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IRU History

History

Seven decades: driving road transport

The forties: rebuilding Europe

IRU is founded in Geneva to help war-torn Europe rebuild devastated trade and commercial links. It begins with an alliance of national passenger and freight road transport associations from eight European countries, to ensure that the road transport industry is represented at the newly created UN, which has been tasked with putting in place the frameworks for a new, post-war Europe.  

IRU creates the TIR system in 1949 – initially an inter-governmental agreement – it later becomes a global convention. TIR becomes the tool to facilitate post-war inter-European trade – within the context of fragile geopolitical relationships. The customs transit system enables goods to flow across unstable borders as the economies and the communities of Europe begin to recover. TIR becomes a tangible means to strive for prosperity. 

The forties: rebuilding Europe

The fifties: rewriting the rules of road transport

Representing road transport at the UN table means that IRU is able to partner with governments to rewrite the rules of transport for the decades to come. Every UN convention relating to road transport, defining the roles and responsibilities within logistics and road transport, involves or is initiated by IRU. 

The Convention on the Contract for the International Carriage of Goods by Road (CMR) is signed in 1956. This sets out, for the first time, the responsibilities and liabilities of private parties involved in the transport of goods. Complementary to TIR, it is to this day the most widely used document on shipments between senders, receivers and transporters. It provides a record of the transport operation and contains essential information in relation to the load carried. 

In February 2008, a protocol is added to the CMR Convention concerning the use of the electronic consignment note and forms the bedrock of a global strategy to digitalise transport and logistics, as the industry looks to adopt game-changing innovations in the 21st century. 

With TIR, 1959 sees the first historic example of a public private partnership between IRU and the UN, as the two organisations come together to establish the UN Convention on International Transport of Goods Under Cover of TIR Carnets. IRU continues to manage the system, and it quickly becomes the global standard for customs transit.

The fifties: rewriting the rules of road transport

The sixties: safe passage

Expanding IRU membership now includes a number of Eastern European countries, and its reach is growing. IRU adopts a unique, global view of road transport amid a period of social shift and cultural conflict on the global stage. The sharing of best practice becomes one of IRU’s touchstones – as the West moves into a period of greater prosperity. 

IRU establishes two awards in 1966, recognising heroism and, significantly, safety. This represents a key moment, when safety and professionalism become a focus for the organisation. Driving all aspects of its work thereafter, IRU continues to advocate for international standards that improve safety, working with the United Nations, international organisations and government authorities on both formal and informal standards, in particular through IRU’s Commissions on Road Safety, Technical Affairs, Legal Affairs and expert working party on Transporting Dangerous Goods.

The sixties: safe passage

The seventies: the right mode

The advent and standardisation of shipping containers in the 1970s reinvents the way in which goods are transported. The need to operate intermodally is absolute. Replacing the 1959 version, a new TIR Convention is concluded in 1975, ensuring that TIR is the best transit tool for intermodal transport. 

The TIR Convention is restyled to allow for the intermodal transport of goods, provided that at least one leg of the journey is carried out by road. 

The seventies: the right mode

The eighties: Brussels blueprint

With its now established home in Brussels (created in 1973), IRU has a seat at the table of European policy making. The 1980s sees the European Parliament take the Council of the European Union to the European Court of Justice for its failure to develop a common transport policy. The Court’s judgment of May 1985 finally kick-starts progress on a common policy. 

The legislative push towards the single European market heralds a turning point in transport policy, with market access balanced against EU-wide rules in areas such as driving and rest times for heavy commercial vehicles.

IRU contributes to EU policy initiatives and legislation, promoting an economically sound operating environment for road transport, ensuring fair competition, and working to ensure that the road transport industry plays a leading role in mobility, trade and tourism throughout Europe. This mission is later all the more important in the light of Brexit, the Mobility Package and decarbonisation.

IRU also launches its star classification system for coaches to improve quality, safety and comfort in the sector.

The eighties: Brussels blueprint

The nineties: sustaining road transport

Following the 1st Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 where 182 countries adopt Agenda 21, IRU is the first transport organisation to become involved in the UN plan for sustainable development and subsequently makes it a constitutional obligation. Its Charter for Sustainable Development is adopted in 1996 and it develops the the 3 "i" strategy for achieving sustainable development, based on innovation, incentives and infrastructure.

Later, IRU’s “30 by 30” Resolution is a pledge from the entire road transport industry to cut its CO2 emissions by 30% by 2030.

The IRU Academy – the training arm of IRU – is conceived at the end of this decade, reinforcing the message that the professionalisation of the industry is at the heart of its ongoing sustainability. This is reflected in tangible outcomes – such as the benefits to the environment and safety with eco-driving and crash prevention training – as well as the economic and social factors at play with the increased prosperity that results from more efficient transport systems and improved access to personal mobility.

Sustainability remains high on IRU’s agenda and it continues to work closely with the World Bank, the UN and the wider industry on driving sustainability targets and setting the global sustainability agenda for road transport. 

The nineties: sustaining road transport

2000s: Silk Road foundations

With the China Road Transportation Association joining IRU, and knowing that China is an emerging world power, IRU seeds the concept of the revitalisation of the ancient Silk Road. The New Eurasian Land Transport Initiative (NELTI) is conceived as an essential next step in the IRU strategy for interconnecting businesses in Asia and Europe along the Eurasian landmass to all major world markets, as well as increasing public and business awareness of the huge opportunities created by this land bridge. 

Based on data from 200,000 border crossings, the NELTI study finds that 57% of transport time is lost at these crossings, adding to increased costs of 38% due to unofficial levies, highlighting the potential for TIR to counter these issues. 

As China’s One Belt One Road initiative later on moves ahead in 2018, IRU’s longstanding, prescient work to reopen ancient Silk Road trade routes has gathered ground and has set the foundations in place for these recent developments which are transforming trade prospects for the region. Indeed, China places TIR as one of its top priorities for realising OBOR objectives.

2000s: Silk Road foundations

2010s: digital daring, global growth and a level playing field

Road transport becomes increasingly digital, connected and automated: a revolution has begun. 

2010 onwards sees an acceleration of IRU’s global reach, with China, India and Pakistan joining the TIR network. These are just three of the latest countries to ratify the TIR Convention, representing between them 40% of the world’s population. IRU’s expansion efforts go truly global. 
TIR now has full digital and intermodal capabilities. There is a growing web of digital trade corridors inching around the globe – with TIR and e-CMR offering the global standard for digitalised transport. 

The UN adopts a resolution which highlights the importance of e-CMR for bringing innovation to real life and signs a milestone agreement with IRU supporting the full digitalisation of the TIR customs transit procedure.

IRU advocates “same service same rules” for new market entrants to a transformed taxi sector, while encouraging innovation across the board. 

As urban populations multiply, buses and coaches are promoted as part of the solution to reducing the environmental footprint of personal mobility and IRU’s Smartmove campaign highlights the potential benefits to cut emissions, create jobs, reduce road deaths and ease road congestion.

Guiding the industry into the future, IRU announces its World Congress in Oman in its 70th year – a platform to address current challenges and offer solutions to stay ahead of the innovation curve as the industry looks to the next 70 years. 

2010s: digital daring, global growth and a level playing field