A holistic view on city logistics

by Tom van Woensel

For the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries, the growing trend of urbanization and rural depopulation is very clear: in 1950, 50% lived of the population lived in cities. In 2000, the number had risen to 77%, and by 2020, the figure is expected to rise to 85%. For Europe, currently 80% of the European population lives in urban areas, while about 85% of the EU GDP (Gross Domestic Product) is generated in cities. As a result, the demand for efficient city logistics operations is clearly increasing, and it will remain to do so.

The consequence of this urbanization trend is clear: a strong increase in retail demand, resulting in more (freight) traffic. This effect is even strengthened because more and more online purchases happen. As a result, many small packages need to be delivered into densely populated areas. This leads to congestion, emissions and noise. The main challenge is therefore to make sure that these negative effects are avoided (or minimized), without affecting the main functions of cities.

Research in the OPAC (Operations, Planning, Accounting and Control) group from the IE&IS department focusses primarily on urban freight, but there is also a multitude of other traffic in the city: construction traffic, different service transactions (e.g. repair, maintenance, etc.), commuter, public transport, etc. A complete solution that combines all these traffic drivers, leading to a holistic view of the city is is an important step forward.

This is also the challenge both in practice and in the academic field. An important step has already been put forward at the Eindhoven University of Technology and is already reflected by the start of the Dinalog Research and Development Project Cargo Hitching. Pulbic Transport company Connexxion is involved and interested to see how things can be shaped up to not only transport people but also to transport freight.

Interesting business cases are to be build, making both Connexxion as public transport and shippers, such as Lekkerland, work together, where they traditionally do not.

Obviously, this is not without a struggle. The role of policymakers is important but also good gain sharing mechanisms are needed to keep these exceptional collaborations going on in a sustainable way.

Clearly, the combination of public transport and freight transport is still far removed from a holistic view of all urban distribution problems. It is therefore only a first, but important step in the direction of an efficient city logistics.