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Innovation, Waterways, and Last-Mile Delivery | TheCityFix

Cities around the world are exploring solutions for more sustainable freight. For Stockholm, this means utilizing more efficient water transportation as an alternative to trucks. Photo by Simon Inns/Flickr

Create quieter delivery solutions. Declutter the roads and improve safety. Deliver goods more efficiently. Fastrack the development of alternative fuel technologies.

Those were just some of the solutions explored at the Daring Cities forum last week during two sessions on sustainable freight: the first on reducing carbon emissions in the transport sector and the second on new freight solutions.

The timing of the forum, a free virtual event geared for local decision-makers co-sponsored by ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability and the Federal City of Bonn, Germany, coincided with the official launch of ICLEI’s EcoLogistics Principles that support low-emission freight for sustainable cities. These principles include shifting to alternative delivery options, committing to safer urban delivery and optimizing delivery efficiencies. Similar goals were discussed at WRI’s four-part webinar series in July on a “triple-zero” vision for freight in cities: zero emissions, zero road deaths and zero exclusion from core services and opportunities.

For those watching, the sessions highlighted a variety of perspectives based not only on geography, with speakers hailing from such disparate cities as Bogotá, Stockholm and Taoyuan, but also differing public and private transport views on how best to handle the global freight demand that’s projected to triple by 2050.

Offering private sector insight on behalf of BSR, a non-profit consulting firm that works with 75 major transportation companies around the world, associate Nico de Golia said that rather than worrying about the growth of the transport sector, we need to ask “what can we do to enable that continued growth in freight movement, but also at the same time, reduce the sustainability impact ranging from greenhouse gas to air particulate emissions to noise and safety?”

In contrast to this “bigger and better” mindset, Art Pearce, director of policy planning and projects with the City of Portland’s Bureau of Transportation, spoke of the need to provide more solutions at the local level. Pearce touched on the growing challenge cities face dealing with large e-commerce shipping companies vis-à-vis how best to move goods while reducing emissions. Portland has some of the highest diesel emissions in the country, and the city is examining alternative delivery options and committing to safer vehicles and streets.

In terms of establishing a dialogue around some of these challenges, Pearce said that from his experience “it’s much easier when the [freight carriers] are local and discuss these things as cohabitants of the city.” He said it’s much harder dealing with the larger national and international shippers, where “you often get assigned to the legal department and that’s not the conversation you’re trying to have…you’re trying to figure out how to work together.”

Working with both small and large transport companies is an everyday challenge in Bogotá, observed Sergio Eduardo Martinez, the city’s undersecretary of mobility policy. In trying to address the city’s ongoing air pollution challenges in an urban area through which 60% of the country’s imports flow, Martinez said that one inescapable reality is “not only do we have big companies, but also a lot of owners of small vehicles that bring produce or meat from different parts of the country.” Many of those trucks are older vehicles that don’t meet local air quality regulations.

Previously, Martinez said, the city threatened to fine small operators and impose restrictions on their movement for failing to meet air quality standards. In response, the owners went on strike, leading to a standstill in deliveries. But now, through the creation of a logistics network that involves companies of all sizes, Bogotá is working on a low-carbon urban logistics plan that includes more vehicles, including electric cargo bikes, as part of last-mile solutions. And, Martinez said, they’re working with smaller operators to come up with financial incentives that include establishing special lines of credit to help them transition to cleaner vehicles.

Like Bogotá, Taoyuan City is the logistical hub for Taiwan, through which 80% of the island’s freight traffic flows. Li-Te Lu, director general of Taoyuan’s environment protection department, said that through a series of local stakeholder meetings, the city is creating low-emission zones where big trucks are not allowed. In their place, electric motorcycles and electric three-wheeled delivery vans are being used for local deliveries, with the aim to reduce congestion and noise while improving pedestrian safety – particularly in school areas.

Robin Billsjö, an urban freight strategist with Stockholm’s transport department, said Stockholm has developed a Freight Plan that includes off-peak deliveries from early evening to early morning to help reduce traffic congestion. However, one of the biggest challenges with truck movement during these hours – when downtown residents are more likely to be at home – is noise. To address this, the city is actively promoting “silent solutions” involving the use of electric transport trucks and smaller vehicles. Some of these vehicles not only make deliveries, but also collect local waste and recycling, which is moved underground and then shipped out of the city at night.

Billsjö said they’re also exploring ways to make better use of water transportation as an alternative to trucks, remarking that Stockholm “seems to have forgotten” that it was built there in the first place because of its close proximity to waterways. Now, in conjunction with the construction of a new subway line and the transportation of aggregate from this work, the city is looking to transition from heavy daily truck use in this sensitive historical area to using two ships a week with far lower emissions to handle the same load.

Oceans away, Kerala State in India is also trying to shift the transport of goods away from the trucking industry, through a combination of water and rail to reduce road congestion and vehicle emissions. Shri Jyothilal, principle secretary for transport with the Kerala State government, said Kerala was once the epicenter of India’s colonial spice trade. The area is now re-emerging as the hub of India’s transport industry, where, once again, water and rail (as opposed to trucks) will serve as the backbone for the transportation network – a “back to the future” transition, Jyothilal said. By making better use of water and rail, the Kerala State government’s immediate goal is to reduce the daily flow of about 2,500 trucks into the area, helping to get 500 of these trucks off the road. And they will work to further reduce the overall number of incoming vehicles through phased-in restrictions.

As part of the session’s closing comments, Monika Zimmermann, a mobility expert and former deputy secretary general of ICLEI Germany, asked what it will take to convince logistics companies – large and small – to transition to zero-emission vehicles, including new last-mile solutions such as e-bikes.

De Golia of BSR said that the public and private sector need to work together to come up with new, more innovative solutions that help lesson the environmental and social impact of freight transportation.  A great example, he said, is a UPS cargo e-bike pilot program in Seattle, where UPS is essentially retracing its steps as the bike shipping company it started out as 100 years ago. Working with the city, UPS drops off a shipping container full of packages in the downtown area in the evenings. Cargo e-bikes in turn use this container as a local hub to make deliveries. De Golia said it’s a classic example of “smart policies in collaboration with companies that allow them to de-risk innovation to make it more palatable…which is exactly what we need.”

Register for free to tune in to more Daring Cities events from October 7-28, 2020.

The original version of this blog was published on ICLEI’s CityTalk.

Mark Wessel is an urban journalist and public speaker who profiles unique city initiatives tied to sustainability, resiliency and quality of living that other communities can learn from. In addition to TheCityFix, his work has appeared in Next City, Municipal World, Cities Today and the Urban Future ‘City Changers’ blog. He also writes a regular Green Living column for Postmedia, Canada’s largest newspaper chain.

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