ITC claims political will and collaboration needed to drive greater efficiency in UK urban freight movements

With e-commerce growing at over 10% annually, a new report by the Independent Transport Commission (ITC) – "How can we improve urban freight distribution in the UK? Challenges and solutions" – shines a light on ways to optimise efficiency in urban freight movements as well as reducing congestion and emissions.

This new ITC report examines the scale of the growing urban logistics challenge in Britain, successful initiatives and the development of the necessary tools to drive efficient deliveries.

The report examined the successes to date and the obstacles to further progress through three main case studies on: retiming deliveries with DHL, consolidation centres with the London Borough of Camden and the use of new technologies such as the Starship robots (comment below) covering the ‘last mile

Urban logistics and deliveries are essential to the functioning and flourishing of a city. However, the movement of goods in and waste out currently brings with it a range of negative externalities. Key challenges for national, regional and local government, alongside businesses, receivers of goods and freight operators, that need to be addressed include:

Delivery Van (PD)

  • Urban congestion – light good vehicles (LGVs) are the fastest growing segment of urban road traffic. In London in 2015, LGVs were responsible for 14% of the vehicle kilometres travelled, compared to 10% in 1993 and 11% in 2000. Population growth in cities is also increasing the demand for deliveries.
  • Air quality – poor air quality in our cities is damaging public health and breaching EU limits. High levels of nitrogen oxides and particulate matter have been linked to diesel engines, which are common amongst LGVs.
  • Noise and the timing of deliveries – freight vehicles often have more powerful and nosier engines than private motor vehicles, and the dispatch and collection of goods often involves noisy operations.
  • The ‘last mile’ challenge – due to the density of urban housing and infrastructure, the last part of freight journeys is often the least efficient in terms of time, emissions and congestion. It also brings particular challenges including parking, locating delivery points and the need for customer interaction

The report’s case studies focus on retiming, consolidation centres and the ‘last mile’ in London, although the lessons learnt are applicable to other UK urban areas where more than 80% of the population lives.

As the Government gathers views on the draft Air Quality Plan, which proposes mandating local authorities and other public bodies to tackle urban emissions, Dr Matthew Niblett, Director of the ITC, commented: “People are waking up to the fact that freight produces a large and growing portion of daily road miles, particularly during the peak hours. With online retail delivery volumes growing by 10% in 2016, we need individuals, businesses and public organisations to break out of the ‘free delivery’ mind-set.

He added: “The Government, metro mayors, transport authorities, local authorities and other public bodies need to get on the front-foot to drive change through a combination of actions, including establishing a conducive regulatory framework, interrogating their supply chains, harnessing new technologies, seed funding consolidation centres until the necessary scale is achieved to allow these to operate independently. All the while encouraging behavioural change from all quarters, including suppliers, customers, the logistics operators and staff employed by public bodies.

“For example, TfL estimate that delivery savings of between 30-50% could be achieved by councils adopting three key steps: restricting deliveries to twice a week, establishing a minimum order of £50, and encouraging delivery to door, not to people’s desks.

“There’s no room for complacency in the public or private sector, if we are to be successful in tackling growing congestion and harmful emissions in urban areas."

Lembit Öpik, Head of Public Affairs UK, said: "The Independent Transport Commission's report on improving urban freight distribution effectively summarises the challenges which urgently need to be solved if we are to have a timely, economical and sustainable delivery infrastructure. The Personal Delivery Device (PDD) sector, in which Starship is the most advanced and recognised operator, is accurately presented as a vital component in reducing congestion, emissions and cost to suppliers and the public".

The ITC will be sharing the report with the Department for Transport, all metro mayors, Transport of London (TfL), Transport for the North, Midland Connect and local authorities.

The wider ITC research programme covers a wide range of strategic transport and land use policy issues, including aviation strategy, high speed rail and cities, the impacts of technology on travel and travel trends.

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