Electrifying urban mobility

By Dr. Alicia Martinez de Yuso, ZLC Project Manager, and Dr. Sara Sánchez, ZLC Researcher.

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Over the past four years, ZLC has been involved in the SOLUTIONSplus project, which is now reporting its results.

The project, funded from the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 budget, aimed to kick-start transitions towards low-carbon urban mobility, for both passengers and freight, by setting up a global platform for shared public and commercial e-mobility solutions by bringing together highly committed cities, industry and commerce, researchers, finance and other partners, using projects and networks to develop and refine a framework that will support and accelerate the adoption of effective and innovative approaches to urban e-mobility. SOLUTIONplus has worked closely with UN Environment and the International Energy Agency, collaborating with their partner programme, funded by the Global Environment Facility, to ensure that the emerging framework is of world-wide applicability and supports the Paris Agreement, the Sustainable Development Goals, and the New Urban Agenda.

Many cities around the world have been involved. One with which ZLC has been engaged is Quito, the capital of Ecuador. As is often the case, Quito has adopted a raft of progressive policy statements and commitments – actually making a lasting difference ‘on the ground’ is rather more challenging. ZLC’s work has been to help plan, launch and establish a successful system of Light Electric Freight Vehicles (LEFVs) for ‘last mile’ distribution, as part of a wider approach that also includes passenger and combined mobility, and based to begin with on the Historic Centre of Quito (HCQ).

Urban logistics in Quito faces some particular challenges. In the first place, the HCQ is a UNESCO World Heritage site, which places constraints on infrastructure change and development. Second, Quito is at an altitude of 2,850m which makes internal combustion engines significantly less efficient and more polluting (road transport accounts for most of the PM2.5 emissions in the city. Gradients are steep, the city being built on the flanks of a volcano (happily, dormant). Transport integration is also complicated because the railway station is on one side of the area, while the buses are on the other.

The project commenced with some in depth market analysis. The HCQ is flanked by three of the major wholesale and retail markets, and is home to nearly 2,000 businesses (as well as a significant residential population), and a representative sample of 241 was studied. Of these, 48% were retailers, 27% in the HoReCo (hospitality/restaurant/catering) sector, and a 25% were wholesalers. Other operators include post and courier services (the sector with the most obvious affinity for LEFVs), waste disposal (which as a municipal responsibility doesn’t require the same level of multi-party collaboration to effect changes such as using e-cycles to support communal cleaning services), and construction, which doesn’t really offer much potential for LEFV adoption. Almost 60% of businesses lie on streets that are at least partially pedestrianised. Major product categories being handled include textiles and leather, beverages and tobacco, paper and card, meat, and chemicals. Supplies to the HoReCa sector often require temperature-controlled delivery.

Current logistics provision is a mix – of direct deliveries by large suppliers (Coca-Cola, for example), logistics service providers (often, freelances with their own light van, tuk-tuk or even barrow), the business’s own transport, or a combination. Typically, deliveries are being made 2-3 times a week, but can range from monthly to several times a day (the majority of businesses don’t have significant storage facilities). Delivery activity is concentrated in the morning, peaking at 9-11am – Unsurprisingly since this is when retailers and HoReCa businesses are opening up, and the latter are receiving fresh produce from the markets. Unfortunately, this is also peak time for a lot of other road users.

Other relevant factors analysed included types of vehicle used and their capacities and mileages, size of individual deliveries, and delivery locations (59% of deliveries are made parked up on the sidewalk). Beyond this ‘hard’ data it was also important to gauge business attitudes towards any proposed developments.

The SOLUTIONSplus framework has four principal strands – ‘orgware’ which implies alternative business models; hardware (vehicles and infrastructure); software to drive efficiencies and ease of adoption and use; and policies at municipal level. Based on market analysis the pilot scheme identified four schemes to demonstrate different combinations of these strands – deliveries to eg restaurants from/by market traders; restaurants with their own transport; light parcel and courier services; and inclusive recycling services.

The project also identified different types of e-vehicle that could be appropriate (all, incidentally, locally manufactured, which was held to be important to the wider project goals and likely to incentivise further expansion of the schemes). These included 2 ‘long John’ two-wheeler, e-tricycles in both front- and rear-loading configurations (4 each);10 quadricycles; and 2 electric vans. The various cycles have a 75kg capacity, the quad 400kg, and the van 600kg. The first phase of the pilot, involving the ten e-cycles and tricycles, has been implemented; phases two using the quads and three with the vans, are currently under way.

Initial reactions to the phase one pilot were largely negative – businesses who already have freelances transporting from the markets didn’t want to change, or to threaten freelance livelihoods. So a major objective would be to demonstrate that these jobs can remain, but using clean electricity rather than fume-belching tuk-tuks, and the project has been working on this with a selection of freelances and restaurants.

Beyond fume reduction, the project has also been selling the benefits that the results of mathematical modelling of locations and routes, and the development of suitable software, can offer businesses and distribution workers. For example, freelance delivery workers can interrogate the routing software through their smartphones to find out where they need to be. Alternatively, a restaurant with regular requirements can programme these and the app can autonomously ‘book’ the requirements for the next morning.

The SOLUTIONSplus project, and ZLC’s involvement, are now formally over, but the Quito authorities are very happy to continue, under the supervision of the local University of San Francisco. There is much more about this pilot on the SOLUTIONSplus website at https://emobility.tools/thematic/1ba3d26d-5f02-4e79-b113-903d4ccf0514

ZLC has also been involved in another SOLUTIONSplus activity, this time in Pasig, a city within the greater Manila area of the Phillipines. Here the challenge has been to apply the SOLUTIONSplus framework principals and mathematical modelling to determine the optimum location for parking spaces and charging points to serve the city administration’s significant fleet of e-vehicles. E-vehicles are used extensively to transport local government, health and other public sector passengers, and also for some combined passenger and freight operations.

The modelling turns out to be surprisingly complex. Factors for consideration include shading (solar energy for recharging doesn’t work so well in the shadow of a hi-rise), flood hazards, the topography of the city (e-vehicles are less good on hills), land ownership, the various regulations governing how and where different types of vehicle can be used, the need for integration with the existing transport network, and the likely future size and nature of the fleet.

A fuller account can be viewed at https://emobility.tools/thematic/02f07d89-b3e3-40f3-a13c-4cd686ede3c3 .

For further information please contact [email protected]