The UK Government has released its positioning statement on Last Mile logistics, with the Department of Transport (DfT) outlining proposals on how it should “minimise the negative aspects while supporting the benefits”. Its primary area of focus is on providing a greener delivery infrastructure.
With the boom in eCommerce, the number of parcels shipped in the UK has significantly increased over the years – and in turn so have the number of vans on the road. In 2016 the value of next day deliveries reached £5.5 billion – up a staggering 77% from £3.1 billion in 2012. And with this came a rise in van traffic, with total vehicle miles reaching a record high of 50.5 billion.
While next day, free and ‘pay for what you keep’ delivery promises offer customer convenience, many are concerned about the consequences this will have for the environment and the high street. (Although in the current climate, others would argue that such online offerings have provided a lifeline for businesses and shoppers during the Covid-19 crisis.)
Here’s a brief overview of some of the solutions the DfT are considering to ease the impact Last Mile logistics are having on the environment, and how it could shape the future of delivery.
Alternative transport methods
Alternative transport methods, such as Iight vans, eCargo bikes and even autonomous ground vehicles have all been outlined as alternatives to today’s transit van. And, without a doubt, sustainable transport methods will have a significant impact on the environmental impact of Last Mile logistics.
However, at present there are still many hurdles to overcome before these become a viable alternative. There are very few ultra-low emissions vans on the market and the infrastructure isn’t yet in place to support refuelling outside urban areas. Where smaller parcels can be grouped together for delivery in high density areas, eCargo bikes are ideal but still face many of the challenges faced by electric vehicles.
Autonomous ground vehicles have already been piloted in parts of the UK, such as Milton Keynes, with relative success. But Milton Keynes is a man-made town with smooth payments, drop curbs and an easy to navigate grid system. How these autonomous delivery robots would fair on the cobbled streets of market towns, or the hustle and bustle of city streets is another matter.
While they may not be a viable doorstop delivery solution in all parts of the country, there is still some merit in them as mobile collection points for local communities. Or even as an aid to the faithful postie, allowing them to transport more mail on their rounds without the need for gas guzzling delivery vans.
Drones have also been outlined in the DfT’s proposal, but these face security risks and tough regulations in built up areas and, at present, would only be a viable delivery alternative in rural areas.
A system of tunnels and tubes carrying cargo pods on tracks, has also been suggested. This may sound futuristic, but the idea is not a new one. In 1927 Royal Mail introduced the Post Office Railway which transported mail between London’s sorting offices via its own underground, driverless railway. It ran for 76 years but closed in 2003 as it was found to be five times more expensive to use than road transport and difficult infrastructure to maintain. It is a proven system, but would require significant investment, maintenance and disruption to get the infrastructure in place to support such a delivery method.
Shortening the Last Mile is one way of lessening its environmental impact, and the DfT is looking into 3D printing technology as a means of reducing the distance and in turn improving a product’s carbon footprint. The proposal involves the setup of neighbourhood 3D printing sites that would be used by several suppliers collaboratively for items that use standard materials. With the improved accessibility to 3D printing technology, this is most certainly a solution with merit that could bring down cargo miles. Yes, there would still be the necessity for materials to be shipped to site, but by and large it would provide significant efficiencies with one location producing a broad range of products for a designated area.
Delivery fees and incentives
Some of the proposal looks at rethinking the eCommerce business model, as a way of encouraging consumers to shop more sustainably when placing online orders. For example, providing incentives for accepting longer delivery times which would allow deliveries to be better consolidated. This concept isn’t new to shoppers, with online giant Amazon offering financial credits by opting for “no rush” deliveries that can be put towards future purchases, so would be relatively easy to adopt. Convenience is king, and for consumers having their items delivered where they want and when they want can be more important than next day.
There’s also talk of making consumers pay for the true cost of delivery or implementing a mandatory delivery charge, similar to the government’s plastic bag scheme. Free delivery has become an expectation of today’s shoppers, so this would be a harder one to swallow. Reinvestment of this cost back into the delivery infrastructure to provide an improved Last Mile service would be needed to help consumers see a tangible benefit and accept this approach.
While the DfT’s suggestions are just blue sky thinking at this stage, long term its ideas and proposals aren’t outside the realms of possibility, and it will be interesting to see how they shape the future Last Mile.
Do you need help facilitating Last Mile delivery? Then don’t hesitate to get in touch.