on the promotion of one specific transport mode, which most commonly is rail.

Evaluations of policy performance were found for 20 policy instruments. The evaluated policy
instruments are mainly subsidies/grants at the national level, or policy instruments at EU level. The
bias in evaluation towards these types of policy instruments is partly explained by the commitment to
evaluation at EU level, and the need for permission by the European Commission to implement and
prolong subsidies/grants classified as state aid. The evaluations differ in methodology and regarding
what type of performance indicators that are evaluated. The evaluation guidelines and criteria that
exist at EU level are often followed to some extent but interpreted differently depending on for
example type of policy and data availability. Thus, comparing policy performance is difficult.

In general, there seem to be a more positive performance of policy instruments promoting a modal
shift to rail than to waterborne transports. Several evaluations of EU-policy instruments describe a
poor or a mixed performance of the policy instruments, while the performance of subsidies/grant at
national level are often considered positive by the evaluations. A commonly mentioned factor for
underachievement of the policy instruments is problems related to outreach of the policy, lack of
applications, long and complicated application processes and a high administrative burden for the
companies applying for financial support. Targets for the policy instruments are often broad and
general, with a lack of clarity, making it difficult to meet all objectives, as well as to evaluate the
policy instruments effectiveness and efficiency. Thus, well-defined targets, as well as better outreach
and simpler processes could be one way forward in improving modal shift policy instruments in

Modal shift



freight transport

public policy instruments



Johanna Takman

Chalmers, Arkitektur och samhällsbyggnadsteknik, Geologi och geoteknik

Marta Gonzalez-Aregall

Göteborgs universitet


Hållbar utveckling




Transportteknik och logistik


Studier av offentlig förvaltning

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