Research on optimising multicarrier, multi-drop collection and delivery schedules

There is increasing interest into how horizontal collaboration between parcel carriers might help alleviate problems associated with last-mile logistics in congested urban centres. Through a detailed examination of parcel logistics literature pertaining to collaboration, along with practical insights from carriers UK research examines the challenges that will be faced in optimising multicarrier, multi-drop collection and delivery schedules.

Working directly with Transport for London and innovative carriers (TNT and Gnewt Cargo and through them, DX and Hermes), UK researchers from the universities of Southampton, Westminster, UCL and Lancaster will developing new understandings of the overlap of delivery schedules, algorithms and business models to enable carrier co-ordination that reduces energy demand. The key research objectives are to:

  1. Investigate the collective transport and energy impacts of current parcel carrier activities in urban areas;
  2. Create a database to gather and interrogate collection and delivery schedules supplied by different carriers;
  3. Use the data with a series of optimisation algorithms to investigate the potential transport and energy benefits if carriers were to share deliveries and collections more equitably between them and develop tools to help visualise those benefits;
  4. Evaluate what business models would be needed to enable carriers to collaborate in this way;
  5. Investigate the role a 3rd party ‘Freight Traffic Controller’ could play in stimulating collaboration between carriers to reduce energy demand and vehicle impacts across a city;
  6. Identify the key legal and privacy issues associated with the receipt, processing and visualisation of such collaborative schedules;
  7. Consider the wider application of this approach to other sectors of the urban freight transport market.


Freight Traffic Controller

The researchers propose the concept of the ‘Freight Traffic Controller’ (FTC) who would be a trusted third-party, assigned to equitably manage the work allocation between collaborating carriers and the passage of vehicles over the last mile where joint benefits to the parties were achievable.
Creating this FTC requires a combinatorial optimisation approach to evaluate the many combinations of hub locations, network configuration and vehicle/walking routing options in order to find the true value of each potential collaboration, whilst at the same time, considering the traffic, social and environmental impacts of these activities.

Cooperative game theory is a way to investigate the formation of collaborations (or coalitions) and our analysis identifies a significant shortfall in current applications of this theory to last-mile parcel logistics. Specifically, we identify that application of theory to urban freight logistics has, thus far, failed to account for critical concerns including:

  1. the mismatch of vehicle parking locations relative to actual delivery addresses
  2. the combination of deliveries with collections, the latter often being received in real-time during the round;
  3. the variability in travel times and route options due to traffic and road network conditions.


Read the full research paper here.

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