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Freight consolidation

Consolidating freight deliveries to reduce London's congestion and air pollution

The quantity of freight being transported to London homes and businesses is growing along with the population. Besides this demographic-driven growth, shopping habits are changing, from shopping in person to ordering goods on-line for delivery to residences or workplaces. The trend of larger numbers of smaller size loads being delivered to more destinations has a negative impact on traffic congestion and air pollution, which is why one London Council is consolidating deliveries.

London – a major destination for polluting freight deliveries

London’s residents and businesses consume great quantities of stuff, particularly food, drink, clothing, printed matter and building materials, which makes us more of a destination for freight than a source.

Freight has become one of the major contributors to congestion and poor air quality, brought about particularly by the dramatic rise in the number of vans (LGVs). Nationally, LGV mileage grew by 71% in the 20 years to 2016, whilst car mileage grew by only 13%. (In part, the increase in van mileage is a consequence of freight consolidation, whereby freight is transferred from more heavily polluting HGVs to vans.) Mileage by LGVs is forecast to rise by 79% between 2010 and 2040 whilst car mileage is forecast to rise by 9%.1

Photo by Tiger Lily

Tackling the problem

London’s freight transport and people transport necessarily contend for the same roads and rail tracks, but this needn’t always be at the same time. Since freight transport is generally less time critical, it is evidently desirable for it to be scheduled, wherever possible, off-peak and during the night.

Rail is well-suited to movement of large container-size loads, but few destinations are directly accessible by rail and so most freight journeys are generally at least completed by road. With the exception of the Underground, London does not control usage of its rail lines. These are a scarce resource and, unfortunately, are to an extent used for transporting freight through London. It is highly desirable that the Mayor should succeed in persuading the Department for Transport to route these cargoes away from London. For example, freight from Felixstowe to the Midlands can be routed via Peterborough and Leicester rather than through London.

London’s roads transport a great variety of loads, extending from, at one extreme, large loads, carried over long distances to widely separated destinations (e.g. HGVs carrying construction materials or articulated trucks delivering stock to supermarkets) while at the other extreme, small loads, moved over short distances to closely spaced destinations (for example a postman delivering on foot or pizza deliveries by bike to the houses in a residential street).

Loads are matched to vehicles with a broad range of capacities:  HGVs: >3.5 tonnes; LGVs or vans: <3.5 tonnes; bikes with capacity about one cubic metre; and, at the end of the scale, couriers equipped with trolleys, paniers, backpacks, or satchels.

Safety, pollution, and congestion are ongoing issues and TfL is working with the road freight industry to establish good practices, including

  • improvement in HGV driving habits so as to reduce injury and mortality rates;
  • development of the ULEZ;
  • encouraging use of electric delivery vehicles (including cargo bikes) so as to reduce pollution and carbon dioxide emissions;
  • controlling freight vehicle behaviour in inner London to prevent congestion (large freight vehicles travelling or manoeuvring in London’s busy streets cause traffic congestion, as do LGVs waiting or parked at the roadside while delivering);
  • discouraging non-essential deliveries to workplaces in central London and encouraging development of consolidation methods so as to minimise delivery journeys generally.
Photo by Norma Mortenson
Image: Pedal Me

Minimising freight trips

Freight consolidation aims to match loads to destinations so as to minimise journeys. Two stages of consolidation are distinguishable.

The first stage is characterised by delivery of large loads, from suppliers by HGVs, to consolidation and distribution centres in outer London where they are broken down and re-assembled into medium loads for onward transport by LGVs towards their destinations across London. (All the major supermarket chains have these first stage centres, although they don’t fit the model perfectly because they tend to use HGVs for onward transport from their first stage centres to at least their larger supermarkets.)

The second stage uses more, relatively local, centres, where these medium loads are further broken down and reassembled into small loads for last-mile delivery by e-Trike or courier. (In the supermarket example, the local supermarkets are the local consolidation and distribution centres, and the consolidation and last-mile distribution and delivery are undertaken by us, the customers, as we, either in person or indirectly via on-line order, transfer chosen goods from the shelves to our trolleys and then to our cars or to the delivery service.)

Congestion is exacerbated when individual customers order goods or contract their waste disposal to different suppliers resulting in operators duplicating each other’s vehicle trips. Amongst the reasons cited for the huge rise in the number of delivery vehicles is Amazon Prime’s promise of one-day delivery and the increasing desire for workers to have their purchases delivered to their workplaces.

One solution to this is the establishment of click and collect locations near where people live and at public transport hubs. Rather than making multiple stops, a van can deliver to one collection point such as an Amazon locker for customers to collect on foot.

Freight consolidation in Mayfair

A project initiated by the New West End Company and the City of Westminster sought to drastically reduce the number of delivery vehicles in Mayfair. Businesses were asked to sign up to one of two firms which consolidate loads away from central London. These are Anglo and Gnewt Cargo, both of which use zero emission-at-tailpipe vehicles. The project has resulted in an 80 per cent reduction in parcel delivery kerbside stops.

The project also targeted waste and recycling vehicles. There were as many as 50 different waste and recycling companies operating in the borough, in many circumstances duplicating one another’s vehicle trips. Under the project there are now two preferred suppliers: Veolia, which already holds the contract for domestic waste collection, and First Mile, a commercial recycling company which uses electric vans and cargo bikes, resulting in a 17.4 percent reduction in the number of waste and recycling vehicles in two representative streets.

Consolidating construction deliveries

Construction (as distinct from building maintenance), being project-oriented, is a special case. In the earlier stages of a project a stream of HGVs flows towards the site, replaced in the fitting-out stage by a stream of LGVs. TfL report that several construction consolidation and distribution centres are currently operating in London where multiple bulk material deliveries from suppliers are stored, packed into consolidated loads as required and then transported to construction sites. The Mayor’s Transport Strategy calls for more of these so that all of London is within 30 minutes of one.

The future

London’s continuing economic vitality and the health of its population depend on having efficient and economical transport of freight done as cleanly and greenly as possible while minimally interfering with the movements of people. A London-wide move to greater freight consolidation is key to this.

This blog has been adapted from articles in Future Transport London’s May 2020 newsletter.

Main image: Photo by Mike on Pexels

Picture of Peter Osmon

Peter Osmon

Member of Future Transport London
Peter is a retired academic scientist and engineer with an interest in how the diverse users of London's relatively narrow streets can equitably share this scarce resource.

Picture of Chris Barker

Chris Barker

Co-secretary of Future Transport London
Chris has a particular interest in sustainable transport.

  1. White Van Cities
    By C. Linton, R. Fuller, and J. Bray. Urban Transport Group, April 2018 []

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