New Solutions for City Logistics

An impending delivery collapse is threatening many city centers in Europe. E-commerce is revving up at an ever-increasing rate, causing deliveries of parcels and groceries to shoot through the roof in some places. It’s high time for efficient solutions in city logistics. But which approaches could actually help?

By the end of the decade, 100 European cities should be climate-neutral. Photo: Shutterstock / Triff

The European Commission is committed to sustainable and intelligent mobility. In a strategy paper presented at the end of 2020, it defines one milestone goal of 100 climate-neutral European cities by the end of the decade. This radical change will have tangible consequences for city logistics. At first glance, the challenge seems clear: Anyone in transit on the last mile will soon have to come up with innovative delivery concepts.

Logistics provider Dachser is already setting a good example. By the end of 2022, the company plans to roll out its “Emission-Free Delivery” in the city centers of eleven European metropolitan regions, including Munich, Strasbourg, Paris, Prague, Copenhagen, Madrid, and Porto. The concept works with small transshipment warehouses close to city centers, using battery-electric vans and trucks as well as electrically assisted cargo bicycles. A second look, however, shows that efficient hardware alone can only be part of the solution. Even the most sustainable delivery service would have a problem if drivers end up hoofing it because they couldn’t find a parking spot for their vehicle near the recipient. In fact, most delivery concepts currently can’t solve a core problem in many inner cities: There’s a serious lack of free space and fierce competition for every free square meter.

Sustainable City Logistics Needs Lots of Free Space

A year ago in London, DHL Express established a delivery service on the Thames. Photo: Deutsche Post AG

New solutions become necessary when space is in short supply for logistics companies. So why not move part of the supply chain onto water? A year ago in London, DHL Express established a delivery service on the Thames, sending shipments from the depot at Heathrow to the city center by boat and packing them onto cargo bikes at the pier to cover the last mile. In Paris – one of the most densely populated metropolises in Europe – the city is taking an ambitious project underground. In the 13th district, a 7.5-acre underground logistics center will be built by 2025 for the distribution of goods and delivery on the last mile, including charging infrastructure for electric vehicles and cargo bikes. In Stuttgart, on the other hand, plans are currently taking shape for an 85-hectare new development in the Rosenstein district, which is being freed up as part of the Stuttgart 21 rail project. The Stuttgart Region Chamber of Industry and Commerce (IHK) has presented a study that explores city-compatible opportunities and prospects for city logistics in the Rosenstein district. In the future, state-of-the-art logistics concepts could come into play here – including sensor-based delivery zones and underground transport systems, but also multi-use parking garages, autonomous parcel deliveries, and quiet logistics transshipment zones.

Planning Freedom in New Development Districts

Load bikes are already being used in many cities on the last mile. Photo: Hermes / Willing-Holtz

“Our goal is to plan spaces and areas in advance in such a way that supplying residents and traders can happen in the best possible way,” explains Götz Bopp, who supervised the study in his role as Department Head for Urban Traffic and City Logistics at the Chamber of Industry and Commerce. One conceivable solution is a neighborhood supermarket that relocates its receiving area to the basement. This would allow the open space between buildings to be kept completely free of traffic. Parking and underground garages could also serve as overnight parking spaces for cargo bikes that make their rounds during the day. A neighborhood logistics management system would control all movement so that vehicles, routes, parking spaces, and transshipment points are optimally utilized.

Solutions for Older Existing Neighborhoods Are Worth Their Weight in Gold

On the other hand, planning freedom tends to hit its limits when it comes to city logistics in older existing neighborhoods. Of course, urban planners and architects are also struggling to find solutions here – often with the goal of alleviating the greatest pressure and pain points. We need smart and creative solutions that require only a low level of implementation effort. One building block is undoubtedly the cargo bike, which requires an infrastructure with micro-hubs. But perhaps ordinary pedestrians could also get involved as parcel messengers on their daily commute? The Vienna University of Technology investigated precisely this approach a few years ago in the “GutZuFuß” (which translates as “good walker”) project. The idea sounds charming: An app helps the shipper and the potential small goods carrier, on whose route the desired pickup and delivery point are located, to find each other. However, the project ultimately showed that a critical mass of participants is difficult to achieve.

Future Delivery Is Hardly Conceivable Without Apps

The DropFriends founders (from left to right): Osamah Aldoaiss, Yasmin Werner and Martin Peters. Photo: DropFriends

By contrast, things are going better for the Cologne startup “DropFriends”, which has been active since mid-March 2020. The idea behind it is an app-based delivery to neighborhoods. Participants can register as a delivery point and receive a fee for each parcel they send. The recipients select their individual desired DropPoint when ordering the parcel. A model with provider-neutral parcel lockers has proven successful in Hamburg. The facilities have been available at around 20 stations and stops in the city on the Elbe for a year. When ordering online, customers can select a parcel facility as a delivery option, which is then stocked by various logistics providers and local delivery services. The parcels themselves are always deposited for 120 hours.

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