Research: usability of Physical Internet characteristics for sustainable urban freight

Urban freight logistics currently have to deal with multiple unsustainable conditions. Physical Internet (PI) characteristics promise to make urban freight logistics more sustainable. The PI is a vision that could fundamentally change current logistics operations. Montreuil even thinks that “we face a revolution as radical as the Internet Revolution.” Ballot et al. define the PI as a global logistics system based on the interconnection of logistics networks by a standardized set of collaboration protocols, modular containers, and intelligent interfaces for increased efficiency and sustainability. The definition of PI can be ambiguous since multiple definitions exist in the literature. Based on a review of literature, the most important characteristics of PI are defined as follows:

  • Open system
    • Data sharing
    • Asset sharing
  • Standardization
    • Standardized collaboration protocols
    • Standardized modular containers.

In a PI environment, stakeholders also get different roles. When looking at the characteristics of PI, it becomes apparent that PI is strongly dependent on sharing data and assets. Data, such as a shipment’s origin and demand, should be available centrally (and safely) to make flow optimization in the network possible. The network is made up of physical assets, such as different kinds of vehicles, warehousing facilities, and transshipment points. These are indeed part of the open system creating a network with multiple options for optimizing freight flows. This system’s foundation lies in the standardization of packaging and data collaboration protocols.

A new research paper explores the opportunities and barriers to implementing this concept. Q-methodology is a method used to reveal different stakeholder perspectives. The results of the Q-methodology show four different perspectives, out of which three display a positive attitude toward PI characteristics. One perspective is more moderate and states that a lot is possible already without any changes. One of the barriers is that there is no urgency to change. Further, most perspectives have a positive attitude toward regulations as long as they are nationally coordinated. Based on these results, policy recommendations are developed for individual and collaborative actions for stakeholders.

Source: van Duin, J. H. R., van Son, K. B., Tavasszy, L. A., van Binsbergen, A. J., Kee, P. A., & Huitema, E. M. (2022). Usability of Physical Internet Characteristics for Achieving More Sustainable Urban Freight Logistics: Barriers and Opportunities Revealed by Dominant Stakeholder Perspectives. Transportation Research Record, 03611981221105071.

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