Couriers Go Green

New Mobility Services: Solutions and business models for urban transportation

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Learning by example#1. Exchange of good practice

In developing countries, urban freight distribution relies heavily on road vehicles, leading to frequent traffic congestion, inadequate parking, and insufficient loading and unloading areas, all of which impede efficiency. Advocated globally as a sustainable strategy, urban freight distribution via environmentally friendly modes holds significant potential to alleviate congestion and pollution resulting from current freight distribution practices (Singh & Gupta, 2020).

The Transport Decarbonization Alliance outlines 15 distinct challenges for achieving zero emission urban freight and proposes two or more solutions for addressing each challenge. While some solutions focus on technological advancements such as the acquisition, utilization, and charging of battery-electric vehicles, the majority target remedies for structural barriers and behavioral practices. Similarly, Maxner, Dalla Chiara, and Goodchild (2022) categorize different decarbonization strategies for urban freight into three groups:

  1. vehicle technology,
  2. operational strategies, and
  • city government interventions.

Additionally, the World Economic Forum offers a comprehensive overview of 24 prioritized interventions aimed at facilitating the transition of the last mile delivery ecosystem. These interventions include aspects such as vehicle modification, secure delivery methods, customer movement, consolidation efforts, final leg adjustments, and enhancements to the delivery environment. Together, these publications showcase the diverse range of approaches for promoting sustainability transitions in urban freight and provide numerous examples of both technological innovations and shifts in behavior (Ystmark Bjerkan & Babri, 2024).

Technological and behavioral changes foster sustainable shifts in urban freight (Ystmark Bjerkan & Babri, 2024).
Technological and behavioral changes foster sustainable shifts in urban freight (Ystmark Bjerkan & Babri, 2024).

Technological shifts primarily entail replacing one technology with another. In the realm of urban freight, this might involve substituting fossil-fuel vans and lorries with electric vehicles, vehicles powered by alternative fuels, Euro6 vehicles, or cargo-bikes. Previous research has extensively explored new technologies and vehicles for urban freight. Electric bicycles are proposed as a substitute for vehicles where feasible in terms of speed and capacity limitations (Bosona, 2020). While the utilization of drones for goods delivery has been investigated primarily in rural areas, there is potential for drone-based delivery in urban settings as well.

Research in operations management, supply chain management, and industrial engineering has predominantly explored methods for optimizing operational practices. These methods include maximizing load factor, optimizing routes, and adjusting lot sizes (Pan et al., 2021). Additionally, studies have demonstrated that off-hour delivery can effectively decrease emissions from urban freight transport (Holguín-Veras et al., 2018).

The use of light electric freight vehicles (LEFVs) (Díaz-Ramírez et al., 2023)

The integration of light electric freight vehicles (LEFVs) represents a fundamental step towards achieving a more sustainable urban distribution network, yet it confronts numerous unresolved challenges. These include:

  1. i) Determining the optimal mix of vehicle technologies (such as fuel and electric power) to align with both current and future city mobility infrastructure (including lanes, charging stations, and electricity availability).
  2. ii) Establishing strategic locations for urban distribution centers to efficiently support operations within the designated region.

iii) Enhancing the performance of LEFVs to lower operational costs and to mitigate air pollutant emissions, traffic congestion, and noise levels in urban areas.

  1. iv) Developing effective communication strategies based on previous implementation experiences.

Electric-assisted freight bicycles and tricycles, referred to hereafter as light electric freight vehicles (LEFVs), are anticipated to exhibit superior performance in last-mile distribution. This is evidenced by reduced parking times and costs, lower ownership expenses, enhanced delivery reliability, fewer severe collisions, and decreased air pollutant emissions. However, their utilization also entails certain limitations, particularly concerning the size of the delivery zone, route length, demand density, topographical challenges, and regulatory constraints. In line with the European example, governments across Latin America are also allocating resources to enhance bicycle-friendly urban infrastructure, including the expansion of bike lanes. This investment aims to promote eco-friendly transportation methods, particularly in densely populated areas.

