The smaller, the better. Nano-hubs for cargo bike logistics

The expanding freight traffic in the courier, express, and parcel services (CEP) sector is increasingly posing major challenges to urban agglomerations. The main driver for this development is the dynamic growth of e-commerce, as it causes a change in consumer behavior towards an on-demand economy and continuous growth in the volume of shipments in the CEP market. In addition, a demographic change is altering the urban population structure.

As a result, both the urban population and the number of single-person households are increasing. Deliveries no longer occur punctually in sub-areas designated for this purpose by urban planning but extend over the entire city area. This creates several conflicts, particularly for areas near the city center with a high population and building density and a varied mixture of residential and commercial utilization.

While using low-emission vehicles (battery, fuel cell) already addresses environmental issues, infrastructural conflicts remain due to the constant vehicle size. Hence, CEP service providers are forced to test new delivery concepts and vehicles to decongest urban infrastructure and meet the wide-ranging requirements of delivery processes in terms of efficiency and sustainability. Along with implementing additional delivery and loading areas and establishing an extensive network of pick-up points, the utilization of cargo bikes for parcel delivery is an up-and-coming option.

However, as their capacity and range are lower compared to conventional delivery vehicles, there is a need for additional cargo-bike transshipment hubs near the respective delivery areas. While some parcel service providers show that they are successfully testing concepts such as micro-hubs, several barriers prevent the implementation beyond pilot status.

Many pilot projects in Germany indicate that urban cycle logistics concepts can be successfully implemented. However, the lack of specific knowledge about the diversity of functions and special features of cycle logistics and related transshipment hubs, extensive urban planning regulations, and the limitation in generalized planning knowledge prevents the establishment and scaling of cycle logistics systems beyond pilot status.

New research aimed to overcome these barriers by introducing nano-hubs as an urban-friendly alternative to micro-hubs. In particular, the researchers proposed a modular design concept that enables the customization of transshipment hubs considering urban planning restrictions and logistical processes.

The researchers aimed to prove that the nano-hub approach also has economic (cost) advantages compared to previous cycle logistics processes. For this, the researchers first developed nano-hub-modules on a conceptual level following the methodological approach for product development. The researchers then implemented a simulation model to compare different (cycle) logistics processes about their sustainability and operational effort. Unfortunately, the cost model does not include the cost of the micro-hub and nano-hub (rent, heating, etc.).

The findings of the research are twofold. First, based on the proposed modular system design, they offer suggestions for further development and elaboration of infrastructure elements for cycle logistics. Second, by applying their approach as a case study to Magdeburg, Germany, they could show that existing cycle logistics processes have ecological and economic advantages over motorized delivery traffic. In addition, they proved that these benefits could be further increased by implementing the nano-hub concept.

Despite the many positive effects, a lessons-learned analysis and discussions with experts from the CEP sector also revealed that the large-scale implementation of existing bicycle logistics concepts is currently failing due to a lack of available space and the optical integration of micro-hubs. These problems can be overcome with the help of the modular nano-hub approach, as the individual hubs require significantly less space and can thus be integrated more easily into the public (street).


The smaller, the better? Nano-hubs for cycle logistics as an urban-friendly alternative to micro-hubs

M Kania, B Rolf, T Assmann, H Zadek – Logistics Journal

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