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We Have to Get Smarter About Logistics for Cities

By Chris Jones | 09/07/2016 | 2:03 PM

Cities are where the most opportunity and challenges will be for logistics for the next 10 years. They’re where the world’s population will concentrate and, consequently, where demand for logistics services will be the greatest. However, cities are trying to be more livable and green and, as a result, it will be harder for logistics organizations to operate efficiently. Instead of trying harder, logistics operations need to become smarter about how they serve cities.

Shifting Demographics

A combination of changes will drive more logistics activity into cities. According to a study by the McKinsey Global Institute, by 2020, cities will see 90% of the global consumption growth. Also by 2020, growth in younger and aging populations will account for 50% of the consumption growth. Mobile and intelligent-device-based ordering by over 900 million people will reach $1 trillion by 2020 with most of those mobile purchases requiring some kind of logistics support to get the goods to consumers.


Smart Cities Graphic 7sep16

Data Source: McKinsey Global Institute

Will Governments or Mass Transit Make an Impact?

The answer is yes but, unfortunately, not in a way that helps the movement of goods. City-based governments are actively shaping city logistics and moving much more rapidly than state and local organizations, but they’re focused on improving logistics conditions for people rather than freight. In fact, they’re making changes that actually adversely impacting freight, such as restricting delivery times, locations and vehicle size, charging for intercity access and imposing penalties for “non-green” behavior (e.g. idling). Intercity mass transit investment has also almost exclusively been targeted at better movement of people. While, private logistics organizations are trying to leverage the existing infrastructure (e.g. subways), it has been limited to “parcel-oriented” deliveries and in low resource cost countries such as China.

As a result, for the next 10 years, traditional over-the-road transit will still be the prime mover of urban goods, but it will have to get much smarter to do it efficiently, effectively and in compliance with regulations.

Three Ways to Address the Urban Logistics Dilemma

Intelligent Route Management

Delivery productivity will be key to servicing the increasing demand while maintaining compliance with a greater number of delivery restrictions. Logistics operations and drivers need to be better equipped to be more effective via smarter delivery route planning and execution. The route planning process now needs to understand a city’s operating hours and road restrictions, including construction, and the driver’s navigation system must support those commercial and physical restrictions. Because cities have such dynamic traffic conditions, the route plans must take into account time-based road speeds and when routes can be run, and real-time traffic feedback will be important to help keep deliveries in-process on track. Delivery density will also be an important factor, driving productivity. Logistics operations need to book delivery appointments that drive density and combine delivery modes to make routes more productive. For instance, routes should combine store, office, home delivery and locker deliveries.

Pool Distribution

Multi-party delivery collaboration drives delivery density and route efficiency beyond what any single logistics operation does. Pool distribution, a form of multi-party delivery collaboration, has been around since the 1980s and may be more relevant now than ever. Used heavily by specialty retailers to service malls, it uses its economy of scale and standardized processes with pool operators across North America to give participants the speed of parcel with the cost of LTL transportation. Cities are much like malls and intercity delivery could benefit from highly dense routes that reduce the truck traffic in the city. Clearly, this type of thinking needs to companies to be able to work together, even if they’re competitors. However, the pool model shows that it works and all participants benefit.

Controlled Inbound Flow

Another multi-party delivery collaboration opportunity to remove or reduce traffic congestion in cities is time-phasing the flow of goods into a given area. I had a chance to see it in Melbourne and Sydney, Australia this summer where in-town malls, multi-use developments and construction sites were using dock appointment technology to control the flow of deliveries. Much of the congestion in cities is due to the limited parking, especially for trucks. So, it doesn’t take more than a few trucks showing up at the same time and waiting in the same area to significantly affect traffic. By time phasing and load leveling available delivery locations (e.g. docks), a mall or facility operator like the Emporium in Melbourne can keep the streets clear and reduce excess driving and demurrage associated with truck waiting for openings. It also helps ensure timely delivery as the appointment times are guaranteed and stores can more effectively plan their resources. The city of Sydney is also experimenting with using parking lots and dock appointment scheduling to do localized consolidation to reduce the number of intercity trucks. This approach shows that it doesn’t take a massive infrastructure change to improve intercity delivery and there are opportunities for logistics services providers to offer new services to cities and city-based businesses.


Changing demographics say that cities will dominate the logistics agenda for the future as what has been a tough place already will become even more important and tougher to serve. However, there are a number of ways to better serve customers in cities and comply with increasingly stringent city commercial transportation requirements. There are clearly roles for retailers, distributors, logistics services providers and even facility operators and local governments to make goods move more freely though ever crowding cities. What is your organization doing to improve city logistics? Let me know.



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The opinions expressed herein are those solely of the participants, and do not necessarily represent the views of Agile Business Media, LLC., its properties or its employees.

About Chris Jones

Chris Jones

Chris Jones is Executive Vice President of Marketing and Services at Descartes Systems. Jones has spent more than 30 years working with manufacturers, retailers, distributors, and logistics providers to improve their supply chain operations. One of his primary missions is to identify and leverage new and counter intuitive activities that make a difference in the business. Jones has held senior positions at Kraft Foods, Descartes, and Gartner. He has a B.S. degree in Electrical Engineering from Lehigh University.



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