New report – Delivering the future: New approaches to urban freight

Our new report, ‘Delivering the future: New approaches to urban freight’, highlights the essential role of urban freight in ensuring the effective functioning of the UK economy and presents a fresh vision designed to safeguard this role, as well as protect the environment and quality of life for communities.

It could provide a starting point for a broader, nationwide strategy on freight. Our infographic summarises the key findings and recommendations. You can download the full ‘Delivering the future’ report here.

Delivering the future infographic

Rebecca Fuller

Nine things I learnt at our ‘Urban Freight: The Last Mile Challenge for Cities’ conference

On Friday 26th September 2014, pteg​, together with Landor Links and Transport for London, held a conference on ‘Urban Freight: The Last Mile Challenge for Cities’. The event was attended by over 60 UK and international delegates and speakers from transport authorities, freight operators, retailers, campaign groups, charities, consultancies and research bodies.

The ‘last mile’ of distribution, as goods travel to their final destination in the heart of city centres, is potentially the most significant freight issue for urban areas. These goods include retail stock, office supplies, documents, parcels (including e-commerce deliveries) and construction materials. All must find their way to shops, offices, bars and restaurants, building sites and homes. The way in which these goods are delivered has implications for congestion, air quality, noise, safety and the overall urban environment.

Urban freight montage

Delivering freight cleanly, safely and efficiency into the heart of cities requires innovative approaches.

Our conference explored these issues through a series of quick-fire, inspiring presentations from key players in last mile deliveries.

Here are nine things I took away from the day:

1.  Freight works. It works in that the shops have milk and newspapers and the pubs have beer. This isn’t a sector that falls down on the job. Stuff gets where it’s supposed to be.

2. Freight doesn’t work.  It doesn’t work in that lorries kill cyclists; old trucks and vans pump out carcinogens; and  streets full of vans and lorries are nobody’s idea of an urban realm they want to live in.

3.  Freight is dynamic and market-led. As diesel truck and van access to sensitive and congested urban environments becomes harder and more costly, the industry is responding. Already around one to two per cent of logistics is green and innovative – like using cargo bikes and zero emission electric delivery vehicles. Public policy can raise those percentages.

4. The largest cities, where congestion and environmental pressures are greatest, are where innovation is happening fastest. In Paris, major retailer Monoprix already get their deliveries via trains into city freight facilities before low emission gas delivery vehicles transport them the last mile for delivery to individual stores. Elsewhere in Paris there’s a barge and cycle delivery operation and a ‘logistics hotel’ is planned as part of a mixed use development.

5.  Consolidation centres on the edge of towns and cities (where trains or big trucks deliver for onward distribution to city centre stores and offices) have been an aspiration of policy makers for decades but results have been mixed as costs are high and logistics companies don’t want to know. However, if the savings to logistics companies of delivering once to a depot rather than multiple times to city centre locations can be captured  and the squeeze goes on the wrong type of city centre delivery vehicles (through emissions restrictions, pedestrianisation and so on) then maybe the sums begin to add up.

6.  The public sector could also help make consolidation centres work. Local authorities, the health service, schools and colleges are all merrily organising their own deliveries generating van traffic galore and wasting their own staff time dealing with multiple deliveries over the course of a day. Why not pool and let the big trucks deliver to one consolidation centre on the city boundary and then have fewer deliveries by more sustainable means to those council offices, schools and hospitals? Camden Council have been leading a public sector consolidation project with other boroughs that is working well. The scope for scaling up is considerable…

7. Cities already have central hubs for freight deliveries that are largely unused at night and can be served by 125mph mobile warehouses. These hubs are called railway stations. For example, Euston station has a huge logistics hub built in the 1960s. But even where such facilities don’t exist, empty nightime platforms can often be used. The first stirrings of using stations as the access point for city centre deliveries have already happened, including trials using Euston as the railhead for local electric and low emission van deliveries (there are 100 supermarkets within two miles of Euston).

8. Technological change and vehicle standards are key. For example, the ability of cycle delivery firms to compete changes with the availability of lighter and innovative cargo carrying systems and with the legal framework governing battery power assistance technologies. It changes too with access to the highway and shopping street environment.

9. Finally, freight isn’t boring! It’s part of (rather than an add on to) a much wider debate about what kind of cities we want to live in and how smart technologies are creating new opportunities: for entrepeneurs; for cleaner, safer and more attractive environments; for getting people and goods where they need to be efficiently. In short the smartest cities will see the opportunities from getting the ‘last mile’ right.

Visit our ‘Urban Freight: The Last Mile Challenge for Cities’ hub to download presentations from the day.

Jonathan Bray

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