Paving the Path to Efficient Urban Freight Systems

Goods movement is an integral part of the urban economy. The rising urban population and the growth of sectors such as e-commerce, construction, and manufacturing have made logistics vehicles ubiquitous in our cities.

With this, logistics vehicles’ impacts on urban liveability are becoming more pronounced. Chiefly, urban freight vehicles are significant contributors to air pollution. They emit close to 23,000 tons of particulate matter (PM) emissions every year—17 percent of total freight transport related PM emissions. Goods vehicles were responsible for 10 percent of road fatalities in India’s million-plus cities in 2019. Traffic congestion is also worsened by a lack of management of urban freight.

Urban freight demand is expected to increase by as much as 140 percent in this decade, and this is sure to exacerbate existing negative externalities. Cities have the opportunity to mitigate these negative impacts by overcoming systemic inefficiencies such as poor vehicle loading, uncoordinated deliveries, and improper parking.


Getting to Efficient Freight Systems

Efficient urban freight systems carry the promise of lower emissions, better public health, improved traffic flow, and reduced costs. They can simultaneously support city governments in improving economic development by attracting industries and creating quality jobs.

To guide cities on strategies to improve urban freight efficiency, Ministry of Commerce and Industry recently published a handbook, Enhancing Urban Freight Systems. Co-authored by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry’s Logistics Division, RMI, and RMI India, the handbook outlines best practices that cities can follow to improve freight performance. These are based on globally successful performance improvement measures.

Cities will be able to use the handbook to identify measures to best alleviate the specific challenges they face. And case studies on implementation, internationally as well as in India, can demonstrate the effectiveness of the measures. The fourteen measures presented in the handbook are anchored in three areas: optimising vehicle usage, planning of land use and infrastructure, and promoting smart, clean technologies.


Optimising vehicle usage:

Unplanned and uncoordinated goods movement leads to excessive trips, poor utilisation factors, and vehicles running without loads. Strategically shifting deliveries to off-peak hours to avoid congestion and defining routes for the movement of goods vehicles will save delivery time and cost. Moreover, logistics providers can utilise reverse logistics to reduce trips and empty running.


Strategic planning of land use and infrastructure:

Optimised siting of logistics infrastructure is crucial to managing transportation and inventory costs. Building warehouses, consolidation centres, and logistics hotels and parks at a location that serves the regional and urban freight can improve vehicle use by reducing travel distances and improving load factors. Better land use planning can help separate areas with freight traffic (e.g., industries) from core residential areas. Bypasses for reducing truck movement in cities, parking zones for easy unloading of vehicles, and low emission zones that restrict the entry of internal combustion engine (ICE) goods vehicles can further help reduce pollution and accidents.

Ultimately, this will increase liveability in cities, and city authorities can play a key part in enhancing and integrating different modes of freight transport for long-haul goods movement through multimodal infrastructure such as logistics parks. Similarly, systematic packaging and loading can reduce delivery time and thus enhances productivity.


Promoting smart and clean technologies:

Globally, the logistics sector is undergoing a paradigm shift towards clean and smart technologies. Warehouse operations can be automated to improve efficiency of operations. Supply chains can be digitized using data analytics and artificial intelligence. Furthermore, increasing the adoption of zero-emission vehicles can improve the public health of citizens and enhance energy security.


Coordination and Collaboration Are Needed

Operationalising these strategies will require coordinated efforts by multiple stakeholders in the Indian freight ecosystem. Collaboration across urban policymakers and state authorities; law enforcement agencies; and private players, viz., logistics providers, e-commerce companies, and manufacturers, can enable the effective formulation of policies for cost-effective transport and inventory management.

Recognising the need to focus on city logistics, enhancing efficiency, and reducing costs, Logistics Division recently launched the Freight Smart Cities initiative. Optimisation of vehicle usage, strategic planning of land use and infrastructure, and smart, clean technologies, provide a viable pathway to the creation of Freight Smart Cities.

Several of the fourteen measures highlighted in the handbook are, in fact, quick-win interventions that can be deployed in freight smart cities immediately and can help cities move India towards improved logistics efficiency. Furthermore, rapid deployment of these strategies can help cities enhance their economic competitiveness while delivering on their priority of safer and cleaner urban environments.

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