The city logistics challenge: zero-impact

City logistics is about economically vital and healthy city centers and residential areas. Fortunately, it now encompasses much more than zero-emission, addressing issues such as reducing CO2, enhancing road safety, minimizing noise, and, most importantly, reducing traffic and using public space: zero impact.

Over the next 5 to 10 years, achieving zero-impact city logistics means:

  • Companies will entrust deliveries to local city logistics professionals who consolidate shipments, resulting in more cargo, fewer vehicles, and zero emissions.
  • Municipalities will increasingly impose physical and virtual ‘intelligent access’ restrictions as part of their car-restricted ambitions, adopting a customized approach at the district level.
  • Cities will consider city logistics traffic in the urban planning and (re)design.
  • Companies will organize city logistics in shared hubs within the supply chain, consolidating multiple streams and/or stops at the neighborhood level and sharing space, capacities, energy, and data.
  • City logistics delivery personnel will understand and acknowledge that they are guests in our neighborhood.

City logistics aims to achieve zero impact, but the practical implementation poses challenges. The pressure on urban space and the pursuit of increased liveability, energy transition, and traffic safety demand new, innovative solutions. Despite extensive research, numerous pilots, and countless conferences, city logistics continues to grow.

The logistics and space theme, particularly the scarcity of space in cities, remains a complex issue, especially with the transition to zero-emission logistics, leading to an increased demand for hubs on the outskirts of cities and in the region.

However, recent developments indicate that the establishment and leasing of these hubs are, to put it mildly, challenging. Something is amiss. Are shared hubs the solution? Experts are certain that handing over deliveries to local city logistics professionals, who consolidate and provide excellent service using light electric vehicles, is the way forward. With their car-restricted ambitions, the municipalities can impose more physical and virtual restrictions on logistics. The plan is to organize city logistics in hubs on the city’s outskirts and in the region, where logistics space, capacities, people, energy, and data are shared, as well as for the growing circular flows.

Companies will share their vehicle data with the municipality, and in return, they receive traffic data for smooth transport operations and locating the right loading and unloading spots in the city when needed. However, practical implementation remains challenging. There is a plethora of solutions on the bookshelf, but what works? Municipalities have various approaches to urban planning: regulating and enforcing, facilitating, encouraging, coordinating, experimenting, and designing the city.

By the end of 2023, no Dutch municipality had an updated action plan with earmarked actions leading to ‘zero impact’ logistics. Opinions are divided on car-restricted traffic pilots in Weesperstraat and Jordaan in Amsterdam. And Amsterdam is not the only municipality with car-restricted ambitions.

However, we still don’t know which approaches work for which challenges, even though the bookshelf is filled with city logistics ‘solutions’. The fundamental issue is the insufficient understanding of city logistics flows (and the behavior leading to them) by governments and companies and how to influence these flows. Without this insight, it’s unclear where to start.

Doing nothing was not an option in 2023; in 2024, it’s even less acceptable. Zero emissions was already an interesting challenge, but zero impact will be the city logistics theme of 2024. If no action is taken, there’s a risk that municipalities, lacking insight into daily practices, might effectively lock down the city. More research and testing in living labs are essential.

Walther Ploos van Amstel.

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