Author: Alexandra Lagorio
When I was nineteen, I decided to do engineering. I decided it because I thought it would take a lot of “technical” skills to try to do something for the planet, to make it different and more sustainable. I never imagined that these somewhat naive and well-meaning goals would still be current fifteen years later. I never imagined that these same goals would also be the goals of my daily work!
My first work assignment was, in fact, a research grant within a Smart City project for the city of Bergamo (about 70 km from Milan) called Bergamo 2.035 (http://www.bergamo2035.it/?lang=en). In particular, within the project, I started to deal with urban logistics, i.e. everything related to the transport of goods in urban areas. This definition includes all types of products handling in urban centres. From deliveries to customers of online purchases to deliveries of food pallets to supermarkets, passing through deliveries of beer kegs to pubs in the city centre.
In terms of pollution, the urban transport of goods, including end-consumer movements, produces about 25% of the total CO2 emissions for transportation, 35% of the NOx emissions and 40 to 50% of the solid particles. Therefore, finding solutions for the problem of urban transport of polluting goods is increasingly important, especially as a result of the growing population living in cities and the increasing diffusion of online shopping. The problem becomes even more significant if we include reverse logistics in the discussion, all that concerns the collection of end-of-life products and waste.
Over the years, I have also discovered how this central issue is linked to others that cannot be overlooked if we want to find practical and realistic solutions. First of all, we must take into account that often the obstacles to implementing solutions to contain the negative aspects of urban freight transport (increased emissions, noise pollution, congestion, land occupation, reduced transport safety) are not technological but social. In fact, urban freight transport involves a large number of actors (also named as “stakeholders”):
– Couriers and logistics service providers
– Traditional transporters
– “Green” transporters
– Local administrators
These actors pursue similar but sometimes conflicting objectives. For example, citizens would like to see fewer vans at peak traffic times and double-parking in downtown streets. Green hauliers would like to have concessions and stricter rules against “polluting” competition. Shopkeepers would like to be able to receive goods at their preferred times. The trade-off objectives between the different actors must be considered and resolved first of all in terms of dialogue and shared and collaborative planning of sustainable solutions.
A second aspect to be taken into consideration is the technological evolution that in the logistics field is rapid and has allowed over the years to imagine more and more “out of the box” solutions. Years ago it would have been impossible to think of delivering parcels in a locker box or to achieve night deliveries due to noise. With technological evolution, especially in the ICT field, it is possible to track packages precisely. It is also possible to assign unique codes that allow the use of unattended delivery modes (from parcel lockers to “smart key” deliveries in car trunks and garages). The development of shock absorbers and electric delivery vehicles allows goods to be delivered at night without impacting noise pollution. Also, the development of air and ground drones could completely revolutionize the way we understand delivery. It is, therefore, necessary not to lose sight of the technological innovations that affect logistics in general and the impact these have on operations, processes and logistics operators.
The third and last theme that I have faced in these years of research around urban logistics is obviously sustainability. Over the years, many green solutions in the field of goods delivery have spread. For example, we are witnessing an increasing diffusion of electric vehicles. In big cities, we see more and more cargo-bikes. In general, municipalities are trying to implement increasingly severe restrictions on the access of polluting vehicles to urban centres. Even in the e-commerce sector, innovative solutions are emerging to solve the problem of missing home delivery. The missing home delivery often leads couriers to travel many more kilometres “empty” in search of a time when they can find parcel recipients at home.
In my articles, I will tell you about these topics and everything that gravitates around them by updating you about my research. I hope you will find them interesting and I hope to find other Young Scholars who do research on these same topics!