New Concepts in City Logistics and Distribution: Which Are the Promising Best Practices?

New Concepts in City Logistics and Distribution: Which Are the Promising Best Practices?


M Beelen, H Meersman, E Van de Voorde, T Vanelslander, B Vergauwen, A Verhetsel, University of Antwerp, BE


This paper analyzes the success rate and conditions of a number of city logistics initiatives, which aim at improving overall performance. The hypothesis that at least a number of breakthrough initiatives can be identified, is confirmed.


City logistics is a particular type of logistics service, and is confronted with particular problems, due to the concentration of activities on a limited geographical scale, and the combination with many other activities going on in cities. This paper assesses a number of solutions which have been proposed or even applied in practice, to check the overall efficiency in improving logistics performance, and to look for barriers and for conditions which allow obtaining optimal results. The main research hypothesis states that at least a number of city logistics initiatives show a positive balance and have a high degree of transferability.

The assessment is based on both a literature review and a case study analysis. The literature review focuses on research projects as well as descriptive application results. For the case study analysis, a large database of potential best practices was compiled and analyzed. Each of the observed initiatives was checked for overall results, opportunities and obstacles.

In general, it turns out that particularly initiatives that apply to larger cities, that aim at the short run, and that have low implementation costs, have a high chance of being successful. The success is sometimes bound to conditions however. When costs and benefits do not accrue to the same actor, there is a case for government to intervene. Especially when the decision maker in the chain does not enjoy any benefits, chances of an endogenous solution are very weak. Overall, private initiatives, backed by some form of public support, excel. Furthermore, for priority setting, it is important to have a clear view on where the current problems are exactly located, and which logistics chains are being hit. Problems are not necessarily the same over cities, and measures that fit one city should not automatically be successful in other cities.

A first best practice that shows up from the analysis is the introduction and alignment of delivery and pick-up time windows. Alignment is important, as introduction in one city should not deteriorate logistics performance in other cities. Second, creating common loading and unloading zones can alleviate time losses, upon condition that no extra vehicle movements nor supplementary pollution is generated. Third, using free bus and tram lanes can lead to improved infrastructure utilization, as long as operations do not hinder public transport. This implies that no loading and unloading operations are to take place on the lanes. Fourth, cities featuring rivers or canals can use the latter for distribution, at least for activities located in the neighbourhood of the water and with commodities allowing water transport. A fifth initiative is the clustering of certain commodity flows. As the critical volume of single suppliers is often too small, there is a clear role for government. Not all commodities allow clustering however. Cycle courier services can be a clear solution in point for small package deliveries, and should be linked to corresponding distribution centres. Finally, improving vehicle technology is a last, non-process issue which allows gaining large benefits, mainly related to noise and emissions, and where government can play a stimulating role.

With this analysis, the research hypothesis is confirmed that at least a number of successful initiatives can be identified, which however need further study, in particular of the local conditions prevailing at locations where they potentially would be applied. Some useful policy conclusions can be derived.


Association for European Transport