As most people cannot grow all of their own food and make everything they need to go about their daily lives, we still need to deliver ‘stuff’. Back in the old days, we might have used a horse and cart, but these days, we are heavily reliant on vans.
As we become more dependant on internet shopping and next day (even same day) delivery we might be seeing some shift in logistics. In the Department for Transport Road Traffic Estimates we see that as HGV traffic mileage has stayed relatively static over time, light commercial traffic mileage has exploded, especially in the last few years.
It’s a tough nut to crack because people want the convenience of a home delivery and because it only works when they are at home, we also have people getting deliveries at work. Just think of all of the vans circulating – there is no way they are going to be running with full loads.
We seem to have moved (at least in part) from a model where we go shopping to one where shopping comes to us. It’s a tough system to redesign because of our high expectations as consumers, the market forces driving down prices (including owner-drivers being paid by the parcel) and the essentially “free at the point of use” model we have for our highways.
Sitting out in suburbia as I do, there will be a few deliveries a day to the people in my street and this isn’t too much of an issue because there is space. Of course, add up those deliveries across an area and that’s going to be a significant number of vehicles. As development gets denser, we have more residents per square metre, but the streets don’t have any additional capacity and so as well as helping drive congestion, problems with those delivering parking badly become commonplace.
So, what can we do? Any discussion about restricting motor vehicles in the UK is met with howls of derision and with commercial operations, we’re accused of trying to harm business – but of course the tragedy of the commons argument about road danger, pollution and wear-and-tear on our roads rarely comes into it.
I think that there are a few things we should perhaps think about;
Yes, I know this is already done, but it’s a good point to make. Businesses in a common area can club together to use a smaller number of suppliers, using a smaller number of vehicles for deliveries.
It’s not just about goods coming in to an area, it’s about waste going out. A good example is the work done in London’s West End to consolidate waste collections. Residential waste is collected by the local authority, but commercial waste is dealt with by each organisation. The project in London looked to put together consolidated contracts so that as well as greater buying power for the businesses, the number of waste vehicles could be reduced.
Consolidation can also include deliveries being made to places for people to pick up their own goods. For example, Ebay deliveries made to Argos or Amazon deliveries made to a drop box at the supermarket allows people to pick things up rather than a deliverer needing someone to be in to receive a parcel. In addition, as Clive Durdle points out, there is untapped potential for rail consolidation.
Unless we apply a traffic order to a street, in theory at least, any size of vehicle can be driven along any given street. If we wish to place a weight limit on a street (7.5 tonnes tends to be common), then we will normally have an exemption for deliveries/ access. An absolute limit would ban larger vehicles completely and so prevent deliveries by vehicles over 7.5 tonnes – we could of course write an exemption for refuse and fire fighting, but this doesn’t need to go on the signs.
So what, perhaps we don’t want larger trucks being used in places where they are really too large. Might this force deliverers to use smaller vehicles as a matter of routine? Do deliveries in trucks heavier being use which are heavier than 7.5 tonnes every run full for residential deliveries? Of course, if you are moving house, then a larger vehicle might be needed, but why not treat this as a planned event (in terms of road space management) where an exemption has to be applied for in order to use a large truck in a small street?
Ban motor traffic
This brings up lots of questions of course, but could be change the balance on our streets by banning all but essential motor traffic. Private cars might need to be stored in a different way; refuse collections might be rethought by using communal underground bins which is collected as and when they fill up;
Do we prioritise on-street loading space over private vehicles? Should delivery systems be organised around neighbourhood consolidation hubs that all suppliers use with the last mile completed by cargocycle?
This is all linked of course to wider arguments on how we plan and deliver transport and spatial planning because it is all linked. Perhaps our reliance on light commercial vehicles was inevitable because of our planning and transport policies which makes some of the good ideas seem more radical than they really are.
Going forward, our current systems are clearly not sustainable and something needs to change, but we haven’t even begun to have the debate yet.