The potential for reducing empty running by trucks: a retrospective analysis

Alan C. McKinnon (Logistics Research Centre, Heriot‐Watt University, Edinburgh, UK)
Yongli Ge (Logistics Research Centre, Heriot‐Watt University, Edinburgh, UK)

International Journal of Physical Distribution & Logistics Management

ISSN: 0960-0035

Publication date: 1 June 2006



The aim is to examine the recent trend in empty running by trucks in the UK and assesses the potential for a further reduction in empty running in the food supply chain using a new technique.


Data from the UK Government's main road freight survey and other studies are used to investigate the causes of the decline in empty running. Previous attempts to quantify opportunities for backloading are reviewed. The 2002 KPI Survey in the UK food supply chain created a large multi‐fleet database of over 20,000 trips, which permitted retrospective analysis of backloading opportunities. A method was devised to screen these opportunities against four selection criteria and assess the overall potential for cutting empty truck‐kms.


Suitable backloads were found for only 2.4 per cent of the empty journey legs, representing 2 per cent of empty truck‐kms. The analysis highlights the operational constraints on backloading in a sector characterised by short average trip length, tight scheduling and variable use of refrigeration.

Research limitations/implications

The analysis provides a more accurate and realistic assessment of backloading potential than previous studies, though is still deficient in several respects. The main shortcomings relate to the sampling method and structure of the Transport KPI Survey. The analytical framework requires further development to refine backload search areas, incorporate commercial data and permit sensitivity analysis.


The paper shows how retrospective analysis of road deliveries made over a short period (48 hour) can identify opportunities for backloading at a sectoral level. It combines government statistics and original survey data to provide both a macro‐ and micro‐level perspective on the empty running problem.



McKinnon, A. and Ge, Y. (2006), "The potential for reducing empty running by trucks: a retrospective analysis", International Journal of Physical Distribution & Logistics Management, Vol. 36 No. 5, pp. 391-410.

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Copyright © 2006, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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