Urban freight transportation

From Wiki4City
Jump to: navigation, search

Urban freight transportation is the movement of goods within urban areas. In the literature it is also called urban freight distribution, inner-city distribution or last mile logistics. This type of transportation is different from long distance or long haul transportation. The vehicles used for urban freight distribution are generally smaller. Besides this type of transport is more polluted than long haul transportation, due to short trips and many stops.[1]


Characterization of urban freight distribution

A characterization of urban freight distribution can be made, based on the following features:

  • Agents involved: Urban logistics is a multi-faceted problem since various decision makers are involved: retailers, freight carriers, suppliers, consumers and (local) government.
  • Relatively short routes: this type of transport usually requires relatively short routes and low speed driving, due both to the areas covered and the kind of goods being distributed.
  • Short time of effective driving: the working time of a driver is divided into: (a) the time when he/she drives the vehicle, which is much shorter than in road transport, and (b) the time when the driver makes freight delivery. This portion of time can by far surpass the driving time and usually represents a very significant part of the distribution costs. Therefore, a great part of the operations are made while the vehicle is stopped.
  • Long vehicle downtime: It is typical that the driver parks the vehicle and makes a good part of the deliveries on foot. Although the worker is not driving, this needs to be considered as working time and thus should be regarded as a cost of urban goods distribution.
  • Labor intensive: Human resources represent one of the main vectors in the cost of urban freight distribution above fuel, maintenance and depreciation of vehicles, as well as other related expenses.
  • Space restrictions: The logistic configuration of space is of importance due to spatial limitations. Therefore in many European cities (local) governments have set regulations about the weight and length by which vehicles are allowed to enter the city. The effect of these regulations is that often only small vehicles are allowed to enter the city centre and those vehicles have limited carrying capacity.
  • Traffic infrastructure: The high demand for transport in the city center (both freight and transportation of passengers) is opposed to the very limited supply of infrastructure of the metropolitan central areas. This is the cause of traffic jams, which in turn, delay the transport process.
  • Environmental aspects: In the city centers, transport should be carried out as respectfully of the environment as possible, due to the high density of population in these areas. So it is necessary to control pollutant emissions, in addition to create barriers against noise, pollution and control land use.[1]


Urban freight transportation and urban passenger transportation create a variety of economic, environmental and social impacts.[2]

Economic impacts:

Environmental impacts:

  • pollutant emissions including the primary greenhouse gas carbon dioxide
  • the use of non-renewable fossil–fuel, land and aggregates
  • waste products such as tires, oil and other materials
  • the loss of wildlife habitats and associated threat to wild species

Social impacts:

  • the physical consequences of pollutant emissions on public health (death, illness, hazards, etc.)
  • the injuries and death resulting from traffic accidents
  • noise
  • visual intrusion
  • the difficulty of making essential journeys without a car or suitable public transport
  • other quality of life issues (including the loss of greenfield sites and open spaces in urban areas as a result of transport infrastructure developments).

Unsustainability in cities

Urban freight transport is one of the most significant contributors to unsustainability in cities. There exist two types of unsustainability in cities:

  • Environmental unsustainability, such as both global and local pollutant emissions.
  • Social unsustainability, such as noise, visual intrusion, vibration, reduction in city accessibility, and an increase in congestion.[3]

Actions to improve sustainability

Anderson et al.(2005) distinguish two ways to make urban freight transport more sustainable:[3]

1. By introducing governmental policies that force companies to change their operations to become more sustainable. (see Category:Policies)

2. By initiating company-driven change that reduces the unsustainable impact of transport as a result of some internal benefit (e.g., increasing efficiency). (see Category:Company-driven change)

Design of urban freight transportation systems

The term city logistics refers to the optimization of advanced urban freight transportation systems. In the design of urban freight distribution systems decisions have to be made on the strategic, tactical and operational level.

Strategic decisions are related to the design of the freight transportation network. The decision is made whether a single-tier or two-tier city distribution system is used, which modes of transport are used, and what the location and handling capacity of the urban consolidation centers and satellites should be.

Tactical decisions are made about the consolidation of freights. This can be done at an urban consolidation center. Furthermore, tactical decisions are made about the coordination between logistics service providers (LSPs) and retailers. Alliances between LSPs can be studied, and for this the allocation between transportation requests and residual logistics capacities and the allocation of profit between collaborators should be determined. More coordination is possible between retailers which are located relatively close to each other. From a transport consolidation point of view the inventory ordering process among different retailers should be studied to try to match the delivery schedules with the different inventory policies of the retailers.

On the operational level the assignment of transportation operations to a set of carriers is determined. Furthermore, the intra-city vehicle routing and scheduling is done, and VRP and variants are used for this. Intelligent Transportation Systems can be used to facilitate the integration of real time data.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Alvarez, E., and de la Calle, A. (2011). Sustainable Practices in Urban Freight Distribution in Bilbao. Journal of Industrial Engineering and Management 4, no. 3, pp. 538-553.
  2. UK Round Table on Sustainable Development 1996. Defining a Sustainable Transport Sector, UK Round Table on Sustainable Development.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Anderson, S., Allen, J., and Browne, M. (2005). Urban logistics - how can it meet policy makers' sustainability objectives? Journal of Transport Geography, 13, pp. 71-81.
Personal tools