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Freight 4

blog: Re-framing urban logistics

Author: Sandy Moller

The efficient and safe movement of goods and services is fundamental to how our societies are sustained. How does the food get to our supermarkets? How is medicine distributed to those in need? How are our clothes delivered to our doorsteps?

The complex web of supply chains and the transit of goods that take place between where items are produced and how they are delivered to the end user, has often been understated. It is the silent network operating behind the scenes to keep almost everything ticking along.

Delivery Freight Page

Emerging Issues

Road freight has received limited attention within policy circles, and in the public consciousness, until recently. This can be attributed to several emerging factors that have surfaced in recent years, which have brought attention to the role of freight and the need to overcome a business-as-usual response to the following, emerging ‘triggers’ for change:

  • The explosion of e-commerce and third-party logistics providers operating on increasingly shorter lead times to deliver goods quickly in the ‘next day delivery’ economy. 
  • Concerns about deteriorating air quality, sound and visual pollution resulting from traffic congestion; partly driven by a 33% rise in Light Goods Vehicles (LGVs) and emerging green initiatives, such as Clean Air Zones (CAZs). 
  • The changing dynamics of commercial activity facilitated by e-commerce to broker door-to-door trips, alongside changes to procurement processes and approaches preferencing localised supply chains to minimise movements.
  • The added emphasis on place-making and creating high quality public realms, streetscapes and active travel networks to support a healthier, inclusive built environment.
  • The pressures on road space and parking constraints linked to kerbside deliveries across local service centres and the subsequent impact of ‘roaming’ on local congestion and the various types of pollution.
  • The rise of new fuel technologies and increasingly efficient fleet management tools and techniques, to better utilise existing resources and spare freight capacity, whilst exploring ways to re-mode freight deliveries.

Whilst this list is not exhaustive, the response to addressing many of these concerns has typically centred on where they are most acute; in large, urban conurbations. 

Alongside a broader strategy to change transport dynamics in urban areas, there is an appetite to find ways for freight to offset the cumulative impact of ‘trip chaining’ and the denser movement of logistics providers delivering next day items. It is in cities where there is a greater sense of urgency to address the challenges posed by congestion, and where there is the demand and resources to counteract the negative consequences of road-based freight activity. There are, however, practical applications of innovative solutions that exist outside these bubbles...

Case Study: The Bike and the City

Hereford Pedicabs offer a practical blueprint to how an efficient delivery and collection service can become a normalised practice for a city, offering a practical, cost effective service that has local buy-in.  

Crucially, it has tailored an approach with a strong business case which includes:

  • Exploiting notorious congestion issues associated with restricted access to the town centre, to deliver the quickest and most cost-effective, responsive service relative to other modes of transport for fulfilling urban logistics.
  • Diversifying the service offer to include recycling collection and transferral on return journeys, and brokering contractual partnerships with key local anchor institutions to deliver specific services (including medical).
  • Collaborating with larger multinational delivery agents and third-party logistics providers offering B2B and B2C deliveries over the last mile of their door-to-door journey, with minimal delay and disruption throughout the day. 
  • Working closely with key partners, including the local authority, to support targeted investment in cycle infrastructure by identifying gaps in provision whilst utilising good connections near the small fulfilment centre. 
  • Investing in a robust bike fleet comprising of electric-assist and manual push bikes with varying levels of capacity, alongside driver training and competencies.
  • Identifying and operating a fulfilment centre along a strategic road corridor near key access points, to enable a smooth exchange of goods.
  • Avoiding parking restrictions and sidesteps the issues of kerbside deliveries whilst being able to adjust routing behaviour in response to live updates on traffic and travel delays.

Lessons Learnt

The ‘Hereford Model’ relies on business behavioural change and targeted engagement with audiences to encourage companies to register their interest and reap the rewards of lower delivery and collection costs. 

As the service is bike-based, it results in low maintenance, and low fuel costs and business overheads. It makes common sense, both in the midst of supporting local economies, mitigating environmental impacts, and financially as a sound business model.

Herefordshire Pedicabs Square

The cargo bike operations only make up a small proportion of trip activity in Hereford, but their presence and importance for offsetting the negative externalities derived from traffic congestion, and showcasing the benefits of re-fleeting urban logistics, is an attractive proposition for responding to some of the aforementioned ‘triggers’. 

This model can be exported to other cities and towns to follow suit; providing the conditions are in place or the necessary balance of ingredients is being pursued locally to enable a similar scheme to flourish in that context. This includes using the emerging issues, some of which have been identified, as the springboard for other models across the UK.

Context is crucial and whilst places of all sizes grapple with responding to headline issues of traffic congestion, which impacts on the efficiency of freight movements, the triggers can lever the deployment of alternative urban freight management schemes once these are identified from place to place. 


Introducing cargo bikes to your city

The focus on urban freight management is a promising step towards recognising the role and impact of freight on the local economy. However, more emphasis is required to avoid road freight and logistics being siloed as a separate subject detached from the bigger transport picture. The fact is they are fundamentally interrelated. This is a core principle of our thinking at ITP and we have identified five steps that a consortium of local stakeholders could start to consider straight away as a practical and constructive means of exploring the role of cargo bikes in a place near you:

  • Identifying the key ‘triggers’ specific to the locality that would provide sound reasoning for exploring the role of cargo bikes. Context is crucial.
  • Identifying key anchor institutions and engaging with them on their procurement processes and contractual terms with existing supply chains to source niche work streams for urban consignments (B2B or B2C).
  • Liaising with businesses through an engagement programme and interactive survey-based approach to record commercial trade and recycling costs, and deliver activity to be able to make cost and service comparisons as a way in which to test uptake and interest.
  • Extracting feedback on growth plans and expansion weighted against the potential to free up ‘dead’ stock space and operate a Just in Time (JIT) service. This is relevant in sensitive, historic environments where space comes as a premium.
  • Undertaking a preliminary study into the appropriateness of shared, secure storage facilities adjacent to the Strategic Road Network (SRN), key arterial routes, and active travel routes as fulfilment centres/micro logistics hubs.

We see ‘freight’ as an embedded part of transport across urban and rural areas and view ‘triggers’ as prime opportunities to influence the dominant mobility paradigms and challenge business-as-usual approaches towards how we plan and cater for everyday activities. For more information about policy and strategy projects that ITP has supported, please visit our webpage or get in touch.


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