Here’s seven things I learned at the Freight in the Cities Summit, which we sponsored, in Birmingham yesterday on the last mile challenge.
- Air quality concerns, and the implications for freight and logistics, is looming large with a new and potentially more far reaching government air quality strategy pending. It could drive greater efficiency, push some low end providers out of the market, and lead to faster uptake of cleaner vehicles.
- Freight and logistics has become far more central in city region transport planning and strategies than was the case ten years ago. To a particularly striking extent in the West Midlands where it maps onto how the region sits in terms of manufacturing and also on the UK’s strategic rail and road routes as well as the region’s role on new vehicle technologies and background urban air quality, urban realm and congestion reduction objective.
- Instant deliveries is reshaping the freight and logistics landscape again – and fast. From meal deliveries within the hour by Deliveroo et al to deliver within the hour to same day deliveries from big retail and internet giants. As well as more cyclists and vans whizzing around to ‘instantly deliver’, this also means more demand for in-city logistics depots and hubs for them to operate out of. All of which has potential implications for congestion, air quality and the urban realm.
- The future of the city centre is truck free. That’s not environmentalists saying it or cycle activists – that was logistics giant UPS. Indeed they have already done this in Hamburg where a container is dropped off in city centre as a base for onwards cycle logistics deliveries.
- Consolidation centres (where multiple freight consignments are trunked into a single distribution centre on the urban fringe and then consolidated for delivery to city centre locations using the fewest and most environmentally appropriate vehicles) have been the big idea on urban freight for some time. Unfortunately it’s been more about the idea rather than projects on the ground in the UK. However the conference heard about two examples of real and working schemes. One in Southampton which focuses on the public sector getting its act together to consolidate deliveries to healthcare, education and council facilities. The other in Paris where because there is one (state owned) logistics company which dominates the market the economics of consolidation centres work. Already up and running in Paris the same approach will now be rolled out to every other major French city. The challenge in the UK is the logistics market is not monopolised enough for it to make straight up commercial sense for any of the big players to do it alone or in consort. It feels like it will need more sticks and carrots from either local and/or national government to tip the balance. Tighter air quality regimes may also help.
- As the aspirations for cleaner air, a better urban realm and more active travel increase there are big challenges ahead in reconciling how to serve these ‘cities for people’ with the deliveries they need to function, alongside maintaining access for buses, taxis and other road vehicles. We are going to need a much broader conversation about the urban places and streets of the future which brings together the transport planners, with the place makers and those piloting and investing in urban economies. This is a conversation that needs to include the freight and logistics sector at an early stage rather than as a later bolt on.
- There’s lots of scope for more freight by inland waterways in some cities. London has shown the way by protecting wharves from property development so that the Thames remains the UK’s hardest working urban river. The same trick could be repeated to some extent in other cities particularly for containers, aggregates and construction traffic. The FTA have been doing some good work here – their recent ‘Lessons from the Thames’ report is well worth a look. Watch out too for a conference they will be running later in the year on potential for more freight by water in the North.