Maximizing the advantages of electric vehicles (EVs) in logistics hinges upon recognizing the nuances of various contexts (EUFAL, 2022). Thus, the European Electric Urban Freight and Logistics (EUFAL) initiative was initiated in 2020. It serves as a knowledge-sharing platform, equipping companies seeking to integrate electric vehicles into their fleets with valuable tools tailored to different phases of the process (Díaz-Ramírez et al., 2023).

 

Light electric freight vehicles (LEFVs) are increasingly viewed as a sustainable delivery solution, particularly in response to tightening emission regulations within urban areas, ensuring ongoing access. This significance is underscored by the prospective establishment of zero-emission zones by 2030 in selected European cities, along with more concrete steps anticipated by 2025 in Dutch urban centers. Additionally, in densely populated and challenging-to-access inner city and neighborhood areas, smaller vehicles offer advantages in terms of easier and swifter access. Furthermore, when coupled with efforts to minimize lead times and optimize vehicle load factors, operational and economic considerations also come into play. Beyond these practical aspects, softer factors contribute to the growing commercial interest in LEFVs, including commitments to corporate social responsibility, as well as opportunities for company differentiation and specialization (Kin et al., 2024).

A light electric freight vehicle (LEFV) encompasses a range of transportation options including bicycles, mopeds, or compact vehicles equipped with electric support or drive mechanisms, designed for the transportation of goods and people at limited speeds. Generally, LEFVs are characterized by their quiet operation, flexibility in usage, emission-free nature, and smaller spatial footprint compared to conventional delivery vehicles.

The emergence of the LEFV market parallels that of electric vans (BEV-N1). LEFVs encompass a diverse array of vehicles primarily produced by small manufacturers. Over time, the market has witnessed an increase in the variety of LEFVs available, coupled with improvements in their loading capacity, range, and usability. Despite these advancements, there remains a degree of hesitation among logistics professionals towards adopting LEFVs. LEFVs are categorized into three distinct groups:

Three classes of LEFVs
Three classes of LEFVs

Explaining the adoption of LEFVs entails considering a complex interplay of factors. Narayanan & Antoniou (2022) offer a comprehensive framework comprising six elements that influence the penetration of cargobikes:

  • Operations: This encompasses factors such as the type of goods being transported, delivery density, and the area served.
  • Vehicular: Factors related to the vehicle itself, including features like weather protection, pricing, and range.
  • Infrastructural: This involves considerations such as the condition of cycling infrastructure, urban area morphology, availability of (overnight) storage facilities, and charging infrastructure.
  • Workforce: Demographic factors such as increasing age, income levels, and lower education levels can negatively impact the willingness to adopt a cargobike.
  • Organizational: This includes aspects like attitudes towards sustainability, managerial support, interest in technological innovation, and perceived operational and intangible benefits.
  • Policy and urban planning: This category encompasses factors such as regulatory restrictions, parking policies, trial schemes, and monetary incentives aimed at promoting LEFV adoption.

 

Examples of mopeds and compact vehicles, escorted by images to illustrate their unique features

Mopeds:

  • Microcars: Microcars are the smallest car category currently still in production. They bridge the gap between motorcycles and cars, often powered by motorcycle engines. Examples include the Fiat 500 and the Peel P50 (considered the smallest production car ever made).
  • Electric Microcars: Lightweight and ideal for lower-powered electric motors. Examples include the Renault Twizy and the Tazzari Zero.
  • Three-Wheeled Microcars: Some microcars have a 3-wheel configuration, like the Peel P50

Compact Vehicles:

  • Subcompact Cars: Slightly smaller than compact cars, these offer a balance between space and efficiency. Examples include the Mini Hatch, Ford Fiesta, and Toyota Yaris.
  • Compact Cars: These versatile vehicles fit a range of body shapes. Popular models include the Volkswagen Golf, Honda Civic and Hyundai Elantra.

