ICL 2017: New focus in research on city logistics

About 100 scientists came to Phuket Thailand for the 10th International City Logistics Conference. The usual topics like urban consolidation centres, public procurement, cost and benefits of measures, e-fulfilment, the need to involve multiple actors and urban sprawl were presented. Also, some inspiring cases of local urban freight management programs in Seattle, Sydney, Melbourne, Mexico and other cities were discussed.

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Real progress in city logistics is made in a more integrated approach that goes beyond the usual, and often failing, urban consolidation centres. The integrated approach looks at profitable business models, innovative distribution processes, planning and controlling these processes, collaboration between public and private partners and local governance. The city logistics solutions now being developed are more mature than 5 tot 10 years ago.

Emerging topics

During the International City Logistics Conference three new themes came from under the radar: there are more data on urban freight than ever to support policy makers, unpredictability in planning and control has a major impact on efficiency and role based business model development is crucial.

Data driven

More and more cities have reliable data on urban freight and the impact different freight segments have on the use of public space, congestion and emissions. A review was given on the increasing impact of light commercial vehicles in city logistics world wide and the use for transporting goods and people (and sometimes both).
Having more data on city logistics for e.g. construction logistics, parcel and HoReCa helps government and companies make zero emission city logistics plans that actually work and can be monitored. Next step will be using those data to build urban freight models for forecasting future demand for city logistics and urban planning.

Elise Caspersen from Norwegian University of Life Science received an Outstanding Paper Award for her research on freight trip generation models.

The circuity factor in planning

Many presentations dealt with improving tactical and operations transport planning capabilities for last mile logistics. Topics were: dynamic planning of loading zones (and integrating this in transport management systems), improving the circuity factor in urban transport planning, using big data and the uberfication of the last mile (Internet of Thing and Physical Internet). Intelligent Transport Systems using local traffic data will support transport companies in better utilising their fleet and staff and at the same time reduce time and kilometres.
Can transport routing systems surpass the routing knowledge of an experienced truck driver in city logistics? Not yet… but future systems (linked to local traffic data) might support the truck driver with better information for last-minute planning.

André Snoeck, a research assistant at the Megacity Logistics Lab at the MIT Center for Transportation and Logistics and a Ph.D. received an Outstanding Paper Award for his research on the circuity factor in urban freight to improve predictability of transport planning.

Business model development

Small scale, local demonstrations, of which the outcomes are considered to be only appropriate within a specific context, occur quite often in the field of city logistics. Local demonstrations usually show a solution’s technical and operational feasibility. These often subsidised demonstrations do not have long-term potential due to the lack of a good business model, i.e. the financial feasibility. To make a solution really work in practice a viable business model is required.
During the conference the development of business models was discussed based on e.g. past experience in projects like NOVELOG and CIVITAS, different archetypes of logistics service providers and new insight into role based business modelling and collaboration. City logistics research in this field should be more closely related to the evolving strategy of transport companies.


With the global trend towards zero emission city logistics it was a surprising to find only a few presentations about technological innovation in electric (and light) commercial vehicles, robotisation of last mile deliveries and charging infrastructure. Maybe at the next conference?

I hope to see everybody again in 2019 for the 11th International City Logistics Conference.

Walther Ploos van Amstel.

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