Why do city logistics initiatives fail?

Despite more than 25 years of research in city logistics, it seems impossible to keep the growing number of, often half-empty, trucks out of our cities. City logistics problems seem unsolvable. Many initiatives fail, other initiatives only survive with subsidies or get caught in bureaucratic systems. But they don’t result in fewer trucks and vans. Why?

Wrong data, wrong issues 
At first, the data about urban freight are simply wrong. Did we really look into those trucks? And are the freight data complete? Most trucks are not for retail store deliveries. Vans delivering parcels? Just 5 percent of urban freight vehicles. Too many city logistics initiatives look at these retail and B2C online deliveries.
The question is whether the flows of building materials, deliveries to HoReCa and to offices and waste collection are not more relevant. They are!
City logistics solutions should be fact-based (volumes, problems, and impact), based on the freight bigger volumes and solve relevant issues multiple stakeholders want to solve; multi actor multi criteria.

No segmentation of solutions
The first reports on city logistics from 1992 state that 50 percent of the transports in city centers even came from that city center. This hasn’t changed. Aren’t you going to take them out of town first to a hub and then back into the city again? Hubs, urban consolidation centers, simply are no the only solution.
Even more important with city logistics is understanding the underlying supply characteristics; what are the parameters that lead to inner-city goods flows? Shipments only move when someone makes a decision. Then you have to influence those decisions in order to achieve a smarter urban distribution. If you have those numbers and parameters, you can start clicking the right buttons.

You can’t beat the customer: it should be better and cheaper!
Initiatives often don’t look at the future needs of receiving customers. What’s their value of time? City logistics concepts should be developed based on customer intimacy, such as facility management for healthcare institutions or construction logistics and offer value-adding services such as repackaging, keeping inventory, delivery to consumers, handling returns and collection points.
Making deliveries more expensive and including subsidies and so-called ‘external cost’ as benefits is not a good start for a future proof business model for city logistics companies. Most benefits of city logistics may be found in the initial miles coming to the city; e.g. using inland waterways for construction materials. Take a ‘full’ supply chain scope.

Changing local policies
Local authorities are rather fickle. The alderperson would like to be photographed with that electric truck or freight tram. But, when the mark comes to the end, the same alderperson will not give home if difficult decisions have to be made about permits, regulations and urban planning. And a successive alderperson happily passes the ‘headache file’ on to a colleague or simply gives it no priority.

What problems do we want to solve and at what cost? City logistics is unsolvable as long as we do not have correct and complete data, know the relevant stakeholders’ issues, do not understand the value of time for customers and local authorities keep changing the playing field. Let’s learn from past experiences.

Walther Ploos van Amstel

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