Concerns about the environmental impact of urban freight transport are growing along with population density and urban congestion. Thankfully, awareness of the need for sustainable urban development is also on the rise and the coordination of traffic and logistics is receiving greater attention. Yet the need is urgent for more efficient and effective freight transport systems that not only address costs but also fully tackle environmental issues such as noise, air pollution, vibration and visual intrusion.
The concept of City Logistics has been proposed to address these challenges. City Logistics has been defined as “the process for totally optimizing the logistics and transport activities by private companies with the support of advanced information systems in urban areas considering the traffic environment, its congestion, safety and energy savings within the framework of a market economy.”
It’s time to create real visions for City Logistics. We can start by setting targets for what can be achieved by applying this forward-looking concept.
City Logistics presents us with three targets: mobility, sustainability and livability. Mobility is the central component for ensuring smooth and reliable traffic flow including freight traffic. Sustainability is necessary for making cities more environmentally friendly, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and decreasing the impact on the local environment. Livability is also an essential element and one that has garnered growing importance most recently as the number of elderly residents in cities is on the rise.
The City Logistics Rationale
Urban freight transport involves shippers, freight carriers, administrators and residents (consumers) – a configuration made all the more complex by the often times varying visions among these stakeholders. Simply put: they have different goals and interests. The City Logistics approach can help solve complicated and difficult problems using Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS), Information and Communication Technology (ICT), and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). The latter will take a change in behavior in the private sector, I’m afraid. However, cooperation between the public and private sectors could help bring about the development of urban distribution centers for cooperative freight transport among competitive carriers.
Take for instance the Motomachi Shopping District in Yokohama City, Japan. By using the City Logistics approach, effective policy was implemented and maintained to establish a mobile, sustainable and livable freight transport system.
People continue to come together in urban areas for a better quality of life – a trend that will certainly continue. Currently, about half of the world’s population lives in urban areas, a figure estimated to increase to over 60% by 2030. And as the world’s population ages, we will experience a growing need for home delivery services for the elderly.
City Logistics solutions will help ensure fewer passenger cars will travel on the limited road network capacity in urban areas as well as avoid generating further negative environmental impacts. A City Logistics approach will also make more efficient use of freight vehicles and introduce economic/regulatory measures. After all, there are no practical public transport systems available for freight so cities must rely heavily on trucks and vans for urban distribution.
Adding to the congestion will be the expanding home delivery of goods and services to elderly persons. These services will be important for a city’s well-being and City Logistics schemes can help reduce the costs.
In some developed countries, we may actually see overall populations decrease while the proportions of elderly people rise due to lower birth rates and improved medical care. So cities may grow smaller but need to be healthier and more livable. Some cities are applying “smart decline” – strategic policy measures for more efficient use of limited space and transport systems. City Logistics could play an important role here as well, such as limited passenger car and truck access to city centers. Public transport could replace cars and measures such as off-hour delivery or cooperative freight transport systems could be used to manage truck traffic.
Logistics providers have an important role to play in in all of this. They possess essential knowledge and experience that can be put to good use for planning and implementation. However, logistics providers are often reluctant to join public-private partnerships, since they compete for business and do not want to share customer and cost information. Logistics providers should consider this: collaboration with shippers, residents and administrators will improve their image and acceptance as true partners intent on making cities healthier and more livable.
More efficient logistics for cities is of course going to take some regulation of the sector and good enforcement in urban areas to ensure smooth traffic flow and a better environment for all. But competition should not be stifled, which is all the more reason to create real partnerships between the private and public sectors.
Some examples include using ITS and ICT to enforce traffic regulations and establishing management schemes, such as congestion charging and road pricing for heavy trucks using video cameras. Subsidies may be required to help shippers and freight carriers start new, environmentally friendly initiatives that are often costly to implement. National governments and/or local municipalities should, if needed, provide support to help new urban consolidation centers and intermodal freight terminals get off the ground.
In the end we need to see a change in attitude among all stakeholders if we are to facilitate City Logistics. They need to recognize the importance of working together in the initial planning stages. If they do, everyone benefits.
City Logistics will have a vital role in enhancing the mobility, sustainability and livability of cities in the future. And as our society ages, hitting these targets will become increasingly important. To get there we need to see all urban freight stakeholders – including logistics providers – come together in a collaborative framework. Urbanization will undoubtedly continue. With City Logistics, we can make sure cities are mobile, sustainable and above all livable.