Lost in the city

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With growing congestion, high emissions and over-population, cities are a particularly difficult space for the logistics industry to navigate. Alexandra Leonards explores some of the strategies being implemented to help logistics find its way…

This article first appeared in Logistics Manager, August 2017.

The city is a minefield for logistics. But it must find a way to unearth and confront the challenges roused by growing populations and changing consumer needs. Cross-sector projects, strategies and technologies are beginning to face the problems now being faced in cities across the country.

Philip Roe, managing director, transport, engineering & manufacturing, energy & chemicals, at DHL Supply Chain is seeing individual cities adopt unique logistics strategies, rather than taking a ‘one size fits all’ approach.

“For London, this means a focus on freight and the optimum use of roads that may be up to 50 years old; while in Manchester and Birmingham it’s a consideration of the fact that motorways run through urban areas,” says Roe. “With pressure to reduce road congestion and emissions, cities are also re-timing deliveries and making use of quieter periods, such as early afternoons, to reduce early morning volumes and develop a more cost effective and sustainable means of fulfilment.”
Developing consolidation centres in or close by to cities is another popular idea. “It’s an idea that can work in some locations, but it’s more limited than people hope,” says Lawrie Alford, head of automotive, FTA. “Maybe if you’re delivering to a shopping centre, but as soon as you’ve got any sort of distance, you loose the efficiency – most freight is already consolidated anyway.”

More and more projects designed to tackle the problem of congestion and pollution in cities are being developed. This includes City Logistics in Living Laboratories (CITYLAB) by EU research and innovation programme Horizon 2020, which uses a number of living labs across Europe to test solutions to current problems, including last mile delivery. It aims to improve basic knowledge and understanding on areas of freight distribution and service trips in urban areas.

Graham Ellis, principle consultant at Ellis Transport Services, knows of a number of innovative city logistics solutions happening at the moment.
“Already TNT are working with Gnewt cargo in London to deliver bulk parcels to Gnewt depots across central London for final mile delivery by electric vans, currently they have 100 electric vans in their fleet,” says Ellis. “In 2016 Gnewt delivered in excess of 2,630,000 items in this they saved 292 tonnes of Carbon, reduced their CO2 by 67% and NOx by 71%, an impressive performance in anyone’s book.

“Pressure on operators is increasing year on year as emissions targets are being reduced and when you look at Paris they want to phase out diesel by 2020, more likely to be 2025 but still a very close time in which to change.

“Road charging is going to make no difference to the delivery of goods and materials, they will still have to be delivered to premises in cities but they may spread the delivery window over longer periods of time.”

But Ellis argues that the logistics industry has already been working with vehicle manufacturers for a number of years to reduce emissions.
DHL’s Philip Roe says that the ultra-low emission zone is a good example of collaboration in the city. “As long as logistics companies are given sufficient time to adapt to the new charges and deploy the right equipment, it is set to greatly improve air quality,” says Roe. “Short-term charging methods do work in principal, but there is more to do to ensure their success.

“We want to encourage people to reduce their mileage, while also making sure that every mile run uses modern equipment and is as environmentally sustainable as possible.”

He says that the logistics industry should definitely take responsibility to reduce emissions and congestion in inner cities, and that he is already seeing companies do just that.

Director of Go Supply Chain Consulting, Gavin Parnell, says that delivery vans can negotiate the obstacles of urban deliveries better than large lorries but lack their economies of scale. “Thus there are more on the streets, further contributing to city congestion,” says Parnell. “It is likely that tomorrow’s logistics will see an increase in traffic and environmentally friendly delivery vehicles, such as cargo bikes and electric vehicles, which can negotiate congestion and low emission zones during the last mile or two. “ But it’s not necessarily just the capital that is working on reducing emissions. “It’s not a London thing, often talked about just London when it’s going to be 5 or 6 cities at once,” says FTA’s Lawrie Alford. “It’s going to be an urban phenomenon by 2020, with nearly 30 clean air zones.”

He says that the new zone won’t be catastrophic for the whole industry, because some people will have Euro 6 Vans. “But the impact
on the SMEs in the logistics sector will be huge, where they are in or close to a zone, it will effect every aspect of their business,” adds Alford.

