Reducing freight traffic in cities with smart logistics
The aim of the Innosuisse “Smart Urban Multihub Concept” flagship project is to develop a logistics concept that will sustainably reduce freight traffic in urban areas. In achieving this goal, the ZHAW, which is working together with partners from the realms of retail, logistics and science, wants to boost the quality of life in cities.
The growth in online retail in Switzerland is leading to an increase in the volume of deliveries in city areas – resulting in more congestion, air pollution and noise. The coronavirus pandemic has intensified this trend and there are no signs of this changing. According to the Swiss Federal Office for Spatial Development, parcel traffic will increase by a further 75 percent by 2040, with goods traffic subsequently rising by 37 percent. Headed up by the ZHAW, the new Innosuisse flagship project wants to address this issue and relieve cities of the burden caused by ever greater volumes of traffic on a sustainable basis. The companies involved in the “Smart Urban Multihub Concept” project include H&M, Zalando and IKEA, as well as Post Schweiz AG and Cargo Sous Terrain, who are also project partners.
The targeted solution envisages interaction between three hubs. Starting the journey at a distribution centre located outside the city, goods from various retailers will be transported to a multi-functional transhipping centre within the city’s congestion zone either via road, rail or the “Cargo Sous Terrain” tunnel. From here, they will be distributed to several microhubs within the city districts. “At present, every lorry travels through the city once, distributing goods. With a hub in the city centre from which goods can be distributed locally, deliveries can be bundled much easier,” explains Maike Scherrer from the Institute of Sustainable Development at the ZHAW, which is heading up the project.
A pilot project is set to take place in Zurich, with the city itself also being one of the project partners. A multihub designed to be able to accommodate a wide range of goods is to be set up close to Zurich main train station. “The aim is for the hub to be used by a large number of partners, whereby the users only pay for the space that they actually occupy,” says Maike Scherrer. The last mile to the customer should then be covered by microhubs located in the city’s various districts. Different models are to be tested to this end. “Package boxes can, for example, be integrated into VBZ bus and tram stops. In addition, a number of local stores can act as microhubs for other stores. We would also like to test the idea of a mobile hub,” comments the project manager. “It is important that the microhubs are as close to residential areas as possible so that the recipients of the packages are able to walk to them.” After all, it will ultimately be the customers who decide whether the concept works or not.
In the background meanwhile, the hub concept’s digital backbone will ensure that the interaction between the different providers runs smoothly and that there is a transparent overview of each individual delivery. “The digital backbone integrates all information from the sender to the recipient, and in doing so allows for customer-specific communication,” explains Scherrer. An algorithm based on artificial intelligence will help to organise the shipment allocation on different means of transport in such a way that the distance covered in urban areas is kept as low as possible. Using an online auction platform, shippers are also to be able to offer free transport capacities, which in turn can be purchased by other shippers with insufficient delivery options.
A sub-project is also looking at the question of how the different project partners, including H&M, Zalando, Swiss Post and DPD, can work together, use the same hubs and send out their goods together despite being competitors. CO2 certificates or sustainability labels could provide incentive to cooperate. A comprehensive assessment framework should in future help cities to find suitable locations for distribution centres and to evaluate the impact on social, environmental and economic sustainability. The flagship project will therefore make a significant contribution to making life in cities more liveable and thus more attractive.