A Collaborative Solution to Urban Last Mile Challenge?

According to the report ‘Making urban freight logistics more sustainable’, freight traffic accounts for 10-15% of urban kilometres travelled. Which doesn’t sound excessive until you realise that it represents 300-400 freight vehicle trips, per 100 people per day in, out, through or within a city. Many of these spend much of their time blocking roads to unload perhaps just one or two roll cages.

Radical solutions are needed.

One such solution is the Urban Consolidation Centre (UCC). It provides an answer to a situation where carriers make individual trips to each area or customer. Often with the large vehicles that arrive from distribution centres, with low load factors for much of the urban round.

With an UCC, the loads are transferred to a neutral carrier that consolidates the cargo and manage the last leg delivery. Whether it is for a single recipient or a block of streets Typically, using smaller, less polluting vehicles designed for efficient load/unload in cramped urban streets and congestion zones…

An UCC is unlikely to have much space for last mile delivery vans to queue up taxi-rank style. So they would have to be called in as needed. Routes, loads, capacities and timings would have to be planned and, given the vagaries of the urban environment, re-planned dynamically. This is where intelligent freight matching comes in.

The UCC would need systems whereby the shipper can book a docking slot for their truck and disclose the distribution needs.

Current examples tend to appoint a single carrier for the last mile delivery. But there is no reason, in principal, why there should not be an open market. The system could choose the best price offered by a carrier delivering to the same street. Helping to create a full load, reducing load price and congestion to that area.

Municipal Support

Models and live practice show that UCCs can only work without the need for long term municipal subsidies, if they attract high levels of usage. But inducements may be necessary.

One approach, used in Parma, is delivery vehicles from the UCC have 24-hour access to the city centre, providing they have a high enough load factor to qualify, whereas direct deliveries are restricted to night times. An intelligent freight matching and booking system could of course automatically verify the load factor.

There are potentially many benefits to an UCC approach. Road traffic, congestion and pollution are reduced. Trunk vehicles and their drivers can get a quick turnaround for the next, profitable load. Finally, users would have a simpler, more predictable and possibly cheaper goods receipt regime.

However, UCC success would be critically dependent on efficient, real time, intelligent freight matching and route planning systems.

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