Urban Freight Consolidation Centers

Spring 2016

Freight consolidation centers can make urban deliveries more efficient while also reducing urban noise pollution as well as vehicle emissions.

NOISE POLLUTION in cities has resulted in elevated stress levels and concomitant health problems. Consequently, one focus of the October 2015 Freight in the City Expo, which brought together experts from the logistics and associated industries (see preceding article), was on advances in urban freight deliveries that promise quieter cities.   

Nigel Symonds, founder of Green Lane Logistics, told Expo attendees about the evolution of freight consolidation centers — logistics facilities located close to the geographic areas they serve — for cities. Since 2012, Symonds has been working with Camden Council, the local authority for the central London borough of Camden, consolidating goods from multiple suppliers destined for Camden’s corporate properties. “The concept was introduced to me through an assignment to look into the feasibility of such a solution for Camden and other local authorities,” said Symonds. “Green Lane Logistics has helped Camden Council become the first London borough to take the idea all the way from the feasibility stage through to a full roll-out.”

“The average utilization of a freight vehicle in the UK is 60 percent,” said Symonds. He added that “the objective of a freight consolidation center is to reduce the number of vehicles needed to deliver goods to end users.”

Symonds provided some figures for Camden Council’s consolidation scheme, which involves two other boroughs as well as Camden. There are 165 participating suppliers; 250 council buildings are served, covering 9 percent of London’s geography. Consolidation has resulted in a 46 percent reduction in vehicle trips and a 41/51/61 percent reduction in carbon dioxide/nitrogen oxide/particulate matter (CO2/NOx/PM) emissions.

Centers to Spread

Symonds predicted that “we will see freight consolidation centers established in more cities. In large cities such as London, hubs could be set up in different areas. Shopping centers, airports, universities, office buildings and hospitals are increasingly likely to choose to use a hub for their deliveries.”

While public sector deliveries can amount to several pallets of goods at a time, an individual’s online order may consist of just one parcel. According to Symonds, “the main difference is in the size of consignments; goods destined for large public sector organizations, therefore, need a different solution. Individual e-commerce packages can be consolidated into micro hubs that cover a smaller geographical area and use cargo bikes or small electric vehicles to complete the deliveries.” (See “An Efficient ‘Last Mile.’”)

Alternative Delivery Methods and Timing

Many Asian cities already use bicycles and motorbikes to take goods the last mile. In Bangkok, large shipments are placed on barges, then offloaded into small vans that can weave their way through traffic. “This can contribute to quieter deliveries,” commented Symonds. He added that local authorities could also reschedule deliveries for evenings and weekends, since some of their buildings — including hostels, sports centers and libraries — are open at those times.