 

Consequently, both mopeds and compact vehicles play important roles in urban mobility, providing efficient and practical transportation options. (https://lemonbin.com)

Moped Small motorcycle (https://www.bing.com)
Moped Small motorcycle (https://www.bing.com

 

electric micro-car seats 3, or carries 360 lb of cargo (https://www.pinterest.at)
electric micro-car seats 3, or carries 360 lb of cargo (https://www.pinterest.at)
Microcar Toyota Ultra-compact BEV Concept Model for Business (Toyota Ultra-Compact BEV Concept Model for Business | Small Cars Club)
Microcar Toyota Ultra-compact BEV Concept Model for Business (Toyota Ultra-Compact BEV Concept Model for Business | Small Cars Club)

The potential of Electric Cargo Bikes (E-CBs)

With the current market for electric cars, particularly larger models, remaining limited, attention is shifting towards the introduction of smaller electric vehicles like electric cargo bikes (E-CBs). These vehicles are being discussed as a compelling option for enhancing the sustainability of urban transportation (Lenz & Riehle, 2012). E-CBs are especially promising because they offer greater load capacity and the ability to cover longer distances compared to traditional human-powered cargo bikes, addressing key limitations such as range, payload capacity, and driver fatigue.

Image of a two-wheeled electric cargo bike (E-CB)
Image of a two-wheeled electric cargo bike (E-CB)

This particular design, known as the “Long John,” features a cargo box positioned between the front wheels and handlebars. It is typically preferred by messengers for point-to-point shipments over tricycles.  In order to determine the potential success of a new vehicle type in the urban courier logistics market, it is crucial to understand the current structures influenced by the demand for both bike and car shipments.

Typical expenses for vehicles in courier services.
Typical expenses for vehicles in courier services.

Although courier services represent a smaller segment within the logistics industry compared to others, there is significant demand for these premium transportation services, particularly in urban centers with strong economic activity. Throughout the day, the sight of bike or car messengers navigating European city streets is a common occurrence. Car and bike messengers directly compete with each other, as their markets largely intersect spatially, temporally, and in terms of the types of goods transported. For small-scale deliveries such as media products, documents, spare parts, or laboratory samples, the maximum payload of a car is seldom required.

Electric cargo bikes (E-CBs) present an innovative mode of transportation for courier shipments. Positioned between bikes and cars in terms of cost, payload capacity, and range, E-CBs have potential in the market. Urban areas, grappling with congestion and restricted access due to environmental zones or delivery time constraints, are likely to offer the most promising opportunities for E-CBs. The extent to which E-CBs penetrate existing markets for bike and car shipments, or if they create a new market segment, remains to be seen. Further research may shed light on how E-CB adoption will be influenced by broader trends in the courier, express, and parcel (CEP) market, such as the rise of business-to-consumer (B2C) deliveries, micro-consolidation practices, or the demand for high-quality logistics services like same-day delivery (Gruber et al., 2014).

 

Connected and automated mobility and future city logistics

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Learning by example#2. Exchange of good practice

Autonomous vehicles have been a prominent topic in recent years. Connected and automated transport (CAT) technologies play a crucial role in enhancing transport efficiency and safety. They facilitate smoother traffic flow, optimize infrastructure and public transportation usage, and promote multi-modal transport solutions. Transport research and innovation have increasingly focused on CAT technologies, both within private companies and the public sector. While lower levels of connectivity and automation are already a reality, further testing is essential for more advanced levels. Pilot demonstrations of CAT technologies are underway, emphasizing technological readiness, reliability, and safety in complex transport scenarios. (Article: Connected and Automated Transport: Research and Innovation Capacity in Europe, September 2020, authors: Konstantinos Gkoumas, Mitchell van Balen, Anastasios Tsakalidis, Ferenc Pekar).

However, CAT also presents challenges across all transport modes. These challenges encompass the development of hardware and software technologies, vehicle infrastructure, data communication, decision-making levels, and the validation of these innovations through real-world testing in individual mobility scenarios, passenger transport, and freight logistics.

In road transport, understanding and addressing the interaction between drivers, passengers, and other road users with automated vehicles is crucial during the engineering process. Additionally, the longevity of rail rolling stock and infrastructure, variations in legacy systems, and diverse operational rules across European countries may impact the speed of deploying connected and automated systems.

While automated, remote-control technologies have seen increased adoption in waterborne transport, their application has primarily focused on testing, with limited vessel deliveries using these technologies.

