Freight in the City Regions: A Sustainable Vision for 2030

In this special guest post, Chris Rowland, Director at MDS Transmodal (MDST), outlines some of the key findings of MDST’s recent report for pteg, ‘Freight in the City Regions’. You can read the report, and find out more about freight in the city regions on our Freight Hub.

Freight containers being lifted

‘Sustainable distribution’ seeks a balance between economic efficiency and environmental sustainability. Picture: iStock Photo

The need for “sustainable distribution” in the City Regions

The freight and logistics industry is an essential feature of any economy as it allows manufacturers to receive their raw materials and components and to distribute their products to customers, while it also ensures that a wide range of goods are available in the shops. The industry is also a major employer, accounting for 9% of the country’s GDP and 7% of its total employment. At the same time, however, freight transport movements are a source of greenhouse gas emissions, contribute to congestion and generate noise; at a local level the diesel engines that power most road freight vehicles emit particulates that are damaging to human health.

For these reasons, local authorities and PTEs in the English City Regions have a growing interest in freight and are generally focusing on the policy objective of “sustainable distribution”, where a balance is found between economic efficiency and environmental sustainability. The needs and expectations of the freight industry and its customers (which are mainly commercial and economic) have to be balanced with those of City Regions’ residents and visitors through public sector intervention in the market. In economic terms, where the costs of private activities are not fully reflected in the user costs of the freight industry and their customers, there is market failure; the public sector therefore has a role in seeking to balance the needs of the private operators with the wider needs of society.

Through work it carried out for pteg in 2012-13, MDS Transmodal has produced a policy vision for freight and logistics in the English City Regions, along with a “policy toolkit” of practical measures that could be adopted by individual City Regions to move towards achieving this vision. Any initiatives by the City Regions would be addressing a relatively blank canvas. Central Government has made few positive initiatives in the freight sector, having generally been encouraged by the freight industry to leave matters to the market.

Policy vision for freight in the City Regions: the “last mile”

Person loading a box onto a lorry

Consolidation of orders could help reduce the need for freight movements. Picture: iStock Photo

So what, realistically, should the City Regions be seeking to achieve by (say) 2030?

In the context of freight transport and its environmental impacts, the European Environment Agency talks about the need to “shift”, “avoid” and “improve” freight transport and this can be applied to urban freight transport and logistics.

For economic and very practical operational reasons it is difficult for “last mile” deliveries between Regional Distribution Centres (RDCs) and city centre retail outlets to shift from road to non-road modes of transport, so the emphasis is likely to be on “avoiding” and “improving” freight transport in urban areas. The vision for “last mile” deliveries in the City Regions that we have proposed in a report for pteg focused on:

  • Consolidation of orders by receivers of goods and consolidation of road deliveries by freight transport operators, thereby reducing the number of freight movements required (“avoiding” freight transport);
  • Use of low emission vehicles for last mile deliveries and collections in urban areas (“improving”);
  • E-commerce deliveries to local collection and drop-off points (“improving” and “avoiding”);
  • Quiet night-time deliveries (“improving” and “avoiding”).

Policy vision for freight in the City Regions: the wider picture

However, “last mile” deliveries to city centres should also be seen as part of longer distance distribution chains that link goods passing through RDCs with National Distribution Centres and ports and our vision therefore includes the development of a network of “Urban Distribution Centres” (UDCs) in the City Regions that provide the opportunity to transfer medium- to long-distance flows transported by rail and waterborne transport to low emission vehicles for the “last mile” deliveries into city centres.

To secure the maximum potential for the use of sustainable distribution services over medium to long distances, these UDCs need to co-locate intermodal terminals with RDCs (i.e. warehouses) and they need to be located within the range of low emission vehicles for city centre deliveries. These UDCs would be similar to Strategic Rail Freight Interchanges, but would often need to be closer to major urban areas, could also be located on major freight waterways (such as the Thames and the Manchester Ship Canal) and would need to have facilities specifically for low emission vehicles and to facilitate the consolidation of loads.

