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.

 

Moving forwards on transport and health

When we talk about transport and health it can feel like we’re in a hamster wheel of transport improves health, we could spend money from health budgets to improve transport and save health money, let’s get people active to improve health outcomes etcetera, etcetera… We talk about needing evidence, and being able to quantify the benefits. But we KNOW that getting people active and using public transport has benefits for public health and much, much more. So what’s stopping us? I attended the ‘Sustainable Transport and Health Summit’ last week in Bristol and some specific things struck me regarding the barriers to moving forward on these agendas and how we might start to overcome them.

Many people talk about needing a common language to bring together practitioners in transport and health. Technical language and a whole different flavour of acronym soup means that drawing the agenda together to work for common outcomes has been challenging at best and often seen as just too difficult to attempt. However, as someone recently pointed out, ‘we have a common language, it’s called plain English’. And, for me, they’ve hit the nail right on the head. If we can make the case for the co-benefits of transport and health in a clear, and non-technical way, then perhaps we can sell the vision of cities where active and public transport work together to improve health outcomes.

TfL’s Healthy Streets approach does just that. It makes the case for ensuring that streets are healthy places, using 10 simple indicators, see below. From ease of crossing to clean air and places to sit and rest, the indicators are simple and accessible to those of any background. And none of these indicators are controversial, who wouldn’t want a street that is quiet, feels safe and has things to see and do? And if there are health benefits in the process then great!

healthy-streets

We need political vision. Prioritisation of health in transport is picking up pace in London with the backing of a Mayor who has shown leadership and commitment to these issues and is driving forward the Healthy Streets approach. Urban transport authorities more widely have the potential to drive forward the health and transport agenda however they will need the powers and funding to deliver on this.

On evidence, there is a wealth of evidence making the case that transport can improve health. We’ve collected some of that on our web hub for health and transport. In addition, there are tools available which can be used to make the economic case for investment in active travel, including the HEAT tool (Health Economic Assessment Tool).

Here at the Urban Transport Group, we believe that transport can, and should, be working to deliver health outcomes. As such, we’ve committed to continue work on this agenda, starting out by updating and refreshing our web hub and promoting TfL’s Healthy Streets approach beyond London. If you’d like to find out more check out our resources and / or get in touch, we need to continue these conversations and keep this on the agenda!