Triple Access Planning


By Antonio Comi, University of Rome Tor Vergata

Many cities have started to understand and address the challenges associated with urban goods mobility issues by developing urban goods mobility visions and strategies, as well as implementing actions, for goods transportation at a region or city level. However, comprehensive strategies for last mile delivery of goods at an inner-area level are often missing. Last mile delivery of goods is a difficult issue to tackle, and in the next future it is expected to accommodate concerns related to the expected changes in the field, which are governed by a high level of uncertainty:

  • small and frequent shop deliveries (due to the limited availability of retail store surfaces in the inner areas, resulting from high rental costs and just-in-time policies);
  • e-commerce and omni-channel retailing;
  • new delivery service to fulfil customers’ requests, e.g., express deliveries, same-day deliveries, and instant-deliveries;
  • reverse logistics, for both recycling and handling products no longer desired or used.

In addition, there is a high level of uncertainty related to shopping activities, which in turn, influences urban freight flows. For example, the choice of retail type by end consumers (e.g., small shop, supermarket, shopping centre) may depend on the accessibility of commercial areas. Thus, if there are changes in accessibility (for example, due to the management of shopping travel demand), it may lead to changes in the preferred shop type where to buy and/or the transportation mode used to reach commercial areas. Additionally, changes in the characteristics of end consumers, the geographical distribution of residential property and shops, and/or accessibility to the commercial area, may impact freight restocking characteristics. Similarly, some actions (measures), implemented to reduce the impacts of freight flows, could reduce the restocking accessibility of an area and push towards the re-allocation of retail activities. On the other hand, the increasing inclination towards on-line shopping can push urban freight transport and logistics operators to implement new business models to accommodate the users’ requests and the local regulations. In fact, for example, in Europe, 74% of internet users bought or ordered goods for personal use in last years. End consumers have changed their behaviour and purchasing decisions over time, gradually moving from traditional distribution channels to new ones. Therefore, a crucial challenge to sustainable urban freight distribution lies in the growth of e-commerce and door-to-door services, which are bringing about significant changes in the delivery process. Furthermore, cities are particular complex systems, characterized by a high concentration of population and human activities of various kinds, i.e., moving from residence toward work, leisure, and the health. This concentration of population and activities needs a greater availability of goods,  thereby requiring the management of supply chains for both traditional in-store sale channels and the new channels associated with on-line sales.

Three main classes of actions have been developed to limit the impacts of parcel deliveries (especially of e-delivery), and effectively manage freight flows within the city areas by optimizing loads, as well as of the dimensions and typology of vehicle used for freight operations:

  • pick-up delivery system: it consists of a set of different places (pick-up points or parcel stations) strategically positioned within residential areas, where users can take their parcels. Users can collect their parcels from these locations. They can be traditional or automated. The formers operate through local shops or other public concerns where packages are dropped off for collection by their individual recipients. The latter ones are automated, and people can access to packages 24 h a day from locker boxes usually located in shopping centres, gas stations, etc. Users can use the service at their convenient time, while transport and logistics operators can limit the negative impacts of delivery sprawl and failed deliveries;
  • crowd shipping: this model promotes collaboration among professional and non-professional users. It is an innovative delivery model that harnesses currently underutilized transport capacity, resulting in reduced transportation costs and emissions;
  • two(multi)-echelon delivery systems: these systems involve a warehouse located at the boundary of service areas (e.g., city boundary), delivery (city) hubs and customer location. Warehouses serve the purpose of packaging orders and delivering shipments to the corresponding delivery (city) hub, while the delivery (city) hub functions to receive and consolidate shipments from different warehouses/distribution centres, and then delivers the shipments to customers in its location (zone).

Besides, telematics is offering new opportunities for optimising delivery processes. In particular, the evolution of emerging information and communication technologies (e-ICTs) has paved the way for the development and implementation of new integrated and dynamic city logistics solutions, leading to new frontiers in intelligent transport systems (ITSs). Transport and logistics operators should and could have access to technological solutions to improve the sustainability and efficiency of their urban freight transport operations, as required by international and local authorities. E-ICTs based solutions can reduce the number of kilometres driven in urban areas, increasing safety and reducing environmental impacts and congestion. In this context, the telematics can support the new delivery system based on the concept of micro-consolidation centres (MCC). Such a scheme consists of the establishment of logistics platforms in the heart of urban areas, where consolidated goods are stored before final delivery to customers. From these spaces, last-mile deliveries are carried out using light freight vehicles or soft transport modes (for example, on foot or by cargo bikes), through which congested or restricted urban areas can be accessed. Conceptually, MCC and nearby delivery bays can be described as multi-echelon systems, where the inner platforms represent a smaller-scale version that require minimal infrastructure and no storage equipment UCCs (i.e., same-day deliveries), resulting in relatively low investment.

Accordingly, urban freight planning has been promoted to address these challenges, aiming to integrate urban logistics schemes/services/regulations into overall mobility strategies and solutions. However, it followed the conventional approaches of mobility ones, i.e., forecast-led paradigm. Evidence shows that plans become rapidly obsolete and lack resilience in the face of future developments. Therefore, close to the opportunity to merge the goals of sustainability and the quality of life towards to create smart cities, planners must adopt policies that account for an uncertain future, and policy analysts play a vital role in assisting policymakers in choosing preferred courses of action. Therefore, planning should be extended to accommodate uncertainty, i.e., encompassing unpredictable dynamics such as demographics changes, economic developments, locational choices, regulatory context, technological breakthroughs, travel demand, and stakeholder behaviour. These factors should be explicitly considered during plan development and implementation.

In this context, planning should point out the opportunity to enhance the definition of future scenarios and propose the most suitable actions for implementation, leveraging the potential offered by engagement and communication. The different actions could not be implemented if they have not enough public (i.e., collectivity and operators involved) acceptability. Scenario planning must be able to provide decision-making support that decision makers are receptive to. Through scenarios, a range of challenges and opportunities could be explored and communicated. Visualizing and illustrating these scenarios through images, animations and narratives, along with relevant data, can help depict potential futures. Some research projects are currently exploring these directions. An engaging storytelling, which will take shape through the film element, will facilitate the understanding of the different scenarios by stakeholders and policy makers, and will ensure that an informed and evidence-based decision-making process is carried out. Therefore, future efforts should primarily focus on  developing scenarios that improve decision making and how to build a coherent set of scenarios that align with the goals expected by society.