Tackling urban freight through collaborative action

Freight transport is at the core of today’s global economy; in emerging regions such as Asia, the logistics industry accounts for 15 to 25 percent of GDP. However, urban freight also causes adverse impacts to cities, including traffic congestion, poor air quality, noise pollution and intensity of road accidents. Emissions from road freight transport alone are expected to nearly double by 2050.

Reducing the negative impacts and improving the efficiency of urban freight offers great potential for local governments and private companies to align their services and visions for sustainable urban freight.

Managing urban freight issues is tough. Urban land use and transport planning often overlooks freight activities as they are largely commercial and rarely directly under municipal control. The freight sector is fragmented and most of the transport companies providing urban freight services tend to be small. The complexity of freight operations makes it difficult to deploy technological innovations and effective fleet management skills. 

Furthermore, the latest estimate from the International Transport Forum (ITF) says that global freight volume will triple between 2015 and 2050 based on current demand. Rapid growth in e-commerce could lead to increases in freight volumes between 2 and 11 percent and increases in freight-related emissions by 4 percent (ITF, 2019). 

While urban freight issues are difficult to tackle, good practices can be found from cities worldwide that are taking collaborative action with local stakeholders to deliver sustainable urban freight. 

In 2014, Buenos Aires, Argentina has set up a city micro center gives priority to pedestrians over cars in the public space. The space requires modifying the logistics delivery in this area using innovative strategies to increase the speed of freight movement while ensuring road safety for pedestrians. Through this initiative, the city promotes cooperative practice, where the suppliers of the stores accepted sharing deliveries to reduce the number of trips. 

The city of Bogotá piloted an off-hour delivery project involving 17 companies who volunteered to operate during non-conventional hours. The travel time for deliveries was reduced significantly, which led to improvement in productivity and services provided by the operators. 

Through the EcoLogistics project, ICLEI works with cities in India, Argentina and Colombia to build strategies and policies that promote low-carbon and sustainable urban freight through local action and national support.

Between April and June 2019, the EcoLogistics team ran a series of workshops with local governments including Bogotá, Área Metropolitana del Valle de Aburrá (AMVA) and Manizales, Colombia; Santa Fe, Argentina and Kochi, India. Each workshop focused on the challenges and opportunities of managing urban freight for that specific city. A dedicated session on stakeholder engagement allowed local governments to hear from shippers, retailers, logistics providers and local enforcement and understand their individual interests and needs. 

Engaging local stakeholders is key because the composition of urban freight is so variable across local contexts. In many of the project cities, urban freight is composed of a range of less regulated and more informal types of vehicles meaning that each system is distinct and variable according to local communities and needs.

While local context is paramount, knowledge from global experts can also help cities get inspiration from examples from around the world. Key principles such as integrating freight into land-use and transportation system planning, and the development of integrated multi-modal transportation networks may look different in different cities but are applicable across diverse contexts.

Nearly 300 urban practitioners, transport planners, academics, public and private sector stakeholders, industry representatives and city representatives participated along with project partners and sustainable freight experts.

Each workshop also allowed for cross-sectoral discussion and collaboration towards tackling key challenges. For instance, as one of India’s largest ports, Kochi is experiencing significant congestion and the demands of heavy goods vehicles are putting pressure on existing infrastructure. At the workshop, officials from the urban planning and transport planning department, sat together with traffic police and market association and truck association representative to brainstorm ideas such as  freight hubs in the suburbs, decongesting market areas and revitalizing waterways.

In parallel with the workshop in Kochi, 50 commercial vehicle drivers were also trained on fuel-efficient driving techniques. The training was organized in partnership with the Petroleum Conservation Research Association (PCRA), Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, Government of India and the Kerala Institute of Labour and Employment (KILE), Government of Kerala. 

The EcoLogistics project is supported by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) through the International Climate Initiative (IKI).