Seven things I learnt at our last mile freight summit

Here’s seven things I learned at the Freight in the Cities Summit, which we sponsored, in Birmingham yesterday on the last mile challenge.

My presentation to the event can be downloaded here and you can find a freight hub on our website here.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.


The place dimension of transport policy

Urban Transport Group is supporting Landor’s Better Places conference on 24 November 2016.

In an article for Local Transport Today magazine, Jonathan Bray says ‘If we are going to make progress on the place dimension of transport policy, we need to work in a much more co-ordinated way across disciplines and across sectors. Transport needs to be considered along with placemaking, the urban realm and the local economy’.

Read ‘The place dimension of transport policy’ here.

Ten thoughts on very large ports

In particular Teesport after our visit this week

  1. Ports are shape shifters – they adapt to changing patterns of traffic (with the application of large amounts of investment that is). Car import terminals become container terminals, steel terminals switch from exports to imports, coal unloading to biomass unloading.
  2. There’s no jobs in logistics sheds per se in the future – at one of the vast Tesco’s distribution sheds at Teesport we were told that they don’t bother to have the lights on because there are no human beings in there.
  3. Ports are fascinating, important but…invisible (as in nobody knows what’s going on behind the fences). Teesport couldn’t have put on a better visit for us but prior to this we found it difficult to organise a visit to a port in the north. Compare and contrast with Rotterdam where tourist boats regularly tour the docks… Don’t see why something similar wouldn’t work in England.
  4. Teesside is used to thinking big. If it hadn’t it wouldn’t be here. First through private sector port and industrial development and later through good old 1970s industrial policy – with a new Teesside authority working with big nationalised industries and big private sector corporations to make it happen. Where now stands chemical works and port facilities there was nothing but mud flats. There’s a great twenty minute documentary ‘Planning Teesside’ 1970 which shows a drive to develop the area’s industrial base but shot through with tensions around environmental impacts and the suspicions of local people around the transfer of powers from local towns to the new authority.
  5. Teesside matters but because it doesn’t fit the current template about regional development being based on agglomeration of white collar employment in core city centres and its population isn’t huge – it tends to get missed out of thinking about the regions. But what’s wrong with being industrial?
  6. Mayors are seen by some as an all purpose governance panacea. Not sure I would go that far however you could see it working well in Teesside given the nature of the economic and political geography and the need for the area to punch its weight
  7. From what we heard the most significant shift in ports policy in recent decades continues to gather momentum. For decades we have been concentrating the biggest ports in the most crowded south eastern part of the country (and the public sector paid vast amounts for the road and rail infrastructure to take the goods to the rest of the country while clogging up key rail and road arteries in the process). The balance in port traffic is now beginning to shift northwards.
  8. If this was Germany, Teesside would have electrified railways with frequent local services joining up its multiple urban centres but also with the capability to handle the freight traffic to and from the port and industrial base. With the decline of the local steel industry and the port’s big ambitions an overhaul of the area’s rail network looks more of a no-brainer than ever.
  9. When you can get invited beyond the fence, ports give you a window into how the wider economy is changing (who knew imports from the Baltics were on the increase?) as well as how technology is enabling mind boggling things to happen with very few people involved (vast container ships with tiny crews for example)
  10. Recommended longer reads on modern ports and shipping: Rose George – ‘Deep Sea and Foreign Going – inside shipping, the invisible industry that brings you 90% of everything‘ and chapter three (‘port statistics’) of ‘The View from the Train: Cities and other Landscapes‘ by Patrick Keiller.