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Urban freight transport can be cleaner and cheaper

The transport of goods to, in and from cities can be much cleaner and much more efficient, according to logistics expert Hans Quak of Erasmus University Rotterdam.

Extending designated pick-up and delivery times and improving coordination of the regulations imposed by the various cities would reduce harmful emissions and would also be cheaper. In addition to this, there is much that retail chains can do themselves to improve matters.

Quak will defend his dissertation 'Sustainability of Urban Freight Transport. Retail Distribution and Local Regulations in Cities' on Thursday 20 March 2008.

For most people, urban freight transport conjures up visions of big, exhaust-spewing trucks that are a source of great nuisance. The fact that these trucks are necessary to keep the shelves filled is often conveniently forgotten. Local governments introduce all sorts of measures to minimise nuisance in cities, but in practice these measures seem to focus more on prohibiting or limiting urban retail distribution rather than contributing to a cleaner and more efficient organisation of transport. Hans Quak discovered that local governments often lack knowledge of logistical matters and as a result of this, many measures have a limited or sometimes even counterproductive effect.

Quak described in detail the many different initiatives that have been taken in the area of the development of sustainable urban retail distribution, and sought factors to explain their limited success. According to Quak, the absence of actual incentives for players who should modify their behaviour plays a major role in this. The last thing a carrier wants are additional costs, while the benefits lie elsewhere or are unseen. Quak also studied the effect of the rules most commonly used to improve urban liveability. He found that municipalities and carriers who work at different geographical levels hardly have any contact with each other. As a result of this, they know little about each other’s problems and therefore also have little understanding of the measures needed to tackle those problems.

On the basis of a case study involving 14 large retail chains, Quak concludes that the regulations which currently govern designated pick-up and delivery times are unnecessarily inefficient and often actually increase pollution. Quak demonstrates that extended and/or more limited designated pick-up and delivery times result in cleaner as well as cheaper urban freight transport. An experiment conducted with two sorts of retail chains also showed that the current rules in cities turn out differently for each carrier. “Something that resulted in a huge cost increase for one carrier, had hardly any effect on the other”. More flexible regulations could ensure that urban freight transport becomes cleaner and cheaper.

Retail chains can also implement their own measures to improve the sustainability of their operations and, at the same time, reduce the problems created by local regulations. If large chains would orchestrate the distribution of their deliveries from suppliers and combine this transport with their own shop provisioning, they would become less susceptible to designated pick-up and delivery times, for example, and could achieve significant reductions in CO2 emissions.

Hans Quak conducted his study at the Erasmus Research Institute of Management (ERIM), the combined research institute of the RSM Erasmus University and the Erasmus School of Economics of Erasmus University Rotterdam in the Netherlands. ERIM is officially accredited by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW). Over 300 researchers are affiliated to ERIM. ERIM also organises the Erasmus Doctoral Programme in Business and Management for the training of promising young scholars.

Yvette Nelen | alfa
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