Cityobservatory: more e-commerce does not lead to more urban freight

Cyber-Monday is the day in which the Unites States consumers massively buy on line. The steady growth of e-commerce has many people worrying that streets will be overwhelmed by delivery trucks ferrying cardboard boxes from warehouses to our homes. Cityobservatory did a ‘fact check’.

Cityobservatory reports: “While there’s no question that its really irritating when there’s a UPS truck doubled-parked in front of you–its actually the case that on-balance, on-line shopping reduces traffic congestion.  The simple reason:  On-line shopping reduces the number of car trips to stores.
Shoppers who buy on line aren’t driving to stores, so more packages delivered by UPS and Fedex and the USPS mean fewer cars on the road to the mall and local stores. And here’s the bonus: this trend benefits from increased scale.  The more packages these companies deliver, the greater their deliver density–meaning that they travel fewer miles per package. So if we look at the whole picture, shifting to e-commerce actually reduces congestion”.

Cityobservatory analyzed data on urban truck transport and package delivery economics, and presented three key takeaways:

  • Urban truck traffic is flat to declining, even as e-commerce has exploded.
  • More e-commerce will result in greater efficiency and less urban traffic as delivery density increases
  • We likely are overbuilt for freight infrastructure in an e-commerce era

The evidence suggests that not only has the growth of e-commerce done nothing to fuel more urban truck trips, but on net, e-commerce coupled with package delivery is actually reducing total urban freight, as it cuts into the number and length of shopping trips that people take in urban areas.

Cityobservatory: “It actually seems like that increased deliveries will reduce urban traffic congestion, for two reasons.  First, in many cases, ordering on line substitutes for shopping trips.  Customers who get goods delivered at home forego personal car shopping trips. And because the typical UPS delivery truck makes 120 or so deliveries a day, each delivery truck may be responsible for dozens of fewer car-based shopping trips. At least one study suggests that the shift to e-commerce may reduce total trips and carbon emissions. And transportation scholars have noted a significant decrease in shopping trips and time spent shopping. But there’s a second reason to welcome an expansion of e-commerce from a transportation perspective. The efficiency of urban trucks is driven by “delivery density”–basically how closely spaced are each of a truck’s stops.  One of the industry’s key efficiency metrics is “stops per mile.”

Source: Cityobservatory

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