Last mile logistics have exploded

According to Quak, outside the scientific community, there is often too simple an image of sustainable, emission-free urban logistics. "There is still too much thinking in the logistics sector 'ah, we'll just buy our way out of that by buying a new fleet of vehicles', but it's not that simple. It takes a lot of money, not to mention the charging infrastructure. Perhaps the biggest problem is the shortage of space. More and more people are living in cities, where more housing needs to be built. So there is less space for logistics, but at the same time last-mile logistics has completely exploded in the last 10-15 years. Before that, almost nothing was delivered to your home and now you can get almost anything delivered to your door."

"Doing the same as before but with electric vehicles is not sustainable urban logistics in any case. That's not going to do the trick. You really need to move towards fewer logistics movements," Quak said. "This will create more space in the cities resulting in an improvement in the quality of life." So is it a good idea to move much of home delivery to parcel walls, as some municipalities are trying to do? "No, that is not really an option. A huge number of parcel walls would then be needed, especially in big cities, and that is not desirable for those municipalities either. Maybe mobile parcel carts could solve part of the problem, but you have to realise anyway that home parcel delivery only takes care of a very small part of the logistics movements."

No major incentive

According to Quak, the bulk of logistics movements in cities is mainly in what he describes as facility logistics. "Think of the gardener, the window cleaner, the dog walking service and contractor vans. Sustainability is usually a bit trickier with these companies because they are small self-employed people, who often do not have much knowledge of logistics and do not have a big incentive to take a more sustainable approach."

Companies with many logistics movements in cities are increasingly opting for Light Electric Vehicles (LEVs) such as the electric cargo bike, which take up less space. But even this development is not going to do much good individually, Quak reasons. "LEVs are certainly part of the solutions towards more sustainable urban logistics, but they also pose a problem. There is not enough room for the cargo bike on many cycle paths. In addition, bike paths are becoming more unsafe due to the increase in the number of electric bikes, which makes speed differences on the bike path much greater. The obvious solution then is to reduce the speed limit on the carriageway to 30 kilometres per hour and send all LEVs to the carriageway."

Government and market mismatch

Does a quick and complete transition to sustainable, emission-free urban logistics then require a mega intervention in the form of a joint overall solution from government and the market? Quak: "Yes, actually it does and it's not going to happen. Both municipalities and logistics parties think too simply about it and, moreover, there is a big mismatch between the thinking of these types of parties. The logistics sector generally does not excel in long-term planning. One specialises in planning the transport of goods that are here today and need to be somewhere else tomorrow. They think in existing paradigms, also given the short contract durations in that sector."

"In turn, municipalities have very little understanding of logistics movements. In the modest place that logistics gets at most in mobility plans, a truck is often simply pencilled in as two passenger cars, while a truck makes very different journeys." According to Quak, municipalities often complain that logistics is not organised efficiently enough at city level, while logistics parties feel they have planned their own operations as efficiently as possible. "This is because logistics parties do not consider the planning of their industry peers when making their own planning," Quak said.

No holy grail

"That, then, is exactly the value of working with a white fleet, where all parties that depend on logistics outsource the transport and its planning to one party that has the overview. At CLIC we can start to see what the effects of that are and how big they are. We can already see this in waste logistics in the Open Waste project, in which waste collectors have started working with a white fleet." Asked what is considered the 'holy grail' in the research field around urban logistics, Quak is unable to answer. "In any case, the most acute big issues are how we integrate logistics in space, what is needed for an adequate charging infrastructure and how that should then work, and at all to find out what is actually happening in cities at the moment. There is actually no city that knows that well."

"When I was working on my dissertation, I did a literature review of publications on experiments with urban distribution centres, most of which, incidentally, failed. My main aim was to find out what the added value of those DCs for urban distribution ultimately was and in what way. When asking whether and how that added value was translatable, behavioural factors often came to the fore: the projects that failed usually did so due to a lack of real incentives. You don't change much if you make logistics parties change everything without them getting anything or a lot in return."

Different way of thinking, different drive

Quak sees CLIC as an ideal testing ground for experiments and research. "The campus model really appeals to me. It is also a different way of thinking compared to what I have seen a lot of before. Many failed experiment environments were nothing more than a warehouse with a few coercive, restrictive measures that were then experimented with. The parties that come to CLIC come there because they really want to do things differently and because they are open to persistent experimentation and knowledge sharing. Then there is a better drive behind the research than when you have sec a carrier with a warehouse that wants to generate more business."

What does Quak hope to explore at CLIC? "I myself am very curious about ways in which logistics and data parties are interlinking their data. After all, planning is becoming a crucial part of organising and bundling flows of goods more efficiently. I am also very curious to see how CLIC's energy proposition will work in practice. Also very interesting is to investigate how changing logistics processes can contribute to more sustainable city logistics. Which activities that currently take place in the city can be moved to such a campus, for example? To give an example from service logistics: much of the assembly of heat pumps takes place at the end customer's home. Will you get a better service model if you relocate that activity? Overarching the question at CLIC will often be: what goes together and what doesn't?

More CLICs

What impact does Quak expect CLIC to have? Will congestion in the city be noticeably reduced once the campus is up and running, or will the benefits lie more in the innovations that will be developed? Quak: "That is of course a question of conscience, but the answer is quite obvious: Amsterdam has so many logistics movements that even if CLIC works great, there will be no significant reduction in the number of vehicles in the city. But áf it works so well, there may be more CLICs in other cities and for other forms of logistics. You will start to see the big effect on our living environments then."