Could Uber boost sustainability in the parcels market?

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The idea of Uber-style services for the delivery of parcels is starting to gain some traction. Amazon has its Flex service, while Walmart is testing deliveries with a number of different services including Uber itself. But what about the environmental impact?

Malory Davies FCILT, Editor.

Malory Davies FCILT, Editor.

Cost is the obvious reason why a company would choose such services, but a new analysis, “Crowdshipping: a communal approach to reducing urban traffic levels”, by Alan McKinnon, professor of logistics at Kuehne Logistics University, suggests that some of the other touted benefits, such as sustainability, might be less easy to achieve.

McKinnon points out that crowd shipping effectively extends the range of carriers to which last mile deliveries can be outsourced to include ordinary citizens, using their cars, bicycles and even public transport to move the goods.

“Much crowd shipping, therefore, will represent a shift in responsibility for moving goods in passenger vehicles. Where this shift transfers the freight onto personal trips that would be made anyway, it should yield a net reduction in vehicle kilometres.”

But there is a risk that where the degree of spatial and temporal matching is low, additional collection and delivery detours may actually increase traffic levels.

McKinnon recognises that crowd shipping has the potential to be the last mile game-changer that retailers have been waiting for.

But, he believes that the dominant business model is likely to be closer to the self-employed courier model used by carriers such as Hermes than the original vision of a collaborative load sharing service.

While McKinnon’s paper has highlighted the impact on urban traffic levels, there are also competitive considerations to be taken into account. If crowd shipping takes off in a big way, then it could threaten the business of some established carriers, who would then need to respond.

Access McKinnon’s analysis here

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