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  • 5 February, 2018

Big Data to tackle urban freight delivery challenge

The quick rise of e-commerce and the urban population growth are causing many freight delivery challenges for cities. Luckily, an enterprising pilot project in the Spanish city of Valladolid could lead to a new model to help European cities reduce traffic arising from delivery trucks.

Freight delivery currently accounts for around 16 % of all road traffic, forcing city planners and officials to deal with competing uses for scarce road, curb and sidewalk space. A billion more people are expected to be living in cities by 2030, with freight volumes projected to grow 40 % by 2050. Many more commercial vehicles will be on the road, and they must be accommodated adequately to ensure the quality of urban life in coming decades.

To begin with, loading/unloading areas in many city centres and business districts are very limited, leading delivery vans to double-park or waste much time driving around while looking for a parking space. Often, these areas can’t cope with the needs of delivery vehicles. In parallel, roads in dense cities or old inner-city areas can’t handle large traffic volumes. Better allocation and distribution of loading/unloading areas is essential for reducing congestion and improving environmental conditions. Freight vehicles also need to park close to their customers due to the high cost of transferring goods from delivery vehicles to their final destination.

As trucks and vans not only circulate along the major arteries but also stop for loading and unloading, they significantly affect moving traffic. Another issue is that loading/unloading spaces are often scarce and are ‘borrowed’ by passenger cars, prompting delivery trucks to double park or drive around unnecessarily to look for a parking space.

City officials are well aware of the urban freight issue and its associated problems. They need a comprehensive long-term urban transport policy can ensure an efficient and sustainable supply structure, keeping in mind that urban freight transport and urban planning are closely related. In other words, joint land use management and infrastructure planning are the key for efficient traffic operation.

While effective policies and regulations to deal with urban logistics differ from one city to another, there are some general options that most cities can adopt to overcome the challenge. Developed countries may have already implemented basic traffic management measures such as access restrictions, road pricing and permits, and traffic space management. Going a step further requires more advanced options like traffic engineering and urban planning, a strategy that the Valladolid pilot is developing by exploiting Big Data.

In more specific terms, traffic engineering refers to planning, construction, maintenance, operation and upgrading of basic road infrastructure. Detailed information on traffic flows can optimise traffic engineering – particularly access to loading zones – leading to more efficient urban freight delivery while avoiding congestion, pollution, and associated economic losses.

Obtaining detailed, accurate information on traffic flows, weather conditions, daily traffic-related incidents and other data sets, combined with the application of big data algorithms, can provide valuable insight on improving locations and use of loading areas. In addition, the knowledge can be used to develop tools for route optimisation.

Within the TransformingTransport project, the Valladolid pilot is implementing a traffic simulation model that exploits real traffic flow data and aims to predict the impact of potential traffic regulation policies, for example those related to loading/unloading areas. Overall, this model will enable the city to take decisions that improve freight delivery and will help delivery companies to optimise resources.

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