Smart cities, to the rescue of logistics

Transport in cities does not stop growing. Currently, 64% of all trips take place in an urban environment and the number of kilometers traveled on these trips is expected to triple by the year 2050. This trend forces us to accelerate steps so that this growth is sustainable and does not collapse the big metropolises (and the not-so-big ones). For this, the development of smart cities is emerging as one of the essential solutions.

What is urban transport

Before seeing what tools can help alleviate this congestion, let’s see what exactly Urban Transport is. The European Commission defines it as follows: “Urban freight transport and logistics operations are related to the activities of delivery and collection of products in cities and city centers. These activities are often called “urban logistics” as they involve the process of transportation, handling and storage of products, inventory management, waste, returns, as well as home delivery services.

It is common to think of urban logistics as the distribution of what we buy in electronic stores. However, this definition from the European Commission shows how the concept is much larger. The supply of stores, the postal service, home food deliveries, waste management… The range becomes much broader and its importance and complexity becomes more evident.

With urban growth, the number of deliveries, the number of vehicles, the kilometers traveled, the percentage of space occupied on the roads, etc., increase. To which are added the difficulties generated by the new regulations -use of smaller trucks (which affects the use of more vehicles), fewer hours of access to certain areas, etc.-. In other words, we are faced with the clash between the need to make more deliveries and the tendency of cities to want fewer vehicles on their streets.

What solutions can smart cities provide?

Smart phones, smart watches, smart fridges… Today, technological development is modifying our entire environment, incorporating advances to increase the functionality of what surrounds us.

These are some of the developments that are being made to improve urban logistics:
smart lockers

Smart lockers are points where many deliveries are concentrated for various recipients, who can collect their products at the most convenient time for them. These can be placed in public spaces, shops, urbanizations, transport stations, etc.

This type of device has several advantages: the number of kilometers needed for deliveries is reduced (by reducing the number of destinations to cover), the number of failed deliveries due to lack of people at home decreases, distribution costs are lowered and the collection hours are extended for the customer, who does not have to be aware of the arrival of the delivery man.

North American transport companies lose 27,000 million dollars every year due to traffic jams

Information in real time

The challenge in this area is to link knowledge about the state of the roads with route management and to get this information to drivers. At first glance, it is easy to underestimate how important this can be, but the statistics are conclusive. According to data from the US Department of Transportation, North American trucking companies lose $27 billion in waiting hours and fuel costs each year due to traffic jams, while the annual cost of delays due to rain is between the 2,200 and the 3,500 million dollars.

The development of smart cities that notify in real time about incidents on their roads, about which are the best alternative routes taking into account the state of traffic or that have intelligent traffic signals -that can change speed limits according to time- , will facilitate this integration between the city, the traffic manager and the driver, which will have an impact on improving routes.

Traffic signs can also be adapted to the growing need for urban logistics. Proposals have already been launched regarding the possibility that traffic lights in smart cities detect the presence of urban transport vehicles and take this into account when prioritizing and speeding up their passage.

Smart access controls

The restriction of access by type of vehicle and hours is one of the problems that urban logistics have to deal with. That is why access control is being improved with systems such as automated barriers or video cameras that detect the authorization of vehicles.

Among the initiatives that have begun to be used in some cities is charging a fee for the entry of each delivery vehicle to downtown areas and increasing the cost for each additional delivery point. This is intended to reduce the number of kilometers driven by encouraging deliveries to be optimized by reducing the number of destinations.

The use and availability of loading and unloading zones is also likely to become more intelligent. For example, automating and integrating with logistics operators the occupation of car parks or loading and unloading areas, including their possible reservation.

Beyond technology

Although the nickname of intelligent is closely linked to technology, there are other initiatives that have more to do with rationalization. One of the most prominent is the reorganization of warehouses. The challenge of urban logistics calls for the creation of a greater number of smaller warehouses that are closer to delivery destinations, in order to reduce the number of kilometers travelled.

However, technology will continue to be essential in these new warehouse models, especially in those that may even be shared by several companies. For example, when it comes to being able to give waiting time intervals and availability for dock entry. Tools that can also be transferred to destination warehouses.

The challenge posed by urban transport is as great as its growth. However, at a technological level we can only be at the tip of the iceberg of an enormous field of possibilities: geopositioning of merchandise by pallets and even by packages, application of the internet of things, optimization of routes in real time, technological development of roads… Great tools, such as smart cities, for the great challenges that have already begun to arrive.

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Khaterine William

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