Getting there

You will have noticed the effects of recent actions of freight transport operators: the virtual standstill of the economy. One way or another, says Jim Rowley, logistics analyst at The Institute of Logistics and Transport, the growth of that economy is significantly affected by the actions of freight operators.

Urban freight transport is a critical activity in the context of urban life: it is fundamental to sustaining our lifestyle and serves the industrial and trade activities which underlie wealth generation. However, whilst urban freight transport is an important factor in urban sustainability, it is also a significant contributor to social and environmental sustainability.

In order to achieve optimum solutions, it is vital that all ‘players’ understand the conflicting forces arising from core and ancillary goods deliveries and collection, waste collection, postal collection and delivery, and home deliveries despatched from premises. The factors affecting these patterns include the time of delivery, whether delivery takes place on or off street, goods vehicle dwell time, and home delivery despatch. Some of the most common problems affecting the efficiency of these actions are transport related (e.g. pedestrianised areas, vehicle access time restriction, road design/layout); and traffic flow/congestion related (e.g. weekday traffic levels and exceptional traffic incidents).

Retailers have pioneered many developments to increase operating efficiency, including:

  • Strategic use of information systems, concerning the distribution of goods between shippers and receivers, e.g. vehicle telematics and data capture, routing and scheduling – Safeway has used these since 1990. The system tracks vehicle location and allows communication with drivers. This, in addition to fuel monitoring, allows improved fuel economy, fewer vehicles on the road and increased speed of delivery into stores. It also enables drivers to avoid congested or blocked routes and pre-warns stores of impending arrival.
  • Night time deliveries allow optimum fleet efficiency by enabling lorries to deliver outside peak hours. Safeway is not only able to reduce congestion levels, but can minimise emissions and fuel consumption levels. Stop-start travel during the day reduces fuel economy by about 10%. Safeway also estimate an increase in night deliveries could achieve a 15% fleet reduction.
  • Measures to reduce noise and emissions in urban areas are therefore essential: BOC and Hubbard are developing a new generation of cryogenic refrigeration systems to allow silent running and carbon-free emissions. There are many alternative, if immature, technologies including CNG and LPG, for running lorries and their equipment – Sainsbury’s use engine hush kits and “city drive” low sulphur diesel. Other best practice opportunities include roll cages with low noise wheels, air brake silencers, and automatic transmission and engine cut out.

    Another innovative example is Exel Logistics, which uses a group of small urban articulates to deliver beer to urban outlets, leaving the trailers near to the delivery point and only driving at times of low congestion.

    Currently, there is accessibility and connectivity problems holding back widespread use of rail travel. However, by delivering to stores in Scotland by rail, Safeway are set to avoid 2.3 million road kilometres in three years.

    How far companies are able to manage environmental impact whilst maintaining efficiency lies to a degree outside their control, and in the hands of local authorities. This should be intrinsic to the design and implementation of local transport plans, but which transport policies could deliver both economic and environmental benefits? Some include ‘no car’ lanes, improving road signing and traffic information, and the lifting of delivery curfews.

    Many grocery supply-chains are operating almost as efficiently as possible in terms of vehicle trip generation. Therefore, as identified by the Transport Studies Group at Westminster University, it is vital that policy makers consider the supply-chain when devising policy measures, and recognise the existing efficiency of operations at a supply-chain level, rather than simply focusing on individual vehicle activities.

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