Clearing paths for urban freight

By Dr. Beatriz Royo and Dr. Susana Val

Across the world, urbanisation continues relentlessly and irreversibly. People move to the cities to find work, education, services, amenities and social experiences to enrich their lives and more and more urban areas, are becoming ‘megacities’ through largely unplanned growth and development, which in turns increases urban living disadvantages such as pollution, noise and traffic congestion and worsens quality of life.

Each city has its own distinct essence and is morphologically, geographically and culturally distinguishable. Population density, nature and location of industries, regional and local government structures, policies and regulations or inhabitants’ lifestyles define citizens and freight flow pattern peculiarities. However, growing megacities have some commonalities. To the extent urban transport has been planned for at all, this has generally been around passengers rather than freight while changing requirements for goods traffic, in particular, due to e-commerce growth, makes sustainable urban mobility plan more challenging. These issues are familiar to the older cities of the developed world, but cities in developing countries are facing this growth with weaker controls on planning and development, and with a greater dependency on fossil fuels and on older, less efficient and more polluting vehicle fleets. Especially, urban freight in these cities represents up to 25% of urban vehicles, but up to 40% of transport-related CO2 emissions with a high impact on citizens’ life quality: breathing becomes more difficult as carbon dioxide levels rise, worsening asthma symptoms and lung cancer, and traffic jams and noise lead to higher chronic stress.

The Ecologistics project aims to find innovative and sustainable business models and solutions for urban freight in harmony with passengers’ movements. Actually, it is urgent to identify capacities, strategies and policies that have successfully promoted low carbon urban freight in the more mature cities of Europe, North America and elsewhere, and which might be appropriate for developing countries. Ecologistics was set up by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB) and is managed by the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI), which brings together over 1,500 cities and urban regions in 120 countries, together representing a full quarter of the world’s urban population. ZLC, along with Smart Freight Centre and Despacio are working in partnership with nine cities across three countries, all of which are already committed to the reduction of carbon emissions from urban freight activity: in India, with Kochi, Panaji, and Shimla; in Colombia with Bogota, Valle de Aburra and Manizales; and in Argentina with Santa Fe and Rosario.

The Ecologistics partners are very conscious that there is no possibility of devising a single set of strategies that can be applied ‘out of the box’ across diverse urban regions. Therefore, this four-year project comprises four phases: firstly, it focuses on identifying the main sources of inefficiency in urban freight through the analysis and characterization of the different cities, and on exploring the literature to recognise successful best practices tried elsewhere, including physical/ infrastructure, business, planning and regulatory approaches whose circumstances fit city pilot requirements and the circumstances in which they have succeeded. In the second phase, cities in each country will receive support in selecting practices and strategies which can be implemented with adaptation to local conditions. Phase three will be implementation and monitoring of these pilot schemes, and then a final phase to validate the results. Monitoring and reporting will be based on changes in the share of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions attributable to urban freight.

All this will be fully documented in an ‘Ecologistics handbook’. As it has been already suggested, practices are not normally directly transferable between one city and another given their singular circumstances. Rather, the handbook will offer guidance for cities, especially but not solely in developing countries, on how to think about urban freight problems, how to identify relevant best practices, and how to facilitate and encourage their adoption among all the many stakeholders as well as contributing to regional and national policy.

The overall project outcome, we hope, will have been to empower cities and urban regions to identify and adopt strategies and policies, through local actions with national support, that help create cities which are more liveable, more sustainable, and more successful.

To follow the progress of Ecologistics over the next three years visit Ecologistics project website or contact Beatriz Royo.