When implementing innovative solutions, companies are faced with various restrictions because of existing transport systems and infrastructure. Change needs to happen, and new policies and politicians need to get on board.

E-Commerce and Urban Logistics


Online commerce is increasingly meeting the needs of customers, residents and businesses. The ongoing boom in e-commerce goes hand in hand with the growth in the CEP (courier, express and parcel) delivery market. As a result, city roads are increasingly being used for andencumbered by the transportation of everyday goods. City-dwellers, the environment and logistics companies alike are facing important challenges such as heavily congested roads, air and noise pollution and driver shortages. Thus, urban logistics (or city logistics), has experienced a considerable increase in exposure in the media and the academic community recently.

Urban logistics is the efficient management of the movement of goods within a city, serving to supply the population as needed, within the shortest possible time frame and ideally in an environmentally responsible way. For the last few years, e-commerce has not only evolvedconsiderably, in many ways, it has shaped our cities: how they workand how businesses and city-dwellers access their goods. It has raised expectations as well as improved convenience and even human behaviour. In parallel to e-commerce, the CEP market has grown considerably.

Unfortunately, unlike e-commerce, CEP delivery methods have not evolved. Cities, businesses and residents have seen an unprecedented increase in traffic, pollution and bulky vehicles clogging up roads. A surge in parcel delivery volume has increased the number of delivery vehicles around the world, creating a strong demand for drivers who work in less than favourable conditions. All the above has had a rather negative impact on the overall quality of city life, but at the same time, has created the opportunity to create better cities.


Reshaping Urban Logistics


The restructuring of existing spaces is of great importance for urban logistics. It’s been debated that land use should focus more on the common good than the right to individual mobility (i.e. owning a privatecar). Parking spaces could be reappropriated for logistical use, other means of shared transport or for temporary logistical storage. This could come in the shape of micro-depots (also referred to as city hubs), modifying the first and last mile chain process. Parcels would be sorted in distribution centres, loaded onto cargo-units, and these units would then be transported to their respective micro-depot within the city centre for delivery. From there, space-saving and environmentally friendly vehicles, such as e-cargo bikes, would deliver these parcels within a smaller delivery radius. This new process will help reduce traffic and improve air quality by eliminating or minimising conventional, high-polluting and bulky vehicles on roads, which normally load parcels directly from the distribution centre and drive through the city centre to deliver them. 

A concrete example of a newly designed supply chain is currently being tested in Frankfurt am Main, in Germany. In this instance, a tram is being used to supply micro-depots. It’s a three-stage process. One: mobile micro-depots, loaded with parcels and/or cargo-units, are transported from the distribution centre to a loading point on the outskirts of the city and transferred to a tram wagon. Two: along the tram route, micro-depots are dropped off at their respective locations. Three: Parcels and or/ cargo-units from the micro-depots are loaded onto e-cargo bikes that handle the last mile of delivery.

It is clear that urban logistics require the restructuring of existing infrastructure. Space is a luxury in today’s cities. Prioritising private car use when, in countries such as Germany and France, the average occupancy rate of a car is 1.1, or prioritising individual mobility solutionsthat have a large physical footprintis no longer viable. While progress has been made with regard to reserved parking for emission-free vehicles or charging stations, it is quite simply not enough. Current parking spaces, especially those in city centres, could and should be optimised for flexible use such as micro-depots, more shared-mobility systems, or more shared green spaces.


Why Is This So Important?


Enabling this new type of supply chain process would trigger a most-needed disruptive solution for the first and last mile of delivery. The last mile of delivery, according to most logistics operators, accounts for half of all costs and time delays in the logistics chain. This is mostly due to the unpredictability of increasingly inefficient city perimeter distribution centres and cumbersome delivery vehicles causing and being stuck in traffic. This new model would decentralise larger hubs and create so-called city hubs (micro-depots), which could further serve for off-peak deliveries and the innovative use of existing services. This new logistics chain is starting to be seen across Europe with the use of night trams, trains and even boats.


Need for New Policies


When implementing innovative solutions, companies are faced with various restrictions with existing transport systems. The desired changes can only be achieved in conjunctionwith new policies. Infrastructural adaptations, such as the development of suitable cargo-bicycle facilities and the reallocation of existing space for logistics vehicles or micro-depots, are necessary to make a difference in current conditions. Additionally, a network of charging stations, or other innovative power-supply solutions such as battery swapping stations, as well as an improved IoT (Internet of Things) and Smart infrastructure are needed to facilitate and ensure the success of new technologies and innovations. The legal framework that would facilitate innovation is also necessary (e.g. favourable regulations regarding cargo bikes).


It is clear that the complexity of urban logistics requires a high degree of customisation. It’s about designing delivery solutions that are flexible, economically sound and environmentally friendly. Now, more than ever, it is important to rethink our current methods, in order to keep our cities healthy.


Building Momentum


And while there are very encouraging projects happening in Paris, Hamburg, Berlin, Brussels and many more cities around the world, it’s important to stress that in order to truly bring about meaningful change, these projects have to involve our governments and have political support. In only a few short years, we have witnessed a big wakeup call by citizens and politicians alike, which has generated ground-breaking environmental studies and numerous studies about the negative impact of road congestion.


We believe that this momentum will continue to build, and we’ll see many more companies and initiatives pushing for greener, more flexible and safer transportation solutions. There is no cookie cutter solution, but ultimately, the solution does not lie in continuing to build roads for cars. It lies in adapting existing infrastructure to our more modern needs, equipping cities with smart sensors, protecting and enabling innovative and emission-free solutions, all while working in tandem with city-dwellers and governments. Together, we can bring about the change we need to see in the cities of today.