City Region “freight policy toolkit”

Given that the freight and logistics industry is owned and controlled by the private sector, how can the City Regions achieve this vision?

One thing is clear. This vision can only be achieved by the private sector freight and logistics industry operating in an environment that allows it to behave in a “virtuous” way so that more sustainable distribution can be secured, while also allowing it to compete on a level playing field, invest for the future and generate employment.

Multi-modal freight

There is an opportunity for the City Regions to redefine realistic objectives for the movement of freight that address both sustainability and efficiency. Picture: iStock Photo

The City Regions need to develop integrated and evidence-based freight strategies within the existing Local Transport Plan (LTP) and land use planning framework and in consultation with relevant stakeholders through Freight Quality Partnerships (FQPs), with tailored packages of policy measures that influence the behaviour of the freight industry to adopt sustainable distribution practices.

A non-harmonised, inconsistent regulatory regime that is not based on evidence of impacts and without consulting the freight and logistics industry could actually do more harm than good to both the local economy and environment, as well as unnecessarily disrupting freight transport and logistics activities. While the freight and logistics industry is concerned about ill-informed and uncoordinated public sector intervention, it is equally clear that the industry adapts rapidly and efficiently to new opportunities dictated by different land use policies or the re-emergence of the rail freight sector. In other European countries, road pricing for freight has been absorbed by the industry despite initial objections. It follows that there is an opportunity for the English City Regions to redefine realistic objectives for the movement of freight that address both sustainability and efficiency.

While road pricing for freight would make a considerable contribution to achieving more sustainable distribution, this is a policy that would need to be pursued by government at a national level. At a City Region level, the key instruments for PTEs and local authorities to achieve the objective of sustainable distribution are likely to be:

  • Defining suitable locations for new Urban Distribution Centres (UDCs) in and around the City Regions.
  • Providing indirect subsidies to favour certain vehicle types and delivery timings on the basis of nationally determined principles. These might include exemptions for low emission vehicles from time windows in city centres, allowing LEVs to use priority lanes and make quiet night-time deliveries.
  • Requiring major city centre developments to adopt Delivery Service Plans and promoting their use by other businesses based in city centre offices.
  • Requiring major city centre developments to plan for off-street loading and unloading bays and planning for a network of on-street bays (possibly provided on a user pays basis).
  • Working with Network Rail and other stakeholders to define future rail infrastructure requirements for freight in the City Regions (e.g. re-opening of freight lines and connections for UDCs).
  • Developing a network of pick up and drop off points for e-commerce parcels that are integrated with City Region public transport networks.
  • Working with major ‘industrial’ stakeholders such as ports and manufacturers to develop shared visions in those sectors (e.g. port centric distribution and UDCs) where the City Regions can play a supporting role in economic regeneration through freight and logistics activity.
  • Providing information on regulations and routing for freight through signing, freight maps, information portals and, in the medium to long term, Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS).

The absence of nationally defined strategies for freight transport provides the opportunity for the City Regions to establish their own, using an evidenced-based and consultative approach that is already available via the LTP processes and working with existing FQPs.

Chris Rowland

Director – MDS Transmodal

Total mobility – brave new world

I don’t go to that many general transport conferences these days as I fear I will feel like I’ve heard too much of it too many times before.

So it was a pleasure to go to an LSE Cities evening event last week on electric mobility. A get together of an eclectic and international mix of corporate strategists, sociologists, architects, academics and technologists which was full of insights and the satisfying intellectual click of ideas coming together that hadn’t come together before – or at least not in my head.

