Will smart ICT solve the problems around the loading and unloading of goods?

Trucks and delivery vans driving around in circles looking for a place to park, and then double parking when they can't find one – it's something you see in every city. It’s inefficient and it’s a nuisance, both to the drivers themselves and to the local residents.

Last year, traffic experts in Amsterdam carried out studies on the practice of loading and unloading of goods in shopping streets in Amsterdam. They counted the number of loading and unloading moments over the course of a single day. What did they conclude?

Parked in the middle of the street

In some locations there were no places for trucks to load and unload their goods. In such cases, 74% of the deliveries took place in the middle of the street, and 24% took place on the sidewalk, forcing pedestrians, bicyclists and people in cars to wait or take an alternative route. Only 30% of the deliveries were made without causing any inconvenience to other people using the street. A car driving into one of the observed streets at any given moment on the day the measurements were taken had a 53% chance of having to wait for a truck to finish loading or unloading goods in the middle of the street.

Insufficient possibilities

But even in streets with designated loading and unloading zones, the situation is not always better. It all depends on the street. In some streets, trucks make a lot of use of special loading and unloading zones. But even where such zones exist, 40 to 50% of the loading and unloading still takes place in the middle of the street, on the sidewalk or on a bike path. One possible explanation is that the existing loading and unloading zones are used improperly, for example by private cars or taxis or by construction vans belonging to contractors working on projects nearby. 

In other streets that have loading and unloading zones, those are rarely ever used, with some being occupied no more than 5% of the time. The loading and unloading zone is often not located in the right spot in the street. The one closest to Amsterdam's Albert Cuyp Market is too far away from the market's storage facilities, for example. Another explanation is that some drivers are just lazy. Unwilling to walk a little farther to deliver their goods, they simply stop in the middle of the street in front of their delivery address. And the risk they run of getting fined for doing that is neglible. The fact that in some cases over 100 other people are inconvenienced when a delivery truck is parked half in the street and half in a loading and unloading zone doesn't help to improve the reputation of lazy truck drivers. In short, there actually is a problem with the loading and unloading of goods in Amsterdam. What are the possible solutions for the problems with loading and unloading?

Innovations in urban distribution

Without transport, everything would come to a standstill. Transport ensures that you can have fresh fish for lunch and find the most recent titles at the bookstore. The question is: are all those delivery trucks and vans really necessary? In De Pijp, a bustling district on Amsterdam's south side, the vast majority of delivery vehicles enter the area with just one delivery destination, and in most cases those are B2B deliveries. By working together and bundling shipments, companies could easily cut the number of delivery vehicles entering De Pijp in half. There are also opportunities for using cargo tricycles and light electric vehicles there. With fewer and smaller delivery vehicles, there will be fewer problems due to loading and unloading. There need to be enough loading and unloading zones as well, and those need to be located in the right position in the street. Finally, there is also a mismatch between supply and demand. Drivers are not always able to find loading and unloading zones, and if they do, those zones are often occupied by vehicles that shouldn't be there.

Smart ICT

Some cities, like Amsterdam, Barcelona and Vienna are attempting to solve these problems by using smart information systems and bringing about changes in behaviour e.g. with parking spaces for delivery vans that can be booked with an app. By getting more data about the actual use of loading and unloading zones local government can decide on a more flexible use of these zones.
Sensor technology is also used in cities.A sensor detects whether a loading and unloading zone is occupied or free and can assign the space to the driver.  A following step will be digital enforcement (also for special permits). [TJ1] With a view to future environmental measures this could mean, for example, that carriers would only be allowed into the city if they have a reservation for a loading and unloading zone. Without a reservation, they would have to stay on the beltway.

By sharing traffic data, and data about available loading and unloading zones, the logistics sector will be able to work more efficiently and save costs at the same time. What is more, it will help relieve parking pressure and reduce traffic congestion in cities. It is expected that trucks will be driving fewer kilometres, which means there will be fewer CO2 emissions and less inconvenience. These solutions are of great value for improving accessibility and the free flow of freight traffic on highways and within cities.

Authors: Martijn Altenburg, Researcher in City Logistics, and Walther Ploos van Amstel, Professor of City Logistics, both at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences (AUAS) 


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