Relegated to a side talk at the very end of the conference, the “Advancing Optimisation” session should have been a more general discussion on fleet optimisation which turned out to be an extremely informative series of presentations on the opportunities being developed for smarter logistics, reducing the distance travelled, the empty running and therefore the environmental and traffic impacts of freight transport.
In London, 90% of freight is delivered by road between 7am and 11am and freight makes up more than 25% of motor traffic (Transport for London, Retiming Deliveries, 2018). As reported by the Urban Transport Group in their April 2018 report “White Van Cities”, 66% of vehicles travel less than half full. At a recent New London Architecture discussion, a leading developer indicated that up to 1500 deliveries arrive at the concierge of one of their residential developments every week and are considered one of the key issues in regeneration projects. Large-scale centralised basements in central London developments remain extremely expensive investments only really viable for the largest developments.
Stepping up consolidations
The idea of freight consolidation, ie collecting all deliveries for a single destination or a group of related destinations, has been around for a few years now. Transport for London developed a number of documents and best practice exchange web pages through their Efficient Deliveries programme working with businesses, fleet operators and local authorities and creating a series of guidance documents on how to reduce and retime deliveries, how to support waste consolidation through collaborative procurement and support behavioural change among employees.
The Greater London Authority supported a multi-carrier consolidation study in central London whose results, published in mid-2017, showed significant reductions in vehicle mileage and emissions. Momentum has also developed a study on how the River Thames could be better utilised for freight movement. Both concept, micro-consolidation centres and river servicing, are now part of the new Draft London Plan. The Freight Operator Recognition Scheme (FORS) publishes a directory of consolidation centres for construction materials.
The London Boroughs are also leading the way, with the London Boroughs Consolidation Centre in Edmonton serving public buildings and facilities in Camden, Islington, Waltham Forest and Enfield since 2012.
Where things get complicated, however, is the areas where a multitude of privately-owned buildings and businesses operate, often independently from each other.
Linking customers and carriers
Michele Tedaldi, from Return Loads (one of the biggest freight exchanges –connecting operators and customers looking to deliver goods – in the UK) discussed their latest innovation which could be described as an Uber for freight: it allows any customer (from large businesses to individuals shipping a single parcel) to post their delivery requirements and load characteristics, and any driver with space available on his/her vehicle to pick up the load. While this a great way to connect customers and operators, a risk was highlighted from the public that this could have a similar effect as Uber, multiplying the offer of vehicles to a level where they actually cause more traffic while looking for customers than they solve through consolidation.
A second scheme is being developed by a consortium led by the Transport Systems Catapult. Freight Share Lab would allow operators to pool vehicle fleets across companies to increase truck loading factors. The system includes a minimum, pre-defined margin for each operator in order to reduce the risks of a race to the bottom. Once an operator which is part of a Freight Share accepts an order, the systems allocate the load to the lowest price fleet for the particular route without reducing the fee accepted by the first operator. Any saving would be retained to pay for the administrative cost of the platform and to pay dividends to the participating operators. Despite being at a very early stage, such a system has real potential to reduce the number of empty freight vehicles on the road.
Micro-consolidation in Commercial Basements
A number of projects and trials have now proved the feasibility of small urban consolidation centres. The Regent Street consolidation scheme reduced delivery trips by 80%. The GLA “Multi-carrier consolidation – Central London trial” report (April 2017) achieved similarly good results when measuring distances travelled and emissions.
Many large commercial developments have extensive basements or back-of-house routes and facilities built, in accordance with policy, to ensure delivery and servicing activity is kept out of the highway in order to reduce the impact on traffic flows. These facilities can be extremely expensive and represent a cost for the development (and therefore a limiting factor in regeneration opportunities), however multi-carrier, micro-consolidation for the local area could be an opportunity to transform these assets into revenue generators for their owners.
The mix of technologies presented above would enable the concept and, potentially, include logistics and deliveries within the MaaS environment. Deliveries would be consolidated out of town and delivered outside peak hours to the micro consolidation centre, which will deal with deliveries both for the development where it is located and the surrounding area. There, vehicles will be loaded with deliveries and parcels collected within the local area and shipped to the consolidation centre for further travel, potentially through a Freight Share system among operators. A fleet of smaller, electric vehicles or cargo bikes would then deliver parcels from the micro-consolidation centre to the local area and collect parcels for the next shipment.
Customers will access the system through a simple interface (web-based and/or app) where they will find all the information on costs and timings of the shipping, as well as drop-off and pick up points (not necessarily home, although it would be possible, but also lockers, local shops, the micro-consolidation centre itself, etc). This functionality could be integrated into a wider MaaS. application.
The same technologies that enable the emergence of many shared transport options could enable both a step-change in urban logistics, improving services while reducing impacts, and an opportunity for developers and land owners to develop new revenue streams from existing assets which currently purely represent a cost.