Here’s what I took from it…

In the future you will not own your means of transportation…

  • The future of transport is sharing / renting and not owning. You don’t own the bus or train you use now. In the future you won’t own your car either. The economics of electric cars work for leasing and renting not for ownership (the cost of vehicles and infrastructure is too expensive).
  • The future of transport is one mobile phone equals one transport system. Your mobile will give you easy access to cars, bikes and public transport.
  • The future is door-to-door and carbon free.
  • In young peoples’ heads the future is here now. Internationally young people are rapidly moving into a  post-ownership mentality. They can’t afford the baby boomers ownership model (houses, cars etc) and for cars why bother? Cars are universal, functional objects – the status and aspiration around car ownership is seeping away. The car is a commodity rather than a symbol of expression and why be lumbered with one type of car that you own– when you can have any vehicle you want – right now – for hire by the hour. Young people are also ‘post-privacy’ which also fits with a monitored and rented transport world rather than a private and owned one.
  • The car ‘club’ concept was uncool and now it’s not. Car clubs used to be resonant of drab, do-goodery – aspiring late 20th century individuals didn’t join this sort of club. But now the ‘club’ fits with the zeitgeist of joining groups on social media so it’s making a marketing come back.
  • DB’s biggest electric car users are 30-55 aged  family men with a geeky side and with no interest in public transport – but interestingly once they start using the electric cars they become converts to the rail service element of the total mobility offer.
  • Electric cars limited range is good news for public transport (as it can’t substitute for long distance public transport), they can also act as smart storage for electricity during the day as electric car use is highest during the electricity grid peak and station car parks make good charging points.

In the future public transport needs to be central to the total mobility offer

    • You are not in the public transport business anymore you are in the mobility business.

      Getting total mobility up and running will need big ideas

 

  • Big is beautiful in total mobility. You need to think big, spend big and act big to get significant total mobility offers up and running. Bikehire schemes for example don’t come cheap (look at London – look at any of the successful ones). German railways (DB) has set up an innovation unit and a separate subsidiary to drive this stuff forward. The subsidiary (with a staff of 800) is now working with entities like the  German post office, large German private companies, and the non-weaponised part of the German military on its fleet management / car sharing operation.
  • Not only do transport providers need to link up with each other they also need to link up to car manufacturers, telecoms companies and energy providers. It’s only at this scale that all the pieces of the low carbon, door-to-door jigsaw can be put together. And then there’s housing providers eg Housing Associations providing electric car sharing options.
  • The economics rarely stack up as purely commercial propositions. It works best in countries that accept you need a taxbase to spend on infrastructure for these schemes so…

Will the US and UK miss out?

  • If we can’t even integrate inter-bus ticketing in UK cities (except London) how on earth will we ever be able to offer wider total mobility packages?

    The electric car could go rogue without an attractive public realm

  • If the electric car isn’t put in the context of an attractive public realm (for walking and cycling) and integrated, attractive public transport then the electric car could go rogue and lead to a transfer of short trips from public transport, walking and cycling to the car.
  • There is also a danger of the UK (outside London) ending up with weak, partial and over-lapping mobility offers by a range of private and public sector providers.
  • But then again which country did the biggest and boldest road user charging scheme on the planet? High land values = high parking charges. Coupled with tight historic street patterns this might make cities like London naturals for total mobility.
  • Meanwhile, state-side no one wants to pay for transit infrastructure anymore and car-based urban sprawl has largely triumphed.  The bus, the bike, pedestrianisation on a neighbourhood by neighbourhood basis offers some hope – which is the way some of NYC is going.

In the future when all’s well? The doubters speak…

  • Should we be turning our cities into blank canvasses for the consumption of mobility? In our rush to try to ensure that total mobility is as sustainable as possible will we sacrifice what we like about the urban (its unpredictability, walkability and diversity)? Shouldn’t we start with the urban realm rather than the facilitation of total mobility at any cost?
  • Total mobility offers (eg London hirebikes) often end up being city centre status symbols for all concerned, whereas really it’s the suburbs that they would come into their own – World City centres can look after themselves.

Want to know whether or not the future works? In a few years time the Northern European countries like Germany and Switzerland will give us a good idea…

Jonathan Bray

Cars – are ‘friends’ electric?

