The freight urban transport, finalised to satisfy the demand for goods and services in urban areas, due to:
- the complexity of the shopping that governs the freight distribution,
- the high number of actors and decision-makers within the supply-chain with their reciprocal relationships that are nowadays increasingly virtual (digital connectivity),
- its relevant interactions with the whole urban system (physical mobility),
- both the structure of residences and the service distribution (spatial proximity),
can be described/represented through the notion of Triple Access System (TAS).
In fact, it is now well known that, in order to identify adequate solutions for the whole urban mobility system, the freight counterpart cannot be neglected. Therefore, to improve the urban freight distribution, it is necessary to investigate the structure and organisation of the whole supply chain that allows user to satisfy his/her needs of acquiring goods (shopping). Since only by focusing on the characteristics of the end consumer, on her/his purchase behaviour (according to the different types of goods and products) and therefore on her/his specific needs to be satisfied, it is possible to understand which is the most suitable way to guarantee this freight distribution, minimising impacts and maximising the effects on the whole urban system. This new perspective therefore means that the issue of urban freight transport and logistics must be addressed by looking at the freight delivering both towards the physical shops (shopping at stores) and directly to end consumer (online shopping including home delivery of different types).
Using, therefore, this new double reading key (at store and online), how can urban freight planning benefit from the Triple Access Planning approach?
- Physical Mobility: any freight distribution model cannot obviously disregard an adequate transport system (this is one of the value increases that characterises the whole supply chain): these concern both aspects falling within the competence of transport companies and couriers (e.g. definition of vehicle routing for freight delivering , optimisation of delivery times and of vehicle load), and those falling within the competence of municipalities operating through road management policies and organisation of loading and unloading spaces (delivery bays, time windows, limited traffic zones, etc.). The objective, in this case, is to minimise the effects on traffic flows, especially in terms of distances, land occupation and therefore congestion, road accidents and emissions.
- Spatial proximity: if an efficient freight delivery is based on a minimisation of distances between the shipper and the receiver, the new approach proposed here focuses on users’ activity who request goods and benefit from the urban freight delivery system. Indeed, , a large part of the success of shopping at physical shops (but the same applies to pick-up/delivery points – in online shopping systems) is based on the spatial proximity of shops to residences and workplaces (the idea of the “city in 15 minutes” is mainly based on this concept), in order to optimise consumers’ needs while minimising network effects. It is therefore necessary to know the attitudes and decision-making process of the end consumers (who can make purchases both in-store and online) in order to be able to plan the location of shop, residences and workplaces in an integrated way to make this proximity coherent.
- Digital connectivity: it is evident how the wide diffusion of ICT systems has totally transformed the shopping chain, introducing online shopping, which was almost non-existent until 20 years ago while now governs a large part of the market, offering delivery models increasingly aimed at satisfying end consumers’ needs (also with deliveries of ready meals, home deliveries of purchases made in physical urban shops). Such systems also have a strong impact on the business of shopping stores as they allow for a better planning of urban delivery systems, optimising flows, and minimising impacts.
From what has been described, therefore, it is evident how the proper planning of the different components of accessibility for the urban freight distribution has a great advantage in implementing the Triple Access Planning approach, since it integrates the three basic and central aspects that characterise the entire shopping activity: spatial proximity, digital connectivity and physical mobility.
Moreover, this approach also makes it possible to better answer to some uncertainty elements due to exogenous and endogenous factors that are typical of urban planning but which, in the case of shopping, are even more evident.
With regard to the former (exogenous factors), the recent pandemic has in fact highlighted how online shopping has been able, albeit temporarily, to best respond to end consumers’ needs during periods of severe crisis and lockdown (user-side access to goods not otherwise available, operator-side reduction of the problems of failed deliveries); furthermore, the current global energy crisis is directing urban distribution more and more towards the use of sustainable and low-consumption vehicles, addressing companies towards forms of consolidation that maximise load capacity for the same number of kilometres travelled (opportunities for telematics to support/foster load sharing and propose new delivery models).
But also referring to the latter, i.e. endogenous factors, the issue of uncertainty appears to be central: in urban freight transport, in fact, unlike passengers’ transport, the number of decision-makers increase, and thus so does the uncertainty due to their behaviours and decisions. In addition to municipalities, transport companies and citizens/end-consumers (decision-makers in passengers’ transport), in the case of shopping there are also retailers who have strong specific needs and objectives to pursue, often diverging and conflicting with at least one of the other three decision-making categories, with a subsequent increase of the level of uncertainty in the decision-making processes.
Added to this, there are other levels of uncertainty typical of shopping, such as, for example, the influence of marketing (especially in the launch of new products unknown to the market), the trend of fashions and customer habits (globalised but often fluctuating with respect to factors that are difficult to predict), the globalisation of production (we are in a single large global market), the trend of stock exchanges that influence the price level of certain primary goods, etc.
It is therefore evident that in the face of these aspects, the Triple Access System approach appears more suitable for analysing and adequately describing urban freight transport planning processes, as it allows, at the best way, the integration of the aspects that characterise it, helps to minimise the risks determined by uncertainties, and therefore permits more resilient and sustainable actions to be proposed.
Gianfranco Fancello is Associate Professor at Università degli studi di Cagliari, and member of the Triple Access Planning for Uncertain Futures team.