The future of the city

So what does the future of city logistics look like? “Safer, cleaner and quieter, with an increase in the equipment that fulfils these needs,” says DHL’s Philip Roe. “Technology is set to transform city logistics, to allow for deliveries across many more hours of the day and in a quieter way.
“We are also likely to see more localized logistics, with fulfilment organised according to geography rather than individual clients, with more collaboration and urban consolidation.” He says that to make sure cities continue to improve, regulators, manufacturers, transporters and cities need to work together to deliver safe, quiet and useful solutions for convenience, employment and efficient city logistics.

“Transport for London (TfL) is taking a lead by encouraging logistics companies and transporters to develop a Delivery and Servicing Plan (DSP) that should help individual firms manage their deliveries better and save money as a result,” says Go Supply Chain Consulting’s Gavin Parnell. “TfL will use these voluntary plans to provide input for urban planning and road network projects.”

The FTA’s Lawrie Alford says that more problems will be developed in the future, like an increasing cost of logistics. “But the service on the ground wont be compromised,” he says.“Customer is king – and logistics adapts and will take on these costs.”
He says that there will be more zero emission vehicles, and increasing safety. “What we won’t see is any great mass alternative to road freight,” he says. “There’s tiny bits and pieces done by drones, but it will still be road vehicles.”

Graham Ellis says that the current future of logistics looks as though it might be electric. “But, if anything, we have to expect that this will NOT be the final solution as there are so many disruptive technologies.”

Delivery alternatives

Customers are becoming more and more interested in alternative delivery methods.

“For such alternative delivery methods to be a success, we need a range of solutions, dependent on what is being delivered and to whom,” says DHL’s Philip Roe. “Electric trucks and bikes already make up a proportion of DHL’s fleet, and so we can say with some certainty that they have a role to play in the industry’s approach to city logistics.”

Go Supply Chain Consulting’s Gavin Parnell says that many are looking to autonomous vehicles to contribute to more efficient traffic flows. “These self-driving machines, equipped with ‘intelligent’ mapping systems and connected to a vast pool of data stored in the Cloud, will be able to anticipate congestion and dynamically reroute accordingly, ensuring that the best route is always followed,” he adds.

But Roe says that, while trucks are becoming more automated in order to assist drivers, with features like guide breaking and lane deviation, we’re yet to see fully automated trucks play a role in city logistics. “Uptake is expected to be slower and will depend on the growth and development of cities themselves,” says Roe. “For example, we might need to create dedicated retail routes and spaces.”

Parnell says a report by the EU funded research project CycleLogistics, estimated that 51 per cent of goods transported in cities could be shifted to bicycles and cargo bikes, significantly reducing emissions and congestion. “In Berlin, courier service Messenger Transport + Logistics has rolled out the BentoBox,” says Parnell. “This transportable storage locker can be loaded with parcels and then dropped off at a central depot after working hours.
“The courier deploys cargo bikes to achieve quick, cost efficient, emission free…distribution.” And TNT is doing something very similar in Brussels.

Food in the city

Feeding London: 2030, a report commissioned by the UK Warehousing Association, identifies an urban logistics crisis looming. A changing demographic and growing population are identified as significant influencers in the report. “UKWA’s recent report – Feeding London 2030 – highlighted the fact that things are becoming stretched across city food and drink supply chains and current logistics thinking is no longer fit for purpose,” says Peter Ward, CEO of UKWA. “New trends in the way food and drink products are bought and consumed – added to a changing population profile and a transport infrastructure that is already creaking – are bringing significant challenges to food and drink manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, caterers and logistics companies, not just in London but within all major cities.”

According to him, supplying food and drink products that are both safe and timely to restaurants, retailers and general food service outlets in cities at an appropriate cost is to become more and more difficult unless steps are taken to address key problems.

“For too long the food and drink industry and its logistics partners have been overly reactive in their approach to meeting changing consumer demands but it is essential that they identify and assess future trends and get on the front foot,” says Ward. According to DHL’s Philip Roe, we are not seeing a food logistics crisis, but we are seeing a shift in the food delivery logistics landscape.

“The ways in which people buy their food has fundamentally changed, with a preference for smaller and more regular shops, driving the growth of convenience retailing and the need for more frequent deliveries,” says Roe. “Fortunately, the logistics industry has always [found]…innovative solutions.”

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