Pine fresh

Ok…we get it

As pteg, we would prefer it if everyone walked, cycled or used public transport to make their journeys. But we must be realistic. Whether through choice, or necessity, many people are very attached to their cars. The car does have its benefits over other transport options:

  • It takes you from door-to-door, even if those two doors are hundreds of miles apart and in the middle of nowhere.
  • You can set off and head back whenever you want.
  • You can follow any route (unless you are accompanied by a bossy sat nav in computer or human form).
  • You don’t have to worry about who will sit next to you.
  • You can savour the aroma emanating from your Magic Tree, rather than other, less pleasant sources.
  • You can sing if you want and no-one will stare at you.

But don’t forget the bad bits…

So it’s easy to understand the attraction. But cars are also frequently polluting, expensive to run and tend to make you lazy. So accepting that, for the foreseeable future, there will always be a desire or need for cars, we need to look at how we can make them greener and encourage people to use them less.

There are lots of ways to do this, but having recently attended the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership conference, I will focus on two in particular – electric cars and the concept of combined mobility.

Plugging in

Electric cars first. If people must use cars, it would be great if they were electric. That way, they emit zero emissions at the tail pipe, reducing pollution and improving air quality for all – especially in inner-city areas where those on a lower income are disproportionately affected.

It was inspiring to see the enthusiasm with which manufacturers are developing electric cars in the hope that their product will be seen as ‘an iPad on wheels’ as one speaker put it – becoming the ‘must-have’ piece of tech.

Nissan Leaf

We heard, for example, about the Nissan Leaf – Nissan are investing big money into this car and the batteries that go with it and have received £20m from the Government to support development in Sunderland – great news for jobs in these austere times.

Manufacturers believe there is a market out there provided the vehicles are affordable (with help from Government incentives), they can address consumer worries (e.g. how far can I get on the battery) and there is a visible infrastructure available at destinations – like railway stations and supermarkets – and en-route (pathway charging), for longer distance journeys.

Avoiding business as usual – the combined mobility option

However, the problem with electric cars is that, aside from changing how you fill up your vehicle with energy, they allow people to pretty much carry on as normal, albeit in a greener, less polluting manner. The roads will still be congested, streets filled up with parked cars, the electricity still needs to be generated somewhere and people will still get lazy – using their cars when they don’t really need to.

One of the problems is that, with the electric vehicle option alone, people still own cars. If you own a car, of course you want to get the use out of it and you’ll be tempted to use it for the majority of your journeys. That’s where the concept of combined mobility and new models of car ownership come in.

Could mobile phone style contracts be the future of car ownership?

One of the manufacturers at the conference said that they were looking with great interest at the mobile phone industry as a business model. Here, you sign up for a contract that meets your needs and keeps you talking, texting, emailing and so on. You never actually own the phone that allows you to do this. Instead you have temporary custody of it until it’s time for an upgrade. This doesn’t seem to be a problem for people – they get the services they need and the newest, shiniest technology.

The same could go for cars, which could be presented as part of a package of transport services that keep you moving. You would never actually own the car, simply have access to it via a car club should you need it for a particular journey. The car club would ensure that you are always driving the shiniest, greenest and most efficient vehicles (they could even be electric, making the technology accessible to a wider range of people).

Alongside car clubs, the package would include other transport services – pay-as-you-go bikes, buses, trains, trams and taxis. Smartcard technology in the mould of London’s Oyster could give one-touch access to all of these transport services – leaving you to decide which is best for the journey you are making. For the morning commute, you can hop on a bike and dodge the traffic jams. If you need to do a food shop that evening, unlock a car club car for a couple of hours. Public transport would also become a more attractive, cheaper option for many journeys as pay-as-you-go cars make the real cost of motoring more visible.

This model means you no longer need to have the car sitting in the drive all the time, making you feel guilty for not taking it for a spin, costing you an arm and a leg and tempting you into making unnecessary journeys to the corner shop for biscuits.

Combined mobility offers the prospect of new thinking rather than ‘business as usual but with low carbon vehicles’. It’s time to embrace the car as our friend…albeit one that we only call upon when absolutely necessary. More of an acquaintance really then…

Rebecca Handley