Challenges of City Logistics

When talking about traffic flows, congestion, transport planning, public transport and its respective optimization, we too often tend to focus on the aspect of the transport of people. As we know, space for transport axis may need to be shared with more and more transport demand in sprawling cities and sub-urban areas. A significant part of this growth does not stem from transport of people, but more from the transport of merchandise, semi-finished products and utilities (e.g. gas and water).

There is already much research done on this subject as well as many initiatives on the way. e.g.:

 

In principle, there are three categories in city logistics:

  • Utilities (e.g. electricity, water, gas, central heating, oil) which are, wherever possible transported in efficient and separated networks (e.g. piping or power grid)
  • B2B – where businesses transport semi-finished or finished goods and resources to other businesses to sell them, process them or store them.
  • B2C – where the last mile of transport happens to the customer/user of the merchandise

Each category has its own specific challenges, but all together have also a few issues in common:

  • Limited space for transport (within the city & access axis to the city)
  • Limited space for transshipping (within the city)
  • Limited capacity on central crossings/bottlenecks (especially for B2C)
  • Limited hours of operation (due to noise, air pollution and laws)
  • High costs for centrally located space (due to high opportunity costs)
  • High impacts of disruptions (congestion, construction, traffic control systems)

So far, the most common approaches implemented and pursued are:

  • Transshipment on the road
  • Small electric powered vehicles for last mile operations
  • Hybrid solutions (e.g. RailRunner)
  • Autonomous parcel delivery services
  • Autonomous drones
  • Electric lorries for overnight transport
  • Digitalization and optimization of logistics
  • Integrate city logistics in urban planning

Especially the last point seems to be highly important, but also difficult to achieve, since outlook on necessary transport capacity in the far future is challenging. Currently, most planners seem to pursue the concept to keep sufficient space available in central locations to adapt to changing demand in city logistics.

 

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