E-commerce and urban mobility associated with the distribution and consumption of food

The urban distribution of goods, food in particular, has to adapt to the social changes that demand new, better and reasonably priced services at a reasonable price. In urban areas these services must also be increasingly sustainable (friendly, peaceful, silent, healthy, environmentally friendly, etc.).

Whenever mobility related improvements are proposed in large cities, there is a debate on how to organise last mile distribution: improving mobility, efficiency, environmental impact and sustainability.

In the coming years, due to the growth of e-commerce, displacements in large cities are going to increase at a rate that makes it necessary to take urgent measures. By way of example, in the last two years, 2016 and 2017, the growth of the e-commerce business volume in supermarkets, food stores and hypermarkets has been 16%.

The rise of e-commerce means the number delivery vehicle trips on urban networks is increasing. In addition to providing the services demanded by citizens, this also congests and complicates urban mobility. In Barcelona the share of private vehicle journeys in a working day corresponding to goods vehicles exceeds 21%: there are over 2 million trips/working day of which more than 435 thousand are made by vehicles dedicated to transport of goods, of which 96% are diesel. Also, it is estimated that in Spain between 20% and 25% of deliveries fail at the first attempt and that in 90% of these failures, the cause is the absence of the recipient of the address. This results in a large number of multiple trips to deliver single orders.

Municipal policies are increasingly aimed at penalising the use of private vehicles, in order to to reduce atmospheric emissions, by limiting or prohibiting access to urban centres, historic districts and areas of cultural or commercial interest. The existence of proximity supermarkets enables almost 80% of citizens to be supplied with food without recourse to use the private vehicles.

However, now, in addition to the vehicle movements required to maintain these establishments supplied with goods, the increase in vehicles to service of e-commerce deliveries of food goods must also be taken into consideration.

The current distribution model, based on the use of all types and sizes of delivery vans is neither environmentally sound nor healthy in urban areas that are already congested or on the verge of collapse in terms of mobility. Consequently, the public administration and private companies have to take joint initiatives that facilitate the expansion and development of those business projects that contribute to more efficient and sustainable logistics.

It is therefore necessary to think, develop and implement new distribution systems that can be compatible with the current urban development scenarios for the next few years. Example include creating neighbourhood distribution points located in supermarkets and / or in other points such as car parks, commercial premises, storage rooms, etc.

In conclusion, as part of their responsibility to foster and protect citizens’ quality of life, public administrations area obliged to take measures to facilitate the activity of companies that drive the economic motors of cities and their citizens. In this respect, private and public initiatives should work together, hand in hand, to improve urban mobility, to increase the efficiency rates of local goods distribution and, above all, to significantly improve the quality of the air the citizens breathe.

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