The Strategic Transport Research and Innovation Agenda (STRIA) Roadmap for Connected and Automated Transport in 2019 builds upon and expands the research and innovation initiatives outlined in the 2017 STRIA CAT Roadmap. It outlines necessary actions to address challenges and gaps in CAT within the European transport sector. (https://trimis.ec.europa.eu)

Key research and innovation pathways

The Connected and Automated Transport (CAT) roadmap focuses on strategic actions aimed at developing technologies and facilitating their rapid implementation. It ensures the competitiveness of European industry and encourages potentially transformative innovations that could lead to novel transport services. Additionally, this roadmap contributes to the decarbonization goals of the European transport sector, aligning with EU energy and climate targets. The roadmap outlines specific steps to address gaps and capitalize on opportunities related to CAT in Europe. Considering road, rail, and waterborne transport, each mode has distinct spatial dimensions, technological requirements, physical infrastructure, human interactions, and business and legal frameworks. (https://trimis.ec.europa.eu/)

Current developments

  • Many car and truck manufacturers are developing and rolling out vehicles with higher automation. An increasing number of European cars are already equipped with partial automation technologies, and the next step is the introduction of vehicles where the driver can choose whether to drive or not.
    Automated trucks and truck platooning are being tested on motorways in Europe. User-friendly automated public transport concepts have been demonstrated. Connectivity enables and will further expand automated vehicle performance by making distributed information and big data accessible.

 

  • CAT technologies are already embedded in rail-bound transport such as metro systems, in some cities, automated driverless rail-bound systems can also be found. However, due to a diversified European rail sector the implementation of CAT technologies is slow and lowers competitiveness.
    The Strategic Rail Research and innovation Agenda and related roadmaps for various parts of rail-bound systems as well as the multi-annual action plan of the Shift2Rail initiative address several aspects of automation and connectivity.

 

  • Ship automation is well advanced with most modern ships and vessels being equipped with systems such as target detecting radars, autopilots and track pilots using satellite positioning. Some autonomous ship demonstrations have been made, but technology is still at a low readiness level. Safety is a main area where automation is expected to provide improvements, such as further addressing the human factor.
    Better data integration and improved monitoring will allow CAT to contribute to a competitive European shipping industry and improve security in the transport systems. However, digital connectivity is a prerequisite for further improvements to increase capacity and coverage. (https://trimis.ec.europa.eu/)

 

Real-World Examples

Examples of automated urban freight delivery concepts

These innovations aim to enhance efficiency, reduce congestion, and improve last-mile delivery services in urban areas.

Automated Delivery Vehicles

These vehicles operate in various environments, including sidewalks, private roads, and public roads. They serve different purposes such as home delivery, mobile storage lockers, and roving retail stores. Foundational technologies enable their automation.

(https://transportgeography.org/contents/geography-city-logistics/autonomous-vehicles-urban-deliveries/)

Classification of Automation for Urban Deliveries:

Drones: Air-based drones are also used for urban deliveries, especially in areas with traffic congestion or difficult terrain.

DHL EXPRESS LAUNCHES ITS FIRST REGULAR FULLY AUTOMATED AND INTELLIGENT URBAN DRONE DELIVERY SERVICE

  • DHL Express and Ehang entered into a strategic partnership in China to realize a major innovation in smart logistics
  • Solution includes fully autonomous loading and offloading and will increase efficiency and cost-effectiveness with less energy consumption
  • The companies plan to further develop and upgrade smart drone delivery solutions for last mile delivery

DHL Express, the world’s leading international express delivery service provider, and the world’s leading intelligent autonomous aerial vehicle company EHang have entered into a strategic partnership to jointly launch a fully automated and intelligent smart drone delivery solution to tackle the last-mile delivery challenges in the urban areas of China.

 

The recently customized route, designed exclusively for a DHL customer, spans approximately eight kilometers between the customer’s location and the DHL service center in Liaobu, Dongguan, Guangdong Province. Utilizing EHang’s cutting-edge Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) from their newly launched Falcon series, this intelligent drone delivery solution surpasses the challenges posed by complex road conditions and urban traffic congestion. Notably, it significantly reduces one-way delivery time from 40 minutes to just eight minutes, resulting in cost savings of up to 80% per delivery. Additionally, compared to traditional road transportation, it boasts reduced energy consumption and a smaller carbon footprint.

