To support this transition to a cleaner and more efficient freight system, local authorities need to understand their role and what opportunities might arise from the overall national strategy. For this reason, the Local Government Association (LGA) has commissioned Dr. Daniela Paddeu of the Centre for Transport and Society, the University of the West of England, to carry out this research project to explore the role of local authorities in co-designing and implementing sustainable local freight solutions for the ‘last mile’ of parcel deliveries.
A range of local authorities from different areas of England took part in a series of workshops to identify the perceived challenges and co-design sustainable solutions for last-mile parcel deliveries. The results of this work will help inform future LGA discussions with DfT and other stakeholders regarding the UK Transport Decarbonisation Plan and raise awareness and sharing learning across local authorities.
Last-mile deliveries are a new issue to most of the local authorities involved in the project, and they feel they need a clearer sense of direction from central government and industry in terms of what kind of policies and governance will be required to manage local freight and reduce carbon emissions from the goods transport.
Participants identified five key challenges related to last-mile deliveries they wished to explore in more detail:
- Increased traffic congestion: growing numbers of vans and cars, today mostly diesel vans, driving and parking intensively on local road networks, increasing congestion, and air pollution.
- Financial viability of alternative models (e.g., freight consolidation centers): financial support from local and central government is usually needed to cover the initial costs of changes to parts of the logistics network, such as cleaner vehicles or freight consolidation centers.
- Rural/Urban divide: rural last-mile deliveries have different needs and require other solutions.
- Significant scale: the UK is ranked third for online shopping worldwide, with 25 percent of products bought and returned online. Around 3 billion parcels are sent per year.
- Ingrained behaviors: including the willingness of stakeholders to join collaborative schemes (e.g., consolidation centers) and educating/training end-consumers towards more sustainable consumerism (e.g., reduced consumption, willingness to wait for long delivery times, willingness to pay more for more sustainable products/deliveries).
Participants identified a wide number of potential policy responses and picked five critical solutions that could significantly contribute to the decarbonization of last-mile deliveries:
- E-cargo bikes and micro-consolidation reduce the number of large vans on the roads, and the related congestion, pollution, and parking nuisance.
- Compulsory consolidation centers are to be implemented in different locations in England with the central government’s support.
- Smaller electric vehicles for rural areas combined with mobility hubs can represent an efficient and clean solution for last-mile rural deliveries.
- Road pricing for last-mile deliveries: charging delivery vehicles for the use of the road infrastructure, dependent on time, place, or day of the week to reduce congestion.
- Pricing to disincentivize rapid delivery encourages end-consumers to opt for more sustainable options, including slower delivery times to enable the consolidation of goods and vehicles to circulate in full load.
Local authorities have minimal powers in designing and implementing these solutions and require support from the central government, especially if a change in regulations or funding is needed.
Considering the results of the project, it is possible to define an initial series of recommendations to support the LGA in discussion with DfT, and other stakeholders, on behalf of local authorities:
- Provide a more precise direction in support of local leadership in ensuring that last-mile freight retains the benefits it brings but reduces its adverse impacts on climate, congestion, and communities.
- Address the lack of national and local data on freight movements and the impact on carbon emissions by collecting data. This will enable the evaluation and monitoring of freight movements at the local level to inform and design more localized freight strategies. This data may be commercially sensitive but is vital for local transport plans. Therefore, its release should be required if requested by local authorities in a similar way that bus operators had to release commercially sensitive data through the Bus Services Act 2017.
- Provide capacity funding for local authorities to develop effective Local Transport Plans, including comprehensive coverage of freight and last-mile deliveries commensurate to their share of local transport’s carbon ‘budget’
- Work with councils to co-design a toolkit of crucial policy solutions for getting the most out of last-mile deliveries, including the funding and any new powers through legislation required.
- Policies such as micro-consolidation centers or mandating all delivery vehicles to become electric sooner than for other uses will require more funding, especially for small and medium-sized enterprises that would risk being excluded from the market due to the high investment costs.
- Policies such as compulsory consolidation, or franchising of local last-mile deliveries, will require new legislation to give local authorities similar control over local transport of parcels as it has over local transport of passengers.
- To clarify at which level of government any responsibilities and duties (e.g., to set up compulsory consolidation schemes) should exist and provide clear directions on the requirements.
- Support local government with education and communication campaigns addressed to end-consumers to drive behavior change.
- To partner with other organizations, including the private sector, to create a shared movement for change.
- Provide data on the scale of action needed for carbon emission reduction.
The report only looked at parcels, which is under 10 percent of city logistics movement. More action is (also) required in construction and service logistics, store deliveries, food service, facility logistics, and waste collection.