An exploratory study on integrated logistics and mobility hubs

Passenger and logistics transport challenges are approached as two different ecosystems despite the scarce space in cities. Therefore, policymakers called upon to tackle negative transport externalities face spatial challenges. However, despite a history in which both ecosystems have already been combined and the emphasis in the (limited) existing studies on how promising the combination can be for a liveable city, there is little scientific literature based on preliminary research on combining these two ecosystems.

A thesis by TU Delft student Israe Chetouani investigates the knowledge gap by investigating whether and under what conditions logistics functions can be added to mobility hubs. For this purpose, the following main research question has been formulated: “Which logistics flows and logistics innovations can be added to different types of mobility hubs under which conditions?”

Four logistics innovations have shown potential at mobility hubs:

  1. Parcel lockers: these are parcel lockers where people can drop off or pick up their parcels 24 hours a day.
  2. Crowdshipping: with crowdshipping the idea is that people (the crowd) can take packages along their route to drop off at a certain point.
  3. Cargo hitching: with cargo hitching unused capacity in public transport is used for freight.
  4. Sharing public space: this is equivalent to multi-functional use of spaces or being an integrated hub where passenger mobility and logistics can take place side by side. The hub can be used for both passenger transport and logistics, for example as a transfer point where freight is transferred from conventional trucks into smaller sustainable zero emission vehicles.

Interviews were conducted with experts from different backgrounds to explore combining the two ecosystems. The experts were generally enthusiastic about adding consumer packages. They saw this logistics flow as the most promising addition to mobility hubs due to the high interaction with people. For the large and heavy logistics flows, the interviewees generally shared that the desired locations for logistics hubs differ from those for passenger hubs.

With these insights, a requirement analysis was performed to map the requirements of logistics functions on a mobility hub. Based on the frameworks, the main conclusions are that adding parcel lockers to all three types of mobility hubs has the most potential because this innovation has the most interaction with people. For logistics flows, small flows of goods for consumers or companies (construction or facilities) have the most potential because they can be bundled in parcel lockers.

Crowd shipping and cargo hitching present the most challenges as confidentiality and public transport reliability are vital concerns. Finally, sharing public space is an innovation that requires a lot of space, and this research has potential, especially at city outskirts hub or P&R locations. The challenge here is again that the logistics activities at the hub should not hinder passenger transport.

Reflecting on the frameworks, a critical remark about the interpretation of the results when using the frameworks should be made as the use of the frameworks should be seen as the first selection of probability, whereby the (technically) impossible options can be eliminated. After this, it is desirable to conduct further, preferably quantitatively, research for the remaining options to test the feasibility at the specific location. The options may differ per location depending on the local characteristics and situation (e.g., strategic location close to water or rail network, services, stakeholders, demographic characteristics, goods flows, support among residents, cost structure). This requires customization for each specific case, and there is no one-size-fits-all principle to be derived from these frameworks.

A conclusion of this research is that it is partly possible to add specific logistics functions to mobility hubs. On the one hand, logistics additions in the same (transport) system and thus influence the design, such as cargo hitching and crowd shipping innovations, appear to be difficult because this deteriorates the quality of the subsystems. On the other hand, logistical additions that are not part of the same system, such as parcel lockers and the sharing of public spaces, seem to have potential because they have a minimal impact on the passenger transport system. However, possible integration of people and goods will undoubtedly come at the expense of the efficiency of subsystems since an extra step in the chain often leads to higher costs and handling time. This means that there is no doubt that compromises have to be made somewhere.
The recommendation to policymakers is to determine what level of compromises are acceptable for different parties.

Transport engineering companies and municipalities can use the findings of this research to explore under which conditions logistics functions can be added to an existing or future mobility hub. After this, it is recommended that a detailed (pilot) study is carried out with the logistics addition so that the effects can be measured in more detail. Before introducing any logistics function, it is recommended to take a critical look at the bottlenecks and needs in a specific area. Since this research has shown that it is a complex system with different interests and a lack of motivation from the logistics side, the recommendation to policymakers is to try to create more awareness among logistics parties so that they feel their own responsibility for participating in sustainable innovations.

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