The EHang Falcon smart drone, equipped with eight propellers on four arms, incorporates multiple redundant systems for full backup and features smart and secure flight control modules. Its high-performance capabilities include vertical take-off and landing, precise GPS and visual identification, intelligent flight path planning, and fully automated flight with real-time network connectivity and scheduling. These drones, capable of carrying up to 5 kilograms of cargo per flight, take off and land on specially designed intelligent cabinets that facilitate fully autonomous loading and unloading of shipments. These cabinets seamlessly integrate with automated processes such as sorting, scanning, and express mail storage, and they even boast advanced features like facial recognition and ID scanning.

This innovative smart drone delivery solution not only enhances DHL’s delivery capabilities but also revolutionizes the customer experience in the logistics sector. It opens up new avenues for sustainable growth and contributes significantly to the economy. Given the increasing prominence of B2C business operations and delivery services in China, leveraging drones for express delivery provides an ingenious solution to meet the rising demand for time-sensitive deliveries, especially for last-mile delivery in urban areas.

Building upon the successful launch of its first fully automated, intelligent drone delivery solution in China, DHL remains committed to identifying new routes that cater to clients seeking tailored customer services and logistics solutions. Collaborating closely with EHang, DHL aims to develop a second generation of drones in the near future, further enhancing capacity and range for drone-operated express delivery.

(Press Release: Bonn/Guangzhou (China), 05/16/2019, https://www.dhl.com/)

DHL delivery drone
(https://www.bing.com/)

 

AMAZON DRONES FOR URBAN DELIVERIES

Amazon Prime Air has been diligently working to realize drone deliveries. The challenge lies in swiftly delivering items to customers—quickly, cost-effectively, and most importantly, safely—in less than an hour. Their latest drone design, the MK27-2, represents a significant step toward achieving this goal.

The MK27-2 features a hexagonal design, providing six degrees of freedom for stability during flight. Additionally, its propellers have been meticulously crafted to minimize high-frequency soundwaves, resulting in a quieter operation.

Amazon Drone

 

MK27-2 the latest design. Its unique hexagonal design provides six degrees of freedom for stability. The propellers have been specifically designed to minimize high-frequency soundwaves. (Amazon Prime Air prepares for drone deliveries (aboutamazon.com)

Sidewalk Robots: These autonomous robots operate on sidewalks and are designed for last-mile deliveries.

Robots Now Delivering at Missouri State University

Autonomous robots are now providing food delivery services on the campus of Missouri State University. These twenty self-driving robots, launched in collaboration with Chartwells Higher Education, can deliver meals and beverages from various campus eateries, including Einstein Bros. Bagels, Subway, Panda Express, and Market Cafe 1905, to any location on the main campus. Users simply place their orders through an app and drop a pin indicating where they want their delivery to be sent. Upon the robot’s arrival, users receive an alert, meet the robot, and unlock it via the app. The delivery process typically takes only a few minutes, depending on the menu items ordered and the distance the robot needs to travel.

In the near future, this service will also integrate with the student meal plan dining dollars. These autonomous robots are already operational on campuses across the country, including Bowling Green State University, University of Houston, University of Utah, and University of Idaho. Since their launch, all campuses have expanded the number of robots, dining choices, and operating hours to meet the growing demand for this innovative food delivery solution.

(Company News, FER Edit, September 15, 2022, https://www.fermag.com/articles/robots-now-delivering-at-missouri-state-university/)

Robot Delivery
(https://www.bing.com/)

Road Robots: These vehicles use road infrastructure and can navigate on streets.

Highways England is using an autonomous ROBOT to paint white lines.

Highways England has introduced an innovative solution to expedite roadworks: an autonomous robot designed specifically for line painting. Unlike the traditional method that would require two human engineers an entire week, this timesaving robot can mark up a road section in just four hours. Developed by contractor WJ, the robotic pre-marker utilizes precise positioning technology to identify where white lines need to be painted. Recently, it successfully marked an eight-mile section of the M6 motorway in Staffordshire within a remarkably short timeframe. The robot’s efficiency is gaining popularity among Highways England contractors, as it has also been deployed on other major routes such as the A14 Cambridge to Huntingdon, M4, M1, and M60

(Richard Aucock, JANUARY 2, 2020, Highways England is using an autonomous ROBOT to paint white lines (motoringresearch.com)

Robot Delivery
(https://www.bing.com/)