EcoLogistics’ big challenge: Reduce emissions, congestion, noise and deaths associated with urban transport while improving social equity

Create quieter delivery solutions. Declutter the roads and make them safer. Deliver goods more efficiently. Fast-track the development of alternative fuel technologies.

Those were just some of the solutions Daring Cities’ presenters pondered, during two sessions on EcoLogistics last week: the first focusing on how to achieve lower carbon emissions in the transport sector; the second, exploring new freight solutions.

The timing of these sessions also coincided with the official launch of ICLEI’s EcoLogistics Principles that support low emission freight for sustainable cities and include such goals as shifting to alternative delivery options, committing to safer urban delivery and optimizing delivery efficiencies.

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

Offering private sector insight on behalf of BSR, a non-profit consulting firm that works with 75 major transportation companies from 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 particulates, to emissions, to noise and safety?”

But in contrast to this make bigger 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 when dealing with large e-commerce shipping companies vis-à-vis how best to move goods tied to such goals as reducing emission. Portland has some of the highest diesel emissions in the country. Pearce also examined alternative delivery options and committed 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 (transportation owners) are local and discuss these things as cohabitants of the city,” while 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 handles 60 percent of the country’s import, Martinez said that one inescapable reality is “not only do we have big (transport) companies, but also a lot of owners of small vehicles that bring produce or meat from different parts of the country,” adding that many of those trucks are older vehicles that don’t meet local air quality regulations.

Previously he said, the city threatened to fine these operators for failing to meet air quality standards and impose restrictions on their movement – in response to which 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, the city is working on a low carbon urban logistics plan that includes using bikes and electric cargo bikes as part of a last mile solution. And he says, they’re working with smaller operators to try and come up with financial incentives that include establishing special lines of credit to get them on board with transitioning to cleaner vehicles.

Like Bogotá for Colombia, Taoyuan City is the logistical hub for Chinese Tapei, and manages 80 percent of the island’s freight traffic. Dr. 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 carbon emission zones where big trucks are not allowed. In their place, electric motorcycles and electric three wheeled delivery vans are being used to make local deliveries to concurrently reduce congestion and noise, while improving pedestrian safety – particularly in school areas.

Noise is currently deemed the number one problem associated with transport in Stockholm according to Robin Billsjö, an urban freight strategist with the city’s transport department. In response, the Stockholm Freight Plan adopted by the local council emphasizes among other things, the necessity of off-peak deliveries from early evening to early morning to help reduce traffic congestion. In addition, the city is actively promoting ‘silent solutions’ involving the use of electric powered 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 exploring ways to make better use of water transportation as an alternative to using trucks, remarking that the city “seems to have forgotten” that it was built there in the first place because of its close proximity to water as a means of transportation. Now, they’re looking at changing the way they remove waste from a historical area of the city. Waste removal used to involve the use of several trucks going in and out and the new method will use two ships a week with far lower emissions to handle the same load.

Oceans away, the State of Kerala 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, the Principal Secretary for Transport with the Kerala State government said  Kerala was once the epicenter of India’s colonial spice trade. And the area is now re-emerging as the hub of India’s transportation industry – where once again, water and rail (as opposed to trucks) will serve as the backbone for their transportation network –  sort of a “back to the future” transition, he said.

By making better use of water and rail, the immediate goal is to reduce the daily flow of about 2,500 trucks into the area by 500… and then continue to reduce the overall number of incoming vehicles through phased in restrictions.

As part of closing comments, Monika Zimmermann, a mobility expert and former Deputy Secretary General of ICLEI, asked what it will take to convince logistics companies, large and small to transition to zero emission vehicles, including last mile solutions such as e-bikes.

In response, de Golia of BSR posed his own question. “How do we change the cost benefit… to encourage companies to ‘de-risk’ certain types of innovative activities?” A great example he said is a cargo bike pilot program in Seattle that is essentially retracing its steps as a bike shipping company when it started out 100 years ago. Working with the city, a shipping container is now getting dropped off in the downtown area in the evenings, full of packages. Cargo bikes in turn are using this container as a local hub to make deliveries. It’s a classic example he said 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.”

Learn more about how cities should be framing EcoLogistics, urban freight and supply chain connectivity, the data gap, and how cities in developing countries can address this critical issue.

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