Over the last couple of years, urbanists have dreamed up a handful of new parcel delivery strategies. A number got a field test in Europe last year as part of CITYLOG, a project funded by the European Union to evaluate fresh ideas in urban transport.One of these new strategies, the BentoBox, works by shifting delivery truck activity away from peak driving hours. If congestion reduction is the goal, the ideal time to deliver packages would be late at night—but customers won’t likely be smiling when they answer the door. Named after a single-serving Japanese takeout tray, the BentoBox is a storage locker that can be loaded with parcels and then dropped off at a local docking station after hours. Customers in the area can access one of six subdivided units with a key the following morning…
TNT Express has its own program aimed at piloting urban delivery solutions. In Brussels, where the courier company delivers about 1300 parcels per week, three-quarters of those deliveries are already made using pedal-assisted electric tricycles. These small vehicles are more environmentally sound than large trucks and vans, and much less disruptive to traffic patterns when parked.
TNT is modeling a new distribution model for Brussels that it calls the “mobile depot.” In this system, which works similarly to the BentoBox, a trailer containing a large number of parcels is towed to a central location in the city during off hours. Parcels are delivered by last-mile drivers in small electric or human-powered vehicles. If a few of these mobile depots could be dropped in strategic locations around the city, package trucks, which currently use surface streets and highways en route to distribution hubs located outside the city, could be eliminated.
The “mobile depot” idea sounds interesting but it might be difficult to find suitable distribution sites within cities. This idea reminds me of the rail traffic problems in the Chicago area where the solution in recent years has been to keep moving distribution facilities to areas further away from the core of the region. But, new distribution sites could inconvenience certain neighborhoods or areas while providing a benefit to the city or region.
I wonder if this is similar to adding lanes on highways: if delivery trucks are taking up less space, will more cars fill the space?